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Joseph Rumshinsky Tells About
Fifty Years of the Yiddish Theatre
 A series of thirty-six articles written by Rumshinsky, over a four-month period, for the Jewish Forward newspaper,
from December 1, 1952, until April 2, 1953. Articles appeared in the Jewish Forward every Monday and Thursday.

Episode 2: December 4, 1952

Boris Thomashefsky writes a play. -- Mogulesco comes to New York.
Jacob P. Adler is brought over from London.
-- Abraham Goldfaden comes to New York and receives a cold welcome from the actors.
 

 

The first Yiddish theatre manager Golubok had an interest in being the owner of the old Bowery Garden, to leave to play Yiddish theatre twice a week, on Friday evening and Saturday matinee. The repertoire was a large one. Besides "Di kishuf-makherin (The Sorceress)," we come to "Shmendrik," "Di bobe mit'n eynikl (The Grandmother With Her Grandson)" by Goldfaden, and Shomer's "Der baal teshuva" and "Der idisher prints (The Jewish Prince)."

There also was the play from the actor Barsky. The name of the play was "Di vanzinige."

The composer worked at a tailor's shop. In the evening he used to repair garments at home. He needed to use his play as an advertisement for his work. He published cards, which read as such:

"The author of 'Di vanzinige' takes in clothes to repair and press."

He distributed the cards among the people who came to see his plays.

The public at that time did not sit quietly at a production. Opinions were expressed loud and clear, and at that time it was soon known whether the play was a success or a failure.

In the play, "Der baal teshuva," a Jew suddenly rose up and screamed out:

"Oy, Old Terakh, how dare you not be ashamed of your white neck, in your years to make yourself so stupid, you are already with one foot in the grave."

In the play, "Aliles-Dam (Blood Libel)," the master of the house calls in the gentile servant and tells him to turn out the lights, and a call was heard from the audience to the servant:

"Hey, hey, comrade, no one is allowed, it's Shabbes!", "Sha, sha -- answers the actor from the stage -- I am now a Gentile servant, and a Gentile may turn out a light on Shabbes."

Boris Thomashefsky (rt.), and his father Pinchas Thomashefsky

THE FIRST YIDDISH PLAY OF AMERICAN LIFE

Pinchas Thomashefsky, the father of Boris Thomashefsky, who arrived with the audience, brought with him his two daughters, and together with this son Boris and with some dilettantes from the shop, he founded a company.

Pinchas Thomashefsky, on his own, wrote a play with the name, "Di inkvizitsye (The Inquisition)." Boris Thomashefsky. in his later years, told comically things about his father's playing of theatre. First, he did not stay true to the text. He used to say something different every night, and as much as he wanted, when Boris Thomashefsky reached out to him with a remark, he used to shout on stage in front of the audience: "You, smarkel, do you dare? Have respect for your father!"

The Thomashefsky family company did not exist for long, and at that time, that is in 1883, there came to New York a new company with Mr. and Mrs. Silverman, Mr. and Mrs. Chaimovich (later Sara Adler), Karp, Mr. and Mrs. Borodkin, and Wechtel. Together with the company there also came the playwright Joseph Lateiner.

Joseph Lateiner, who later became a very successful playwright, came to America with the aforementioned company as a prompter. The prompter in those years was the "utshoni yevrey," that is, the scholar, the educated one of the company.

Joseph Lateiner wrote his first play in America, "Esther and Haman," later, "Joseph and His Brothers." Then he created a work that had to do with a country where the Jewish immigrants had sought a home, a play about American-Jewish life, and the play indeed was called, "Emigration to America."

So as the immigration to America became very great, a demand from the public had begun for new plays and new actors.

In Russia, in 1883, Yiddish theatre was banned, and business in Romania also was not birdlike, and entire companies began to come to America.

Among the new arriving actors was Sigmund Mogulesco. The name Sigmund Mogulesco already at that time was heard far and wide. The new company  with Mogulesco then played two operettas that were translated from the German, the "Blu bard (Bluebeard)," and "Perikole (La Perichole)" by Offenbach, and the "Kokete damen (Coquettish Ladies)" by Shomer-Shaykevitch. The two foreign-translated operettas were failures. That's why the "Coquettish Ladies" was so pleasing.

In the "Coquettish Ladies," Sigmund Mogulesco made an impression. He won over the American public, and since then his name rang over the entirety of America.

In the company there was found several actors, such as Sigmund Feinman, [Leon] Blank, Mr. and Mrs. Abramowitz, [Morris] Finkel, and Anita Finkel, but the greatest success was made by the genial comic, Sigmund Mogulesco.

Two Chicago tailors, Dravdovich and Rosengarten, were jealous of the New York Jews, that they had a Yiddish theatre, and they sent for someone with the name of Mandelkern, who in later years had worked his way up and became a great impresario, and he indeed brought to America great opera singers and concert artists, among them Jascha Heifetz.

The Chicago tailors sent Mandelkern to London to bring back Jacob P. Adler, who had played there. It's worth mentioning the first announcement that came out about Jacob P. Adler's production. It was published with the Yiddish alphabet, but in deytshmerish, approximately so:

"We are convinced that the world's famous actor and artist, who America has yet to see, comes to America with his troupe, to show the New York public that from now on there will exist only one of the proper Yiddish troupes."

Under the ad was written, "The New Yiddish Theatre Society."

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The plays that Adler performed in Chicago were from the old repertoire from Russia, where they often played "Uriel Acosta," "Doctor Almasada," and the "Meshugene oys libe (Crazy in Love)." Adler, with his company, played in Chicago until after Passover, then the company declared a strike on Adler (there was no union then), and the company disbanded, and Adler with Keni Lipzin went off to New York.

Mrs. Lipzin was immediately engaged in the "Roumanian Opera House." Her first performance for the New York public was "Devora (Deborah)." In that time in America there was already found Professor Horowitz. His first play was "Tisa Eslar." This was a play in which they performed with a translation. This play did not end in one night, and the public had to come a second evening to see the ending. After "Tisa Eslar " Professor Horowitz wrote "Shlomo Hamelekh (King Solomon)," which had a very great success.

The competition between the two theatres, which then existed between the "Roumanian Opera House" and the "Oriental Theatre," was very great. But the public did not suffer at all, just the opposite. The repertoire became larger and more important, for example,  when they performed, "King Solomon," by Horowitz, the second theatre staged Lateiner's "Mishpat shlomo." One theatre performed "Don yosef abarbanel," and the second theatre staged "Don itzhak abarbanel." The result that came out of the competition was that both theatres were exhausted, and the actors were in great trouble.

The actors often used to be supported by the surrounding patrioten (fans), who the actors had called "The Jews," with a meal and several dollars in their pocket, even with cigarettes.

In 1887 Abraham Goldfaden, the father of Yiddish theatre, came to New York with Spivakovski, who was a Russian actor, and he was also a very good, serious Yiddish actor.

Abraham Goldfaden received a very cold reception from the actors in America. The actors who had played with him in the old country had remembered him as a very bad, human being. They used to call him an outspoken tyrant. In short, they did not want him, and the authors had seen a great competition. In New York he did not play. He put together a company and traveled across the province -- It did not go very well for him in the province either, and he returned to New York. In New York he began to issue a weekend newspaper with the name: "Di ilustrirte tsaytung (The Illustrated Newspaper)." The newspaper did not last the year, and he left the golden land disappointed and bitter.

The races and the competition between the theatres affected the bad business. The managers strongly exploited the actors, especially the lesser actors. The actors, therefore, decided to found a union. The founders of the union were: Gold, Nakhamkes, Schwartz (not Maurice Schwartz), Kurazh, Sam Adler and still others. They soon attracted the greater actors. As it turns out, the founders had a weak appeal about unionism, because in the union they also had taken in the theatre directors, who were taken into the union with the sole purpose of striking the union, and indeed, soon the union fell apart.

At that time, Jacob P. Adler for the second time came to America from London. He came at the invitation of the theatre directors, Heine and Mogulesco. His first appearance for the second time in New York was in "Der odeser betler (The Odessa Beggar)," the play that throughout the years was one of his successes, but this time it was a big failure, and he wanted to drive the diesel and say goodbye to New York. But in the second week Adler staged a second piece from his repertoire, "Moshe'le soldat (Moshe the Soldier)," and this piece had a tremendous success. Through the play, Adler became recognized by the public for being a great artist, and all the directors took a liking to him.

The director Heine was a great admirer of Jacob P. Adler, and Jacob P. Adler a very great admirer of Heine's wife, Sonia, who later became the wife of Jacob P. Adler -- the great actress Sara Adler.





 

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