hen Berta Doff met Ben Cohn, in 1936, she was twenty-one years old, tall and confident, with the diction of an elocution instructor, which in fact she was. Having attended college in Boston, she also worked as the host of radio programs, in New Haven, Connecticut, where she had grown up. On one program, she asked people questions about the news, and if they answered correctly they won a hat. Ben was running a Loews movie theatre in New Haven. They became friends, then dated briefly, but soon Ben accepted an offer to manage a Loews theatre in Calcutta, India. Berta found other lively radio and theatre people to spend time with. Still, she and Ben corresponded. “Stop playing strip poker,” he wrote in 1938, in response to a letter about her recent exploits. “Come to India and marry me.” She answered with a telegram: “Please elucidate.”
The couple married in Calcutta and held a large reception at the theatre there, at which Berta wore a borrowed gown and met most of Ben’s colleagues for the first time. In the era of Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, and Greta Garbo, Ben screened movies for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the Hollywood studio owned by Loews, and the couple hosted parties and dined with other British and American expatriates. Three years later, Ben was offered another position with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in Durban, South Africa, managing a theatre and weighing in on which of M-G-M’s recent releases would play well overseas.