As a young man he studied to
pharmacist (druggist), and he had an interest in Yiddish
literature and with literature in general. A Mogulesco he
wasn't. However he had a good pronunciation and brought out
every word clearly and distinctly. He was from the actors who
had sought the natural, both in his acting, as well as in the
play. In his first time in Jacob Gordin's plays, an actor once told
him, "Why do you think you're so big and proud of your acting?
You're talking on stage the way people talk at home, talking
like you're talking on stage, you can also be my grandmother."
In that time there was an
English-Jewish manager Al Woods. He staged cheap English
melodramas, where thousands of miracles have happened: where
people have been shot, hanged, killed. Today one is a beggar,
and tomorrow a great millionaire -- and the cheap, American
public used to fill the theatre for Al Woods' melodramas.
In those melodramas there was a
"Jew comic." Samuel Tornberg's pure
pronunciation and Jewish appearance, with his large, Jewish
eyes, was as desired as the Jew-comedian for these melodramas,
and he played for years on the English stage in the melodramas,
and it was really well deserved, because the Yiddish theatre
then paid very miserable wages.
Later Berta Kalich went off to
England to play in English. This was a great blow to the Yiddish
theatre. With her the Yiddish theatre had lost such a majestic
figure, like two great cherries, and her diction had given her
the opportunity to surrender to the noblest shades and
transition into her roles.
With her leaving, the Yiddish
theatre lost not only a great power, a great star, but she took
with her a great repertoire of plays, and without her the
plays lost their charm, its force.
The English theatre embraced Berta
Kalich. At that time the English theatre had built a large arts
temple -- the Century Theatre. It indeed was seen as an art
temple. They opened the Century Theatre with the Greek drama, "Sappho,"
with the accompaniment of the New York Symphony Orchestra, under
the direction of the great conductor Walter Damrosch.
When I saw that production, I
did not want to believe it, that this was the young,
Lemberg-born Jewish girl who had sung so wonderfully and sweetly
on the Yiddish stage. She was under the management of the
aristocratic director Mr. Pisk, who had a wife who was also a
great dramatic artist, Mrs. Pisk. When I used to see Berta
Kalich on the English stage, I had one comfort, that we Jews had
the best, the most natural actress, because in English theatre
she used to play with the Hamlet-like, dramatic, unnatural
tenor. Her every word was as on notes, not natural and not
human. But meanwhile the Yiddish theatre lost a great force.
Many times Jacob Adler wanted to
take on the English stage, but he stood in the way of the
language. He was in no way able to learn the English language
correctly. Also Adler was a specific Yiddish actor. They staged
"Shylock" with Adler on the English stage, but the actors spoke
a Shakespearean English, and Adler played the main role of
"Shylock" in Yiddish. He received no great applause, and that
ended his career on the English stage.
David Kessler was very jealous of
Berta Kalich, and he took to studying the English language very
seriously. At that time Jacob Gordin had as one of his Hasids a
young writer Sam Schiffman, an intelligent person who wrote
plays for the English theatre. One of his plays was performed on
the English stage.
The greatest applause from his
plays was created by "Friendly Enemies" [as Samuel Shipman].
It's worth mentioning that Sam Schiffman was the educated father of the current president of
the City Council, Rudolph Halley. The mother of Rudolph Halley
is a sister of the playwright Sam Schiffman. Her husband, a
dentist, passed away very young, and the entire burden fell on
Sam Schiffman, who raised the young Rudolph Halley as his
Schiffman was a great follower of
Jacob Gordin, and they often saw him at Jacob Gordin's society.
At that time Sam Schiffman wrote a play for David Kessler in
English ("The Spell"). The play was performed the first time in
Boston. The entire English press came out with strong songs of
praise, mainly for David Kessler. They praised him to the
greatest English and American actors.
At that time the great American
dramatic actor Richard Mansfield died. One critic in Boston
wrote: "In Richard Mansfield we lost, and in David Kessler we
have found a second."
In New York, however, Kessler
failed terribly. He played a banker in the play, and the critic
at the time, Ellen (sp) wrote: "He works with his hand without
limit. A Jewish hand." He gave him a hint that he should act
only in Yiddish.
Kessler indeed followed the
critic. He played on Broadway from Monday to Saturday, and on
Sunday he played in the Thalia Theatre in "God, Man and Devil."
The Jewish public was delighted with his return, and he himself
took comfort in the fact that he said that a good Jewish actor
could not be good in another language.
Kessler's dream of going on the
English stage returned. He then promised that he will no longer
play on the English stage.