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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 30: March 12, 1953

Sara Adler. -- She speaks on the stage like they speak in life.
-- She is a great actress, but they call her Adler's wife.
-- Molly Picon plays mainly in New York. -- Her great success in "Yankele."

SARA ADLER

The greatest art to play on the stage is to speak naturally, to speak like a person speaks, to speak simply, not artificially -- and this was known to Sara Adler.

Sara Adler was the first natural actress on the Yiddish stage. Her naturalness tends to make you forget that there is an actress before you, that you have seen before a person who tells of her sufferings and joys, and you believe her in what she says and who she represents.

The most remarkable thing was that her husband, Jacob Adler, with his Adlerian charm, on the stage used to speak not in a natural manner, but with a stretched-out, festive sound. Mainly in those romantic times the entire world stage spoke in a Hamlet-like manner; even in life every actor also used to speak in a theatrical voice. How she came to play in such a natural true tenor naturally was to be admired.

A true talent finds their own way. A certain American journal once calculated a list of unhappy grandparents' sons, such as the sons of Alexander Dumas, Rockefeller, Henry Ford. Their misfortune lies in the fact that no matter how rich and capable they may be, their personality is lost thanks to their great parents. The same can be said about Sara Adler: no matter how great and good she might have been in her roles, she was always the wife of Jacob Adler. Given such a huge personality as Jacob Adler, it was difficult, very difficult, to be independent.

In those days, when they crowned the female starts, such as Keni Lipzin and Berta Kalich, Sara Adler was the given star to Jacob Adler. She always was like the children of the famous parents -- the son of Rockefeller, and the son of Henry Ford. Sara Adler, the great artist, was her entire life the wife of Jacob Adler. She used to brag about the title of "the wife of Jacob Adler."

The first role that I saw Sara Adler play was in Tolstoy's "Resurrection" as "Katyusha Maslova." A very good company played with her, and Adler was the officer Nekhlyudov. But I must say that at the production of "Resurrection,"  I heard

 

the voice of "King Lear," the sound of historical operettas. But, entirely different was Sara Adler; she, with her natural voice, is far away from them all.

After the production I asked by brother, Itsik, whom he felt was the best in the company, and he answered: "The best of them always is Adler's wife." Her name, "Adler's wife," has followed her entire life. But, remarkably, the greatest patriotte (fan) of Jacob Adler's acting was Sara Adler. She idolized him so much that she used to forget about her own self.

Abraham Goldfaden once told me that he reckoned that Sara Adler was the best "Shulamis." Although she hadn't played "Shulamis" for a long time, I once asked her, when she had played with Rudolph Schildkraut in the "Novelty" Theatre, that she should once play "Shulamis." I was very curious  to see her in the role, mainly with that natural tone of hers, but when I saw her in "Shulamis," I heard an entirely other tenor, which drew far and wide in the East: oriental love, oriental suffering and passion. I imagined that this is what our mothers should have done, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah. Explaining that in love, this is how their encounters with our ancestors sounded. And I heard that a woman, who was sitting in the first row, said to someone else: "This is nevertheless Jacob Adler's wife! ..." Yes, at that moment it felt unjustified. The ascendant, with the name of "Jacob Adler's wife" referring to Sara Adler.

The naturalness of Sara Adler's playing is reflected in her private life ... She has always possessed the breadth and sincerity of a popular person. Rarely does one find such sincerity in theatre people. When she loved someone, she said it and pointed it out, and also vice versa. She has always been responsible for her fathers. The kingdom with King "Adler" hovered before her eyes, and she lived once again over her former youth, her former stormy life, her loves, her triumphs.

She plays now very often with Jacob Adler. She holds him in her hands, kisses him, presses him to her heart -- but only in the form of her grandson. This young son of Luther Adler and Silvia Sidney, whom they have named after the great actor, this wondrous eagle, Jacob Adler.


MOLLY PICON'S FIRST PERFORMANCE IN NEW YORK

Two seasons have passed since I saw Molly Picon play theatre in Europe. In that time I used to correspond with Jacob Kalich about coming to America.

Once in a midweek performance, when we had played an operetta by William Siegel, "Di amerikaner rebbetzin" (there was a role, indeed, for the young rebbetzin), I told Molly Picon why I was bringing the operetta to her, because the main women's role is for an up-and-coming comedienne. And I decided that morning that I would write a letter to Jacob Kalich, that he should come to America, because now is the best time to play light operettas, and indeed with Molly Picon.

There was a benefit. This house was packed, even the boxes -- I gave a look in one of the boxes at a girl with a red coat, just like Molly Picon was wearing when I saw here in Lodz, and in Warsaw, and behind her a Hasidic young man, with the same caracole collar like Jacob Kalich, and I decided that this is only a fantasy; that this works only in my mind, but I looked more at the boxes and became more and more convinced that this is Molly Picon and Jacob Kalich, and we had been greeted from afar. And I said to myself that this Jacob Kalich is a wise Galitzianer; he came at the right time ....

We decided that her first performance should be in "Yankele," indeed the play, which I saw her play in Lodz and in Vienna. I had to create new music for America, because the music, which she played in Europe was put together from my already-performed plays. Jacob Kalich and I sat down diligently and worked on the play and music, we worked a lot on the prose, music and effects.

We personally wanted very much that Molly Picon should be a great success, because theatre people did not strongly believe in this. Others went so far and expressed that Edelstein the manager, was made unhappy, and that this will be my fault, one of Rumshinsky's crazy notions and ideas.

At each rehearsal for "Yankele," I used to ask: "Tell me, Molly, who knows anything else? She used to tell me she wanted this and that musical number or a dance, and we used to put it into the play, and this is how it went at every rehearsal: some new chatchke, number, dance, and one time, almost at the last rehearsal, Molly said to us if she can do something, maybe someone can put it in the new offering of "Yankele." I became curious, and I asked her: "Molly, what is it?" She told me about her little Molly Picon dance and said: "I can make a good borscht" ...

There are actors who never play theatre badly, but never well. They do their piece of work perfectly, just like a worker in a shop or factory. There is no first idea and no last for this kind of actor. Such a person is not nervous at the premiere, and does not complain or longs for the play (perhaps after the wages) when its last night is played.

Molly Picon had a very good understanding of what it meant to be a success, and she remains a star of the American-Yiddish theatre, and if not, she must return to play in the province, and perhaps even return to Europe. This all had an effect on her first performance in America. She did not find any place, nor the right tenor ... That night she did not act but uttered the words. She did not dance, but danced over the top; she did not sing but under-sang. The first performance felt as if that she wanted it to go down. The success of that night was Jacob Kalich, who played the heymishe soldier. They joked with me after the performance that I did not advertise the right star. Instead of Molly Picon, Jacob Kalich should have been advertised as the star. This happiness was, that there was not one just one performance, but five performances, one after the other, and indeed immediately the next morning, Saturday afternoon, to an oversold house, Molly became Molly Picon. She caught on with the public, and the public with her, like an old acquaintance.

When her popularity grew with each performance of "Yankele," the constant complainers used to argue in that language: "Yankele" is a child, a youth, a runner, who fits in very well with her figure ... Let's see that she should play a girl who they already need to have a girlish charm, a woman's grace ... They even made the distinction that yearlong she play children's roles, she now plays Yankele, also a child. But a girl, a woman? This already was a question, and as theatre people express themselves, this must be convincing.

Once we said to Yosl Edelstein, the manager, I think, that Molly should play this season in a play where she plays a girl: I said: What? Have you ever been told that Molly cannot be a girl? It's impossible for a native-born girl not to be able to play a boy, it can happen and does happen, but a girl should not be able to play a girl, that's impossible.

Yosl Edelstein answered, follow me, that before the season will end, Molly will play for a few weeks in which she plays a girl. Around the theatre and at the theatre they often began to speak about Molly's playing a girl, until Jacob Kalich and I decided to stage a play, which she had played in Europe with great success; this was "Tsipke feyer" by Louis Freiman.

As with "Yankele," we went off to work on the play, "Tsipke feyer," with new music and new scenes. First, we got rid of the "feyer," and just called it "Tsipke."

Molly Picon felt that in "Tsipke," earlier than in Yankele, it was already with this alone, that she had played an American girl, where she could be free with her good English. She used to play her "Tsipke," and was mentioned along with the American female stars, such as Clara Bow, Janet Gaynor and Fanny Brice.

With her playing "Tsipke," Molly Picon also showed that she could be sentimental, be loved, and also suffer from love, with her singing of "Abisl libe un a bisl glik (A Bit of Love, and a Bit of Luck)." This was the first love song that I had written for Molly Picon, indeed to her own words.

When we ended the season with "Tsipke," Yosl Edelstein, the manager, said to me: "To convince you that 'Tsipke" is a great success, we can begin the next season with it, and when they did so, it played for seventeen weeks to packed houses.





 

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