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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 9: December 29, 1952

My first meeting with Boris Thomashefsky.
-- I speak Russian with Jacob P. Adler.
-- Sophie Tucker as a waitress in a restaurant.

Boris Thomashefsky then lived on 99th Street and Madison Avenue. The streetcar then went to 96th Street, which was already outside the city.

I walked several streets by foot to his house. An elevator man took me and showed me to the door where Thomashefsky lived.

When I first saw him, I thought an Oriental prince was standing in front of me. Bessie Thomashefsky was with him and she was even more beautiful than him. He spoke a little deytshmerish, but he was very friendly. He received me kindly and then invited me to go to a farm with him to drink milk. I wondered, why is he dragging me to a farm? But I obeyed and went with him.

We walked two or three blocks; we arrived at the farm. It was a large garden with tables; it revolved around two cows. We sat down and we were presented with warm milk. The farmer smiled at us, that it had not been very long that the milk was taken from the cow.

We drank milk, and Boris Thomashefsky  spoke about this, that he and Joseph Edelstein are successful managers of the People's Theatre, where they have been playing.

The People's Theatre then excelled with its big business, which they did, as Boris Thomashefsky then had placed more emphasis on the furnishings and the songs than on the play.

Thomashefsky told me about the reasons for his success. For the Jewish worker at home it is always dark, he told me, because the "quarter-meter" brings light only for the first few minutes, but the light soon reached the new quarter. Thus he sees that the stage has more light. Many lamps of various colors -- a wedding canopy, a sukkah, a shul, all in rich colors.

Speaking with me, I looked a him, this handsome man, and I understood why women, young girls and wives drag their husbands and their fiancé to the People's Theatre. They wanted to see Thomashefsky.


Thomashefsky explained to me what he should not play -- whether it was a play by a famous writer, or by a beginner -- and that he takes his theatrical playing seriously.

And it was indeed felt in his performances, and it played a serious relationship with the public.

He performed very light operettas, but he was jealous of Adler and Kessler, who played mostly Jacob Gordin's plays. He appeared in Jacob Gordin's "Devorah'le meyukheses (Devorile Mechaisis ]Proud Jewess])" and "Dovid'l meshoyrer (David the Choir Singer)," and Leon Kobrin's "Tserisene keytn (Broken Chains)."

Leon Korbin wanted to follow the path of Jacob Gordin. As Gordin did, he didn't believe in including couplets in plays.

It was told that one time Kobrin  =heard that the comic [Berl] Bernstein sang a song in his play, and after the performance he went into the dressing room and shouted at Bernstein:

 --  What is this, you have attached a couplet to my play!

Bernstein shouted back to the playwright:

-- Why did I attach a play to my couplet?

Thomashefsky was very handsome, and Jacob Adler also was handsome. But the difference between them was that Thomashefsky was screaming, even if his attire was screaming with all kinds of colors. Jacob Adler kept himself solid, personally and also in his clothes. He was seen as a banker or an ambassador.


A short time after I arrived to America I visited Jacob P. Adler. I brought greetings from the two great Russian actors, the Shein brothers. It was very important to him; firstly, because I can speak Russian; secondly, because of the greetings from the famous Russian actors.

He invited me to travel with him to Hartford [Connecticut]. Inasmuch as he was traveling with his company to appear in a production there, I should travel with him. I accepted the invitation.

When we arrived in Hartford he invited me to a Jewish restaurant, where the entire company was to be found.

The entire company sat together at a long table.

Adler introduced me to the owner of the restaurant as the young musician. The owner of the restaurant heard the word "musician." He gave him a hug and shouted out: Perhaps the musician will do something for my daughter?  And he said further: She works very hard in the restaurant, poor thing, but I do not ask anything for myself for a minute; but she sings; she bangs my head with her singing. I am not an expert on it. Perhaps she really can sing.

And soon indeed there arrived a young and powerful woman.

-- This is a Russian musician, and this is my Sophia, said the father.

-- She soon indeed sing an American song with a powerful, old voice. It was very pleasing to hear.

She brought a plate of borscht for a customer and sang.

Before the father had explained to me that his daughter is so present in singing that she does not do her work. They call her to bring soup, and she brings meat. I know, perhaps, that she was created to sing, and I made her a waitress. And perhaps she will not sing at all and will turn her head in vain.

I invited her once to sing. She did it gladly and it made only a strong impression on me.

Some time later the waitress was heard singing in the Palace Theatre on Broadway. She was announced with large letters as the sensational American balladeer, Sophie Tucker. Her maiden name was Abuza. The restaurant in Hartford indeed was called Abuza's Restaurant.

Sophie Tucker sang and played in the largest vaudeville houses. She has already sung for a couple of American presidents, and also for kings.

Now, after some forty-plus years of performing, they announce her not as the young, American balladeer, but as "The Last of the [Red-] Hot Mamas."


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