immigrants coming to Demopolis in western Alabama during the 1800s could
have never foreseen the dynamic roles played by their families in the
cultural landscape of Twentieth Century America. Isaac Marx fled Germany to
escape persecution of Jews and arrived in Demopolis in 1844. Albert
Tallichet, a gentile from Switzerland, established a Demopolis grocery
business during the mid 1800s. Isaac's great granddaughter Lillian Hellman
gained fame as one of the country's pre-eminent playwrights. She partnered
in Hollywood with the nation's most honored filmmaker, William Wyler.
Albert's great granddaughter Margaret Tallichet became Mrs. William Wyler in
Photo Right: Margaret Tallichet, a Demopolis descendant also known as Mrs. William Wyler, on the left in the Hollywood picture from the 1930s.
The Marxes and the Tallichets of Alabama were role models for pioneering immigrant families of the Nineteenth Century. Isaac began life in Demopolis as a peddler, who walked door to door with housewares for sale. His persistence paid off, and after the Civil War, the well established Isaac began to build businesses in Demopolis for his many sons. Two of his sons became the president and vice president of Marx Banking Company, adjoined by the livery stable operated by two more sons.
The Marxes were an Alabama dynasty before Reconstruction. They began to migrate to New York where banking fortunes were not limited by the pocketbooks of former plantation society. In a family full of ambitious sons, Isaac's daughter Sophie held her own. She married Leonard Newhouse, a Demopolis liquor dealer and secretary of the local Opera Association. The daughter of Leonard and Sophie, Julia Newhouse, followed the family's pattern of attending the prestigious Marengo Female Institute in Demopolis and Sophie Newcomb College in New Orleans. But, Julia never had her mother's ambition and quickly abandoned her college career to marry Max Hellman, a New Orleans shoe salesman. Sophie Marx Newhouse never missed an opportunity to belittle Max and mock his poor business sense in front of Julia and her granddaughter Lillian.
Picture Above: Julia Newhouse was the mother of playwright Lillian Hellman and a native of Demopolis. Photo courtesy of the Lillian Hellman estate.
This "angry comedy" within Hellman's family became the basis for her play "The Little Foxes." She told a reporter with the Los Angeles Times on June 4, 1975: "I belonged on my mother's side to a banking, storekeeping family from Alabama and Sunday dinners were large, with high spirited talk and laughter from the older people of who did what to whom." The fictional Hubbards at the center of the play did not favorably depict the Marxes who, in contrast to their fictional counterparts, were instrumental to the religious and commercial development of their early Alabama town.
At age 68, Isaac Marx lit the perpetual lamp at the dedication of the first temple in Demopolis on Thanksgiving Day, November 30, 1893. He was also a member of the original Jewish congregation formed in 1858. As the Marxes helped to establish a temple, the Tallichets participated in the founding of the Demopolis Methodist Church, the river town's first sanctuary. Albert Tallichet is listed among the charter roster of members in 1840. Albert and his wife Louisa Monnier Tallichet both fell victim to a yellow fever epidemic in 1853, but their son Albert Compton Tallichet survived the tragedy to carry on the family's role in the church and in the life of the town.
Photo Right: Writer Lillian Hellman, descendant of the Marx and Newhouse families of Demopolis. Photo courtesy of the Lillian Hellman estate.
Tragedy overtook the Tallichet family again in 1895 when nineteen year old Eugene H. Tallichet, Albert's grandson, died just before Easter. A stained glass window entitled "The Resurrection" and dedicated to the young man's memory remains part of the collection of historic windows in the Methodist Church. Another grandson of Albert's, David Compton Tallichet, moved to Dallas where his daughter Margaret was born in 1914.
Left: Talli Wyler
The friendship of Lillian Hellman with Margaret Tallichet and William Wyler was the culmination point of a remarkable American story of immigration, persistence and ecumenical spirit that originated in Demopolis. Their creative legacy contained the works on stage and screen that stirred a nation.