When Yosl [Joseph]
Edelstein, the manager of the People's Theatre, heard that
Wilner traveled to Warsaw to engage Esther Rachel Kaminska, he
also traveled, but the young Max Wilner succeeded in bringing to
America Esther Rachel Kaminska. He also engaged Misha Fiszon and
his wife [Vera Zaslavska]. Then a cartoon was published in the
"Forward" of Edelstein and Wilner running after the Kaminska to
capture her. Edelstein fell on the way and Wilner led the
Kaminska in triumph to the Thalia Theatre.
A lot had hindered Esther Rachel
Kaminska her successes in America, as the plays in which she
excelled the best, such as "Mirele Efros," "Chasia the Orphan,"
she dare not play, because the right to play in them belonged to
Keni Lipzin. She performed as Etenyu in "Kreutzer Sonata," also
in "Sappho" and in "Di varhayt (The Truth)," in the roles
that Berta Kalich had greatly excelled.
The aforementioned roles were more
for a grande dame. One simply has to have a beautiful face and
with that, Esther Rachel Kaminska could not compete with Berta
Kalich. The Kaminska was the true Jew [yidene], in her
roles and manners.
Berta and Esther were compared to
the French dramatist Sarah Bernhardt, and to the Italian Duse.
The former had the glorious figure and was very romantic, while
the Duse was the most natural actress. With her acting she used
to break hearts. But the greatest applause was for Sarah
The Kaminska was compared to the
Duse, but she did not approach a Berta Kalich.[?]
Mr. and Mrs. Fiszon did not have
any great luck in the Thalia Theatre. They had some
misconceptions about leaving America.
The critics dedicated entire
columns to Esther Rachel Kaminska. She came from Russia and
Poland with great promotion, filled with songs of praise from
the greatest European critics. Nevertheless, she did not feel
comfortable in the Thalia Theatre.
Here she succumbed to the theatre
agent Edwin Relkin. He realized that with the promoted Kaminska
he could make a lot of money. So he went to the manager Wilner,
that he should free the Kaminska. Wilner caught on to Relkin's
suggestion, that he could save the two hundred and fifty dollars
a week that she received.
Relkin soon needed all the
promotion that the newspapers in America and Europe that had
been written about the Kaminska. In a short time Relkin, with
the Kaminska touring across the province, earned $250,000.
THEY BUILD THE SECOND AVENUE
short period of time, The energetic Max Wilner learned the entire knowledge of managing a
theatre. He felt that one should not stand in one place, that
one needs to go higher and farther. The Bowery, in which the
Thalia Theatre was found, was taken for granted by Jews
and Yiddish. Max Wilner quietly planned on building a large
Yiddish theatre on Second Avenue, which would be the Broadway of
the East Side. His eyes fell on the place between First and
Second Street, where it was half-empty, with a few unimportant
He went off to the American
millionaire Johnson, to whom the place belonged, and he received
a "lease" from Johnson for twenty years for sixty-five thousand
dollars a year. He gave Johnson sixty-five thousand dollars of
rent for a year in advance. Max Wilner was no great gentleman.
He was also not poor, and he had several silent partners. Among
his partners were the actors Boaz Young, the husband of Clara
Young, who always had a desire to become a manager of a theatre.
The say that when Boaz Young went with
a well-known now-deceased lawyer to invest the five-thousand
dollars as a partner to the Second Avenue Theatre, there was a
fire and a policeman stopped Boaz Young with the lawyer from
going on until the firefighters could pass. It took a bit of
time. Boaz Young said with agitation to the lawyer -- "Charlie,
the policeman said that we have no time, we can still arrive
too late." Charles Weinblatt answered -- "I am afraid, Mr.
Young, that you'll sometime seek out the policeman for not
letting go of the five-thousand dollars."
At the time when they had built
the Second Avenue Theatre, David Kessler with his company were
playing in the Lyric Theatre in Brooklyn. After a Sunday matinee
I saw the theatre patriotten standing by Marx's Restaurant
on Grand Street, which then was the theatre kibetsarnye.
The patriotten had boiled and argued. Among their cries and
arguments, I heard such words as: "Oy, oy, this is talent! A
figure! Eyes! A diction! ..."
When they noticed me, they
attacked me, -- "Rumshinsky, you need to go see him! But I am
afraid that he will have your troubles from the actors whom you
have had from the 'Musical Theatrical Club', who did not want to
let you in. If not for Jacob Adler, who, having fought for you,
lost the Grand Theatre, you would not be in the Yiddish theatre
Another patriotte said: "They
already tell me that the actors are very 'jealous' of him, he
will have trouble with them, but this talent will make things
right." I ask: "Tell me, what does this mean?" One answered: "We
do not like his name, it is too simple a name. In my opinion, he
continues, Morris Schwartz needs to be
called Klibanov, Smirnov, or Fyodorov; but for that actor, Schwartz
is too simple a name." Needless to say, the young unknown
actor, Morris Schwartz, years later became the director and
founder of the Yiddish Art Theatre, but we will write about
In the 1911 season the Second
Avenue Theatre opened [September 14, 1911 -- ed.]. It was
a grandiose opening. The cost of the tickets were high. The
theatre was overfilled. The opening speech was given by the then
In his speech he said:
"The great artist David Kessler
has given me a golden key to open this great and glorious
theatre; I hope so that the key is made from gold, and
everything that is played on the stage will be his gold."
The play, with which they opened
the Second Avenue Theatre was Jacob Gordin's "God, Man and
Devil." The company consisted of David Kessler, Berl Bernstein,
Kalmen Juvelier, Boaz Young, Samuel Tabachnikoff [Tobias],
Samuel Rosenstein, Maurice Schwartz, Moshe Simonoff, Louie
Hyman, Isidor Giltman, and Leon Nadolsky. For the women: Malvina
Lobel, Clara Young, Mary Wilensky, Nettie Tobias, Sonia Nadolsky,
and Fannie Lubritsky.
At that production a very comical
scene happened, not as much comical as silly. The pious God-fearing Hershele Dubrovner comes from the bathhouse, writing the last
verse of the Sefer Torah, which he wrote. This entire household
with the little poverty is waiting for the heathen Hershele
Dubrovner. So as the star and proprietor of the theatre was
David Kessler, the musicians of the orchestra wanted to bring
glory to their boss and star. When Hershele Dubrovner entered,
the entire orchestra lined up with trumpets, trombones, drums,
and played the American hymn, "Star-Spangled Banner."
David Kessler, as Hershele
Dubrovner, became upset by the foolishness. It had taken on the
character of a political meeting. He could no longer play the
quiet, calm, pious Hershele, mainly he could not enter into the
atmosphere for singing "Mizmor L'Dovid (A Psalm to
David)," which he used to sing so heartily.