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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 31: March 16, 1953

Yosl Edelstein. -- As such he engages Paul Muni for his theatre.
-- Samuel Goldinburg. -- He is quickly recognized as a star.

"I already know with whom you will end the play. Do you have a happy ending?"

These were the words with which Yosl Edelstein used to give an actor, a director, the composer, when they used to leave from a rehearsal of a new play. He used to say further: "I find that one 'talapet.' This word 'talapet' was a special Yosl Edelstein word ("talapen" means that one goes with torn shoes into the mud). By that, he means swimming, crawling on slippery walls.

He used to say, "I love a happy ending. I hate tsores (trouble)! Mostly I hate that people do not know what they are ending up with."

Yosl Edelstein always worried about the "ending." He never worried about what will be at the beginning of a season, but what will end a season.

The virtue, to know what will be next, the good end, not the "talapen," be careful, avoid omissions -- this is what made him the most successful and greatest Yiddish theatre manager.

In addition to being a responsible manager, he also knew how to deal with his stars.

He knew psychology, the character, the soul of each actor, and how to play on the string of their American naiveté.

After playing for a packed house, Yosl Edelstein used to go to an actor, the star, and make a statement: "Aya, you deserve a lot of respect? Such an honor, as you have today, is nothing to be ashamed of. I mean, you still have to play."

To the author he used to say, "So, have you somehow fallen on a new book?" "Fallen" to him meant "read." That is, "Have you read a good play? Since you already said yes, take at least from a good play."

He used to say about the playwright Lateiner that he is a great expert and reads good books.



When Yosl Edelstein wanted to get an actor for his theatre, he needed to use various means to get him. For example: In the time when Muni Weisenfreund (Paul Muni) played in the "Yiddish Art Theatre" and began to shine with his acting, at that time Yosl Edelstein said to me, after a Sunday matinee performance: "Come, we will go to eat at Luchow's Restaurant." (Luchow's was a German restaurant where Yiddish actors used to visit frequently.)

Leaving the theatre, he went the first floor of the office and took out from the safe ten new hundreds. He put the money into his breast pocket and we left. On the way he always threw in a word: "People talk strongly about Muni Weisenfreund. Do you think that I should get him? The young man has a great future, I understand. He further says, "that he is from the gang of crazies. He wants to play art, shmuntz, but I want to get him, I want to get him."

The Yiddish Art Theatre then was on 14th Street, in the Irving Place Theatre, opposite Luchow's Restaurant.

When we entered into the restaurant, we noticed Muni Weisenfreund. He sat distraught, depressed. In the Art Theatre the business then was not birdlike. He did not have a word to speak, as if the whole world was lying on his shoulders ....

Yosl Edelstein began: "So, meshugener, why are you so worried? Yes, you have troubles, did you not get your wages on time?"

Muni Weisenfreund barely uttered a few words, from which it was evident that he was very desperate. He did not see any future and went around with the thought of leaving the stage.

Yosl Edelstein exclaimed: "Meshugener! Everyone speaks of how great you are. You have not yet warmed up at the theatre, and you are already talking about leaving. You need one thing now, and that's a little money. Is that it? You can easily get it."

Muni Weisenfreund called out:

"I imagine that it's not so easy."

At that time, when the waiter had brought the food to eat, Edelstein took out of his breast pocket ten new hundreds and decorated the table with them.

Muni Weisenfreund, to whom at the time ten dollars was a lot of money, never saw that much money. He rolled his eyes. Edelstein said:

"Why are you looking like that? Do you need to have it? Take it."

And with those words he shoved the money into his breast pocket. Muni began to stammer:

-- Mister Edel ... Edel ... Edelstein, for .... why? Why?  When will I be able to deliver it to you?

-- They aren't crazy! -- Edelstein said -- Join me in the theatre. You will be a star. I know what I am saying. I said so to Adler, Thomashefsky, Kessler, and I say this also to you, that with time you will be a great star. Write out a note, sign that you are coming to me this season in the Second Avenue Theatre.

Edelstein hated dramas, even those from which he made a lot of money. He rarely used to go to the theatre for a dramatic production. After the plays he used to stand in the lobby of the theatre and observe the Jews with the women as they walked home with tears in their eyes, and he used to say: "They were resurrected. They got used to it well."

He used to see an operetta every night. In the theatre he was busy, he used to say that maybe, certain numbers of music that he loved the most should be called in, because he does not want to let it go.

His interest in theatre never died. Even then when he was very ill, he sat in the lobby of the theatre in a wheelchair, and a nurse stood next to him. He would ask me:

" -- Well, do you know what you will end your operetta with? Do you have a good ending?"

At his funeral I stood from afar and thought that in a play the end plays an important role; But as far as a man is concerned, the end is no longer important, because all of us have one in the same end.


The stars of the Yiddish theatre had been already taken away, shining like through a cloud. They had already taken lives from us once. No new ones had appeared.

Jacob Adler already no longer had his own theatre. He played guest productions in various theatres, and also in the province.

David Kessler also had already been laughing at the past too, and often he swam in cheap melodramas and operettas. After Jacob Gordin's death, no important plays were created for either Adler or Kessler, nor any important roles.

Boris Thomashefsky already figured more as a manager, director, and even as a playwright, and had already given the better roles to those who were younger, and he took for himself smaller, side, unimportant roles.

In those days the Yiddish theatre world began to look to the heavens for a new star for the Yiddish theatre. And as did once the great Italian maestro Toscanini answer a prima donna for the Metropolitan Opera House, when they were both confused. "I am a star," she wrote, and he answered: "Stars are only in heaven, and you spin around on the boards of a stage."

But a star is a star, and as clouds began to arrive on the stars of contemporary Yiddish theatre, the Yiddish theatre looked for a new star. Without violence, without shouting, there was announced in a mid-week performance the appearance of an unknown, foreign actor, in an unknown, foreign play. But one saw for oneself an elegant, unpretentious figure, with a tasteful, elegant and elastic, flexible, a European attitude; one who has who to sell to the public, and mostly how to sell the art. Overnight there came a new star from the heavens for the Yiddish theatre, Samuel Goldinburg.

In Yiddish theatre there began a great debate and argument, which became a new theme -- Goldinburg.

The play in which Goldinburg performed in for the first time in America was a Spanish drama by Gimari, in Yiddish it was called, "Oyf der zindiger erd (On the Sinful Earth)." Many actors felt that Goldinburg was indeed very good in the play, but they wanted to see him in a Yiddish play from our repertoire.

The second play in which Goldinburg appeared was Anshel Schorr's "Shir hashirim (Song of Songs)," with my music. In "Shir hashirim" Goldinburg had already convinced the "patriots", the critics, the actors, mainly the constant, non-forgivers, that he could act in a play from our repertoire, and that he is one of us, a Yiddish actor with all the virtues, and one virtue, an addition who was well-received in the play, "Shir hashirim": like the role from "Shir hashirim" is that of a music professor who has to play the piano on stage.

When they performed the play for the first time in New York, with Morris Moshkowitz as the music professor, I used to play the piano from behind the stage, and Moshkowitz used to sit at the piano on the stage, like he was really playing it. But Samuel Goldinburg appeared that beyond the magnificent acting of the romantic, passionate, elegant, noble music professor Oppenheim, that only Samuel Goldinburg knew how to play, that indeed he alone was playing the piano, and it appeared that besides a great actor, he was a good pianist and very musical.

The first play in which Goldinburg performed was a Spanish one; the second, "Shir hashirim," he had seen Morris Moshkowitz play in London (He indeed acted in the London Pavilion Theatre, where  Morris Moshkowitz was a star and manager), and the patriots (i.e. fans) of Adler and Kessler, with the entire theatre family, had proposed that they wanted to see Samuel Goldinburg in a new play, in which he alone would play the role and play this type.

During that time, patriots or critics had plenty of sway over who would be performing.

They staged a drama of New York life, written by Osip Dymow, "Der shtot gayst (The Town Spirit)," in which Goldinburg played Mephisto, a type of Uriel Acosta, and although the play did not have the wished-for success, Goldinburg however showed that they could rely on him.

In two months' time, Goldinburg stood on the star pedestal as a "full-fledged star" of the Yiddish theatre.





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