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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 15: January 19, 1953

The new manager, Max R. Wilner. -- Esther Rachel Kaminska.
-- We build the Second Avenue Theatre.
Theatre patriotten speak a lot about Maurice Schwartz.


In the Yiddish theatre world there has suddenly appeared a tall, blond young man who didn't understand much Yiddish, but he was beginning to become interested in Yiddish theatre, and he soon became the owner of a theatre.

The young man was the stepson of David Kessler. He became the partner of David Kessler in the Thalia Theatre.

This was Max R. Wilner, who then played a great role in the Yiddish theatre. He soon made a good impression and won the true respect in the Yiddish theatre world.

It was news to have a Yiddish theatre manager who spoke English, and it was difficult for him to speak Yiddish. It was believed that he would do something for the Yiddish theatre, and he did not disappoint.

The new, young manager Max Wilner entered into the Yiddish theatre with the right foot. He had some great successful plays, virtually one after the other. Abraham Shomer's "Di alrightniks," a word that Ab. Cahan created. This word, "alrightnik" is Cahan's word that he often used. "Dos idishe harts (The Jewish Hearts)," under his management, was a great success. The play lasted for an entire season.

As was already said earlier, Sigmund Mogulesco, better said Mogulesco's feet, with which he used to do a tap so gracefully, perhaps helped seventy percent, for example, of "The Jewish Heart." The play is from a Romanian book that Mrs. Paulina Edelstein had brought over from Romania, and this was given over to the author Joseph Lateiner, and he turned it into Yiddish, and from the Romanian play it became a Jewish heart, with which Jews struggled for an entire season, but the main credit goes to Mogulesco's magical feet.

The successful plays gave the manager Wilner a lot of courage. He felt that the power of the actors needed to be strengthened with new stars, so he left for Warsaw to engage Esther Rachel Kaminska, who then had succeeded all over Europe -- they called her the Jewish Sarah Bernhardt (although Sarah Bernhardt was of Jewish descent on the French stage.)


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 Bernhardt.

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.


In a 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 little cottages.

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 even now."

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 this later.

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 mayor Gaynor.

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.


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