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Joseph Rumshinsky Tells About
Fifty Years of 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 7: December 22, 1952

Z. Libin as a playwright, his humor. -- Shomer's very successful play, "Emigrants."
-- He had earned only one-hundred dollars for himself.
-- Mogulesko's huge success in "Emigrants."
 -- Bessie Thomashefsky plays Mogulesco's role when Mogulesco is ill.

Among the newly arriving playwrights who looked strong was Z. Libin. His plays were very different than the previous ones, especially his humor. For Libin they laughed very differently than at all the other plays. It was a very different kind of comedy.

In Joseph Lateiner's plays, for example, the comical element played an important role, but the comic in Lateiner's plays were clowns. They even told jokes. It just had nothing to do with the play. Suddenly a comic came in and told jokes. It is quite different in Libin's plays, the comic grew out of the action, and the comics were human.

Libin also had an eye for quiet and calm events. His characters were taken from life. They were not contrived.

The distinction of Libin, until Kobrin, was that Kobrin strongly dramatized events in his plays, and with Libin there were important trifles. In addition, Kobrin in appearance was also quite different than Libin. Kobrin was tall, stocky and proud. All he needed was a beard to look like Jacob Gordin. Libin was small and withdrawn, and he loved to paint on his own.

They say that when Libin met with Korbin, Libin used to joke with Kobrin, but Kobrin used to hold steady.

Once, they say, Libin, meeting with Kobrin, said to him:

"Did you know that you made me a playwright?"

"Really?" Kobrin smiled and felt good that he was recognized.

"Yes," answered Libin. "This happened so; When I saw Shakespeare's, Sudermann's, and Hauptmann's plays, I said to myself: 'Libin, write your sketches about workers' lives and do not move over to [other] plays.' However, when I first saw your play, I said to himself: 'Libin, write plays, you will also be able to so write like Kobrin.' And I wrote my first play, "Di farshpetigte khupe (The Delayed Wedding?)."

 

 

Libin wrote nearly fifty plays. A portion of them were successful. The successful plays were: "Henele," the "Gebrokhene hertser (Broken Hearts)," "Der troymer (The Dreamer)," "Ir fargangenhayt (Her Past)," "Der urteyl (The Verdict)," "Got's shtrof (God's Struggle)," "Gebrekhtigkayt (Liability?)," "Blinde libe (Blind Love)," "Der eyntsiger eydes (The Only Witness)," "Kaptsn vu krikhstu? (Pauper, Where Are You Pushing Yourself?)," and many others.

Libin used to carry around a bible with him, in which he had written names and topics for new plays, and he used to ask managers or star artists what names or topics he was missing.

Libin also was humorous, and during our conversations, he once asked me:

-- Where are they playing a bad play?

I asked him:

-- Why, do you need a bad play?

He answered me with his Libin way:

-- Since I have a new maid in the house, she wants to play in the Yiddish theatre. I want her to see a bad play, so she won't want to play in the theatre.

HE BOUGHT A PLAY FOR FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS, FROM WHICH GOLD WAS CUT

Then there was a time when almost every house had a "boarder."  Various words, funny jokes, anecdotes were developed -- as they say, in every conversation here is a little truth. The conversations of the day were the "Mrs. with the boarder."

In that time Shomer wrote a comedy with the name "Di emigranten (The Emigrants)." The main person in "The Emigrants" was the boarder. Fortunately the role of the boarder fell to the genial comic Sigmund Mogulesco.

The entire New York Jewish public giggled with laughter for months. Mogulesco did not leave the public a minute without laughter. In the comedy he created the words, "Pavolye, feter (Slow, uncle?)," and on everyone's lips then there lied the words, "Pavolye, feter." He used to say it through the entire production, perhaps a hundred times, in that time he would say it in another tone with another intonation of the words, "Pavolye, feter." It created a couplet, "Vi gefelt eykh aza border? (How Did You Like Such a Boarder)?"

With the play, "The Emigrants," there began the Yiddish theatre a great prosperity, the glorious epoch of Yiddish theatre. They did not ask how much it cost. As long as they came to the theatre.

This joy was shattered when Mogulesco became ill in his throat. He simply lost his tongue. The tragedy was that he was physically healthy, but he had no tongue.

The role of the boarder was taken over by Bessie Thomashefsky. She played the man as a woman, and business was not harmed at all. It is just like matzo water, and the poor Mogulesco became a conductor in the orchestra, and the public used to spill rivers of tears, reminding him of his tenors of "Pavolye, feter."

They played the piece at the People's Theatre on the Bowery, which then was the main Yiddish theatre.

The play was written by Nakhum Meir Shaykevitsh (Shomer). He sold it for four hundred dollars. Shomer, who then made a living by writing novels for the Yiddish newspapers (that is, a small living),  went to the managers Edelstein and Thomashefsky with an answer; "So, you make a lot of money from my play, and my family is in need." They answered him, "What? You don't forgive us?"

Years later, when Shomer married off his daughter Anna to the young lawyer Morris Rotenberg (later the poet Rotenberg, and president of the Zionist organization), Joseph Barondess, the former community activist, came with an answer to the managers. He shouted out in his baritone voice: "Pigs! You made gold from Shomer's 'Emigrants.' Now his daughter Anna is getting married, and there is not a cent left in the house. Just give me a check for five hundred dollars."

They barely paid three hundred dollars.

On leaving with the check he said:

"Shomer will be resurrected, but you have been and will remain [where you are]!"

As was already said, Shomer wrote novels. He used to write various novels under various names for three newspapers.

Often there were published comical passages with the various novels. As the novels used to go on in sequels, he often exchanged one sequel with another from a second novel. In the novel where the young girl first becomes a bride, it is already the next morning, and with the exchange, she was a mother of three children. But the hero, who had only been to Shamdan last night for the sake of a princess, the next day, in the bitter continuation, was ordained a rabbi. But Shomer was an artist to explain all these changes in two or three lines.

Shomer was a dear family man and a loving father. He did not want that his children should read his novels.





 

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