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Joseph Rumshinsky Tells About
Fifty Years of the 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 20: February 5, 1953

David Pinski -- His great success, "Yankl der shmid."
-- His "Oytser (Treasure)," is played by the writer with Rudolph Schildkraut.
-- Jacob P. Adler.

David Pinski's greatest virtue was that he is virtually the original playwright who did not make any compromises. He wrote like he felt, like he wanted. He did not write on any order or adapted [his work] for a star.

His best dramas, according to my opinion, were the biblical, which almost weren't produced.

His most successful plays are "Yankl der shmid (Yankel the Blacksmith)," in which David Kessler excelled.

His "Oytser (The Treasure)" was played by writers, by the members of I.L. Peretz's [Yiddish] Writers Union, with Rudolph Schildkraut in the main role.

Among the writers who played in "Treasure," there were some professional drama critics. In the circle of the actors they said that when the critics wanted to see actors, such plays would have been written quite differently than if they were written about writers.

One of Pinski's plays, "Yeder mit zayn got (To Each His Own God)" was played for only one performance, Friday night. Saturday they played another play from the repertoire. When they read the play for the first time, the  actors were enthusiastic. Kessler cried. After the first production, the manager Max Wilner cried, and the second day he comforted himself with a second play.


 For Jacob Adler, not only the stage, but the theatre was his whole life.

To many actors we often put the question, what brought them to the theatre? They haven't the talent, nor the looks, and even the main theatre life does not interest them, so why did they come to the theatre? And what relationship do they have with the stage?


About Jacob Adler, we often used to put the question to him in reverse: What would such a man be without theatre? Looking at his glorious, majestic face, I used to think that if the theatre had not existed before he was born, theatre would have begun with him. When he arrived, he brought with him a piece of theatre; He loved to play games; he was of the Motke Chabad and Hershele Ostropoler type, a great prankster, a brat.

Traveling across America they once arrived in Baltimore, where business was going very well. One time he said to me in a holiday mood:

-- Come, let's separate from the band (meaning the company) and eat separately.

We went away to a semi-private restaurant and left the server an especially small tip. We ate quite moderately in this secluded room, strongly engaged over a large steak, with two even larger knives. Adler then was not very talkative. We were silent more than we talked. In such a quiet moment I sometimes heard from Adler a wild outcry:

-- You love my Sonia! -- You are in love with my Sonia! This is true! Say it is true!

He cited the scene from "Vilder mentsh (Wild Man)" to me, where he strangles his stepmother.

Finding himself under a sharp, bloody knife and seeing his wild eyes and agitated body, until I became more dead than alive, that language simply took me off (opgenumen).

When he saw how dead I was, he slowly pulled back the knife from over my eye, sat down comfortably, and spoke with a quiet tone, as it if it didn't happen at all:

-- What do you say, friend Rumshinsky? Yes, I am a good actor? I scared you a little for an hour.

I did not answer him, because I simply didn't have the strength. He was speechless for a while, but he sat down quietly, dealt with the steak, and said with a laugh:

-- This is all theatre, nothing more than theatre ...

"Yontev, yontev, yontev, is still today!" -- This is Jacob Adler's song that he wrote by himself to sing at the feast in "King Lear."

Adler was a yontev-like actor, he hated the commonplace, he loved beauty on the stage, even his bags and rags were made of silk. His beggar clothes were like that of a prince.

He sought beauty everywhere, the honorable, the great, yes, the great, he loved to have great actors, tall, beautiful people, even his fountain pen was large, and with this fountain pen he always wrote with large letters, always looking for ways to make the play a success, beautiful and interesting.

Adler did not know music, did not have a singing voice, and nevertheless his tenor and phrasing was filled with music. Music had an effect on him. Music used to take him out of his everyday life. The least stupid thing that affected his mood was able to get him out of his holiday-like spirit. And conversely, a pleasant encounter before entering the theatre gave him taste and desire to play.

Adler often used to request and even give orders to the cashier of his theatre, that when he plays the boxes (the loges) should be seated with beautiful, tall, impressive figures.

It happened that a yidene was tasting an apple while sitting in the boxes; he cried out to the actress with whom he was playing: It's not nice when you have an apple, it's a public place among people!

He said the words, although they did not belong in the play, and crying out these words, he looked with both eyes to the Jews in the box, but in any case the event had already brought Adler out of his holiday spirit.

That the impressive, large, imposing figure was periodically naively childish, he was like all artists, but Adler showed this naiveté in a greater measure than other artists.

Once with a certain manager, Adler earned two hundred dollars for every performance. After the first performance the manager carried in an envelope two hundred dollar bills.

Seeing this envelope, Adler muttered, like a big, unhappy child:

-- This is all for a night out!

The next day the manager did something else. He carried a thick envelope, in which there lied two hundred individual dollar bills, with a big rubber band around it. Adler, seeing this thick envelope, with a good-natured smile, like a happy child, thanked the manager.

Touring across the province, where business was colossally large, Adler became ill from a lumbago. The cross made him very angry. The company had to change trains at one point. As Adler could not move for work, a carriage was pushed and Adler was put in it, and the company followed with tears in their eyes.

Here Adler cried out with a loud voice: "Give alms to the Jewish King Lear!"

He took his hat off his head and played the role of a beggar.

They treated him with money. He then stopped singing his beggar song, and he put on his hat again. His face then lit up with childish joy, and for a couple of minutes he forgot the pain of his lumbago.

Adler used to say that playing theatre two to three hours a day is not much, his whole life is theatre, and it is as necessary for him as air to play as much theatre as possible.


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