After the third probe the hall of
the Yiddish Actors' Union rang with the name of Menasha Skulnik,
who became stamped as a literary actor, who belonged in
the Yiddish Art Theatre.
Indeed he immediately became
engaged for the nearest season in Schnitzer's Art Theatre, where
Rudolph Schildkraut, Ben-Ami, and others were playing. So
from that Menasha Skulnik became more known as a
literary actor, and in this area he created important roles in
important plays, such as in "The Blacksmith's Daughters," Nomberg's "Family," and even in several Hebrew art productions.
But with the literary actors,
Menasha Skulnik did what had happened to Professor Bernardi, who
had become the highest-paid vaudeville actor.
Professor Bernardi was a classical
pianist. He used to play, indeed in vaudeville houses, classical
and semi-classical works of Chopin, Rubinstein, Mozart,
Beethoven. Usually he did not have any great success in the
vaudeville houses with the classical compositions.
With Professor Bernardi, there
happened such a case:
Going up once onto the stage, he
stumbled and fell, and this evoked a great deal of laughter from
the audience. When he sat down to play the piano with his
desperate appearance, with his clothes not in order, this evoked
even more laughter, mainly when he began to play classical
music, and for the offering strongly clapped on the piano, and
he took to falling every time he was standing at the piano. The
public did not cease to storm from laughter.
When he finished playing the piano
and descended from the stage in a deadly, desperate state, the
public did not stop shouting and storming for this classical
The manager immediately came to
him and raised his salary three times as much, to let him repeat
the same thing over and over again at future performances.
From that performance on he
played in an eccentric way, with all sorts of craziness and
tricks. It used to be that the piano fell apart into small
pieces. When he used to remain at the last piano, he began to
pull small, piano bones [?] from his pocket and ears, and played
classical musical compositions on them, but in his particular,
When they used to ask Professor
Bernardi if will ever give a purely classical concert, he used
to answer: "Yes, when I cease making a lot of money and
have any success."
Similarly this happened to Menasha
Skulnik as a character-actor. In the drama he never ever made a
living, and additionally he had trouble with the stars because
when he used to speak out a word on the stage, or make a
movement, the theatre roared with laughter, and they could not
go on further with the performance. All side roles, therefore,
did not satisfy him, and he was jealous of those who had been
stamped "stars." Israel Rosenberg put together a comedy, "Getzl
Becomes a Bridegroom," and in that play Menasha Skulnik played,
and he drew the attention of the entire New York theatre public,
although they played the comedy in Brooklyn's Hopkinson Theatre.
Since then his name had risen. He
played as a featured actor, that he was an up-and-coming star, but
he had not yet had earned the explicit name of a full-fledged star.
I always have had a weakness for
attracting new tchotchkes to the Yiddish theatre. New
sensations. I became partners with Menasha Skulnik in the "Folks
Theatre," which they had built for Maurice Schwartz. With our
first offering, "Fishl der gerotener," both the Yiddish
and the English press greeted us with open arms. There was felt
a freshness from the new star, Menasha Skulnik. From the
glorified text of Louis Freiman, and also from the music, which
was brought over from my women's orchestra.
Menasha Skulnik's name was
spreading everywhere, to Jewish audiences, and also with the
And what confirmed Menasha Skulnik's success?
The answer is that he is a natural
comic. Menasha doesn't need to have any jokes that the public
should strongly laugh at. For example: What kind of a joke is
saying, "I love soup!"? An entirely ordinary set of words, "I love soup!." But when
Menasha says it, they laugh a lot. Or when Menasha says: He is
not a great man, but a man" ... it is not what he says, but how
he says it that brings a great laugh from the entire public. He
is also blessed with such physiognomy, that although he plays
the not-handsome [man], nevertheless a woman loves him.
He plays someone who is
unsuccessful, simply an eternal fool, nevertheless he is wise,
that he twists and turns in the entire situation of the play from his role.
Everything he does on the stage
has its charm. It fits him. He is wise enough and enough of an
actor, that he should not do things on the stage that would not
Menasha Skulnik became the comic
who, when they mention only his name, they are already laughing.
THE ADVERTISING ITSELF
The greatest enemy of theatre,
both for Jews and non-Jews, is advertising. The Yiddish theatre
suffers from this to a very large extent.
The advertisement, that is, in
what place the name of the actor should be positioned, and also with
what letters it should be printed, that is, the "type" --
larger, smaller, thicker or thinner print -- this is what is
most important to the actor. This advertisement already had
caught on with a lot of theatres of that time, and also often
times was not permitted, that it should mainly be about the
For a private person, it is a
foolishness: dead letters ... A difference, where do they stand,
and how do they stand? But not one actor or actress has been
prevented from advertising for the sake of the exacerbation of an
internal, serious illness, from a sleepless night, from not
causing trouble, and indeed many times for not having anything
to eat -- due to advertising.
The advertisement is the true
reason why they are often not able to assemble a company of
first-class actors, because customs, laws and regulations
developed from them. For example: whose name should be erected
in the top spot? This is where the company's progress remains,
as there is only one outlet. But how is it that a theatre wants
to allow itself to have two, three, and indeed four artists, who
are entitled to have the top position and be the
This is really only one of the
reasons why often times a theatre company becomes incomplete,
and indeed due to this reason it remains important, and indeed
great actors often are not engaged. But they would rather walk
around empty-handed, than be advertised in a way does not suit
There is only one important, big
obstacle, which gives a lot of trouble to the theatre, and that
is -- the roles. But you can already help yourself with that.
This is written down, from which one can work with.
But what concerns advertisements
-- for this there is no medicine available ...
With every craft, with every
profession, the first question is: How much? That is, how much
do they cost? How much do they receive? For a week, for a day,
or only for a piece? May it be a craftsman, a doctor, a lawyer
-- the first question is: How much? At the theatre the "how
much" is the last question. The first question that actors ask
when they are engaged is "Where? In which place will they
find their scene? And the second question is: "What? That is,
what roles will he play? And that the two difficult points have
been omitted, the "how much?" That is the first and most
important question in every job and profession. And for the
actor -- the last. And whoever says that the actor is happy with
the place that his image and name will be positioned, he will already look
at the cost. The difficulty is not only with the main stars, but
also with the up-and-comers, that is, the "featured
extras," whose images are only a little lower from the company's
scenes and characters.
Today begins with an order, that
is, who is before, and who is after. There has also been found a
means: one or the other, who have pretensions to be a star, get
the "and," that is, one counts out everyone, and the
up-and-coming star gets the "and."
And there is also such a thing as,
who should be announced before the play or after the play. For
example: With eks in "Shulamis" -- that is for
the play, or "Shulamis" without an eks -- this
is after the play. And there is also a right and a left (I don't
In Yiddish there is the
respectable place for the right side; in English -- the left
side. And that we have two stars who are not able to participate
with honor, they give one name in Yiddish, and the second name
in English. That is, each has a respectable side.
However, trouble arose in the
Yiddish theatre, and this is because of the names with electric lights
across the theatre. That a manager used to want an important
actor. He used to say to him that he will "burn" him, meaning
that his name will up in electric letters on the sign -- and it
starts with a series of yes burns, no burns, and many times it
burns a good play and a good theatre.
Rudolph Schildkraut once asked the
actors: Why do you keep yourself in one place and argue about
image, type, lower, higher? Why is Yiddish theatre not conducted
in America as it is in Germany? In Germany, we have no
difficulty in announcing our actions to our actors."
The actors ask: "Well, Herr
Schildkraut," he said, "how do you do it in Germany?"
Schildkraut answered: "Quite
simply! To us in Germany they advertise with large letters:
'Rudolph Schildkraut in Shylock' and no more."
Understandably, the actors were
not very happy with this German practice.