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
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
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
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
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
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
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