INDECENT CHARACTERS

By Katherine Altman

 

LEMML

Played by Adrian Khactu

Kuni-Leml means  “good-hearted fool”  קוני-לעמל

The name was adopted as a noun for a simpleton due to the popularity of its source: an 1880 operetta by the father of Yiddish theatre, Avrom (Abraham) Goldfaden, called The Two Kuni-Lemls or The Fanatic. A ridiculous slapstick comedy of mistaken identity, romance, and trickery based on Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors, Kuni-Leml is an unattractive,devout Hasid with a stammer, poor vision, and a limp. He becomes betrothed to the unwilling daughter of a prominent and pious man, but she is in love with her tutor, a young, handsome scholar. Together she and her scholar contrive to be able to marry, with her betrothed tricking others, including Kuni-Leml himself, into believing that he is the real Kuni-Leml.

 

Lemml, as the master of ceremonies of the play (and the play within the play), and the one endowed with the honor of introducing the acting troupe, embodies the role of the marshelik or the payats, the MC of the traditional Jewish Purim plays (or purim-shpil), which, dating back to the 16th century, were the exuberant, music-filled origins of Jewish theatre, presented in the spring at the time of this most irreverent of Jewish holidays, Purim. The marshelik was one of many varieties of Jewish clowns or jesters who were charismatic improvisers and entertainers, gifted with word play and at captivating the audience. In the context of a Purim play, which for much of its history would be performed not in a theatre building but for a crowd packed into a living room or in a school or other community space, the marshelik would welcome and bless the audience, initiate, summarize, and comment on the action of the story, and introduce the actors (who often had to wait outside to be cued because they couldn’t all fit inside the cramped performance area!)
 

CHANA, Rifkele, Madje, Elsa Heims, Immigrant, Ruth/Reina, Virginia McFadden, Bagelman Sister

Played by Christina Uyeno

Madje Asch, was born Mathilde Shapiro (Spiro) in 1883 in Poland, and went by the name “Madje.” Born into a well-to-do wealthy family, her father, Menahem Mendel Shapiro, was a Hebrew teacher and a poet. Her family were socialists and quite politically active in Warsaw, many of them revolutionists. Her brother, Isaac, was hanged by the czar for his political activities, and her sister Basha helped to transport weapons among groups across the city and was ultimately banished by the government to Siberia. Madje was not so heavily involved in the socialist, anti-czarist activities as her family, but leant her family members assistance and certainly aligned herself with leftist political views. Madje and Sholem married in 1903; their first son, Nathan, was born the following year, and became a writer himself (publishing a memoir about his relationship with his father). They had two other sons, Moses and John, and a daughter, Ruth. Madje is described as having been very beautiful. She was incredibly involved in her husband’s career, helping to shape and guide his work throughout the years.

 

Elsa Heims was an actress of the stage and screen. Born in 1878 in Berlin, her career began at the Deutches Theatre in Berlin, first in 1896 under Otto Brahm, and then with famed director Max Reinhardt. She and Reinhardt married in 1910, but their relationship did not last; she resisted a divorce, and their divorce wasn’t finalized until 1935. With the rise of the National Socialists in Germany, she traveled west to get away, spending the rest of her life in London or the United States, where she continued her film career playing relatively small roles. She is most known for her silent film roles, in Lady Hamilton in 1921 and Die Rothausgasse in 1928. She died in 1958 in California.

 

Virginia McFadden (Virginia MacFadyen) was born in 1900 in North Carolina; she was an actress as well as an author. Her stage debut was as Rivkele in The God of Vengeance in 1922 with the Provincetown Players; she followed the production went it transferred to the Apollo Theatre in 1923, where she was arrested for obscenity along with the rest of the cast (receiving a suspended sentence). She later appeared in a supporting role in The Wonderful Visit at a small New York theatre in 1924. She published a few novels in the mid-1920s, including the romantic mystery novel Bittern Point in 1926. She died in 1966.

 

“An American Girl,” by Brander Matthews

She’s had a Vassar education,

And points with pride to her degrees;

She’s studied household decoration;

She knows a dado from a frieze,

And tells Corots from Boldonis;

A Jacquemart etching, or a Haden,

A Whistler, too, perchance might please

A free and frank young Yankee maiden

Our Girls: Poems in Praise of the American Girl (New York: Moffat, Yard and Company, 1907), 3.

 

Clara and Minnie Bagelman were born in the Bronx to working class Jewish immigrants, their father from Kiev and their mother from Austria. The oldest sister of four, Clara was born in 1920. The sisters grew up speaking only Yiddish and became known for singing Americanized, jazzy versions of traditional Yiddish folk tunes. They got their start at a young age on a Yiddish language amateur radio program, before being coached in arranging music and learning how to perform with harmony in a swing style. After the Andrews Sisters had a national smash hit in 1937 with “Bei Mir Bistu Shein,” they changed their names to Claire and Merna Barry to widen their audience appeal, (picking “Barry” out of a phonebook). They became popular on New York radio in the 1940s on the show “Yiddish Melodies in Swing,” where they would sing jazz in Yiddish, and recorded some Yiddish versions of popular songs like “Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head” as well. They achieved crossover popularity with a mainstream American audience, appearing on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1956 (which they ultimately appeared on ten times between 1956 and 1965), along with “The Tonight Show” and “The Jack Paar Show.” Their popularity continued into the 1950s and 60s, and over their careers, their repertory included songs in Hebrew, English, Spanish, and Russian. They were immensely popular performers in the Catskills, as well as in Miami Beach and Las Vegas. Merna died in 1980 and Claire lived until 2014.
 

Bagelman Sisters, Claire and Merna Barry / Clara and Minnie Bagelman

Rumania, Rumania, as sung by the Barry Sisters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REoxY-iyVPU

AVRAM, Asch, Immigrant, Morris Carnovsky, Eugene O’Neill, John Rosen

 

Played by Adam Brading

 

“An impulsive, frequently generous man, he could be childish and bad tempered. … Spontaneous and imaginative, Asch was both realist and romanticist, naturalist and idealist, novelist and essayist, playwright and journalist.”*


 

Sholem Asch was born in 1880 in Kutno, a small town in Russian Poland with a majority Jewish population, where Jews and gentiles had largely peaceable relations, except during times of tension surrounding religious holidays; Asch did face antisemitism nevertheless and was even  beaten by a group of gentile boys at the age of seven. He was the youngest child in a large, Hasidic family with ten children, and he received a traditional, religious education. The most academically inclined of his siblings, his parents hoped he would continue his studies and become a rabbi. Asch, along with other classmates, gained exposure to a secular education through the family library of a fellow student whose family was the only Maskil (follower of the Jewish Enlightenment) household in the community. Through these books, he taught himself German and was exposed to German and other Western literature, poetry, Shakespeare, and other classics from the secular world. Soon, the teenaged Asch was known as a member of the Maskilim in the small town of Kutno, part of a generation of young people wanting to be free of the restrictions of traditional Jewish life and wanting to engage with and create knowledge and culture in the secular world, for the betterment and progress of the Jewish people. His parents in response sent him away to live with relatives in a nearby village, where he worked as a Hebrew teacher. Asch then moved to a larger town where he worked as a letter writer for people who could not write themselves, gaining intimate insight into the human experience and enjoying most of all penning the love letters.

 

In 1900 Asch moved to Warsaw, living in relative poverty with two roommates who were also writers. That same year he had his first short story, “Moyshele” published. Asch, already an admirer of Isaac Leib Peretz’s writings, soon came to be one of his proteges, with Peretz encouraging Asch to shift from writing in Hebrew to Yiddish. In 1903 Asch married Mathilde (Madje) Shapiro, daughter of a wealthy family and writer father; this gave Asch the financial support he needed to focus on his writing career. Madje and Asch had four children together. Over his lifetime, Asch wrote poems, plays, novels, stories, and essays. He was best known among his Jewish followers in particular for early plays like The God of Vengeance and The Days of the Messiah and for novels such as A Shtetl (or The Little Town), Motke the Thief, The Witch of Castile, Three Cities, Uncle Moses, and The Sayer of Psalms. God of Vengeance was controversial in many Jewish households, but its successful production in Berlin made him a known entity throughout Europe, and at the mere age of twenty-seven, he already had his work produced in St. Petersburg, Warsaw, and New York.

 

Asch is described as having been tall, precisely attired, and mustached, looking the part of a pristine, learned man. He ultimately wrote around twenty plays, though he completely stopped writing for the stage after the 1920s. His novels were well received, and by 1920 he was a famous name in Europe and America. He wrote incredibly prolifically and without regard for a particular methodology, or particular literary school or theory, following his own tastes and whatever style or concept he wished to explore. His works are described by critics as uneven as a result, sometimes melodramatic or flawed, but sometimes striking and profound in their rich and complex portraits of the Jewish experience, and impactful in their questioning of the nature of belief and faith. Asch, like Peretz, became a staunch supporter of the Yiddish language and Yiddish literature, and in later years, he also supported the Zionist movement.

 

Having traveled frequently in the early 1910s and visited both Palestine and New York, Asch moved to New York in 1914 with the outbreak of World War I, there writing for the Yiddish language newspaper, Forverts, or Forward, (for which he continued to write for 25 years), and became one of the founding members of the still active JDC (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee). After World War I, Asch returned to Europe, principally for a fact-finding mission in Eastern Europe, particularly Lithuania, for the JDC examining the impact of the war and the pogroms. He was deeply affected by what he saw during this time. In 1923 he returned to live in Warsaw, spending a great deal of time in Germany as well; he moved back to the United States in 1938, with World War II imminent.

 

In the later years of his career, beginning with The Nazarene in 1939, and followed by The Apostle and Mary, he wrote “Christological novels,” fictionalized accounts of the lives of Jesus, Mary, and Paul; he reworked scriptural narrative in order to draw connections between Judaism and Christianity in a belief that building a mutual understanding between Jews and Christians was the best path to a better, more peaceful world and for the survival and longevity of the Jewish people. The novels sold incredibly well in America, but filled the last years of his life with conflict and attacks from many in the Jewish community; though he continued to identify himself as a Jew, even refusing to work with an American publisher because they wanted to list him as “S. Asch” because they felt Sholem was too identifiably Jewish, many of his former supporters believed that he had renounced his Jewish faith and accused him of distorting Jewish history and philosophy in order to court Christian favor. In the early 1940s, Yiddish publications in the United States, quite painfully instigated by the head of Forverts with whom he had shared a long partnership, boycotted his writings; the only publication that would take his work was the Marxist paper, Morning Freiheit. This became ammunition for Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s, who summoned him several times before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (despite the fact that Asch had been critical of Marx in some of his writings.) The combination of the boycott on his work, the public hostility now directed at him, a street assault in 1952, and the threat posed by the McCarthy hearings together led Asch and Mathilda to leave the United States, first to England (though they also spent time in Nice, France), and then to Israel until 1956. Asch died in England in 1957, in the midst of a full day of writing. Though he requested to be buried in Israel, his wife decided it was best to bury him in London, in a country where his writing had been more well-received. To this day, he remains one of the most widely read and translated Yiddish writers ever to have lived, as well as one of the most controversial.

 

*Siegel, Ben. The Controversial Sholem Asch: An Introduction to His Fiction. 1976.

 

Morris Carnovsky was born in St. Louis on Sept. 5, 1897 to Russian Jewish immigrants, was an acclaimed stage and film actor known for playing complex characters. His father was a grocer who took him to see Yiddish theatre when he was young. In his first high school play he played Benjamin Disraeli. He graduated from Washington University in 1920 before moving to Boston and joining the Henry Jewitt Players. He then moved to New York, where he his first stage role in the city was in the English language production of The God of Vengeance in 1922 at the Provincetown Players, where he portrayed one of the “upstanding” community members, Reb Aaron. He followed the production to its ill-fated run at the Apollo in 1923, and was arrested along with the rest of the cast on obscenity charges (with the cast members ultimately receiving suspended sentences). Carnovsky continued his career in New York, playing a range of supporting roles including Uncle Vanya in 1924. In 1931, he became a founding member of the Group Theatre. He moved to Hollywood in 1937 to make films (in part hoping to make money to help the financially struggling Group Theatre), appearing in The Life of Emile Zola and Rhapsody in Blue, among others. In 1951, the House Un-American Activities Committee named him as a member of a communist-front group. He took the stand but refused to answer questions or name names, ultimately ending his film career. Out of Hollywood, he moved back to New York and back into theatre. In 1956, at almost 60, John Houseman recruited him for the American Shakespeare Festival, the first time he had ever performed Shakespeare. In 1965 he played Lear. He appeared in only two more films after being blacklisted, including A View from the Bridge in 1962. He was elected to the Theater Hall of Fame in 1979, and died in 1991.

 

Eugene O’Neill remains to this day one of the most prominent American playwrights, known for such works as Anna Christie (1922), The Iceman Cometh (1946), and Long Day’s Journey Into Night (published posthumously in 1956). He was born in 1888 in New York City. His father, James O’Neill, was a successful actor and Eugene spent much of his childhood traveling with his father as he toured around the country in productions. He had a difficult childhood in many regards; in addition to the stress of living on the road in hotel rooms and on trains, the trauma of the death of his older brother three years before O’Neill was born continued to take its toll on his family, and his mother became addicted to morphine, after having had it prescribed to her during her difficult childbirth with O’Neill. He spent most of his youth from age seven onwards in boarding schools. After spending only one academic year, 1906-1907, at Princeton University O’Neill led a reckless existence for the next five years, seeking adventure and traveling as a seaman, first in Honduras in search of gold, then to Buenos Aires, to New York, and finally to Liverpool. Throughout these wanderings he drifted from job to job (including working as a reporter in 1912), drinking heavily, and purportedly attempting suicide, before falling severely ill with tuberculosis and returning to the New York area to recuperate for six months from 1912-1913 at a sanatorium. It was during this time that he decided to become a playwright.

 

His early plays were one acts, and in 1916 he joined the experimental theatre group, The Provincetown Players; the group moved to a proper playhouse in Greenwich and continued to produce his plays for the next four years. His first full length production, Beyond the Horizon (1920) was produced on Broadway and earned him a Pulitzer Prize; Anna Christie, Strange Interlude, and Long Day's Journey into Night would also earn him Pulitzer Prizes. In 1922 Harry Weinberger produced his play, The Hairy Ape, and the two remained associated in the years to come with Weinberger acting both as producer for O’Neill during some of these early years and as lawyer when he was accused of plagiarism in 1931. Between 1920 and 1943 O’Neill wrote twenty full length dramas. He is most associated with his deeply personal and usually tragic works, and the brutal sparseness of his writing; inspired by Chekhov and Strindberg, he was among the first U.S. playwrights to use realism (though he also utilized other styles such as expressionism), and is known for introducing the the U.S. stage characters on the fringe of society who spoke in American vernacular. In 1936, he became the only U.S. playwright to ever win the Nobel Prize in Literature. After two divorces and dysfunctional relationships with his three children (his two eldest developed addiction issues and ultimately committed suicide, and his youngest, a daughter, he disowned after she married the much older Charlie Chaplin), he died, after many years of failing health, in 1953 in almost utter isolation, other than the company of his doctor and his third wife.

 

From the play: When O’Neill states, “Dat ole davil sea make dem crazy fools with her dirty tricks! It’s so!” he quotes Chris, a character from one of his own plays, Anna Christie. O’Neill is likely associating his and Asch’s relationship with the theatre and Chris’ relationship to the sea, which operates in Anna Christie as a beautiful and nurturing, yet dangerous and destructive force that has power to charm and influence men.

 

Hell Hole Bar: In the Bohemiam artist district that was Greenwich Village, between the early 1900s  and the 1920s, the Hell Hole Bar was a gritty, dive establishment that attracted artists, thugs, immigrants, gangsters, prostitutes, and radicals. Located on Sixth Avenue and West Fourth Street, it was surrounded by an area dominated by bars and boarding houses.Officially called The Golden Swan Garden (but not in practice, evidently) and run by a couple of Irish gangsters, it was known to be a favorite haunt of Eugene O’Neill, who even found inspiration for a couple of his characters in his plays among the other patrons.

Audio recording of O’Neill reading some of Edmund’s lines from Long Day’s Journey Into Night: https://soundcloud.com/yup-digital/eugene-oneill-reads-from-long-days-journey-into-night

HALINA, Manke, Immigrant, Freida, Dorothee Nelson/Dine, Dr. Hornig, Bagelman Sister

Played by Annie Lokomaikaʻi Lipscomb

Dorothee Nelson, based on Dorothee Nolan, a stage actress who got her start in New York with The God of Vengeance at the Provincetown Players in 1922. After being arrested, along with the rest of the cast and crew, for obscenity and receiving a suspended sentence, she continued to act in modest roles in New York until the late 1930s. No other information about her is readily available.

Bagelman Sisters- see Chana

MENDEL, Nakhmen, Immigrant, Harry Weinberger, Officer Benjamin Baile, Rabbi Joseph Silverman

Played by Brandon Caban

Nakhmen Mayzel was born in 1887 in Kiev. He was a Yiddish editor, literary critic, cultural activist, and historian. He came from a family of rabbis and wealthy merchants and was tutored at home until the age of 17. He was able to make a name for himself on the literary scene from a young age, publishing essays in Hebrew as early as 1905 and switching to Yiddish in 1909. He founded and managed a Yiddish language publishing house in Kiev from 1912-1914 called Kunst Farlag; in 1917 he helped to found the publishing house Kiever Farlag, which published 100 books in Yiddish over a four year period. He was also a member of the Kiev Culture League, editing periodicals and anthologies. In 1921 he moved to Warsaw and became a founding member of its Culture League, continuing to serve as a literary critic and editor. In 1924 he co-founded Literarishe belter, a weekly periodical which served as the leading Yiddish literary publication in interwar Poland; he also served as co-editor (along with I.J. Singer and others) of the periodical for the duration of its publication, through 1939. He was an influential figure in the promotion of the Yiddish language and literature, fighting against assimilation into Polish and advocating for high artistic standards in Yiddish literature, railing against "shund," or “trash,” which was the term for low-brow entertainment-focused Yiddish language literature and theatre. Nakhmen, less progressive than certain factions of of his peers, ran into conflict with the Bundists, those of his Jewish literary circle who were Marxists, due to his political differences as well as to his ties to the Zionist movement.

 

Unlike the Nakhmen of Indecent, the real man immigrated to New York. City in 1937, continuing to live, write, and work successfully in the United States until 1964, among other things editing the monthly Yidishe Kultur (Yiddish Culture). He moved to Israel with his family, where he lived for the last two years of his life until 1966.


Harry Weinberger was born in New York in 1886, went to public school, and then worked as a night stenographer to pay his way through NYU law school, which he graduated from in 1908. He was an individualist opposed to state power and became a defense attorney in NYC, defending free speech, birth control, and conscientious objection and opposing military conscription, compulsory vaccination, and theatrical censorship. He became well-known after a failed suit on behalf of Herbert Thorpe, a Staten Island man who challenged the NYC Board of Education's mandatory vaccination policy in 1910. He became a producer/manager of the Provincetown Players, where Eugene O’Neill (among others got his start), serving as legal counsel for the theatre group where need be. During WWI he challenged the Selective Service Act and joined Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman's No-Conscription League. He defended Berkman and Goldman until they were deported in December 1919. Weinberger took over the Provincetown Players during its run of The God of Vengeance and facilitated its move to the Apollo on Broadway, and he was indicted along with the cast in March 1923 for "corruption of the morals of youth or others." After being convicted and fined $200, he managed to reverse the verdict over a three year appeal process despite the ACLU refusing to support the case. In 1931 he defended Eugene O'Neill, who was accused of plagiarizing much of a 1928 play. In 1934 he wrote Liberty of the Press, which suggests that American speech and the press were no longer free.

 

“I have never in my life been picked on as an easy mark or a pushover, though I am only 5 feet 4 1/2 inches tall…It must have appeared to people who knew me through the years that I would rather fight than eat.”-Harry Weinberger

Rabbi Joseph Silverman was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1860. He earned a BA from the University of Cincinnati in 1883 before being ordained a rabbi in 1884 and working at temples in Texas, getting his Doctor of Divinity from Hebrew Union in 1887. He married in 1887, and he and his wife had five children together. When he arrived in New York at the age of 27 in 1888 he was offered a position as second-in-command to a senior rabbi at the leading Reform congregation in the United States, at Temple Emanu-El. The senior rabbi retired in 1895, however, Silverman did not receive a promotion for ten more years. He retired from his position in 1922 to focus on his community charity work and writing, but was elected rabbi-emeritus for life by his congregation and remained involved with his congregants. After purportedly receiving complaints from temple congregants, he made a formal complaint to the New York police about the God of Vengeance production at the Apollo, ultimately leading to the indictment of its cast and crew. He was outspokenly against women's suffrage. He was a member of the General Committee Order of B'nai B'rith, the Executive Committee of the National Association for Advancement of the Colored Race, the Mohawk Peace Conference, the Executive Committee of the Zionist Organization of America, and the American Committee of the Jewish Palestine Exploration Society. He also earned a Doctor of Hebrew Literature from NYU in 1924. He died in 1930.


 

VERA, Sarah, Mrs. Peretz, Immigrant, Esther Stockton, Older Madje

Played by Ann Brandman

Esther Stockton was a stage actress during the 1920s who appeared in supporting roles in four Broadway productions between 1921 and 1929, The God of Vengeance being her second. No additional information about her appears to be publicly available.

Older Madje- see Chana

OTTO, Yekel, Peretz, Schildkraut, Immigrant, Bartender, Judge McIntyre, Older Asch

Played by Tyler Haugen

Isaac Leib Peretz, the father of modern Yiddish literature, and “arguably the most important figure in the development of modern Jewish culture,”* was born in Zamość, a small city in southeast Poland, in 1852, part of a large, orthodox Jewish family.  He was educated by private tutors and at the age of fifteen, with many in town having taken note of his aptitude and enthusiasm for education, was given the key to the private library of a Jewish scholar in his town. This opened doors to knowledge in science, world languages and literatures, history, and other writings. He became involved in the Jewish Enlightenment movement as a young man, part of a generation of young people wanting to be free of the restrictions of traditional Jewish life and wanting to engage with and create knowledge and culture in the secular world, ultimately not only for his own benefit, but on a societal level, for the betterment and survival of the Jewish people.

 

In 1870, his parents arranged his marriage to Sarah Litchenfeld, daughter of a Maskil ( a member of the Jewish Enlightenment movement). They had one son; the couple separated after five years. He remarried in 1878, to Helena Ringelheim, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, and brought his son with him. Peretz worked as a Hebrew tutor, and then had a ten year career as a very successful private lawyer (“private” meaning he could not plead in Russian courts) and represented both Jewish and Polish clients, many of whom were prominent in the community. An active member of his community who, among other things, had established a Jewish secondary school and taught at a night school for workers, in 1887, he was accused of allegedly stirring support for socialism and Polish nationalism and was stripped of his license. Unable to practice law anymore, he moved to Warsaw in 1888, where he remained for the rest of his life. He worked for the city council, in charge of burials, and spent the rest of his time writing and holding visiting hours to cultivate dialogue around and support for literature and culture in his community.

 

Peretz was a prolific writer of poems, short stories, drama, humorous sketches, and satire. He first wrote in Hebrew but soon changed to Yiddish. His writings were sympathetic to the labor movement, and was in general a more tempered and measured man in his politics, for example, supportive of the Hasidic Jews (who were despised by many of the Maskilim for being extreme in their traditionalism). Self-taught in European languages, European literature, law, and science, and aimed to share secular knowledge with the Jewish community, believing Jews needed to open up to the secular world and to modernize, though well aware of the antisemitism they would face. So, he spent several years writing articles on physics, chemistry, economics, and other subjects for The Jewish Library, which he also edited. His house in Warsaw was a place for young Jewish writers to gather, and he fostered the literary careers of many important writers, including Sholem Asch. In the last years of his life, he became the leader of the Yiddishist movement, which opposed Zionism by arguing for a cultural and national Jewish life within the Diaspora. He died in 1915, and the streets of Warsaw were flooded with an estimated 100,000 who followed his funeral procession.

 

It is worth noting Peretz’s close contemporaries, Sholem Aleichem and  Mendele Mocher Sforim, who were fellow Yiddish literary figures and writers and close influences upon one another. Peretz, however, was unique in his modernist view and his acknowledgement of the tensions of identity for Jews created by the changing social order and the inevitability of political emancipation and scientific progress and its impact on Jewish culture and life.

 

See this link to read an excerpt from his letter to his wife (fiancee at the time of the letter), Helena: https://www.jhi.pl/en/blog/2015-06-08-the-family-correspondence-of-i-l-peretz

 

*Wisse, Ruth R. “Introduction,” The I.L. Peretz Reader, 2002.


 

Rudolph Schildkraut was born in 1862 (some say in Constantinople, and others in Galatz, Romania) to a German-speaking family. In either case, he grew up in Romania, his mother and stepfather the owners of a small hotel. He went to a Jewish elementary school and then studied at a Greek trade school from age 9-14. When he was 7 his rabbi slapped him so hard he became deaf in one ear. As a teen, he left home and school to join a small group of traveling players, ultimately making his way to Vienna where he found small roles in German and studied acting. His success in the German theatre continued, with his 1903 portrayal of Lear in Hamburg garnering him an invitation from famed director Max Reinhardt to join his esteemed Deutches Theatre in Berlin. There, Schildkraut’s 1905 portrayal of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice launched his reputation as one of the preeminent actors of his time. In 1907 he originated the role of Yekel in the first run of The God of Vengeance at the Deutches Theatre. His acting career was international, and he appeared in South America, Asia, and Europe before moving to America in 1910 (purportedly due to some heavy debts he had accrued because of gambling), first acting in German, then in Yiddish. He returned to Germany in 1914 at the onset of World War I, but came back to New York in 1920. In December 1922 he made his English debut as Yekel in The God of Vengeance, first with the Provincetown Players, then following the production to the Apollo on Broadway. As a major star and the director of the production, he was a particular target in the 1923 obscenity trial and was, along with Harry Weinberger, fined $200. The trial and controversy surrounding the production destroyed his chances of a successful career on Broadway. He continued his acting career in both Yiddish and English, opening his own theatre in 1925 which had to close due to financial struggles. He acted in the Hollywood film His People in 1925, as well as the controversial role in The King of Kings in 1927. Particularly in later life, he acted with his son, Joseph. He died in 1930.

 

John F. McIntyre was born in New York City in 1855. A member of a prominent family, his father was an architect and he went to a private Catholic school before attending CUNY, receiving a law degree in 1876. He began practicing as an attorney and entered politics not long after, being elected to the Legislature in 1887, and an active member of the Democratic Party. He was appointed Assistant District Attorney in 1891 and was known for prosecuting a legendary number of murder cases; at the time he was in office, it was said that he had “convicted more men for this crime than any one living.”* In 1896 he resigned as ADA in order to travel to London to defend an Irishman who had been charged with attempting to use dynamite in Great Britain. Feeling his client to be a victim of English persecution, he got the man off and brought him back to the United States a free man, before ultimately resuming his position as ADA. He became a judge later in his career, serving as Judge for the Court of General Sessions for New York County. In 1916 he underwent a controversial election, with his Republican opponent calling for a recount after McIntyre’s win and McIntyre in turn accusing his opponent of ballot tampering during the recount process. McIntyre presided as the judge on the God of Vengeance trial in 1923, People v. Weinberger, recommending to the jury their conviction of the production team. He told the jury that “decency and morality should be upheld and anyone who violates morals, who disregards decency, who portrays obscenity, may be regarded by you as guilty” and declared his hope that the ruling would ultimately have “a wholesome effect on the theatrical professions.”**


 

*The Brown Book ; a Biographical Record of Public Officials of the City of New York for 1898-9. Martin B. Brown Company, 1899, pp 179-180.

**Erdman, Harley. “Jewish Anxiety in ‘Days of Judgement’: Community Conflict, Antisemitism, and the God of Vengeance Obscenity Case.” Theatre Survey, vol. 40, no. 1, May 1999, pp. 51-74.


 

Older Sholem Asch- See Avram

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