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The Celia Adler Story....
her life in the Yiddish theatre.... and more

 

The English translation was produced by Jacob Tickman,  and it was further edited by Dr. Steven Lasky. Celia's autobiography was translated from the original Yiddish version, which was first published in 1959 in two volumes.

You can read the original Yiddish language version by clicking on the image on the left.

left: the original cover page to both volumes of "The Celia Adler Story."

Volume 1

 

PREFACE TO THE YIDDISH LANGUAGE EDITION


MY STORY

I must confess to you that the thought of telling my life story hardly ever entered my mind. Whenever the impulse did arise, I categorically dismissed it. I had no desire whatever to do it. Years ago, when my dear friend Chaim Ehrenreich proposed to my husband, Jack Cone, that I write my memoirs for "The Forward," he declined for me. Jack was of the opinion that memoirs are written when everything is over, when a career is at an end. His Celia’s career, however, would go on and on. “She still has much to contribute,” he stated. For him I represented the very pinnacle of the Yiddish theatre until the end of his days. Very often he would say to me, “Actually, you don’t know how great you are. No, Ehrenreich, Celia is not yet ready to tell her life story.”

My refusal was for an entirely different reason. I just simply wanted to forget everything. Under no circumstances did I again want to relive my sad childhood years. And I had no desire to remember the painful years during which I took my first steps onto the stage as an adult. I always felt pity for the little girl, Celia Feinman, who, thanks to the web of family entanglements, never had a particle of fulfilled childhood joy. My heart hurts to this very moment when I think of little Celia Adler who, without the warmth and help of her famous father, had to hew a path with pain and the tribulation of rejection to the worthy place on the Yiddish stage that should have been prepared for her by him.

However, my not-too-lucky visit to Israel in 1956 had indirectly been instrumental in bringing my “Celia Adler Story” to life. My friend Mr. Ehrenreich, here again played a top role. When I returned from that trip, he proposed that I write my impressions of Israel for "The Forward." My awe before the printed Yiddish word frightened me away from doing this on my own responsibility. I talked it over with my longtime colleague and friend Jacob Tickman. He convinced me that I could do a good job and gave me his help. It became a partnership which, from the plaudits we received, worked well.

With the agreement of Hillel Rogoff, Ehrenreich again renewed his old proposal that I write my memoirs. Tickman added his pitch. They tempted me with the importance of my story [with regard to] theatrical history. At length I let myself be convinced. I had faith in Tickman's help, in his fabulous memory, in his deep love and longtime friendship of some forty years, his closeness to my family and my intimate friends. I felt sure that I could rely on him and hope that our work of more than two years, as collaborators on the “Celia Adler Story" was worthwhile.

I have told all I remember, sincerely and honestly with much consideration for people’s feelings and professional sentiments. In all good conscience I take upon myself the responsibility for everything told in these two volumes. No one, except Mr. Tickman and I, has had any connection whatever with the telling of my story.

I want to express here my anguish that it was not fated for Jack to live to share with me this joyous occasion, which would have given him so much deserved happiness and pride.

Much gratitude and praise are due our beloved editor of "The Forward," Hillel Rogoff, for his confidence in me and for his loving kindness that continued to inspire me.

I shall never adequately be able to repay my dear friend Chaim Ehrenreich for his patience, his constant readiness to advise and to help. I shall always remember with love the respected journalists Drs. Fogelman and Osherowitch for their tireless inspiration, and the whole staff of "The Forward" for their friendship and warmth.

With great respect and love I want to express my heartiest thanks to that beloved veteran of the theatre, the energetic authority on its culture, Mendel Elkin. He received me with heartfelt warmth, gave me his help with his wise, practical advice during my digging into the YIVO theatre archives.

I also feel greatly indebted to my good friend, the indefatigable historian, journalist, and editor of the great book, the “Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre,” Zalmen Zylbercweig. I have culled many historical facts and dates from the “Lexicon,” from his own books on the theatre and his picture albums. My heartiest thanks!

For making it possible for the two beautiful volumes to appear, I want to tender with love and friendship my deepest thanks to the Celia Adler Book Committee. Without such a committee it would not have been possible to issue these books in the current depressed circumstances of Yiddish book publication. I highly esteem the initiative of my colleagues and friends: Norman Furman, Mordechai Yardeini, Seymour Rechtzeit, Zvi Scooler and Chaim Ehrenreich. Their active helpfulness is matched only, so to speak, by their closeness to me as professional comrades and colleagues. A special thanks to my much-loved Nathan Forman, who wrests time from his business activities and adds his faithful help so generously. No less thanks and recognition for their effort and interest are due the conscientious co-workers of the Committee: Zelig Slobodnik, Joseph Lifschitz, Jacob Cooper, Mendel Rotman, and Max Goldfeder.

And how can I forget the wonderful theatre buff and good friend Louis Markowitz? His fine illustrations on the dust wrapper and flyleaf give the two volumes charm and theatrical style.

My heartiest thanks and best wishes to all.

 
Celia Adler

——

[And now the story begins:]
 

This is an intimate look at a theatrical dynasty that began practically at the cradle of the Yiddish theatre, and into which I had the honor to be born. Human weaknesses among the theatre worthies, piquant secrets and profound experiences of some of the greatest personalities in the theatrical world, which is in the process of declining…. I shall tell of them all truthfully, honestly, and open-heartedly—in my own simple way, hushing up nothing. But I shall follow strictly the Yiddish proverb: “A pen that has two points can make you prick yourself as well as someone else….”

 

CHAPTER 1


MY PARENTS AND I


Now then, I wish to begin my story with an episode which, according to the story’s proper sequence, belongs far deeper in it, almost at its every end. So this is perhaps contrary to a logical narrative. But my theatrical instinct, which still has a greater influence over me, tells me that this episode will, so to speak, raise the curtain on my parents’ family life that played such an important role in my life. You will thus also get to know immediately the delicate spirit, the tender feelings and the clear logic of my dear, sincere mother, Dina Feinman. The episode will also reveal the overwhelming human weaknesses that haunted my eminent father, Jacob P. Adler, throughout his stormy years and that so gruesomely robbed him of a happy life with my mother, for which he yearned and over which he cried for many, many years.

In the last years of her life, when my mother had already retired from the stage, she lived with my younger sister, Lillie Satz. She once came to spend a few weeks with me during the summer. My rooms were being painted at the time. My husband Jacob Cone and I were busy hanging pictures on the walls, that is to say, Jacob worked and I gave advice. On the eastern wall, on both sides of the window, hung two big, beautiful pictures: one of my mother and one of my father. My mother stood looking from one side of the window to the other, from my father’s picture to her picture, and she commented with a sigh, “Ah, child, vicious, tangled life has separated us—your father and me—at least let the pictures hang close to each other.”

Understandably, I obeyed her at once and showed Jacob where to hang the pictures next to each other. I sat down with my mother and, looking into her mild, wise eyes I said: “I think, Mother, that neither of us has ever spoken about this matter. But ever since I’ve reached maturity, I have though much and often about it. Now tell me, Mother, is it possible that, during all these bitter years of yours, no anger has accumulated, no bad feelings toward him? He did, after all, do you so much harm, cause you so many pains!

My mother looked at my father's picture with tenderness and without the slightest embarrassment, but as if she were glad that I gave her the opportunity to bare her heart, opened up in a flood of words and feelings.


 

And she said, "Be angry with him? Bad feelings toward him? No, daughter, never. It was not his fault. Women did not leave him in peace. He was too handsome. Somewhere, one of our great poets, I think Yehoash, sings of our King Solomon and expresses there the thought that it sometimes happens that God, the creator of the universe, observing His piece of work, becomes very satisfied, and a smile spills over His face. The smile beams for only a thousand-thousandth part of a moment. But for the child who is so fortunate as to be born at that moment, all the heavenly jewels of charm and beauty, wisdom and strength, riches and beautiful manners are opened. So, King Solomon, as it were, was born in such a moment. I think, my daughter, that your father is also a child of that smiling moment. But he got to coughing so hard, swallowing so much charm and handsomeness from among these jewels, that he perhaps did not take enough of the other jewels. That is why very few men in the world could compare with him in charm and handsomeness. Wherever he showed himself, he was admired by everyone, even by men. But women really pursued him, tore at his clothing as it were.

I remember when, as betrothed, we strolled in London on either the West End of in Hyde Park and everyone stopped to look at him. He wore light blue clothes, with a fur cape on his shoulders and a top hat. I would hear them say: “This is surely an ambassador or most certainly a prince." And my heart gushed with joy. Women used to bump into him purposely or just give him a pull by the sleeve for him to notice them or bestow a smile upon them. It could be that had he taken bigger portions from the other heavenly jewels open to him; he would have handled his popularity with women with more wisdom and tact, not gotten so lost. But how could I have had bad feelings toward him? On the contrary, I was grateful to him all my life and considered it a great piece of luck to have met him on my road of life. He tore me away from my dull, workaday life, opened new horizons for me, lifted me, gave me wings, and led me into a magical world. If not for him, what would have happened to me? Who would have known about me? Who would have heard of my children? No, daughter, your father owes me no debt. I have no anger in my heart for him.

 “It is quite possible he had a right to have angry feelings for me. It was I who divorced him, not he me. He begged me very much and virtually wept before me that I should not take that step. Even when we left the court with the divorce, he still begged me that I should change my decision. I strongly doubt that another woman in my place would decide to divorce Jacob P. Adler. And certainly not one who is herself an actress. But it seems that my respectable parental home had planted in me a holy attitude toward family life, toward that which is called among us “marital fidelity.” And this behavior of mine did not change one iota in all my years in the theatre.

“I hope that, in all respects, I have faithfully fulfilled my profession as an actress, that I have honestly served the theatre and given it all I had. But I could not make peace with the light-headed and somewhat frivolous approach that a considerable number of theatrical people, whether men or women, have toward home and family. The thought that I share my husband’s love and my husband’s favors with others was grossly revolting to me, even when it was the heaven-blessed Jacob P. Adler. I even refused alimony, to the judge’s greatest astonishment and wonderment, when he awarded me a certain sum of money as weekly support from him. With this act, I certainly took upon myself years of hard and bitter need. And certainly thus strongly sinned against you, dear Celia. Your life, whether as a child or adult, and also perhaps your fight for your career, would have been better and more comfortable. You have a right to be angry with me for bringing all this upon you. But I could not do otherwise, my beloved child. That respectable pride of mine did not let me proceed differently.”

The flood of words stopped. My mother’s tearful, wise open eyes looked at me as if with guilt. I strongly clasped her to me. Through the tears that flowed endlessly from my eyes, I sobbed:

“I thank you, dear God, that you have given me such a mother. Believe me, dear mother, that I can now be even more proud of you. I honestly feel like the luckiest daughter in the world, that I can call you my mother.”

With this the episode ends. It seems to me that this talk of mine with my dear, lovely mother, especially her wonderful monologue that expresses so much deeply human and honest feeling, is very fitting to serve as a prologue to my memoirs, and especially to the first part, “My Parents and I.”


CHAPTER 2

My mother first saw the light of day in a small Polish city, Lipno, province of Plotzk. She was barely two years old when her mother, Tsyril, after whom I am named, died. Her religious father, my grandfather, Reb Yossef Chaim Stettin, quickly married for the second time. The young wife was very good to my mother, so that she never had to complain about “trouble with a stepmother.” So she grew up, Mother did, in the city of Lipno, which was very definitely away from any enlightened environment—a little city deeply marked with the Jewish way of life, with Jewish tradition, but very far removed from progress and modern life.

The Enlightenment Movement had not yet reached Lipno. They had not heard of such a thing as the theatre, and certainly not of Yiddish theatre, which was then still in swaddling clothes somewhere in Southern Russia and Romania. Really, to this day, it is the greatest of riddles for me as to how in her early years and in that cast-off little city, Lipno, how the impulse already came to my mother to disguise herself to play theatre. Her very religious and strict grandmother, her father’s mother, really called it “wild, crazy notions,” “silly stuff,” “a mocking sprite must have possessed her, or a dybbuk, Heaven preserve us!” But you yourself must admit that it was theatre. As my mother told it to me in her own words:

“What did my ‘silly stuff,’ ‘my wild, crazy notions’ consist of? They consisted of playing theatre. I would dress up in a long petticoat, tie my head with a kerchief, stand before the big wall mirror in our dining room, and begin to imitate all kinds of grimaces and movements of an old woman. I screwed up my face so that it had all the wrinkles of an old woman. At the same time I crimped up my eyes and began to talk and chatter in a broken, hoarse voice with words that left me as if I did not have one tooth in my mouth. I also tried to imitate the mourning women whom I happened to see and hear at funerals in our little city.

I even had an audience. Nearly every Saturday, during the day, when my parents used to catch a snooze after filling up on the Sabbath stew, my girlfriends gathered in my room and I began to strut my stuff. On weekdays I spent a great deal of time in this activity and stood for long hours before the mirror and prepared newer and ever newer material."

Now then, what else could you call this but theatre? And is it not the greatest of puzzles how this happened to get to my mother, and how it fitted in with Lipno?!

To emphasize the puzzle even more strongly, I shall bring up here an episode concerning my religious naïve grandfather, Reb Yossef Chaim Stettin, which happened in considerably later years. This will clearly show you how backward he was when it came to the theatre. By then he had already been away from the little city of Lipno for more than two decades, having lived most of those years in the greatest European city, London. His daughter, my mother, was by then already a recognized, famous actress; his son-in-law was the great eagle, Jacob P. Adler. And so my grandfather came to America, bringing with him his business of selling lottery tickets, in which he made a mere pittance.

Having a very warm feeling for him, Jacob P. Adler wanted to do something for him and help him make a living. So he brought my grandfather to the theatre and asked him: “What would you really like to do here in the theatre, Reb Yossef Chaim? What kind of work would appeal to you? You can make a good living here.”

So he stood there, this grandfather of mine, and surveyed everything but could not decide. To take tickets at the door? He was afraid that by the time he took a ticket from someone, six others would get in without tickets. In the box office, he got quite panicky over the slots with their thousands of tickets. To keep all this in your head? The stage jobs were so hard to do. So he stood with Adler in the orchestra, looked at the musicians and spoke up with a sigh: “Musicianship is also no easy profession.”

Suddenly his eyes lit up. He pulled Adler by the sleeve: "Do you see, Jacob, that fellow who stands waving that little stick? That seems to me to be an easy job; you see, this appeals to me. This I could do.”

Believe me, this is not an apocryphal story. It really happened that way. But don’t think that my grandfather was some sort of uncommon fool. Heaven forbid. Reb Yossef Chaim Stettin was among the most recognized, solid men in the little city, a scholarly Jew. And people came to him for advice concerning rather important matters. But as he said of himself: “I know that in these matters I am an ignoramus.”

And that is exactly how far away all the other Jews in the little city of Lipno were from anything pertaining to theatre. So apparently there can be only one answer to my puzzle: “How did it get to my mother?” And that is that there was a heavenly spark, the call of the stage, lying deeply within a considerable number of that first generation of actors, and they had to obey that call. Only this drive gave them the courage and patience to carry the heavy yoke through all the fierce stumbling blocks—suffer hunger and want, undergo physical and spiritual anguish and pain, and yet proceed on their thorny road to create and give form to the Yiddish theatre.

It is true that most of them had very little essential knowledge, were very poor in spiritual-cultural equipment. That is why their work in the beginning was raw and primitive. My astonishment and respect are all the deeper and greater for their achievement and for the heritage of that great generation. They ultimately did bring the Yiddish theatre to periods of quite a high degree of achievement. And so the pain I feel is that much stronger when I now see that all this is in the process of declining.

I cannot begin to guess what would have happened to my mother had she passed her years in the little city of Lipno. But I greatly doubt that her “foolish actions” and “crazy notions” would have led her all the way from Lipno to a theatrical career. But it seems her place in the “theatrical dynasty” was already indicated for her, her profession was already decided, her fate sealed. As the Jewish saying goes, “What will happen should happen.”

Suddenly, out of a blue sky, her father decided to leave Lipno and settled in London. By then my mother was a girl already about eight years old. This is how my mother tells it in her own words:

As a little girl of eight, I came from a small out-of-the-way city to the world metropolis, London. I came to this city, which was later to bring me so much luck, but also considerable trouble. It was there that I took my first step as an actress, where I first found love and then bitter disillusionment—London, where my youth passed—where my star rose—where everything that later became dear and holy began.”

The exchange of that small, quiet, peaceful city for strongly, over-driven London, considerably changed my mother’s mode of living in her home environment. It was too difficult for grandfather to carry the entire burden of making a living for a wife and their children as they used to do in the Jewish cities and hamlets of Poland, Lita and Russia. In London, fellow townsmen from Lipno debated with him for a long time before he decided to allow his little Dina to go to work in a shop. The tailoring shop really belonged to one of his fellow townsman, an immigrant from Lipno who had made good in London.

The fellow townsman knew Grandfather’s pride, had a great respect for him, and considered it an honor to have the little daughter of Reb Yossef Chaim Stettin work in his shop. So he treated her very humanely, kept an eye on her, shielded her from profane or coarse language and from other gross behavior shop workers engage in. So it was that little Dina Stettin, the naïve adolescent from a small city, the delicate, sincere child did not suffer too much from the evils of the shop during her first years of work.

I shall touch on her life in the shop only to the extent that it led her to the Yiddish theatre. But I must describe here one tragi-comic incident. This will perhaps remind many readers of their own green years in London or New York. By the way, several decades of the great mass immigration of that time laid their stamp on the way Jewish life was lived throughout the entire world. Certainly they shaped our present life here in America. So they deserve at least a few lines in my story. The incident that happened to my mother was no doubt one of the many thousands of similar incidents in those years:

On a very hot and stifling day in Whitechapel, London, where my mother had worked and lived, her boss had gotten a yen for a cold drink. So he sent Dina to bring him a mug of beer from a nearby saloon. The saloon was about two or three blocks from the shop, but not on the same street. My mother easily found the place, got the mug of beer with its high head of foam and started back to refresh her boss. She carried the mug in her extended hand, her eyes glued on the white foam, so as not to lose one drop, heaven forbid. Thus she walked carefully and slowly so that her hand would not shake. She kept walking until somehow she began to suspect that somehow she’d been walking too long. She took her eyes off the beer and, at first did not recognize anything, neither the street nor the houses. No doubt when her eyes were occupied with the beer, she did not turn on the right corner; such a false turn in Whitechapel could lead you far out of the way.

She wanted to ask someone but stopped short, not knowing what to ask. She neither knew the address of the shop, nor her own. She never had needed it. She would go every day from home to shop and back on the basis of certain signs along the way. At the iron railing she must turn left, and at that “kosher butcher” store she must turn right. That’s how most of the newcomers behaved in those years. More than one tragedy occurred when a green fence had suddenly been painted yellow, or a broken shutter suddenly was exchanged for a new one.

Meanwhile time flew. She glanced at the mug of beer and her heart sank. Not a sign left of the beautiful white foam—nearly half-empty—where did it go? She could swear she hadn’t lost a drop. What would her boss think of her? He would perhaps suggest that she slurped up the foam herself. And now she felt that her hand was becoming very heavy, her feet ached, and she was soaked throughout with perspiration.

She stumbled onto a stoop and began to cry bitterly. A policeman saw her and came over to her. What he thought to himself when he saw a small, beautiful adolescent with a great big half of a mug of beer in her hand—this I shall leave to your imagination. H could not make out anything from the few faulty English words she uttered. So he had no alternative, this London bobby, but to take her to the police station. It was not before nightfall that her father, scared to death, and her boss, feeling terribly guilty came and took her home.

As I have said, the few years in the shop brought my mother no greater trouble than the story of the glass of beer. Indirectly, however, the shop led her to her career in the theatre. She once overheard several workers speaking of the Yiddish theatre, remembering and trying to sing little songs they had heard there. And though she didn’t have the slightest inkling of what it was all about, it awoke in her an odd interest. She lent an ear with the greatest curiosity and picked up every word; and a thought stole into her head, a great desire to go see Yiddish theatre. She got a great kick out of thinking about it, and at the same time she was afraid and terrorized. She knew that she must not even mention it at home.

In those years in sedate Jewish homes, the theatre was an unmentionable thing, the worst among the worst, and certainly most definitely so in her father’s home. So this daring thought of going to see Yiddish theatre became a dream for her, like so many other adolescent dreams that come to the surface and disappear.

But if it is fated, it is not to be denied. One of her pals in the shop once told her that she had a close friend who was a chorus girl in the Yiddish theatre, and that she would take her to a performance the following Wednesday. Do I have to draw a diagram, dear reader? You will surely understand that my mother went with her pal on that evening to see her first theatrical performance. I shall not recount to you all the notions and excuses she had to think up for her father and the entire household so she could carry out her daring plan. I would, however, sin most grievously against the narrative part of my story if I did not give you my mother’s impression of that performance in her own words:

When I approached the place with my pal and she told me that that was it, I could not believe my eyes. For as long as I can remember, I have been afraid of and revolted by an inn, a saloon. And yet I was standing in front of such a place and had to go in there to see a Yiddish theatre. I became very sad. When, with great trepidation I crossed the doorstep, I began to feel even worse. A big, long barracks, dirty, stained walls; the floor thickly strewn with sawdust, filled with small benches and small tables. The thick smoke ate into my eyes, the smell of beer bit into my nostrils. I felt like fainting.

My first impulse was to escape. But my pal held my hand and led me to the second corner. There we sat down. She showed me a filthy curtain that spread from one wall to the next and told me that that’s where the stage was. When the curtain rose, the performance would begin.

Bit by bit my eyes became used to the smoke and dust that filled the hall. I saw men, women and children sitting at the little tables. They ate all kinds of food from open paper packages and drank beer, cider or tea. They talked, yelled, quarreled. But right in the midst of this terrible tumult, the light came on from under the curtain. And a little while later, the curtain opened. From that moment on, the hall, the audience, all the dirt and the bad atmosphere—they all vanished. I swallowed the stage with my eyes, followed every twist and turn of the actors and actresses, and virtually swallowed every word leaving their mouths. It was like I was hypnotized, carried to another world. One moment they cried, tore the hair from their heads; the next, they laughed, sang and danced. And though this was the first time in my life I had seen what is called “theatre,” I somehow felt that I was not a total stranger to it. It reminded me, as it was, of my “foolish, wild actions” that I celebrated in my little city, Lipno. For weeks and months after that performance, it was as if I was in a trance. I didn’t know where I was in the world.

My mother used to tell me very often about those years in the theatre and about the atmosphere in which  it was then played, and when I remind myself of this my heart hurts for those giants of our “theatrical dynasty” who had founded and shaped the Yiddish theatre under such frightful, almost shameful circumstances.

And panic strikes me when I see the danger that their entire effort and hard labor may, heaven forbid, disappear into nothingness in the present holocaust of our theatre.

Since that first Yiddish performance, which my mother as a twelve or thirteen-year adolescent saw in a beer saloon in London, her quite, sedate constricted life at home in Whitechapel became hard, empty and tedious. She expressed it very appropriately in a few chosen sentences:

Suddenly I somehow felt a kind of emptiness in my heart, as if I was missing something. I thought that my day-to-day existence was only something to get over with. Everything I was doing was only for the present. It would pass away at almost any moment. I did not know myself what I was missing, what I was waiting for. But I had the feeling that something would happen.”

And so she noticed in a newspaper that they were looking for chorus girls for the Yiddish theatre. Her heart began to hammer, her young red-haired little head began to work and form plans.

My mother was blessed with a strong character. She always had the courage to make daring decisions and carry them through. In her confused life she had to face very difficult and important decisions many times, such as those that changed the entire path of her life. Her strong character always stood by her. It seems that that streak in her character was already deeply rooted in her early youth because it certainly was no small thing for the sedately reared little Dina to decide to answer the advertisement about chorus girls.

It was considerably difficult for her to hide the secret at her home that she had seen a Yiddish theatrical performance. You can imagine the wrangling that went on in her young head when she thought of becoming a part of the Yiddish theatre secretly away from home. But she made the decision.

It would indeed be worthwhile to tell here of my mother’s entry into the Yiddish theatre, and of her steps onto the stage in all its details. But if I took this course I’m afraid my story would drag on too long, and I should never come to my own life. After all, this has to be the story of my life. I shall therefore touch on the careers of my mother and of my father, Jacob P. Adler, and of my second father only to the extent that they had a direct reference to my becoming part of them.

Thus I have the honor in writing of the great stage personalities, to be able to call that part, “My Parents and I.”

As concerns my great respect for that first generation of Yiddish actors, I also wish to enrich my story by mentioning the already almost forgotten name of the very first Yiddish actor, Israel Gradner. Incidentally, he played a great part in my mother’s dream about a theatrical career becoming a reality. And this already has a quite direct relationship with my own life. So I shall allow myself here only a few references from several descriptions of Israel Gradner, descriptions by people who lived through the era of the “Broder Singers,” the precursors of our Yiddish theatre.

Abraham Goldfaden, the actual founder of our theatre, calls him almost “the first Yiddish actor.”

Concerning Gradner, Goldfaden writes:

Israel Gradner possessed, besides his great artistic abilities, a richly enterprising spirit as well. At a time when other singers of songs traveled around in the small cities, singing in inns and wine cellars, or quite possibly in someone’s kitchen, and afterwards walked around with a plate, where besides poor handouts they received a considerable number of insults and curses, Israel Gradner already had the courage to go to big cities, find a big hall, put up a stage, prepare numbered little benches, print small announcements, and sell tickets. And he would sing his songs in costume and makeup. Thanks to Gradner, I conceived the thought of seriously digging into the founding of real Yiddish theatre.”

Our own Ruebele Weissman, one of the first prompters in the Yiddish theatre, the father of the two famous actors Dora and Bessie Weissman, says:

"Israel Gradner’s mimicry and manner of stance were those of a real actor, something that had not been seen among Jews until then.”

My father, Jacob P. Adler, says:

Israel Gradner was the first folksinger whom I saw putting together pictures and scenes of Jewish life.”

It is indeed a pity that this Jewish artist passed away so soon. He died in London in his forties. And I wish to note here, by way of an accusation of our theatrical world, that to this day there is no headstone on his grave in the Stratford cemetery in England.

This very Israel Gradner was the director of the Yiddish theatre (excuse the expression), in which my mother happened to begin her career. This was at the beginning of the eighth decade of the previous century. There was then, in general, a shortage of female personnel on the Yiddish stage. Such sedately naïve young ladies as my mother were a rare phenomenon. So Israel Gradner snapped her up like a precious jewel, and both he and his wife, Annette Gradner, took many pains with her, protecting her from temptations, and in general surrounded her with warmth and heartfelt loyalty. She even immediately began to get a stipend of two shillings a week.

It is also worthwhile to note here that among the several chorus girls, there was one who became real close to my mother. And here is what my mother tells about her:

Annie was her name. She was so poor that I used to have to lend her a pair of my shoes, a little dress or underwear, and very often shared a meal with her. She was completely different from me. She used to laugh at my naiveté and at my sincere behavior toward the theatre. But she was as beautiful as all the world—such a figure, such eyes—one seldom sees them, “You will see, my little Dina, lords, princes, and kings will lie at my feet, all the luxuries of the world will be mine," she used to voice her dream! And it all came true.

I don’t have to say much about her. I shall only tell you that this was later the world-renowned Anna Held, the queen of the American Ziegfeld Follies and wife of Florence Ziegfeld.

So, my mother, still in secret and away from home, sang in the choir and sometimes got a small role of a few words, and once by accident played the small dramatic role of the wet nurse in “Shulamith.” I only mention this here because it served her in meeting my father, Jacob P. Adler.

I feel that I’d be committing a sin if I should rob you of the pleasure not to reproduce a short speech to the so-called audience that was delivered by the owner of the saloon where they were playing:

“See, the theatre is half-empty! So I ask you, such swine, such lowlifes! Give them theatre! Bring actors for them! A plague is what they deserve, not actors! They should be given a fever, not theatre! I’m giving it to youse straight. If youse’ll come to us and bring the few shillings, the actors’ll have something to chew. If youse won’t come, the actors’ll starve and youse’ll be lowlifes, and that’s that!”

But even this delicate and heart-rending appeal did not help. The theatre could no longer survive and closed. The Gradners left to go abroad, and several weeks later to take their place, came the world-famous Jacob P. Adler with his leading lady at the time, Keni Lipzin.
 

CHAPTER 3

My mother, who highly esteemed the Gradners and was very faithful to them, somehow felt that it would not be nice and decent of her to take part in performances with those who were replacing the Gradners. She even fought strongly against her desire to go see a performance by the new troupe. But once, going for a stroll with one of her pals, she called her over to a restaurant where she had to meet her cousin who sang in Adler’s troupe, and looking through the window into the restaurant she showed her: “There sits Adler, the one with the gray head.”

My mother stood riveted in place and couldn’t take her eyes off that wonderful, imposing head. Just then she saw Adler rise and about to leave. She began to drag her pal to go away, but meanwhile the other’s cousin was already standing near them as Adler presently came out. He came close to them. “Look here, now, here stand three beauties.” My mother remembers that scene this way:

I got hot and cold. I felt my face burning. The chorus girl introduced us. And when Adler took my little chin in his hand and looked me straight in the eye, my feet almost caved in. I didn’t know where in the world I was. I barely heard him say, “Hey, aren’t you a pretty little filly.” I don’t remember how we parted, how I got home. At home they asked me what was the matter, if, heaven forbid, I didn’t feel quite right.

After this my mother could no longer fight herself over her loyalty to the Gradners, and she went to the theatre to see an Adler performance. In time the Yiddish theatre transferred to the Princess Club. At the door stood a thick-set character who told my mother that she had to buy a ticket to get into the theatre. She began to bicker with him. But just then Adler came out of the box office. He didn’t recognize her. My mother paints the scene like this:

He came over to us and asked us what was going on. The thick-set character answered. “Nothing, Mr. Adler. Some kind of a nut wants to steal into the theatre.”

His answer angered me. “How dare you talk that way about me?! I don’t want to steal my way in. I have more of a right to be here than you!”

Here, Adler spoke up: “Now, little girl, don’t be angry. If you want to go in, you’ll have to have a ticket.”

“I’m no little girl to you,” I worked myself up even stronger. “If you don’t want to let me in, you can have your theatre.”

“Well, my beauty, don’t work yourself up so, or maybe you should work yourself up. When you are angry and burning, you look positively beautiful. Why do you have such a right to the theatre?”

“Because I’m an actress.”

“That so, an actress?! What did you play and with whom?”

“I played with the Gradners, and I played the wet nurse in ‘Shulamith’!” I spoke up in a tone of voice as if it had been no less than “Camille.”

At this Adler turned to the thick-set character and intoned with great aplomb: “Well, how can you really dare not to let her into the theatre?! An actress, didn’t you hear? She played the wet nurse in ‘Shulamith’!”

I felt that he was making fun of me. But his piercing eyes had such magic that I couldn’t be angry with him. Especially since he opened the door for me himself with a broad gesture and let me into the theatre.

It didn’t take my mother long again to resume in the theatre. Adler treated her very nicely, often let her play small roles, taught her stage technique, the art of makeup and, in general, showed much concern for her.

She was indeed overjoyed at the progress she was making in her playing. She fairly flew over the fact that Adler put out so much effort on her and recognized her as an actress. But she often felt troubled over something she could in no way grasp. Keni Lipzin persecuted her, showed her open hostility, and often insulted her. Why?! Why?!

When they explained to her that La Lipzin was jealous and envied her youth and beauty, she couldn’t grasp it. She felt hurt. Her first encounter with cheap theatrical intrigues and petty thespian jealousy shook her up.

So my heart indeed hurts for my young, naïve, dear mother. But when you will, in due course, come to my own bitter anguish and see how behind-the-scenes intrigues in our theatre practically rained on my head, you will completely forget my mother’s sufferings.

But as it happened, La Lipzin quickly left London. The Gradners returned to play with Adler, and my mother’s happiness was complete—that is, until that certain unhappy evening.

It happened at a performance of the famous operetta, “The Jewess.” My mother played the princess, a role that fitted her beauty and delicacy very well. But the trouble was that she had to put on a dress made of silk and brocade, rigged out with all sorts of bangles and gewgaws, and dragging a long train. In addition, the dress was several sizes larger than my mother’s fifteen-year-old diminutive, delicate, little figure. So that they had to puff her out considerably; and when they finally put her into the dress, she could hardly move around. The filling and the dress weighted twice as much as she did altogether. Until she came from the dressing room to the stage, she tripped over the long train and fell several times. She played the first scene in great torment. She felt as if she was choking. She felt like fainting. She dragged herself to the dressing room with difficulty. In a great hurry she extricated herself from that terrible dress. She sat liberated and in fear contemplated the second scene that was about to go on. She firmly decided that she would no longer permit herself to be strapped into that armored dress.

She saw hanging on the wall a nice, light, little dress like she used to wear as a village girl in a previous play. She quickly put on that little dress and got on the stage to the king’s ball.

My mother relates:

“I shall never forget Adler’s eyes when he saw me on the stage in that newfangled dress of the princess. His perpetual magic smile vanished. His eyes burnt with rage and shot fire. I was terrorized looking at him. His yelled order that I should at once go and change the dress made me feel small and like nothing. I ran to the dressing room and fell to crying bitterly. It was as if Adler’s fiery looks had sort of extinguished the world’s light for me. I felt that I must run away from there. Annette Gradner came in at once, took me in her arms, and like a loyal mother hugged me to her and spoke tenderly to me and quieted me.”

But the dreaded evening did not end for my mother with that. After that unhappy performance, when she at last got out of the theatre, a new nerve-racking surprise was awaiting her. At the very exit, her father stood petrified and trembling. My mother saw a world of grief and care in his eyes. He barely spoke up in a strangled voice:

Oh, my little Dina, if your dear mother Tzirele, that pious woman, may Paradise be lit up for her, got up from the grave and saw what has become of her youngest little daughter.... How could you cause her such shame?

My mother fell into his arms, and they both cried. He pressed her very hard to him and, as if in secret, told her that her mother came to him in a dream and warned him: “Yossef Chaim, our youngest daughter is perched on a high, dizzying mountain. She could, heaven forbid, fall down into a deep abyss.” He didn’t understand the dream. But on that very day a fellow countryman had asked him if what he had heard was true, that little Dina was a comedienne in the Yiddish theatre. First then, he made sense out of his dream.

He would not survive the disgrace. He might, heaven forbid…. He couldn’t talk anymore.

You can imagine what my mother lived through that evening. Her heart bled with pity for her father. Understandably, she promised him that she would tell them the next day that she wouldn’t be coming to the theatre anymore.

When my mother spoke to me of that episode with her father’s dream, she said with a far-away look in her eyes:

I have often had an uncertain suspicion that my father invented that dream to tear me away from what was dearest to me in my young life. That night I soaked my pillow in tears. I wept long over my young years, and the magic world to which my heart drew me so strongly. When I at last fell asleep, I got involved in a dream of the weeping of Japheth’s daughter, who, because of her father’s cow, sacrificed the dreams of her adolescence and young womanhood.

The following day my mother came to the theatre with a pitifully heavy heart. The arduous experiences of that frightful night left deep marks on her delicate, tender face. Adler was waiting for her.

Permit me to tell about that encounter in my mother’s own words:

Adler was elated with me, but my appearance frightened him. He took my face in his silken-soft hands and with an expression of guilt, looked into my eyes and said:

 My goodness, what’s the matter with you, little Dina? What happened? Don’t be angry with me over my yelling at you yesterday. But, my dear, you shouldn’t have done it. I mean change the dress. Understand, dear girl, by changing the dress of the princess for the poor village dress in the middle of the action you killed the public’s whole illusion that you were a princess. That’s a terrible sin in the theatre. Our greatest effort is made to have the public believe that we are really those we seek to portray. But I promise you, my little one, that I’ll never yell at you again.

 I looked into his mild, caressing eyes and felt sweet warmth permeate me. My heart throbbed with happiness and joy. The most handsome prince in my magic world spoke so warmly to me, was so close to me. How did I earn this? With my small hands I pressed his hands hard to my face as if I were afraid he would take them away. His magic smile entranced me. But I answered:

 You won’t have to yell at me anymore. I won’t be able to come to the theatre anymore.

 I told him about the previous day’s scene with my father and his dream, and that I had to give him my word that I would leave the theatre. Adler’s face became sad. He looked at me worriedly, ruminated awhile, and said this in a sure tone:

 Don’t worry, my little Dina. Leave it to me. I’m going to speak to your father. He won’t take you away from me.

 I hope all of you understand, as I surely do, that we are at the beginning of my mother’s falling in love with my father. It seems to me that it would be better if I let my mother herself continue the story:

The impression of Adler’s first visit at our house has remained inscribed in my heart and my memory. In later years my father used to mention that visit by Adler very often, sometimes with a quiet sigh, sometimes with a bitter smile. He understood that that visit decided the further path of my life.

Adler was the great actor in real life as on stage. And it seems to me that he prepared himself especially for that visit. And just as some artistic director would have prepared for him the scene of that extraordinary appearance with great effort.

 It happened at the second Passover Feast. My father was sitting on the “ritual bed” in his white linen robe, exactly like a king on his throne. I generally like to remind myself of my father’s beautiful Passover Feasts. But that second Passover feat night overshadows all of my other memories. It was already long after the “Shofeach Chamos-choh,” when the door is opened for Elijah the Prophet. But when, after a knock on the door, Adler’s graceful figure showed up on the doorstep, I really felt that Elijah the Prophet had come to our house. He looked like some legendary figure out of a book in his long cape, high top hat, cane in hand, with his beautiful, classical face.

 My father and all the people of the household saw a man with such a stance, such an appearance for the first time. They were dumbfounded. My breath almost stopped. With a performer’s pomp and grace, Adler introduced himself and excused himself to my father that he was spoiling his Passover Feast, but he had something of an important matter to take up with him. My father asked him to sit down. I was the last one out, so I left the door slightly ajar, remained standing behind the door, all sharp ears.

 Adler immediately got to the matter. He delivered himself of a well-thought-out and carefully prepared monologue that almost deprived my poor naïve father of his speech.

 Excuse me, Mr. Stettin, that I’m taking the right to mix into a family matter of yours. I want you to believe me that I’ve long hesitated over this intention, until I convinced myself to come to you with my errand, perhaps an errand directed by Providence. I think you are unjust to your daughter in that you want to tear her away from the theatre. She is blessed by heaven with a great talent for the stage. The Jewish people and the Yiddish theatre need such heaven-blessed talents like your daughter. So it’s a sin to stifle it in her. I know that in sedate homes it is held as a fact that we are all “loafers,” “pickpockets,” and "charlatans." But believe me, Mr. Stettin, this is a canard.

 Here Adler pointed out a list of names of great world artists, such as Adolph Sonental, Sarah Bernhardt and others of whom not only my father but even I had never heard of before. And Adler continued:

And all of these brought honor and pride to the Jewish people. It could be, Mr. Stettin, that you would have the good fortune that your little daughter should bring such esteem and pleasure to our poor, tortured Jewish people. You dare not stand in her way.

 “I must confess, Mr. Adler,” my father said, “that in these matters I am absolutely an ignoramus.”

But Adler did not stop:

 How does it happen that you, Mr. Stettin, believe things on hearsay; now, on the contrary, you come yourself and see with your own eyes and hear with your own ears. You are, more power to you, a Jew who is a learned man and you should rely on your own judgment. I invite you to be my guest at a performance in our theatre; and I give you my solemn hand of assurance that if you are not pleased, I will never again pester you about this matter.

 My father, poor fellow, couldn’t wriggle out of it and took on Adler’s invitation. The performance was of “Uriel Acosta,” a role in which Adler became famous. He gave the dramatic role of his elderly mother to me. He worked such with me on this role, and I always received many accolades for the role.

 So I don’t have to reveal as news to you that the performance made a fantastic impression on my naïve grandfather.

He too as their own the Biblical wisdom that the actors in “Uriel Acosta” spoke. So how can such people be tramps and charlatans? He didn’t even suspect that the elderly, bent-over mother with the white head who could barely walk was his red-headed fifteen-year-old little daughter, little Dina.

As luck would have it, it was still a strong custom among actors at that time, that when they took their bows to the public after the last act, they would take off their wigs. Adler made it a point to remove my mother’s wig himself so that my grandfather would not fail to see definitively that this was his little Dina. My mother’s great ovation from the public convinced my grandfather that she was doing good and decent work. The way to her career, to my father, and to me became free and open to my mother.

From that time on young dramatic actresses were constantly sought for the role of Acosta’s mother, and I also played the role many times in my young days. I remember that when I played the role for the first time with my father, that he showered me with kisses right on the stage before the audience. Leaving the stage, he led me into his dressing room, dismissed his wardrobe man, and remaining alone with me, told me:

Little Celia, you reminded me so much today of your mother when she played the role with me for the first time.

 Suddenly, he clasped me tightly and broke into hysterical weeping:

 Oh, little Celia, what did your mother want of me?! Why did she divorce me? Why did she make my entire life unhappy?!

Why?! Why?!
 

CHAPTER 4

When my pious, naïve grandfather, with the help of “Uriel Acosta,” released the road for my mother’s theatrical career, he didn’t have the slightest suspicion that this would lead to a betrothal between his sedate, decent little daughter, little Dina, and the great actor Jacob P. Adler. Even my mother herself didn’t dare dream of such a possibility.

But my mother’s young, naïve, open heart was the most fitting target for that little saucy angel who runs around with bow and arrow and shoots his love arrows into little young hearts. The fifteen-year-old, chaste, clean-scrubbed, romantic little girl who lived in a world of magic and painted dreams—she was like ready-made for Cupid’s love play.

So I wish to share with you the joy and pleasure of letting my mother herself open her heart for us and pour out a young girl’s feelings of love:

In my complete naiveté and innocence, it became clear to me that I was in love. Suddenly, almost against my will the feeling grabbed me and held my entire being. My heart yearned and palpitated, but at the same time jumped with joy, danced with happiness. Somehow all of a sudden everything around me became idle and empty. There was nothing, nobody. Only he was the whole world, only Adler; he became everything in my whole life—my thoughts, my hopes, my wishes, my desires, my adolescent fantasies and dreams. Everything from him, with him. When I saw him, I became radiant. My heart sang with joy, everything awoke in me, his every mood and manner inspired me. All my faculties were aflame at one of his glances. At one of his smiles I became warm and sweet.

 Because of that, however, the long hours and days without him were a privation for me. I couldn’t find a place for myself. I walked around like one bewildered, like one who is lost in dreams.

 I struggled and fought a great deal against my love. How did I rate having him? What sort of interest could he have in me?! So many women pursued him. I tortured myself with primitive words—you cannot wish for what you cannot attain; a drop of love sometimes brings a sea of tears.

 But the moment I saw him, all sensible thoughts and justified doubts fled with the wind. So I quietly refreshed myself with my secret love and carried the pain in my heart that is a constant companion of love. And I was certain that the secret was only mine, which no one knew about it. But what the world says is obviously true: lovers carry their love in their looks. From my colleagues in the theatre I suddenly began to hear cutting and cynical remarks regarding my holiest feelings. I beg my profession to excuse me, but such poisoned, angry mouths as one finds in the theatrical world, especially on the distaff side, cannot it seems be found among any other group of people.

So my face burned with their cheap cynicism. So my heart was pained by their poisoned talking and their shameful gossiping. Thus my struggle over my love became harder, which I at that time still considered hopeless.

 But I also cannot forget the fine behavior shown toward me by the wonderfully loyal Annette Gradner. She consoled me and was sympathetic but at the same time warned me that men were not worth giving one’s entire heart to. But like all people in love, I had scant influence over my heart, so that it let itself go to almost pine away with love for Adler.

 Excuse me if I interrupt for a moment my mother’s song of songs, her great love for my father. The words are literally tearing from my pen to record here my feelings of joy for my mother’s great luck in experiencing such a wonderful love. I am happy for her and do indeed envy her because that saucy angel with his arrows of love missed me entirely. Such a radiant love as my mother’s never seized my heart.

I am often quite sorry for myself that I, who in my adolescent years resembled my mother so much, whether in naïve innocence or romantic sensitivity, was robbed of such a breathless love as hers. But I made up for it by surpassing my mother considerably in trouble and suffering from theatre gossip, from poisonous, dirty tongues….

It’s possible for my mother to speak very gently about and even excuse her theatrical colleagues’ gossip and pricking little words. She can even remember with praise and recognition the fine behavior of the really wonderful Annette Gradner to whom I feel deeply thankful for making easier my Mother’s hard, desperate moments.

But until the end of my days, I will not be able to free myself from the poison and venom poured into my heart from my brutal punishers who without reason embittered my young years. I can in no way forget those days and nights when they virtually bathed themselves in my bloody tears with wild enjoyment and turned the beginning of my successful career into a hell of suffering and trouble. And there was no Annette Gradner among my colleagues to console me. Those chapters of my tale will be filled with fire and brimstone.

But you’ll have to wait some. Right now, we are still at the beginning of my mother’s falling in love with my father. How goes the expression in our “Tanach”? “My father still has not recognized my mother,” and there has been no beginning of me as yet. We shall meanwhile let my mother further weave her golden strand:

The first sign I received that Adler was not entirely indifferent to me was on an evening stroll over one of the world-famous London bridges. He led me over to the railing of the bridge, held the railing under me with both hands, bent over to me so that his sweet, charming face was very close to mine and said in a dramatic tone:

Here and now, just as you look at me, little Dina, I am a lonely person. Since my wife died, I’ve been the most lonesome man in the whole world. You’re seeing a lot of women around me—it means nothing. What I need is a companion, a friend in life, someone to live for me and I for her. Otherwise I’m a goner. Do you understand, little Dina?!

Though I felt a theatrical tone in his words, my heart went out to him. And had he asked me at that very moment to jump into the fire for him, I would gladly have done it.

Several days later, at rehearsal in the theatre, the entire cast was on stage. Adler and I found ourselves in a corner. He showed me how to make up for my role. Suddenly he brought my hand to his lips and, in a tone of fearing to beg me said, “Tell me, little Dina, could you love a man like me?! I mean really love, marry me?”

 My heart stopped. My breath congealed. I couldn’t answer. Fortunately, footsteps were heard, and one of the actors passing by remarked with a mocking little laugh: “Looky here—gathered together in a corner like two loving doves.” I ran to the dressing room and fell to weeping out of happiness and joy.”

 My constant protector, the loyal Annette Gradner, immediately got to me. “What’s the matter with you, little Dina?”

 I embraced her ecstatically, and swallowing tears whispered, “He loves me! He loves me!"

My mother’s happiness was boundless. Her love was thus not a hopeless one. The very handsomest prince from her magic world was in love with her! He wanted her for his wife!

And so the days, weeks and months of my parents’ betrothal unraveled in joy and pleasure. My mother’s adolescent fantasy began to soar in dreams of a happy future. She saw before her a life only of gratification and joy, long, long years with my father, her beloved. He was, after all, heaven-blessed with so much charm, good looks and God-given talent that it would assure not only her personal happiness, but a successful stage career for both of them.

But fate had not set down their lives this way. That poor little mother of mine—not for long was it destined for her to dream of a happy life. The path of the Yiddish theatre had led my father to America, where his fantastic success with women exposed him to temptations he could not overcome in his recklessness.

At that time the Yiddish theatre was prohibited over nearly all of Russia. The possibility of a broader development of the Yiddish theatre in most of the European countries, including England, was very circumscribed. The Jewish mass immigration that stormed into America from Russia, Galicia, and Romania had as if pointed to this country for the successful growth of the Yiddish theatre.

A tragic incident at a performance of Adler’s troupe in the Princess Club in London came as a final blow. A false cry of “Fire!” threw the public into panic and seventeen people perished.

It was only about two months after my parents’ wedding that my father, in agreement with my mother, took on a proposal from America to come and play in New York. She remained meanwhile at her father’s in London until Adler would convince himself that America was really the land of great possibilities for the Yiddish theatre, whether he would find sufficient favor with the Jews in America to want to build his home, his future there.
 

CHAPTER 5

Meanwhile, in Whitechapel, London, my mother prided herself on her new name, Dina Adler. She regaled herself with my father’s hot love letters until she received from him that historically famous ship ticket several months later. Happy, full of yearning and hope, and me “under her heart” as the theatrical saying goes, she let herself go on that faraway, dangerous trip. In my mother’s opinion, the journey was apparently very easy for me. But for her, in her pregnancy, the tossing for over two weeks on the stormy ocean waves fell very, very hard.

My father awaited us in Hoboken. Traveling on a ferry to New York, he talked a lot and told about how much he yearned for her.

But suddenly he said to her with his famous Adlerian magic smile: “Listen, little Dina, you must not listen to those false tongues. They will no doubt tell you awful things about me and that actress Haimovitch. You should know it’s all a bunch of lies, nothing to it.”

That statement had a profound effect on my mother, since she was fagged out, poor thing, from the long, hard journey.

Before she had even had the chance to take a good look at America, to orient herself in the environment of the Yiddish theatre in New York, she was already in the final months. It seems that my quarters of nine months inside my mother had suddenly become too compressed for me. And I also perhaps got to feeling pity for her. Now, really, how much longer should she have to carry me? So, as the saying goes, I made my screaming appearance into our sinning little world on a beautiful day, on the fourth floor, in a tenement house, on Clinton Street.

My mother and father became very happy at my appearance. They handed me the name of my mother’s mother, Tzirele, the pious one, which very quickly became Americanized as Celia, the name I bear to this day.

Generally speaking, actresses cannot occupy themselves long with their motherly duties, especially Jewish actresses in those years. So I very quickly really became a problem for my mother. She had to run to the theatre to rehearsals, to performances. What to do with little Celia?

One could not think of hiring someone from the earnings in those days. And where did one find a girl for such a responsible job? So my mother, poor thing, would drag me to the theatre, deposit me somewhere backstage or in dressing rooms, and from time to time come and nurse me.

I don’t know if it was my mother’s or my good luck, but this difficult problem was solved quite rapidly in a very successful manner. It was a blessing from heaven for many, many years—whether for my mother or even more for me.

If you happen to know how tenement houses were built long ago on the East Side, you will remember it. But for me to be sure that all of you know what I mean, I shall paint it briefly: The five- and six-floor houses, one pressing hard against the other, used to have a small “between-place” between them in the form of an octagon. All the windows from the rooms on the side were facing this very eight-cornered, narrow empty place between the high tenement houses. From it one very infrequently got a bit of light and, even more infrequently, a bit of air. Both houses came together at the two narrowest corners of that “between-place.” The windows at those corners could be reached by hand.

I’m not just saying this. It was for real. Through these windows neighbors, let us say, from the fourth floor in one house could greet neighbors from the fourth floor in the second house. Through these very same windows there was a constant traffic among the neighbors and, above all, among the women neighbors who wanted to borrow a small pot, some salt, a bit of parsley. Understandably, the windows were seemingly made to order for gossip and more gossip. Quarreling, insulting, and even hair-pulling could be done through the windows. You should know that windows mostly from bedrooms and kitchens faced that “Eden-like” place, so that not only did one know what was cooking in the other’s little pot, but the most intimate secrets of the bedroom.

In the hot, stifling summer nights, when the windows were wide open—maybe a little wind would have pity and blow a little—even your nudity became a public matter. I could tell you again and again of the comic and tragic incidents this very closeness of windows created. I heard much about it from my mother. But it’s not my intention.

I merely pictured all this because this very calamity was a blessing for my mother. A little, young woman lived on the fourth floor of the second house that bordered on ours. Sheine-Feige was her name. A grass widow, poor thing. Her husband had abandoned her in a small city in Poland and fled to America. She hadn’t heard from him anymore. She had come here to look for him and get a divorce. So when she was free, she sat at the open window. She fell very much in love with me. I reminded her of her only child, also a little girl, who, poor thing, had died as an infant.

So Sheine-Feige once mentioned to my mother: “Why do you have to drag an infant with you to the theatre? Leave her with me. Believe me, I’ll watch her like the eyes in my head.”

So my mother, in her need, let herself be convinced. To save the steps going up to the fourth floor, my mother used to hand me over to Sheine-Feige through the window. Before long, my mother got Sheine-Feige to agree that she would be paid the few dollars she earned in the shop for becoming her household manager and my governess.

Sheine-Feige became mine for good. Not only did she bring me up and later my little younger sister, Lillie, but she never left me at all. She was no less loyal to me than was my loving mother. She played quite an important role in the path of my life. I shall have many more occasions to mention her in my narrative.

I merely wish to indicate here that she also brought up my only son, Zelik'l. I remember how always when I was feeding him as a child, or putting him to sleep, she would describe to him that he would grow up to be a very great doctor. And that she would always ride along in his beautiful, expensive chariot in which he would drive to his patients and guard him. And he, in his child’s love, assured her she would have nothing to worry about. If she became very ill, he would give her medicines and little bottles of all kinds of colors and paints.

Who knows but that the credit for my son’s becoming the fine, recognized and beloved physician, Selwyn Freed, belongs more to Feige than to me.

With Feige’s entrance into our home, my mother’s life and mine changed for the better. First off, my mother was freed from household chores. She could do more for her theatrical career. Feige became the complete manager, and she took over all household duties.

I also landed in Feige’s hands. The only thing my mother had to do was nurse me. But I no longer had to flop somewhere backstage in the dusty theatre at rehearsal and at Saturday-Sunday matinee performances. Feige would bring me to the theatre at the proper time for my mother to feed me and immediately took me home sated.

This brings us to my first appearance on the stage, my first contact with the theatre audiences, my first big success with the public that already worried someone later in my career. Only it was a lucky thing that I didn’t as yet have the brains to suffer from it.

But my mother, whom I almost hurt with my success, took it with love and, with her performer’s healthy instinct and great talents, used it also for her own success.

I was then about five or six months old. As was her wont, Feige brought me to the theatre in the middle of the matinee, to my mother in order to satisfy my hunger. My father was just then standing in the wings ready for one of his entrances. Meanwhile, he wanted to indulge in playing a little with me. However, when I saw him in his makeup, covered with long, disheveled white hair and beard, I must have gotten scared, and I choked myself in a frightful fit of weeping. My father, who was crazy about me, was ready to tear off his makeup so he could be free to play with me. Luckily my mother restrained him because right then he had to go on stage for his dramatic climax. Perplexed, poor fellow, he left me crying and got on stage to draw tears from the audience.

I quickly quieted down when my mother took me on her lap, and I felt the source of my life. But she also had to go on stage immediately. In that play she was performing the role of an unfortunate adolescent mother, a betrayed one, poor thing, who now had to part with her infant. The property man (the manager of the set) stood there with a bundle of something that was to serve as the infant. My mother got an inspiration that she would take me onstage instead of that bundled up something, so that I could meanwhile keep suckling until the last moment. And she did just that.

Here we are, the two of us, onstage. My mother let go with her heart-rending monologue, said farewell to her mite, poor thing, with bitter tears that could move a stone. The audience was wiping its eyes and blowing its nose as if the tragedy was its own. And right here, in the very thick of things, I started to stretch and to throw my little hands and feet around, and suddenly lifted my little head and fixed my big eyes right on the audience.

For a while, everyone remained puzzled, and burst right out in neighing laughter.

My mother became nonplussed and got lost. I had killed her wonderful final act for her that usually ended in stormy applause, stomping of feet and yelling.

But she immediately began hugging me to her heart, covered me with her hot kisses, and called out hysterically, “My own poor child, you know and feel your unlucky mother’s heart!” And the curtain fell with an even greater storm than at all the other times.

Our life settled down to best advantage. My parents built their career in the theatre with complete success. I was surrounded by warm, heart love from both of them and was guarded by my good Feige, like the eyes in her head.

I am truly sorry that these few, numbered, joyous days, weeks and months, when my life proceeded along the somewhat normal path of a quiet, satisfactory family life, were destined for me only in my infancy. It was too early in my life that I should be left with sweet memories, joyful remembrances of ideal childhood years. I never had this again. In my later childhood, when a child already begins to understand and feel something, a certain disappointment was already beginning in my little heart that somehow things were not with me as with other children.

But don’t let me put the cart before the horse. I am still as yet at the time when things were capital with me. Every little witticism and little charm of mine were crowed over, whether by my parents or by my loyal, devoted Feige.

But bit by bit my father’s helpless recklessness and the Lilith-magic of La Haimovitch dragged everything down into the dust and mud. Whether from my mother’s dialogues or partly from mine, you already have a good grasp of my father’s odd character. He often lacked the strength and mind to resist the temptations posed for him by his extraordinary success with women. And although he was drawn more to such a sedate shyness and quiet, intimate love as my mother gave him, he however, allowed himself to be very easily pulled into yelling, stormy affairs that fire the blood and tempt a man’s nature. He was thus often caught in such wanton, sinful adventures, but his sensitivity would quickly prick him out of them.

But with La Haimovitch, as my father had called her at that time, he got hold of a hard nut. She was a fabulously beautiful young prima donna, the wife of actor Moses Heine-Haimovitch. Her beauty and her whole manners were tempting, full of passionate magic. Adler impressed her strongly. His jewel of charm and handsomeness, his manly looks, his graceful figure tempted and drew her.

She also saw in him the great opportunity to climb in her theatrical career. She was ambitious to become a dramatic actress, to which her great talent surely entitled her. She decided she must have him, she must become Mrs. Adler. So she availed herself of every feminine magic trick to grab him.

My father’s weak character melted completely at her feminine charm and passionate temptation.

It didn’t take long and one nice day they both disappeared. My father ran away with her. They weren’t heard from for several months. When they finally returned, my father tried by every means to be reconciled with my mother, cried, and begged her to forgive him.

But under no circumstances did she want to remain Madame Adler. Her pride, her innate delicacy did not permit it. Her healthy mind dictated to her that he could never again be completely here. She didn’t want to share with others. So his arguments and the words from the emissaries he sent her were to no avail. She was firmly determined not to let it go further.

Against all practical logic, she decided to divorce the great Jacob P. Adler, and her strong character stood by her.

The preparations for the divorce proceeded. It was no longer a secret among the Yiddish theatrical world in New York.

My mother used her whole theatrical ability not to have anything tell on her as to how broken up she was over the dreadful play fate had handed her. She couldn’t endure the sympathetic glances with which people met her. She was pained and insulted by the words of sympathy and commiseration. Also not missing were poisonous, angry-tongued gossip and rumors over my father’s profligate meetings with La Haimovitch which people related with all the fine points as if they had been eyewitnesses at their occurrence.

So my mother, barely in the twentieth year of her life, had to destroy both the cynical gossip and the truly honest looks of sympathy with measured tact and very clear demeanor. Her proud and refined character found it hard to digest both of them. So she thought more than once of skipping out of everything, running away with me no matter where, just so she shouldn’t have to meet people, the environment, the atmosphere on a day-to-day basis.

Two things held her back from her decision—me and her career. Her decision to leave Adler came to her with many tears and heartache. In addition to giving up her career, she was afraid it would bring her to such despair that she might, heaven forbid, do something terrible. What would become of me, her little Tzirele? I must lack nothing. How else could she make a living for me, Feige, herself?

So she had to hold onto the theatre, carry on with everything as heretofore, make an impression before her colleagues of worrying little over what had happened. Pinch the cheeks to keep color in them. Although her heart palpitated every day, poor thing, with suffering and agony.

I wish to reveal to you at this time my mother’s heart, disclose to you the state of her spirit, her most intimate feelings and thoughts in those days. Let there be a belated cry of protest from my own pain-racked heart as I now feel when I think of my great, refined, and proud mother who, with such deep dignity, against all practical calculations, stood on her human rights as a woman and mother and yet did not lose her balance for a minute.

It is my deepest hope that you, reading my mother’s recorded recollections of those days, will also feel her great personality. And that will be my reward.

Searching in her considerable theatrical archives, I have found her own exposition. I shall give it to you, just as if she wrote it:

I now come to the most tragic moment of my life—my divorcing Adler. When he suddenly disappeared, ran away with her, I felt very insulted, debased. Deep pain rent my heart in pieces. After all, I was so madly in love with him. But I didn’t fall into anxiety. I felt and knew that this love for me also was not extinguished. Despite his ugly behavior, I felt it with all my being. A woman’s heart does not deceive.

But in my totally innocent, honest love, my young but clear brain instructed me that there could no longer be a happy life between us. That reckless behavior of his opened a wide chasm between us, made a rip that my innate pride and sedate youth couldn’t make peace with. I knew he would come back. He must come back. I had to prepare for it. I obviously saw his magic smile right before my eyes, which my woman’s heart could not resist. His guilt-laden, unhappy looks which would wipe away every bit of bitterness in my heart and have me ready to go with him to the ends of the world—it was against this I had to put on armor, equip myself with enough strength to go through.

So my heart and mind didn’t really betray me Adler came back. He did everything I had foreseen. And my strong character stood by me.

Presently came our day in court. Many times I have read of heroic martyrs who go to their execution with pride. Such accounts got entangled in my mind when I went to court to get my divorce from Adler.

The early morning was very gloomy, as if to match my mood. When I opened my eyes and looked out the window, I felt heaven was weeping over me. The thick, dark clouds very faithfully painted the heavy, deep mourning in my heart.

I took a look at my Tzirele, at my child who, with closed eyes and reddened cheeks, lay in the baby-carriage and was sleeping with her sweet, innocent baby sleep. I very much wanted to pour out to her my embittered heart.

I had the urge to ask her, beg her, and seek from her an answer to my doubts— whether I was justified in my treatment of her, in my daring decision. Maybe I was becoming a bad mother because of all this. Maybe I was perpetrating a terrible crime, heaven forbid, against my child who was dearer to me than my life. When she grew bigger, would she understand that I could not do otherwise? That I could not live with myself otherwise? Would she hate me for it, heaven forbid? So, looking at her, I sought answers I knew she could not give.

My Feige, who was not only my Tzirele’s nurse but became a sister to me, a mother, wandered around the house. She avoided looking at me. She walked around with very quiet steps, as one walks around a very sick person. So I thought it was well that I never got up again, never again to come face to face with my sad situation.

But several friends soon came. I quickly threw on a dress and at the same time drew over my face a fake mask of indifference. I remember I even told some story and laughed out loud. It was as if I’d gotten afraid of my own laughter. It smacked of hysteria, and that’s why I was afraid. No matter what, I didn’t want to become hysterical.

In the courtroom, where the hearing for my divorce was to take place, only people close to us were there—Adler with his lawyer and a few friends were already there. He glanced my way, and I, not wanting to, saw his face. I began to tremble and had to grab the railing not to fall. His face was as white as chalk, somehow covered with a deadly pallor, and his eyes were bloodshot. Fear seized me.

Presently the judge came in. Among other things he asked me how much support I asked for myself and the child. I observed Adler for a while, his helpless, pitiful appearance and said with firmness: “No, your Honor, I don’t want any support, neither for myself nor my child.”

The judge was amazed and asked me again: “Are you sure, Madame Adler? You’re entitled to it.”

“I’m sure, your Honor. I can look after myself and my child. I no longer consider myself Madame Adler.”

I left the court. I felt dizzy. My friends surrounded me, talked to me, I heard nothing, knew nothing of what was happening to me. Suddenly, Adler was at my side.

“Little Dinele, I beg you, come with me to a restaurant. I want you to have dinner with me. I beg you, don’t refuse me.”

I was ready to dismiss him angrily, to send him to kingdom come. Only one glance at his pale, pitiful face, and I could not dismiss him. We got into a restaurant. He talked a lot and wept even more, talked from his heart and wept real tears without theatrical artifice, of which Adler was a master, whether onstage or in real life.

With open heart he unfolded that entire affair of his with her. He didn’t spare himself, called himself the worst names; nor did he pay her any compliments either. He was caught in a vise. Only I could rescue him from an unhappy life. Without me he would go to pot. There was still time. Things could be recaptured.

I don’t know where I got the strength to live through this difficult trial. I desperately wanted to hug him to me, to forget all, to go with him to the ends of the world. I defeated this thought with my last energies. Choked with tears, I barely uttered: “Believe me, Jacob, my heart goes out to you. I admit to you that I still love you very much, but I know you, I know myself. If I let this go on, I will in time begin to hate you, will become your enemy. I don’t want that; let me at least carry in my memory your appearance as I loved you, without bitterness, without hatred. Jacob, I beg you, pity me, don’t torture me anymore.

Our rendezvous was finished. I very much didn’t want to get up anymore and to have to go out into that dark world of mine anymore.

That’s how my mother concludes her memories of her tragic love.

My poor mother! How my heart is now torn as I tearfully read your bitter remembrances. I want so very much for you to know that I draw strength and courage from your recollections to be able to forget my own bitter memories.

Just as you did, I wished more than once not to be able to get up anymore, not to have to exist anymore, to let myself be carried off by the foaming ocean waves at which I have looked from my beautiful home in Sea Gate and be swallowed up in the far, far depths.


CHAPTER 6

My parents’ divorce didn’t change my life one bit, the life of a year-and-a-half-old child. As she did before, Feige managed our household, saw to it that I lacked nothing, heaven forbid. My mother pushed on with her theatrical career, made a good living, and everything went well.

Bit by bit my mother’s nerves also quieted down. Time erases everything. It didn’t take long for the sensation of Dina and Jacob Adler’s divorce to leave theatrical mouths. My father’s fast marriage to Sarah was accepted without fanfare.

The little Yiddish theatrical world in New York in America in general was still very small and circumscribed at that time and so, during the second season after the divorce, my mother already happened to play in the same theatre with my father and the new Mme. Sara Adler. No one was shocked by this, heaven forbid; even my mother wasn’t as she, bit by bit, began to feel like the victor instead of the vanquished.

Sara Adler was still a prima donna at that time. M mother was a dramatic actress, so they never appeared in the same play. But everyone knew that Sara Adler was considerably disturbed by and not a little jealous of my mother. As it happened, my mother played more often with Adler in the dramatic plays. Sarah was then already pregnant with her first daughter, my sister Frances. So Sarah was quite anxious that my father be more and more alienated from me, not to show me any love, heaven forbid. So she saw to it that my father should never look at me, that I should not really come into his presence. Thus my mother specially arranged with Feige that she take me to the theatre at rehearsal time.

You can imagine that when I entered the stage well-dressed in a nice dress, my charming little face in a frame of golden locks (when my mother and Feige told of this they agreed, ‘lovely as a little angel’), my father could not restrain himself, grabbed me in his arms, and covered me with kisses. My father didn’t want to release me at all. My mother stood on the side, smiling, contented.

During that very same season, I made my second appearance onstage before the public. That was also one of my mother’s tricks to get even with Sarah for one of her wrongs. They were playing some Oriental operetta. My father played a Turkish general who returned as a heroic victor from the battlefield. The Sultan sat on the throne and received the great hero.  On both sides of the stairs that led to the throne were standing the Sultan’s lifeguards, elegantly decked out in beautiful, colorful uniforms, with red fezzes on their heads. So my mother ordered a special little uniform from the wardrobe man and, dressing me up in a red fez over my spread-out golden locks, she sat me down in the very middle of the stairs.

I will leave out all the enthusiastic adjectives that Feige and my mother employed to describe how beautiful I looked in the Turkish costume, but you can imagine my father’s happy surprise when, bowing to the Sultan, he suddenly met my beautiful little face. His face beamed with joy, his famous Adlerian eyes opened wide and virtually became riveted on me.

Instead of answering the Sultan for the words of praise for his heroism on the battlefield, my father uttered in ecstasy, “Ah, me, blessings, blessings on your beautiful, sweet, little face!” My mother and Feige bore out the fact that I put my little finger on my tiny lips and said, “Quiet, there’s a ‘pway’!” (Quiet, there’s a play going on.)

I was then a gal of about two-and-a-half years old.

Anyway my father didn’t let me go until the end of the act, bowed to the public with me in his arms, and kept on kissing and caressing me.

As you see, mother didn’t lose her equilibrium even in situations that were not so pleasant, and she often changed her hurts and worries into mischievous horseplay. At that time, several of the most recognized actors proposed to her. They often got together at my home. She couldn’t decide which one of them to choose for herself. She consulted with Feige, but they couldn’t agree. But Feige gave her advice about whom to ask.

Quite a fine actor, Sigmund Feinman, came to America at that time. He was reared in a fine, sedate family in a little Romanian city, fifteen miles from Kishinev. I believe the little city was called Intshesht. He was a serious and very intelligent man. He quickly became a leading power in the theatrical family of that time, quickly counted as one of the stars. He also wrote several plays for the Yiddish theatre. Many of the plays were performed with great success in those days and remained in the Yiddish theatre repertory. He inspired great respect for himself, whether because of his theatrical talent or his intelligence. You valued his opinion very highly and you were influenced by his word.

He was also among those who came to our house. My mother esteemed him very highly. She was much taken by his uprightness, his sincere look, his honest behavior, whether toward the theatre or toward people.

Feige’s advice was that she, Mother, ask Feinman—he would give her the best opinion of all. She decided Feige was right. She would consult him. There was no longer the question with her of being captured by love. She had had enough of that. But she also didn’t want to remain alone for her entire life. So it was a question of whom to choose to share her life with.

And so, once when Sigmund Feinman was at our house at noon, my mother had a serious conversation with him. She felt he would really understand her and, knowing all the actors, he would give her an honest opinion. So she told him about those who were courting her and asked him who he thought was the proper one for her to marry. He mused for a moment, as if to weigh in his mind this one and that one from among the enumerated actors and, looking her straight in the eye, told her very seriously:

How shall I put it to you, Dina? My honest opinion is that of those you have enumerated—and I know them all—I am strongly convinced that the most likely man with whom you could have a peaceful, more or less happy life, is really me.

For a while my mother was puzzled by the altogether unexpected proposal. But his open-hearted approach impressed her very much. And the longer she thought about it, the more he pleased her.

She quickly became Mme. Feinman. She ended her days with this name, rose to the highest rungs in her colorfully rich career. The name of Dina Feinman became famous over the entire Jewish world. The name practically became a legend in London.

During the unfolding of my story, I shall have occasion to underscore certain happenings in my own life in London. You will be convinced of what the name of Dina Feinman meant there. But meanwhile I was barely four years old when this important change in my childhood took place. And as far as I myself can think about it and remember it in my childhood years, my father was Sigmund Feinman. That he gave me as much fatherly love and loyalty as a child can only wish for, I have already recited for you at the beginning of my story.

 I must admit here that Feinman’s entry into my life happened in a period of my childhood when, for several years my father, Jacob P. Adler, had disappeared completely from my life. It happened at the time when Sara Adler bore her first two children, my sisters Frances and Julia. She then did not permit under any circumstances that my father share his fatherly love between them and me, so that from the age of three years until about five or six of my childhood years, I neither knew nor can remember any other father than Sigmund Feinman.
 

CHAPTER 7

And so, in my reminiscences, we come at last to the time when I can already tell you about my life, about what I myself remember. As a gal of almost four, when the name Feinman entered my life, I can already draw on my own memories.

So I will leave it to psychologists and those who rear children to interpret why and how one recalls more foolish that serious memories from childhood years. I shall picture my life at that time, as I remember it, with all the foolishness and charms of childhood. I can’t guarantee that I shall be completely accurate in the sequence in which the episodes occurred. But I shall honestly relate them as I remember them.

For example, I can remember that not long before Feinman became my father, a sort of resentment gathered in my young little mind why things somehow didn’t happen in our home as they did in the houses of the little neighborhood children where I frequently played. Somehow I felt wronged or fooled by how come there was never a papa in my mother’s bedroom as in their mother’s bedroom. So when Feinman became my papa, I gathered together many of my little neighborhood children and one beautiful early morning led them into my mother’s bedroom and, proudly and with self-praise showed them that I also had a papa for my mother.

Tangled in my memories from about that time is a maid named Esther. And it was of her that I asked the tough question that tortures many children at that age: Where do little children come from and how? This Esther readily gave me the answer that when a mother really wants a new child badly, her skull opens up, and they fetch the child out of there. And so I remember a big feast in our house. Many people sat around the table. Esther brought in a big platter of fish. When she came near me, I yanked her sleeve and showed her with my little hands how the skull opens and they fetch the child. Esther began to laugh so hard that the platter of fish fell out of her hands.

I also remember from that time a Passover feast in our house. Dressed up in a white linen cloak with a white skullcap, Papa Feinman sat on cushions. Many, many guests sat at the long table. I was asking the Four Ritual Questions. Everyone babied me, kissed me, caressed me, and pinched my little cheeks. My mother showed me how to steal the Ritual Bread. I did it quite expertly, but my joy was destroyed.

Papa Feinman suddenly called me over to him very harshly and told me with a serious face: “Tzirele, you are quite a thief!” I fell to weeping hard and replied: “Mother told me to.” He grabbed me and kissed me. Everyone laughed. I kept looking but didn’t understand.

My first long railroad trip. We went to Chicago where my parents were engaged for the season. I was about four-and-a-half-years old. I became very sick there with asthma. I was taken to the hospital. Had I obeyed the doctors there, I would not have to torture you now with my reminiscences. Both my names, Celia Feinman and Celia Adler, would have been forgotten long ago, and they would hardly have any meaning either for you or for anyone. The doctors assured my parents with certainty and authority that it was a lost cause. Nothing could be done for me. I wouldn’t live long anyway. Better take me home for my last few days. But keep all the windows closed without fail and heaven forbid they allow a spot of sunshine on me.

One doctor gave me a guess out of the side of his mouth that perhaps if I were immediately taken to California, and if I lasted until they brought me there, maybe, maybe…. And though it was very difficult to scrounge together the considerable sum for the expenses of the trip to California, my mother, being in her late months of pregnancy with my sister, Lillie, began packing for the faraway trip with a heavy heart. One of our neighbors began counseling my mother to try taking me to a doctor who she had heard was quite a wonder—a big doctor, almost a professor—Dr. Keidisch, if I remember correctly.

She said, “He is an old doctor, already past eighty, who no longer wants to take on any children. He gets very nervous. Children didn’t let themselves be handled, and it is difficult to examine them. In addition, he’s a little on the deaf side and not infrequently, a wee bit soused. But let mother try.”

She insisted, didn’t let go, until mother went off to the doctor, just to pacify her. She virtually fell at his feet, reassured him that I was different from other children. He would surely have no trouble with me.

So it seems it was fated that I torture you with my reminiscences after all. The old doctor softened. I imagine that my mother’s dramatic appeal, into which she poured her entire theatrical talent worked. He agreed to take me on. Thus I remember that my mother told me over and over to speak up in answering all the questions that the doctor would ask me and obey everything he told me to do, even if it would hurt very much.

At the examination he was indeed taken with me, caressed me, told me several times I was a very beautiful little girl. But “you mustn’t talk so loud; it’s not good for your little throat.” He then turned to my mother: “My dear lady, don’t despair. You mustn’t worry at all. I assure you your child will be completely well in three months and perhaps sooner.”

My mother fell to weeping hard and grabbing and kissing his hands. The old doctor grasped her by her shoulders: “No, no, my dear woman. Don’t do it! And there’s no reason for your crying. Your beautiful, bright little girl will be all right. But you shouldn’t have told her to yell so loudly. It’s not good right now for her little throat.” My mother looked at me with some guilt, happy and satisfied.

“Forget California,” the doctor continued. “And also forget what the doctors told you about air and sun. On the contrary, throw open all the windows, and whenever the sun shines go outdoors with her warmly dressed.”

He gave her several little bottles of medicine and took one dollar from her for the whole thing. When I left, he kissed me and gave me ten cents for candy: “You’re a well-behaved child. You should obey everything your mother asks you to do.”


CHAPTER 8

During the entire time of my illness I couldn’t laugh, because when I laughed I had a bad coughing spell and would almost turn blue. After several weeks of my treatment by the old doctor, Feinman once heard sonorous laughter from my room. Neither dead nor alive, he ran in to me. Here I was laughing with my usual child’s laughter, and it didn’t hurt me. I wasn’t coughing anymore. He grabbed me in his arms and ran around the house with me like a madman and yelled almost hysterically, “You’re laughing, laughing, little Celia! You’re going to live and be well!! And we’ll laugh at the world!”

As you see, I turned the tables on the Chicago doctors and remained alive. And so, by heaven, I don’t know who came out of it the winner. That the world could have gotten along very nicely without me—even with both my names, Celia Adler and Celia Feinman—of that I’m sure. And I also remember moments in my life when I myself considered it foolish that I had been so very stubborn then. If only for my parents—it was a great victory and joy.

Right then, in Chicago, my mother soon gave birth, and I got a beautiful, downy little sister, little Lillie. But I already knew that you didn’t have to open a skull to get a child.

It was very cute how my sister got her name. Feinman was very enthusiastic over Biblical names. It so happened that, when my mother was due with my little sister, the week’s reading from the Pentateuch, “Vyoiche,” was on; where there’s the story that mother Leah bore Jacob a daughter Dina. Feinman got the idea that it should be the reverse with us. That is, Dina, my mother, was to have given birth to Leah. And that’s the way it was.

Understand that America made Lillie out of Leah—my present beloved sister, Lillie Satz.

After the season in Chicago, we returned to New York. Sigmund and Dina Feinman were the stars of the Roumanian Opera House, a Yiddish theatre on the Bowery. We actually resided over that theatre.

Feinman’s famous melodrama, “Little Hannah, the Finishing Girl” was running very successfully that season. Feinman wrote a special child’s role into that play in which I very much distinguished myself. There was a special scene where I lay very ill. But this didn’t interfere with my singing a long duet with Feinman, who played the good, faithful grandfather. I can even recall the duet’s refrain. Perhaps you will laugh at and make fun of the words—they’re called lyrics in theatrical language—but I assure you that rivers of tears were spilled in the theatre that season when I sang the duet with Feinman:

Here is the refrain:

A little father and a little mother

Caress, kiss their child;

The child gets sick, how sorry they are,

And quickly it is saved.

I also have a little father

Who throws me into dirt like little mud.

Oh, oh, oh dear, how my heart burns,

Oh, dear Grandfather, you feel my hurt.

My mother’s little tears heal me,

I swallow them like little pearls,

I, a living little orphan,

I, a withered little tree.

Isn’t it pitifully truly heart-rending? Performing with us in the play at the time was the genial comedian Sigmund Mogulesco. He compensated the public for all its tears with hundreds of laughs. I recall that already at that time—although I’m in doubt—as a child of five, five-and-a-half, I already understood his genial talent. So I always observed him from the wings when he was onstage, dug into him with my big eyes, and followed his every turn, his every expression and movement. They couldn’t tear me away. To this day, whenever I think and remind myself of the unforgettable Sigmund Mogulesco’s heavenly charm, such warmth envelopes me….I feel a tremendous thankfulness that I was destined to be in close contact with this very heaven-blessed artist, that I could warm myself in the shining beams of his giant talent.

That season the Angel of Death again suddenly reminded himself of me in our residence over the Roumanian Opera House on the Bowery—and squared off with me. Feinman was a rabid smoker—called a “chain smoker” among us in America. He fell asleep one day with a burning cigarette in his hand. A terrible fire broke out. Our home was quickly enveloped in flames. Mother, Feige, and my little sister were evidently not in the room. Terribly burned and fainting, Feinman barely rescued himself. I was sleeping in my den, toward which the flaming tongues were lapping. My father, Jacob P. Adler, was sitting in the writers’ theatrical café on Grand Street. Someone brought him news of the fire. I remember him running with me, swaddled in a bed sheet, in his arms. I can still see before me his white, disheveled hair, his big, panicky eyes. But I don’t remember where he took me.

Came time to enroll me in public school. It stood to reason that my mother enroll me as Celia Feinman—how else? With two children in the house, should one be called Feinman and the other Adler? My mother spared herself double heartache with this also. First, Papa Feinman would be very much wrought up over this, and it might perhaps have brought on a bit of a shadow into their lovely family life, heaven forbid. He loved me very much, and he didn’t much fancy my thinking of another father. Second, with this she removed a heavy mix-up from my childish little brain, a deep disorganization in my young little heart.

 

MY FAMILY ON THE FEINMAN SIDE
 


 

Top lt. Sigmund Feinman; top rt., Dina Feinman; bottom: Joe, Becky, Lillie and Celia Feinman.

 



 

    Top, left: Feige; Top right: My grandfather, R’ Yossef Chaim Stettin;
Bottom: My sister Lillie, my mother and I.


Our family was augmented by two more children around that time. Feinman’s two children by his first wife came to live with us—a little boy, Joe, about my age, and a little girl, Becky, younger by a year or two. Somehow, great peace did not rein overwhelmingly in our household among us children. Why? Well, children…. But I’m sure of one thing, that household peace would have been more precarious had one of these four Feinman children been called Adler.

Understandably, the house did not lack tumult. Four children, may they prosper, can fill up a house with cries and yells. So Feige, poor thing, really had her hands full. She didn’t know what to do with us in our constant fights, in children’s wars. When Mother was home, she was the Peace Commission. And she was often successful in making peace among us. But it wasn’t always easy for her. I remember how once, during one our wild fights, when my mother’s best diplomatic efforts didn’t achieve the establishment of peace among us, she was worried and called Feinman from his room: “Quick, Sigmund, come here, your children and my children are beating up our children.”

As you see, my mother’s playful nature with its humor and jesting, often helped her to overcome the difficult moments without anger and worry.

It seems that I also inherited this tendency from my mother. Something comes to mind about a year or two later—I used to play children’s roles in the Yiddish theatre quite often. So a few of my little boy and girl friends insisted—they had seen me in this or that role and were sure I looked much taller and bigger on the stage—that I tell them how I did it.

So I revealed the secret to them with a straight face. But they had to promise that they would tell my secret to no one, heaven forbid. “We actors all have a kind of little spring in our right hip. When we have to be taller, we sort of turn a little screw and we become elongated. If we want to become smaller, we turn the screw back and let ourselves down. But we can do this only when we are on stage.”

 Afterwards, it often happened that one or another suddenly grabbed me around the waist, felt me with their little fingers, and looked for the little spring with the little screw. I would start to laugh real hard and yell that they should stop tickling me. But this didn’t put an end to it. Two of my best and closest pals began begging me to show them the little spring—when we were alone in the house. They swore up and down with the holiest of children’s vows they would tell no one, not a soul. They were, after all, my best and most loyal pals. I could trust them. I assured them with a sincere expression, almost with tears in my eyes, that there wasn’t a thing in the world with which I wouldn’t trust them, but this I could not, must not do under any circumstances.

“Well now, I shall reveal to you something that I trust only you with. I know you will never let it out of your mouths. You must know that before we get that little spring, we are sworn not to show it even to our own parents. Surely, now, you don’t want anything bad to happen to me, do you, heaven forbid?”

 As you see, I have kept that secret all my life. I’m not even going to show it to you.
 

CHAPTER 9

The success of “Little Hannah, the Finishing Girl,” whether as the play written by Feinman, or by the playing of Sigmund and Dina Feinman, raised them to quite a high position in the growing Yiddish theatre in New York, so that, a season or two later, they entered into a partnership with David Kessler and Bertha Kalich in the Thalia Theatre.

Also my own success in that play stamped me as the “star player of children’s roles.” Thus I also became a member of the troupe. So I must admit to you that I am so desperately sorry over the present pitiful state of our Yiddish theatre, and there’s a gnawing at my heart when I remind myself of the roster of the troupe that season at the Thalia Theatre.

I desperately want to hope that there is still a considerable number of people among you who themselves remember or are well-acquainted with that period, who have a grasp of it and in whose memory there still glows the sweet trust, the joy-causing mood that the Yiddish theatre brought to the masses—green, lonely and homesick immigrants of that time. I shall surely awaken a tremor in your hearts if I enumerate here the names of that troupe.

 I do indeed wish to put their names down accurately in the order in which they were announced. That was indeed a very important element in the theatrical world: The how and in which row the name should appear on the advertisements, on which side of the billboards and how big the size of the picture should be. That caused resentment and heartache as well as happy attainments in the life of many actors. These were fought for with fang and claw. I would commit a sin to ignore them.

But I know that many theatrical reviewers and the literary world in general write mockingly about this theatrical weakness or small-mindedness, as they call it. And I have the feeling that a considerable number of the public is inclined to accept this very view, and it is for this reason that it often derides us actors. So I consider it a duty to my profession, my colleagues, and myself to try to interpret the meaning of advertisements and the important role that they played in the careers of actors.

The approximate six decades I served the Yiddish theatre give me, I believe, a right to speak with authority, whether about theatrical life or actors. But the matter is not all so transparent that I should be able to get rid of it in a few lines. It involves many complications and countless problems that torture the performer during the development of his career. So I shall attempt to unravel and clarify all these temptations that we performers have to overcome in our path.

Now, first, the advertisements. We would be ready at any time to appear before the public without loud announcements, without previews, overdrawn, banal songs of praise and compliments, trusting either to the public or to our own abilities that we would receive the proper recognition. When, however, would this be true? If this were the rule for all. When in the same advertisements, the star-boss, or he and his wife, or two star-bosses with their wives did not usurp the biggest place in the advertisement, where they blast themselves into the ears, eyes and minds of the public at large by highly lit-up letters and huge pictures. The names of the other actors are barely mentioned, with miniscule type font, as we call it, with fly specks. They thereby already became automatically minimized and unimportant, whether before the public or to the managers and bosses of theatres. Nor does it stop with only the actors’ weakened esteem before the public. It has a great influence on their careers, their earnings, their making a living. Your being engaged in the theatre and the decision of how much you will be paid weekly are appraised by your boss according to how much your name means at the box office. So a race had to begin for prestigious advertisements, to have your name in bigger letters, your picture bigger and in a prominent place on the posters.

But the stars fought this. To maintain their status as stars and also really their fat salaries, it was in their interest that the other performers in the troupe not to be noticed too much, heaven forbid. So the situation arose that not the actor’s talent, but the advertisements determined the progress of his career.

Thus I cannot restrain myself on this occasion to tell here of one of my experiences with the brilliant, immortal David Kessler that has quite a close relationship to this matter.

It happened in the very first years of my career as Celia Adler. David Kessler wanted me for his leading lady on a summer tour over America. I was indeed in seventh heaven, and my heart virtually leapt with joy that David Kessler would trust me with the top role in one of his plays. Aside from his great talent, he was known in the profession as one of the few recognized stars who always wanted to play only with good, talented actors. Unfortunately, there weren’t many at that time, so I felt very flattered by it.

But at the same time I felt instinctively that this was my chance to heighten my position in the profession. He asked me to meet him in Stark’s Café on Second Avenue and Houston Street, to have lunch with him and discuss my engagement. I don’t know where I got the courage, but talking with him about my terms, I told him with panic in my heart and with a tremor in my voice that I wanted to be billed right alongside him. He opened his big, strict eyes and, looking at me with a very impressive expression, didn’t answer one word. I interpreted his speechless expression in my mind as though he were saying, “Celia, how can you ask such a thing? You’re still a child compared to me!”

I held on like a drowning man would hold on to a straw and, leaning over the table closer to him, I very sincerely answered his silence:

Do you really think, Mr. Kessler, that you will be denigrated thereby? That your fame will be lessened, heaven forbid? That your big name will get smaller? Why shouldn’t you lift me up to you and a young, floundering performer reach a higher rung in her career?

As if all at once, his strict looks became milder. His sharp eyes looked at me with tenderness and warmth. He grasped my hand across the table and, as dramatically as only he could, he stammered:

"You’re right. You, Celia, deserve it. They owe it to you. Your talent….you’re right….all right, stay with me. You shall have it."

You can see on the photostatic copy that Kessler kept his word. So I’ve certainly been thankful to him throughout all the years. But I wonder very much if other such situations ever occurred in our entire theatrical history.

On the contrary, the disgusting star system led to the situation that a number of inexperienced beginning performers, and even those without talent, self-crowned actors, barely on the strength of “being a manger in theatre,” or having a husband as a manager, yelled themselves up to the status of stars by overdriven, shouting advertisements, regrettably thereby not only harming us performers, but virtually degrading the theatre’s worth before the broad public.

 

The translation of the above advertisement is as such:

THE SUCCESS OF A PLAY DEPENDS ON THESE THINGS:

1. The play itself, 2. The actors, 3. The theatre.

The best play is condemned to death if the performers are not blessed with a God-like ability to be able to portray for us the real types, their spiritual anguish and joy in their moments of quietude and in their moments of their open protest, are blessed by God with artistry of being able to picture for us life so deeply tragic, so heartfelt in its truthfulness, that our hearts and souls become literally torn along to forgetfulness. The play.

JEWISH FAITH

In the proper play for the proper actors. When the play was performed in New York in Kessler’s theatre, it created the biggest furor in the most intelligent circles. The Jewish press, without exception, sang a song of praise for the play and the players. It is one of those plays that leave a deep impression on the audience, and it wants to see it again and again.

THE THEATRE

The history of our theatre unfortunately contains a considerable number of such cases. And not necessarily in small theatres in little provinces, but also in quite important theatres in New York, and even in certain respects, in so-called art theatres. This matter is no stranger to those who are acquainted with the history of our theatre.

And so, I’ve made somewhat clear to you, I hope, the matter of advertisements. Much more serious, however, is the matter of roles—what role you get and how to play it…. The words themselves are not yet the role. Between the words is hidden the character they have to portray. So the actor has to deepen himself, dig into and dissect every word, every phrase, every thought to discover and experience the character’s soul. We have to grope quite frequently and attempt to fathom the life of the character involved for many, many years before he appears on the stage. We also have to work very much on and with ourselves with our figure, our voice, our mimicry and movement until we succeed in creating the person the author hid in his words. As you can see, this is no easy matter.

Understand, I speak here of actors with a serious approach to the theatre. I am underscoring this again and again. Because, unfortunately, there is a considerable number of actors in our profession who couldn’t care less about all these things. They do their day’s work on the stage just like any worker in a shop. I have often heard that even in a shop there are also craftsmen who have a serious, knowledgeable approach to their work and, contrariwise, those who behave recklessly, irresponsibly—just so it’s over and done with. In the craftsmanship of the theatre, the difference between sincerity and recklessness is a much more important factor than in a shop. I must admit here that when I previously spoke of the hardships the serious actor undergoes in the creation of his role, I had in mind roles in plays written by authors who were literary artists, creations that—whether it be the theme or the situation or the individual characters—are built with an artistic viewpoint, with psychological analysis, and are woven as a result, from logical, human behavior. Here we are helped by the author’s artistic creation to search for, to fathom our roles.

We are also subject to playing roles in so-called theatrical concoctions in which there isn’t an inkling of any of these things. As our great David Kessler used to say in ridicule: “Plays written with the knee and thought out with the heel—without logic, without substance of body, without human portraits. For a serious actor to fathom his role in such concoctions is virtually splitting of the Red Sea by Moses.”

And I don’t have to say here that the young actor has no jurisdiction over the selection of roles. Very seldom does he even have a say in which theatre he will be booked. How goes the saying: “If you want to go to war, you have to smell powder.” But I can assure you with a clear conscience that the serious artist will not agree to go and play a role, even in the worst literary trash, until he fathoms the character and knows for sure why he does, what he does and says, what he says on the stage. And not having the help of the author’s notes, he must fathom it with his own intuition.

So I must mention here, as an example, one of my wonderful pals and friends, an actor who, in the barely twelve years he played in the Yiddish professional theatre, engraved himself with his huge talent in the hearts of all lovers of better theatre and our serious critics and reviewers. He played quite an important and intimate role in my career and personal life. I shall have occasion to speak more and still more about him. He was unfortunately cruelly torn from us in the bloom of his life barely in his fortieth year, the wonderful performer Jechiel Goldschmidt. I really bring him up as an example, not only because of my personal sympathies and sweet memories of him, but because his case can best bring out what I wish to underscore here.

Goldschmidt came to America as a young boy, practically uneducated, was brought up in the streets of Harlem, which certainly didn’t enrich his knowledge. He came into the theatre through the dramatic clubs, especially the Progressive Dramatic Club where the well-known author and theatre critic, Yoel Entin, was the leader and guide. When, after great effort he was finally accepted by the Yiddish Actors’ Union as a member, he only landed in one of our trashy, illiterate theatres, and, for his first role in the professional theatre, he had to play a gangster, an Alphonse, “an animal in human guise.” He very much distinguished himself in that role. So several reviewers noted that it was a remarkable thing that Goldschmidt evoked a certain sympathy for himself in that animalistic guise.

In a talk with one of the reviewers, Goldschmidt related to him how he dreamed up the gangster’s home, his childhood, the environment, the street urchins he grew up with, until he got to his place as a gangster and Alphonse. So the reviewer wondered—there wasn’t a word mentioned about all this in the play. Goldschmidt remarked to him: “I had to dream up and fathom all this myself; otherwise I couldn’t have touched the role.”

Now, this raw talent Goldschmidt reminded me with his playing of our brilliant Kessler who was also often referred to as a “raw diamond,” a “diamond in the rough.” Goldschmidt will be of much help to me with my story with curious episodes from his short career in our theatre.

I hope that I’ve been able to acquaint you with the grueling efforts engaged in by the serious actors in the process of creating his role. However, it quite often happens to us that the actor is regarded for it with chagrin and heartache. Not, heaven forbid, because he doesn’t go over with the public, but because he doesn’t please the reviewers. Just the opposite—just when he pleases everybody there is the danger that the star won’t be pleased. There are so-called stars who cannot and do not want to admit that another actor or any other role but theirs should be recognized. This is their best protection that they will be the top attraction with the public, that only they should be looked at, that only they should be noted.

This brings us to the very worst disease of our theatre—the loose and shaky foundation on which our theatre was built and tethered from the beginning, the star system. Among people, the artistic part of the theatre is completely separated from the business part. There is the manager who concerns himself with the business. There is the artistic director or director who concerns himself with the cultural and artistic part. Neither the manager nor the director need necessarily be an actor. Anyway, in the theatre where they function, they do not figure as actor under any circumstances, with very, very few rare exceptions. The manager takes pains with the choosing and buying of a play that he hopes will appeal to the public.

Then the director takes it over. He lays out his director’s plans, concerning himself only with the performance. He creates his definitive meanings, which moments in the play should be highlighted, and which should remain in the shadows; which characters he wants to point up and which he wants to leave in the background. He creates a whole composition, as it were, in which every part must be in exact harmony, every figure fitted into the right frame.

Neither the male nor the female stars, neither the main hero nor the heroine of the play has any jurisdiction whatsoever over the way the play will be finalized, and they certainly have no say about the roles. Thus, serious actors are eternally grateful to the really artistic director for giving them guidelines, and for leading them in the direction he is aiming in his directors’ plans.

But with us, everything rests in the hands of one individual—the hands of the star. He is the manager, he decides on the play, he hands out the roles, he directs, he teaches everyone how to play theatre. His qualification for all these arts is only the fact that he is the manager and star. Not infrequently he forces the author to tailor the play and the roles so they can better serve his picayune ambitions, his cheap taste. Very often he does it himself, without the author’s knowledge. The unfortunate consequences, the tragic sum total of the system has surely brought on the dreadful decadence of the Yiddish theatre.

To strengthen my ideas about the fatal injury the star system has brought to our theatre, I must cite for you at least a few episodes from among hundreds that I had the opportunity to experience during my many years in the theatre. They will underscore for you more boldly the wantonness, the nerve, the helter-skelter concept that has gnawed its way into our theatre, thanks to the so-called system. You will then perhaps better understand my reproaches, my “I accuse.”

I know that I’m walking on glass here. I shall therefore mention the names in the episodes only of those who were aggrieved, so that you will have the assurance that these are not fabricated stories. But I shall not mention the names of the “grief-makers.” A number of them have long ago gone to their reward. If any of my living colleagues should recognize himself among the guilty ones, let him digest it in good health….

At a performance in a very important province-city, actor Sam Auerbach, a brother-in-law Joseph Shoengold, played the role of a father. The star played his son, which was understandably the main role. It so happened that although the star had pruned Auerbach’s father role considerably, Sam nevertheless got a lot of applause at the first performance for a certain phrase in a dialogue with his son, the star. The next day, at the second performance, when they got to the dialogue, the star, the son, presumably said as follows: “I know, I know, father, what you’re going to tell me,” and himself spoke the phrase and snatched the hand-clapping.

Sam Auerbach had a low boiling point, but he was no fool. He was also among those actors who, as they say, didn’t allow themselves to be taken advantage of. So he coldly and calmly went over to the table where the son, the star, was sitting, and with a grand gesture laid out on the table the money from his pocket, his golden watch and chain, his diamond ring and spoke up quite loudly so everyone in the theatre should hear him: “Well, now, my son, take all this, too. You deserve it all!”

At the same time, he began to take off his jacket. “Maybe you want my outfit, too?! You never have enough!!!”

Heaven forbid that the star feel himself taken aback by Auerbach’s successful lecture. Only that from that incident on, he made sure that every phrase in a play that had a chance for applause would be only in the star’s role.

A second episode—with me, myself.

I was playing in the Arch Street Theatre in Philadelphia. The manager was the famous Anshel Schorr. He was a very clever theatre man, quite a fine writer of plays, and was among the few theatre managers who conducted their theatres with strict discipline and didn’t allow any wantonness in his theatre. We were very good friends. So that season, for a special performance, he decided to put on the famous play, “The Yeshiva Scholar” by Solotorefsky and prevailed upon me to play the top role, little Avigdor, a role in which the unforgettable Boris Thomashevsky made himself famous.

It was a big strain for me to learn such a big role with music by heart. The famous cantor and composer, Yudele Belzer, being the music director of the theatre that season, transcribed the music for me—a few tones lower for me and quite a few tones higher for the chorus. Believe me that, until that performance in a role that is far from my genre and bears with it a considerable bit of the history of the Yiddish theatre, my nervousness mounted higher and higher.

Sitting in my dressing room, already dressed up as the Yeshiva Scholar, quiet words came to me from an actress who had pretensions to be a star. I heard her say:

You’ll see what I’ll do to her today. I’ll be on the stage already when she makes her entrance as little Avigdor in the first act, so I’ll put her over my knee and bang her so she won’t be able to sit all evening.

I began to tremble. The thought of such a scene before an audience nearly bowled me over. I must stop it. But how?! She was much stronger physically than me. I would not be able to protect myself against her on the stage. I was afraid I would get so riled up talking things over with her now that it would affect my playing. So I sat in a frightful dither, looking for ways and means of how to avoid the shame and pain, and I thought it through.

I remembered that Anshel Schorr was a prompter, and a very good one for many years. So I sent a message that I must see him forthwith before the curtain goes up, before I go on the stage. He came, of course, so I started to beg him that, unless he prompted that day, I was so nervous over my role that I would not be at ease.

“With you in the prompter’s box, I shall feel more secure in my role,” I stated to him.

No use his talking and arguing. I told him firmly, “Anshel, otherwise I’m not going out there to play. I pleased you and let myself be talked into such a role, so you can please me and sit in the box today.”

He had no choice. He had to give in to me. You must understand that the actress’ plan was scotched, poor thing. When she saw him sitting in the prompter’s box, she nearly caved in. And her speech as well. That’s how I protected myself from becoming a forced partner in a scene of wantonness and pain.

Anshel Schorr never understood why I had suddenly fallen so in love with his prompting, especially when he noticed right away in the first act that I knew my role by heart. So I let him keep on wondering….

So you won’t think that only in the provinces did they allow injustice and wantonness, I shall again bring to life here my wonderful friend Jechiel Goldschmidt, who played on the stage of New York’s better Yiddish theatres most of the years of his short life. The episode is a much more serious one and goes much deeper.

It happened in one of the most successful plays of the better Yiddish repertory. The role Goldschmidt was going to play was almost a top role, according to the plot of the play. But it was a role that didn’t have many speeches. Although he would find himself onstage the greatest part of each act, the words of his role could have been recited in a few minutes. His role had more dots than words. These dots he had to bring out by his silences in order to draw the mystic thread the author had woven into his work—a very complicated role.

Goldschmidt was not among those actors who let themselves make the audience look at them by cheap theatrical tricks. So he wandered around, poor thing, in the first weeks of rehearsal confused and still couldn’t find the mystic thread in his role. The star, who also, understandably, the director didn’t help him—not, heaven forbid, because he didn’t want to. As all of us, as Goldschmidt himself felt, the director also felt that Jechiel was not bringing out his role as it should be. In keeping with the accepted method of our direction, the director told Goldschmidt to repeat after him, to imitate him. But this helps very little in fathoming a role.

In keeping with the talent and ability he possesses, the performer must, with his own resources, feel and understand his role through and through to be able to bring out all the nuances and little wrinkles. Anyway, it didn’t help Goldschmidt.

At last, as we all sat at a rehearsal, and the time came for him to make his first entrance in the first act, and just as Jechiel spoke the first few sentences, we all lit up. For the first time we felt that his tone was true. The mystic meaning that the author had hidden in his dots suddenly became clear to all of us. We all applauded when he finished the scene. The director was also full of admiration and applauded strongly.

With all the physical strength and youthful well-being that Goldschmidt possessed, he was very sentimental and, in certain circumstances completely naïve. After the spontaneous applause, tears fully gathered in his eyes. Perhaps only those who can understand this, who have a grasp of the torture that the serious performer undergoes during rehearsals, when he wanders around in a role—and of his overflowing heart when he finally finds the right road. So he went over to the director enthusiastically and, overcome by his emotionalism, tried to express his feelings:

You didn’t know I’ve suffered from my stumbling around. I haven’t slept nights. I have searched and rummaged, and at last, yesterday at two o’clock at night, reading the play again and again, I suddenly grasped the thread of the role. My eyes lit up. I couldn’t sleep all night, went over my role many times until each word and dot became clear to me.

Well, what do you think the director answered to his open-hearted confession? He said angrily:

Who needs your thinking? Who’s asking you to search? I search for you. You didn’t have to do a thing. Just do what I tell you!!

Must I tell you how Goldschmidt felt after such an open debasement, poor man? He very quickly lost all his sentimentality, his face changed, and he practically trembled with anger. But several actors intervened, smoothed the matter over somewhat and avoided a serious scandal. The episode was brought to a wholly peaceful conclusion for all.

Well, the play was now on. It was the end of the first week. Sunday night, after the fifth performance, the star called into his dressing room a well-known theatrical buff, a lover of better Yiddish theatre, a close friend of many well-recognized Yiddish performers and said to him:

You know, today I could scarcely concentrate on my role. I was so touched by Goldschmidt’s wonderful playing. I tell you he is brilliant in his role.
 

CHAPTER 10

I hope I have succeeded in justifying my conclusions, summaries, or as I call them, my “I accuse,” through my observations and the episodes in the last chapters.

I am sure that in my accounts until now, I have clearly brought out my great respect, my boundless admiration for the founders and builders of our Yiddish theatre, and for the first generation of Yiddish performers in general. So if my “I accuse” is aimed in the greatest part in the direction of that generation, this is not, heaven forbid, because I don’t treasure their genius, or that my attitude toward them is not of deepest sincerity.

Brilliant actors seldom come more than one in a generation. But we were lucky that, right in the midst of the first generation of actors, we were blessed with a considerable number of that caliber. They could cover up with their giant talent their backwardness in knowledge of theatrical art, their poverty in cultural information.

But this very poetry of theirs was a factor in their not understanding the responsibility history placed on them. They did not have the spiritual strength to consider themselves the creators and builders of a cultural institution that would be passed on by inheritance to generations after them. They were not sufficiently careful to keep their work clean and tidy, to be able to resist career temptations, theatrical lures. So they were caught in the net. And the star system was born in the meshes of these temptations with all of its unclean teases. Consequently, that led them to all sorts of heart-constricting weaknesses.

Their jewel of artistic theatrical intuition helped them attain quite a high rung of theatrical art, even in roles that did not all together fit their genre, their figure, their looks and their age. That’s how David Kessler, for example, got to create one of his crowning roles, Hershele Dubrovner, in Gordin’s “God, Man and Devil,” although the delicate, tender, spiritually-oriented scribe was not all suited to his hefty figure, strong voice, sharp movements and natural behavior. Also, as a Jewish man already up in years, he brought out the young lover Apollon Sonenschein in Gordin’s “Sappho” very nicely, or the eighteen-year-old Yosele in “Mirele Efros” by Jacob Gordin.

And so I shall cite an episode of how David Kessler apprised me of a directorial matter.

It really happened on that summer tour I mentioned in a previous chapter. In one of the cities on that tour we had to play Jacob Gordin’s “Kreutzer Sonata” unexpectedly. The play had then already been some two decades in Kessler’s repertory. But until then I had not yet played the top female role, Ettie. In such cases thorough rehearsals are seldom done in the Yiddish theatre.

In this case that came suddenly, unexpectedly, they gave me the role, and the prompter went over the “prose” with me. He showed me where to stand and where to sit, when to enter and when to leave. In the evening, when he had finished playing the first act, Kessler called me into his dressing room, gave me a considerable number of compliments for my playing, and then said to me: “But you see, Celia, in the first act, when you come in, you were not in place…You see…”

He took a few pieces of cosmetics, spread them out on a little table in a half-circle, part lengthwise, part breadthwise, and pointing to each piece of cosmetics separately, he explained to me: “You see, Celia, this is me. Here sits Gregory. Afrim Klesmer stands here. This is the mother. And there were you. You see, it was no good. You didn’t fit in. You understand?!”

“Yes, yes, Mr. Kessler, but you know…?”

He interrupted me: “Of course, of course, you’re not at fault....without rehearsal. But you see, Celia, you understand?!”

“Yes, Mr. Kessler!”

I had to understand it. I knew he wouldn’t explain it to me again.

He felt what he wanted, but to explain it….

With their great artistic instinct, they also overcame their inexpertness in directing.

Thus the troupes were filled to the brim with first-class performers in those days who, despite weak, often non-existent direction, were nevertheless able to raise their roles to quite a high level. But they planted a philosophy of considering direction lightly that worked to the detriment of our theatre as the years went on.

Due to just these temptations of our geniuses, their very rich legacy came to us already partly soiled. However, the second generation, a mixture of the last ones of the first generation and the young newcomers, really held on to the legacy with responsibility, even tried to make the legacy more beautiful and enrich it, to clean the spots off. But this “mixed generation" didn’t hold on for long. The temptations of those great ones began to sink roots—the seduction of the star system poisoned many of [us] bit by bit.

We also pushed hard to become stars, each to cash in for himself. We were somehow overwhelmed, like by a kind of “wild generation.”

Also added to this was a new plague—to imitate Broadway, not heaven forbid, the Broadway discipline or the pioneer attempts made from time to time, but their empty shine and bang.

The thought was that the Americanized Jewish youth could be pulled in with this to attend our theatre. But it worked just the opposite. By aping Broadway, our theatre was emptied of the Jewish twist, the Jewish charm. Why go to see how they imitate Broadway? You could go right to Broadway to see the thing itself.

Added to this, it brought us a fundamental change in our whole theatrical system. There was a time in the Yiddish theatre when a new Yiddish play was performed only at the end of the week, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For those performances, benefit tickets were almost never sold to organizations. That was done only for the days in the middle of the week. Then plays from the old repertory were performed.

The theatre won doubly from that. First, the plays taken off the boards did not disappear. The actors had the opportunity to appear in various roles and give the younger ones a chance to develop themselves. Second, the “benefits-public,” whom the organizations brought into the theatre on a midweek day, became potential customers for the new plays at the end-of-the-week performances.

The Broadway system of doing the play the entire week was the greatest catastrophe for the Yiddish theatre, which cannot live without benefits.

All these stated causes took the entire legacy-jewel and ripped it apart, led our theatre to its present wreckage. The heart hurts. I cannot, however, throw the blame only on our generation. If the theatrical geniuses of before had had enough strength and foresight to be able to withstand the stimulation of the temptations of careerism, the generations that came after them would perhaps not have dared to commit their sins.

Thus I’ve relieved my feelings a little. I now return to my childhood years.


CHAPTER 11

I am again the little star of children’s roles, Celia Feinman. And my parents, Sigmund and Dina Feinman, enter into partnership with David Kessler and Bertha Kalich in the Thalia Theatre. And here are the names of the troupe in the Thalia Theatre that season, in the order in which they were advertised:

David Kessler, Sigmund Feinman, Bertha Kalich—Lessees; Leopold Spachner, Business Manager; Jacob Gordin, author.

The troupe: David Kessler, Bertha Kalich, Sigmund Feinman, Dina Feinman, Morris Moskowitz, Keni Lipzin, Jacob Cone, Mary Wilensky, [Hyman] Meisel, Sonia Nadolsky, [Samuel] Tornberg, Bertha Tanzman, [Henry] Ginsburg, Leon Blank, Sabina Weinblatt, as well as our great guest, Sigmund Mogulesco.

It would seem that such personnel would be a sufficient guarantee for a theatre, but the competition from the People’s Theatre was very, very strong. All told, the personnel in that theatre consisted of:

Jacob P. Adler, Sara Adler, Boris Thomashevsky, Bessie Thomashevsky, Max Rosenthal, Miss Bela Gudinsky, Morris Finkel, Mary Epstein, Samuel Tabachnikoff, Nettie Tabachnikoff, Elias Rothstein and Paulina Edelstein.

In view of the great competition, the Thalia Theatre put the following motto all the way at the top:

“Sometimes you can fool all the people; you can fool part of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all the people all the time.” –Lincoln.

That season at the Thalia Theatre put us more or less on our feet. Our financial lot improved considerably. We didn’t live in luxury and affluence, but very, very comfortably.

My mother inherently had one of those very frugal natures. How goes the expression? “Protect the dollar” did not squander small change on our childish requests. That we would get from Papa Feinman with a generous heart. He was, on the contrary, very generous at heart, and he never refused us in these situations. I remember Mother would say to us: “You will only spoil your beautiful little white teeth with these cheap tidbits. Look, see that?” She showed us through the glass door of the buffet. “There stands a beautiful box of the best, most expensive chocolate.”

When my little sister Lillie and I pressed her that she at long last open the box of chocolate, she answered very charmingly with her healthy humor:

Look, children: If I were tight like other mothers to deny you, heaven forbid, or hide the chocolate all together….You can see I’m not doing it. Isn’t it better then, that you know and see for yourself that right there stands a whole box of chocolate? Here it is. So let it be.

But she did not stint on fundamental conveniences. So that season we transferred to a marvelous residence on the street corner of Grand and Norfolk, in the bank building. There was an elevator there. As you can understand, it was a rarity in those years.

Until then we had always lived in cramped, cheap tenement houses without the most elementary convenience. If you lived on the low stories, it was always dark and stuffy. If on the higher, you had to walk [down] a number of stairs. Our new residence was on the highest floor, full of light and sunshine, and we didn’t have to become exhausted to get up there.

I recall an odd story about our moving (transfer) in those years. Feinman couldn’t stand the disorder and the hard work involved in moving. So he thought up a very practical way of how to avoid it. He took the address and a key to the new residence, engaged the theatre’s stage workers (stagehands) to help Mother pack and transport the furniture, and there to unpack and put everything back in its place. He himself went to a Turkish bath for two days and a night. When he came back to the new home, everything had already been placed in the best order. The stage workers had even hung up the pictures.

I remember very vividly from that time my growing consciousness that my real father was Jacob P. Adler. Whether it was my pals in public school, or the theatrical world with which I was in close contact as star player of children’s roles in the Yiddish theatre, they riveted the consciousness of it clearly and accurately into me.

So I remember how often going alone on foot from our home to the Thalia Theatre, I would stop in front of the Grand Theatre and wait until my father, Jacob P. Adler, came riding in his lovely, gleaming carriage to the matinee performances in his Grand Street Theatre. Before I even saw him arriving, I would already hear the shouting: “Adler is coming! Adler is coming!” A considerable audience would wait at the theatre. The moment he emerged from the carriage, they surrounded him—men, women and children, and they expressed their astonishment and admiration of him.

I can see, as if it were now, his magnificent, majestic, tall figure with the classic face and white head of hair that lifted themselves over the entire audience. I would be blanketed by such a warm, proud feeling that so many people showed love for and gave so much respect to my father.

Together with my growing consciousness that Adler was my father, I also felt instinctively that I must not speak of my father Adler in Papa Feinman’s presence. So I didn’t remember even once that my mother told me that or talked to me about that curious situation. But without talking, an understanding arose between my mother and me that, as concerned all my possible encounters with my father Adler, I should talk only to her about them and decide and plan everything with her. And curiously, in that understanding, I never had a feeling of resentment of or took offense at Papa Feinman as to why such a situation existed. Of course, I could not then as a young child understand or interpret it.

In my later years, when I thought of that time, tried to speculate on the why and when of such a situation arising, I understand very well why Feinman would be worried over my interest in Adler. Feinman was a very fine, refined, righteous man with a strong inborn feeling for decency and refined behavior. For example, he was very disgusted when my mother wanted to use powder and cosmetics on her face when going somewhere, as was the custom among recognized actresses. “In the theatre you are an actress; so you have to use it. In the street, however, it’s not decent; you don’t need it.”

Occasionally he even wet her powder box with water so she couldn’t use it. So, in keeping with his viewpoint, he could in no way forgive Adler for his behavior to my mother and held that he didn’t deserve or was unworthy of being the father of “such a refined child as I am.” I never heart this from him though. He never spoke of it, at least not as far as I can remember.

Even so I cannot understand to this day that I never felt the least resentment or injury in my encounters with my father, and later with the grown-up little Adler sisters and brothers, although noticeable quite frequently in our get-togethers was the clash of luxury, riches, and everything good on one side; misery, poverty, and want on the other side.

The fat, sated years were infrequent guests with us in my childhood life. In the curious episodes of those years, which I am going to describe for you here, you will see me in the famous situation of “the poor-rich little orphan.” And still I don’t remember ever being mastered by a feeling of resentment or jealousy of them at those get-togethers.

The greatest praise is due my refined, proud mother, who never, not even with a word, pointed to anything suggesting a wrong she held against Adler, and with the help of Feinman’s intelligence and fine behavior, she implanted in me fine, refined manners.

I’m going to leave it to you alone to create your opinion of me from the episodes I shall bring up here now, as to whether I do or do not deserve praise for it.

I shall begin with my father’s first son, my older brother, Abe Adler. Abe, however, or as he also calls himself Adolph, is the only remaining son from my father’s first wife, Sophie Oberlander. She was among the first actresses on the Yiddish stage. Abe’s mother died quite young in her twenties. His uncle, Alexander Oberlander, his mother’s brother, who was involved in the business part of the young Yiddish theatre in Europe, had just decided to go to America. Feeling it was a hard situation both for Adler as a wandering actor without a wife and also for the tot, he took the child along with him to America with Adler’s consent, settling in Chicago.

When my father brought my mother to New York a few years later and settled her, he immediately took Abe to be with him. So my mother became Abe’s first stepmother. I need not tell you that my mother was not a “cruel stepmother” to him, heaven forbid. Abe always showed my mother the finest and most refined behavior, really loved her and paid her the greatest respect. He was with us when I was born and loved me very much as his tiny sister. And the warm feeling has remained between us all these years.

Once when he saw me standing in front of the Grand Theatre to catch a look at my famous father from a distance, he embraced me and wanted me to go in and see the performance. But I had to go and play at the Thalia Theatre. I promised him that I would come when I could. After that, I would go to my father’s theatre with my mother’s consent.

Among all the Adler children, Abe is the only one who had no inclination to play in the theatre. So he was busy with the business part of the theatre. Whenever he saw me in the lobby, he would immediately take me into the theatre, sit me down in the first loge, bring me a box of chocolate, and notify my father. Thus, Adler, in the middle of his playing, whenever he had free time from the stage, would steal into my box, (loge) in the darkness of the theatre, in his makeup.

I remember how much love and tenderness he showed me during those moments, constantly asked about Mother and when we separated, I quite often felt a tremor in his voice, and my father’s tears more than once fell on me.

Again, I once remember an occurrence on my way to the Thalia Theatre for a matinee performance. My role first began in the fourth act—I believe it was as little Schloime in “Mirele Efros.” So I was trolling leisurely past the Grand Theatre. Coming toward me was Rachel, the woman who was for the Adler family what Feige was for us. She led two lovely little girls, decked out like princesses, by the hand. Rachel was overjoyed at meeting me and said to me: “These, little Celia, are your little sisters; this is Julia, and this is Stella. This is your sister, Celia.”

Stella was then about three or four years old. Her shining beautiful little face, her big blue eyes, the waves of golden locks enchanted me.

I wanted to embrace her. But she turned away from me and, with puckered lips, said: “My mother told me I must not talk to you.”


CHAPTER 12

Through my visits to Adler’s Grand Theatre over a period of several years, I got acquainted bit by bit with all my little brothers and sisters, my father’s children with Sara Adler, whom I had not known until then.

The episodes of my meetings with my father and his family, which I bring up here, took place in the course of a considerable number of years. So I cite them here not really in the exact order in which they happened. I am not really sure if I remember which happened sooner and which later.

Of the Adler children I met, Frances was the nearest to me in age. We are removed only by something less than two years. She is better known to us as “Nyunia.” She then played children’s roles already on our father’s repertory. I am certain that many theatregoers of that time can still remember the success that Frances Adler then had in Kobrin’s “The Great Jew,” playing the role of “Archik of the Little Group.”

Nyunia became very close with me quite rapidly. She was even a frequent visitor at our house.

She was very sensitive as a little girl of eleven or twelve when I got to know her. She didn’t puff herself up, didn’t prick the eyes with her luxuriant, rich appearance, was thoroughly open-hearted—“Speak straight out what’s on your mind”—with a healthy flair for humor, although somewhat sprinkled with mockery.

We loved each other very much. She quite often spoke to me with bitterness about her home. She envied me deeply that I had such a warm home, that I was surrounded by so much loyalty and love, whether from my mother or from my Papa Feinman. “I don’t have it, Celia. It doesn’t exist with us,” she used to tell me.

I didn’t understand it then until I once came to her house at her request. That was at a Passover Feast. Nyunia got Father to consent that I be a guest at one of my father’s Passover festivals.

So I remember what a storm of feeling came over me getting ready for that extraordinary visit. My mother helped me dress up in the best I owned.

I approached the house. My heart began to beat stronger. I stood like a stranger in front of the door. I was then close to fourteen years old, and I was coming to my father’s house for the first time. Fearfully, I turned the little doorbell. Someone opened the door, asked me what I wanted. I somehow got lost. I barely uttered: “Is Nyunia in?”

Nyunia came running, and my fear left me somewhat. She took me by the hand, led me through the long corridor. We passed several rooms. I turned my head from one room to the next. Presently we stood at the open kitchen door, and I saw Sara Adler sitting. I didn’t know what to do—whether to go on and say something to her. Presently she saw me. She looked at me with eyes that literally knifed through me, that burned with enmity.

Nyunia dragged me away by the hand so that I barely missed falling. She led me into the big dining room. Father embraced me. We kissed. I greeted the children, several guests, among them the famous theatre manager, Morris Guest, David Belasco’s son-in-law, as well as a known theatre buff Mandelkern. Nyunia introduced me. All greeted me warmly.

We were asked to sit down for dinner. All of us took seats. Father sat at the head, dressed up in a white silken ritual robe, with a little white skullcap on his magnificent white head. I turned my head in all directions—when would Mme. Adler come in?

And presently, the Feast began. Father was already saying the “Ha Lachma An’a” (prayer at the Passover Seder meant to invite all those hungry to join us at our table), and Luther, the youngest son, stood up like quite a little angel and asked the Four Ritual Questions. But I sat like I was on pins. I kept looking at all the doors—why didn’t she come in? She was really there. I really saw her myself. What was going on? She wasn’t at the table and nobody seemed to mind? What a holiday!

Nyunia, who sat near me, asked me why I was so disturbed. I could no longer contain myself and asked her: “Why isn’t your mother at the table?”

She answered: “Why? Why? You really want to know! Don’t you understand? Because you’re here.”

Everyone was joyful at the table—talked, made jokes, laughed. After the Passover Feast, all went into the parlor. Everyone fully enjoyed himself, spoke into a little machine and it talked back. Everyone laughed hysterically. But I didn’t like any of it; such a heavy mood oppressed me. I felt like I was in some strange world. What kind of house was this?!

I left the place terribly hurt. I was afraid to look back. It was first then that I understood Nyunia’s bitterness, Nyunia’s envy of me.

It seems to me that, of all Adler’s children, Nyunia suffered the most from the torn-apart, disrupted domestic harmony. In later years, when she was already old enough to play roles of a grown-up, she met with many stumbling blocks from her own mother. Very serious altercations took place when Father allowed Nyunia to play top roles in his repertory. Was the great Sara Adler jealous theatre-wise of her own daughter? Anyway, I’m convinced that these very things left deep imprints on Nyunia’s character.

I am almost overpoweringly driven here to cite an occurrence between my mother and me that has a relationship to theatrical rivalry and my mother’s feelings toward me in that very matter. It happened in London in the Pavilion Theatre around 1910. Mother was the top star in the theatre and the toast of the theatrical world. I also played with her, took my first steps as a grown-up.

So you’ll have a little inkling of what the name Dina Feinman meant in London, I must first relate to you the following very curious incident: According to the conditions of my mother’s contract, she had to be given the season’s first “evening-of-honor.” When the time came, she arranged the date with the manager and started to get ready for the evening. Special advertisements were made, the newspapers advertised the evening very prominently, and the tickets were grabbed up like hotcakes.

About two weeks before this evening, the manager, who was the male star of the theatre, suddenly decided he wanted the “evening-of-honor” that evening for himself. So he notified Mother that she must postpone her evening until later. My mother reminded him of the contract, but the star-manager laughed at it. Mother was not a contentious person by nature, and she certainly did not want to use her lawful contract and seek redress in court, as expressed herself, “for street gossip.”

But countless technical difficulties would have tied up a postponement of the performance. So Mother ran over to the daily newspaper, “The Times,” to talk things over with the editor, the very earnest and recognized journalist, Morris Meyer. When she explained her predicament, he told her not to worry, but to go home in peace.

Two hours later, Jewish London was blanketed by an “Extra.” The shameful act against “our Dina” was stated in heaviest print on the front page. Thousands of Jews besieged the theatre, yelled for their Dina. The closeted star-manager did not want to give in. He did not leave the theatre because of fear. There was no performance for two days. When he showed up on the stage, the audience yelled, “Get off!” and he had to leave the stage, another performer taking over the playing of his role. Finally he gave up.

At the first performance after his capitulation—after an open plea that he be forgiven—the audience still wouldn’t allow him to play. It could not be pacified—he had hurt “our Dina.” It goes without saying that her evening went off as decided. And I don’t really have to say that the theatre was jammed to the rafters, and hundreds of people couldn’t get in. That’s how they protected “their Dina.”

It once happened that Mother was seriously ill and couldn’t play. An evening on which Mother was to play “The Orphan” by Jacob Gordin, one of her crowning roles, had been sold to an organization. But the doctors absolutely forbade her to leave the bed. No matter which play was proposed to the organization, it refused—either “Dina” or else they wanted their money back.

The theatre manager came to Mother in despair. “What are we going to do? Give us some advice, Dina.” “Take it easy; you won’t have to return the money. Celia will play the role,” my mother told him.

I literally began to tremble. “What are you saying, Mother? I in the role of Chashe? Just like that, without rehearsals, without being taught it? Mother, I think I’m going to faint.”

Mother pressed my hand hard and said: “I know, Tzirele, what it means to jump into such a role so suddenly. But I know you have enough talent to play this role. You’ve been with me in “The Orphan” many times. I also saw how you used to observe me from the wings. I’m sure that you, with your young head, know my role almost by heart. Don’t forget, you’re a daughter of Dina Feinman and Jacob Adler. Go, daughter, take yourself in hand. I know you won’t shame me.”

My mother’s good friends, Mr. and Mrs. Kosky, had come just then to pay Mother a sick call. He was a recognized man; his title was Mayor of Stepny—a suburb or a part of London. So Mother begged him to go with me to the theatre and tell the audience that Dina really was ill and that she sent her daughter, Celia, to play the role. “They’ll believe you. They don’t believe the manager.”

Mother was right in everything. The audience believed Mr. Kosky and received me as their Dina’s daughter. She was also right—I really almost knew the role by heart. When right after the performance Kosky went to my mother, he told her jokingly, “You can stay sick in real peace, Dina. The child managed beautifully with the role. I should live so.”

Mother swelled with pride. And from then on she would let me step in for her in her roles from time to time.

As you see, my fate was not the kind that is usual among children who are blessed with a normal family life. I was first destined to recognize both my real father and most of my sisters and brothers when I was already a grown child.

So after my first visit to my father’s house as a fourteen-year-old girl at the Passover Feast that made such a bad impression on me, I was certain that that was it.  I already knew all my sisters and brothers from the Adler source. It was first over two years later, when I was already a sixteen-year-old girl that I was delighted to get a new brother who was then already twenty or twenty-two years old. Certainly such a curious meeting deserves a detailed account.

It was around the year 1906. On a Sunday, a handsome, thin, young man strolled into the lobby of Adler’s Grand Theatre. His clothes, his gallant manner bore positive witness that he was a European cavalier. The matinee performance was already in progress, so that the lobby was empty. He went over to the box office where by brother Abe was doing the counting of the matinee receipts. Engrossed in the counting, Abe, without raising his eyes, asked him what kind of tickets he wanted. The young man answered, with a light smile, that he didn’t want any tickets.

“Well, what do you want?” Abe asked, still busy with his work.

 

MY FAMILY ON ADLER’S SIDE


MY FATHER, JACOB P. ADLER

 

MY MOTHER AND I
 

IRVING, CHARLIE, FRANCES, ABE, JULIA, LUTHER,
SARA, JOSEPH SHOENGOLD AND STELLA ADLER

 

CELIA ADLER

 

“I want to see Jacob P. Adler.”

“Not now,” Abe told him. “He’s on stage. He’s playing now. Come after the matinee, about five-thirty.”

“I’m sorry, but my time is very limited. I can’t wait that long. I must see him now, and I’m sure he also wants to see me.”

Taken up with his counting, Abe asked him already somewhat impatiently: “Who are you?”

Calmly and modestly the young man answered, “I am his son!”

Abe quickly raised his head and looked at the young man. He didn’t have to look long. He became convinced at the first glance that the stranger who stood before him was Adler’s son. With his face, his beautiful Greek nose, big smiling eyes, he looked more like Adler than Adler himself. Abe quickly ran out to him in the lobby, gave him a hearty greeting, and two pairs of smiling Adler eyes marveled at each other.

When the first excitement was over, Abe said, “I don’t have to tell you I’m your brother.”

“No, you neither have to say it, nor can you deny it. Your face already says it for you. You are…..?”

“I’m Abe Adler.”

“I’m Charlie Adler.”

They greeted each other all over again. You already know that Abe is the only remaining son from my father’s first wife, Sophie Oberlander. Charlie is the only remaining son from my father’s second wife the very beautiful actress, Jenny Kaiser [Adler and Jenny Kaiser were never married — ed.] ,. Incidentally, it so happened that several years later I met her on one of my European tours. Her magnificently beautiful eyes virtually enchanted me.

Charlie then told Abe that he was here with Volkovsky’s Ballet and the Balalaika Orchestra on a tour over the American states. The tour had ended a day earlier. They had come to New York very early that morning and were already going back to Europe early the next day. That’s why he was in such a hurry.

Abe led him immediately up onto the stage and took him to Father in the dressing room. Certainly Father was overjoyed with him, introduced him to everybody, asked him to wait until after the matinee when they would go together to eat. Charlie told him why he was in such a hurry and took leave of him.

As he was leaving, he asked Abe where he might see Celia. He was anxious to meet me. Abe showed him the way to the Windsor Theatre where we were playing then.

I shall never forget the curious feeling that came over me when Charlie held me in his strong arms and kissed me heartily. A teenager of about sixteen, with my adolescent dreams and fantasies, was being kissed and kissed again by a splendidly handsome young fellow who was a stranger to me and was now my entirely own brother. I began to love him, even though we quickly had to take leave of each other.

Such a strong impression, such a deep feeling enveloped me at that brief encounter that early the next morning, knowing that his boat was leaving at twelve o’clock, I lay in bed, my watch in hand, and counted the minutes and the beating of my heart as if I were weeping over my first adolescent love that just had to collide with my stranger and yet my own brother.

Several years later, in Paris, I found him for the second time when he was dancing in the most famous Parisian cabaret, the Moulin Rouge.

At last he came to America, became a citizen here, fell in love and married the darling and beautiful Emily Schacht, a daughter of the well-known, fine Jewish actor, Gustav Schacht, and they are leading a happy life to this day.

I shall again leave it to the great psychologists to interpret why among us three—the so-called Adler “extra (semi-orphaned)” children—Abe, Charlie and I—there always reigned such a warm and heartfelt relationship that has held up to this day.

I am designating us three as “extra (semi-orphaned)” children because in my encounters with Sara Adler I felt that for her we are still farther removed than “being extra.” I could never understand her inimical behavior toward me. If there had to be bad feelings and enmity, it should have been in reverse—from me to her.

Since I’ve touched on relationships between the Adler lady and me, let’s already indicate here something else about the matter.

I saw Gordin’s play “Without a Home,” especially written for Sara Adler in the Thalia Theatre. I consider it her crowning role. When I sat at the performance, I was so overcome and affected by her wonderful playing that I applauded so with all my strength without stopping, that I began to feel my hands smarting and hurting. I remained sitting and thoughts began to struggle in my head: must I, must I, repay with applause and love her enmity toward me, the ill she did my mother and me…whether in this there lay not a bit of treason toward my mother and myself….

I recall at this time a very comical incident with my father that happened in my first year in high school. I don’t remember how it started, but a number of school children and chums from the area were speaking of Jacob P. Adler without their knowing he was my father.

In school I was called Celia Feinman. But those that did know said: “Let’s ask Celia; after all, he is her father.”

My answer did not satisfy them all. Among the unsatisfied ones was a willful little shaver whom you can call a “bravado”— he knows it all. When my answer scotched everything he said about Adler—I can’t remember at all what the conversation was about—the boy said, “It just isn’t so. She knows nothing about Adler. A friend of my uncle’s is an usher in the theatre and he knows better. I don’t believe her at all that Adler is her father. She’s a braggart, a show-off.”

Some of the children agreed with him.

So one of them proposed this challenge: “If she’s really Adler’s daughter, let her take all of us on Saturday to see his Grand Theatre for free. After all, her father is the manager.”

It was said in such a way that I couldn’t wriggle out of it.

On Saturday, a full flock of sixteen came to the theatre. I went over to the box office and, as luck would have it, my brother Abe wasn’t there that day. Sitting there in his stead was Mr. Lewis, a brother of Sara Adler.

But I couldn’t retract. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to show my face to those sixteen who were standing and waiting, and my whole reputation in the neighborhood would have to suffer greatly. I told Mr. Lewis what I wanted. When he heard I wanted tickets for seventeen, he told me I had to go to my father to get a pass. Without it, I couldn’t take my guests into the theatre. I gathered courage and went scared to my father in his dressing room.

My father was sitting in front of his mirror and his face took on a smile. “Celia, honey, how are you?”

His hearty warmth blew away my panic entirely. I embraced him and kissed him on the throat and neck, the only place not smeared with makeup.

“Father, I want you to write a pass for me.”

He took his pen:

“Whom are you taking to the theatre, little Celia?”

“My girl friends.”

He began to write:

“How many, honey, two or three?”

“Seventeen.” I quickly spoke up.

His big eyes became even bigger in the mirror.

“Seventeen?! That’s very fine, little Celia. You want to boast about your father. Very good. Next time, take their fathers and mothers along. Take the whole street.

I understood his sarcasm. But I was silent.

“Well,” said he, writing, “maybe you’ve not counted right; let it be eighteen. That is meaning. May it bring you long life.”

I again covered his neck with kisses and came out proudly to my bunch. My reputation rose with them. The young fellow who had called me a “boaster” and a “show-off” lost his speech.

About twenty years later, my son Zelik'l (he was then about nine or ten years old) was in camp over the summer in “Kindervelt” (Children’s World) of the Jewish National Workers’ League. He had hung my picture in his bunk over his bed. Michael Gibson, the Yiddish actor, also had a boy of his, the same age as my Zelik'l, at the same camp. He didn’t know that Zelik'l Freed was also my son. When he noticed my picture over Zelikl’s bed he called out with bravado:

“Look at him. He hung up Celia Adler’s picture over his bed! I know Celia Adler better than you do. My father was in the same company with her. And I’m not boasting with her picture.”

Zelik'l smiled and winked at his bunk partner, Kalman, the son of my best friends, and both broke into hearty laughter.
 

CHAPTER 13

My father had already reached a high level in his theatrical career during the years of the nineties of the previous century. Jacob Gordin came to America at that time. At the first meeting my father had with him, he proposed to Gordin the writing of a play for him. My father had a weakness all his life for people who spoke Russian. Understandably, Gordin spoke Russian remarkably well. That was enough for my father to be enamored of him and have faith in him. This very meeting led to the lucky marriage between Jacob Gordin and the Yiddish theatre.

My father was the first among the great actors of that generation who espied the new tone, the new spirit that Gordin brought to his plays. You saw human figures, natural occurrences, and Jewish speech for the first time, instead of the butchered Germanesque mish-mash. So my father grabbed hold of Gordin like a precious jewel. The masterful characters Gordin portrayed in his plays became the fresh, living source from which most of the actors drew their heart and soul and helped to develop their talents, to raise themselves to really lofty heights as actors.

The top roles that touched Jewish hearts, called forth love and sympathy for themselves, made my father more and more beloved by the public and raised him to the legendary personality, that the name of Jacob P. Adler became “the great eagle.” He entered into Jewish literature as a synonym for the great Yiddish performer. That’s how our brilliant Sholem Aleichem immortalized the name Jacob P. Adler in his “Berdichev Theatre,” which later became the “New Kasrilevke.” That’s how Gordin’s repertory was indeed a great victory for my father.

Here, however, I shall dare to take a phrase from Jacob Gordin, from one of his critiques which he wrote about Kasimir Braivitsch, the top player in the Komisarzhevsky troupe.

“It is indeed a great honor for Braivitsch to play Ibsen. But it is no lesser honor for Ibsen to be played by Braivitsch.” So I will paraphrase it: “It certainly was a great joy for Adler to play Gordin, but it was no lesser joy for Gordin to be played by Adler.”

So that you will have an idea of the popularity and great love my father had from the Jewish public in New York, I wish to cite here a funny episode from that time.

It happened around 1902. My father was seriously ill and lay in the hospital. When he began to feel better, he conceived the idea of playing a joke on the theatre directors. He constantly had grievances against them. In those times, Saturday brought in the greatest receipts in the Yiddish theatres. So Adler let it be known through the press that he was on his last legs and would take leave of the public on Saturday afternoon. Thousands upon thousands of theatregoers came to the hospital, and Adler said farewell to them. The Yiddish theatres were empty that Saturday afternoon.

A very close chum and friend of mine, the actress Malka Kornstein, who died too early, played with the famous John Barrymore in the film “Counselor-at-Law” by Elmer Rice. He told her that in his youth he would come to the Bowery two and three times a week to watch my father, David Kessler, and the other great actors perform. Professors from the great universities used to bring their students to the Yiddish theatre to see their performances.

When Adler occasionally went a Broadway performance, the public looked more at him than at the play. So managers pleaded with him to screen himself with the curtain as he sat in the loge, so the public wouldn’t see him.

Around 1901 my father produced Shakespeare’s famous play “Shylock” for the first time on the Yiddish stage. His success in the main role was fabulous, and he performed the play very often in his theatre. So a Broadway manager decided to create a special production of “Shylock” and invited Adler to play the main role. Understandably, the performance was played in English, but my father played the role of Shylock in Yiddish. I cannot undertake saying that such a thing never happened in any theatre in the world, but it certainly did for the first time in America. Understandably, it was a great sensation.

I very much wanted to be at the premiere and told it to my mother. I shall never forget that performance. My mother fitted me out for the performance with a lot of devotion and concern: a magnificently beautiful little party dress, a hat with a white plume feather around it, a beautiful white coat, white shoes and gloves. She literally mirrored herself in me: “My little princess, may my future be as beautiful as you are.”

When I came to the theatre, I proudly went over to the box office and said who I was—Celia Adler, daughter of Jacob P. Adler. The manager called someone over and asked him to take me to “Adler’s box.”

He opened the door to the box for me, and I saw sitting there Sara Adler, my sister Frances, a man and a woman I didn’t know. All turned their heads to me, but no one greeted me. I sat down quietly deep behind them.

The splendor and luster of Sara Adler’s décolletaged evening gown, the jewels and diamonds with which she was bedecked, made my eyes swim. The cutting glances she threw my way burnt my marrow. When the theatre was darkened, I began to feel somewhat better. But when the curtain rose, I again began to feel ill—sitting behind them, it was hard for me to see anything. Besides my being small in stature, their large hats cut off everything for me. I sat there sorely distressed.

The feeling of pride I had coming to the theatre was completely gone. My heart wept. I began to feel so superfluous here, so small and denigrated—why didn’t I get up and run away from here? All sorts of things mingled in my head. I felt that I was in a foreign world.

But I remained seated like one riveted to one’s seat. The first act was over. As soon as the lights came on, Sara Adler got up and, looking at me as if I were a worm, she majestically stalked out of the loge.

As soon as the door closed behind her, Nyunia jumped up, embraced me, kissed me, introduced me to the unknown couple, and sat me down in her mother’s place. I slowly came to. I began to feel that Nyunia had also suffered from that curious, painful situation during the first act.

When the lights went out for the second act and Sara had not returned, my mood became much happier and, sitting up front until the end of the performance, I completely forgot my bitter feelings of the first act. I enjoyed the performance very much. And the big ovation that my father received for his playing filled my heart with pride and delight.

Two main motives that my father revealed in the role were engraved in my mind from that performance, and I constantly looked for them whenever I got to see other Shylocks in later years. First, the Jewish motive. In his every twist and turn, whether in his demand for justice or in his seeking revenge, my father strongly underscored the Jew. He fought for and defended the Jew, more than the man, against the insults, against the debasement that were hailed upon him by his enemies. When he left the court after the unjust verdict, he didn’t shrink away like someone beaten and vanquished, but like a proud Jewish patriarch who didn’t bow his head even when helpless against his tormentors.

The second motive he strongly underscored I never saw in any other Shylock. That was the “father motive.” In the scene when he came home and found that his daughter, Jessica, had run away with her lover and with the greater part of his fortune, my father underscored more heavily his pain as a father than as the one looted. In his desperate cry, “Jessica! Jessica!” you could hear so much Jewish pain and fatherly hurt….That cry rang in my ears for many, many years.

So I recall it was many years later that I saw the famous David Warfield in the role. My sister, Julia Adler, was making her debut on Broadway in the role of Jessica and, although Warfield conceived the scene quite differently, played it completely differently, evidently the connection of Julia’s Jessica brought that performance to life again in my memory and, instead of Warfield’s, I again heard my father’s heart-rending cry—“Jessica! Jessica!”

That performance at my father’s premiere in “Shylock” on Broadway engraved itself deeply in my memory and awakened all kinds of sentiments for many years….and how goes the little maxim—“Time erases all.” Even the bitter feelings that Matron Adler caused me also vanished in time.

I recall an evening in the famous theatrical “Café Royale” on Second Avenue and Twelfth Street, possibly nine or ten years earlier when I sat with Sara at one table, and she spoke and preened herself with enthusiasm over “our” family. For this privilege I can thank my beloved son, Dr. Selwyn Freed.

She had been seriously ill before that; she suffered from terrible pains and had to have special treatment from a kidney specialist. Her house doctor recommended Dr. Selwyn Freed, the urologist, to her children as one of the best specialists in the field. So her daughter, my sister Stella, got in touch with him and brought Matron Adler to him. He was able to free her quickly from her pains, and he put her on her feet very fast.

I knew nothing about that whole story. So, that evening, coming into the “Royale,” I almost fell off my feet when she called me over to her table and began to praise my son to me.

“Celia, I never knew your son was such a great physician—He’s a God, an angel. He rescued me. Our family can be proud of him.”

From then on, I entered the family…. He, my son, is also much loved and held in esteem by all her children, as well as by her grandchildren.

I shall conclude this series of episodes in connection with my meetings with my father, and with the whole family with one very touching episode.

It surfaces to my memory very often, and it always awakens curious feelings in me, almost like a feeling of pity for my not very happy childhood days that constantly threw me into mixed-up family conflicts, often put me to temptations which, against my will and perhaps without my knowing it, left deep tracks in my character, had a meaningful effect on the entire path of my life. It awakened in me mixed feelings of resentment and pity toward my eminent father, who because of his human weaknesses, his complicated, intricate character, put his own life, the lives of many others, including his children, to a lot of suffering and anguish. After you’ve read the episode over, perhaps you’ll understand my feelings better than I’m able to pass them along in words.

It must have been two or three years after that “Shylock” performance that I’ve described earlier. Our financial situation had changed for the worse. Papa Feinman was then wandering over Europe looking for the prestigious, assured place in the Yiddish theatre that he deserved in keeping with his talent and theatrical status. My mother had to draw a livelihood for all of us from the theatre that lay in the hands of man, and it was a very trying matter for a woman without a male star. In a word, our situation was not a salutary one.

Just then a big performance at the Manhattan Opera House for an important goodwill cause was being heavily advertised in the newspapers and on special posters. I don’t remember what the cause was. It was one of those so-called “gala” performances, as they are known, with the biggest stars from the Yiddish and English stages. My father’s name was at the very top.

I had a great desire to see the performance. But where could I get a ticket? I felt that I couldn’t tell my mother about it because she would have worried about not being able to help me. So I decided to go there without my mother’s knowledge, so they say with God’s help (guidance). Maybe I’d be able to find someone who would take me in.

It was a cold, wintry day, and I didn’t have a decent winter coat. I went to the performance in a light, short little coat. I hoarded the few pennies I had with me and decided to go on foot from our house on Second Avenue to Thirty-Fourth Street and Eighth Avenue.

I don’t know why that performance was such a matter of life and death for me. Whether it was the very noisy advertisement that exited me, or perhaps one wants with vengeance things hard to reach, I remember very well though how the cold and the wind ripped through me on the long walk there.

I got there at least half-frozen. The old Manhattan Opera House had stairs to get up to the lobby. Tired and exhausted I dragged myself up the stairs and got into the warm lobby. I was delighted with the warmth. When I came to myself from the cold and long walk, I began to look around. Maybe I knew the doorman, maybe there was someone in the box office who knew me, but my looking was in vain. It seemed to me that they were all strangers, cold, inimical “gentiles.”

Presently, the thought struck me how, at the premiere of “Shylock” I had gone up to the box office totally unafraid and announced: “Celia Adler, daughter of Jacob P. Adler.” And I got the idea that perhaps I could do the same here also. But it seems that, when the pocket is empty and the heart is gloomy, you cannot show pride and you lack the courage to make a stand, to call out and demand.

The situation was becoming more and more desperate. I kept searching with my eyes for someone whom I knew a little. But all were strangers to me; not one was a familiar face. Bit by bit, the lobby got so crowded I began to fear that if people I knew did come, I wouldn’t see them, nor they me. So I decided to go outside, take up a stand in the middle of the high stairs. There I would see all who came, and all would see me.

So here I was standing outside; the cold ran through me. The wind blew through my short, light, little coat. I strained to look with my teary eyes—maybe someone would show up. And just then I noticed that a beautiful, shining carriage drove up. Yes, you guessed it, from the carriage emerged my handsome, graceful father with his two youngest little daughters, my little sisters, Julia and Stella, dressed up in gorgeous little winter coats, with white furry collars, and warm shiny little boots. It was a pleasure to look at them. They enveloped quickly in their collars over their ears and ran up the stairs without seeing me.

When my father began to go up the stairs with dignity I met him head-on. “Hello, Papa!” He pried his big eyes wide open as if he didn’t believe it was me. “Is that you, little Celia, why are you standing in the cold?”

“I want to go in to see the performance.”

“Don’t you have a ticket? Wait here a moment.”

He hurried into the lobby. It didn’t take long for him to return. He gave me the ticket without a word, and caressed my face with his smooth, warm hands. I barely had time to kiss his hand when he hurriedly returned to the lobby.

I hurried after him and saw how he and my little sisters were going with pride through the door into the theatre. I followed them. But the doorman showed me to a side entrance. I went there. I saw the stairs. I started to walk. I walked and walked. Up, up. Always higher and higher. So many stairs. Hold everything now. No more stairs. I went inside. I was in the highest little gallery. I was taken to my place, down, down into the second row. I sat down and looked around. Such a huge theatre. I had never looked at a theatre from such a height. Several balconies, everywhere stuffed with people. Head on head. Far, far down, below in the parterre, the people looked smaller.

And suddenly I heard around me people from all sides pointing their fingers—there, there, see it? In the box, there in the first box. That’s Adler, Adler, there with his two little girls.

I looked with them. From my height I saw my white-crowned, graceful father with my beautiful little sisters. He stood with his top hat in his hand, bowing to the public. An ovation started. They clapped, they applauded, they whistled. He waved his greetings with his top hat to the balconies, to us also. They yelled enthusiastically and ecstatically: “Adler! Adler!”

Like everybody else around me, I also applauded. I also wanted to yell, “Adler! Adler!” like them, but my throat choked up. I couldn’t yell. And yet I still felt very proud. That was my father. They all loved him so; they paid him so much respect….

And just like my little sisters down below who stood near my father with smiles and shining little faces, I also smiled and was happy, high up there, that he was my father. I felt no resentment or grudge, not then and certainly nor now, that he didn’t take me with him to the loge. The way I was dressed then, I certainly didn’t fit in there.

When he asked for the ticket, he surely must not have told them that it was for his daughter. In the sold-out box office, they must surely have given him the best ticket that was still left there. I’m sure that only Adler could have been able to obtain a ticket at the very last minute. And just as I did then, I still feel grateful to him now. Why I feel this way I will leave to psychology experts to answer, like all my difficult psychological problems.

And let them justify in only one way the following not very pleasant incident between Father and me. He was a very warm, splendid and loyal father, constantly surrounded himself with all his children, kept them with him through all the years of his theatrical career. The children constantly got him to do everything they wanted; the girls did especially. He almost never refused their requests. As my sister Nyunia used to tell me: “You can have your own way with Father. Sometimes when he’s in an excited, angry mood, you have to use a smidgeon of cajolery. He likes it very much. His whole anger evaporates. I have still another remedy for him. I bang the table—I want it and that’s that!”

But I could do neither of these things. It was just that I had to make a request of him. About that time, the top actors decided to unite in a kind of club, so that they and their older children would get together from time to time to spend the time and get to know one another more closely. They arranged a big ball. All theatrical children my age fussed and prepared. I also wanted to go. But I didn’t have a “ball dress.” When I noticed that my mother avoided talking about it, I already understood that she just really lacked the few dollars for it. So I never spoke of it again in the house. It remained for me to go to Sara Adler. It took me several days to gather enough courage. At last, one afternoon, I came to my father.

Just like the first time at the Passover Feast I have described, I was again dazzled by the rich home that

 was now a whole house on Seventy-Second Street. Father was sitting at the head of the long table in his golden “father’s chair.” All the furniture in the room was decorate with golden frames. The railings of the “father’s chair” consisted of two angry, excited lions. Just my luck—my father was also in a bad mood. So three angry, excited heads were looking at me.

Standing at the second corner of the long table, I barely uttered my request.

He began to yell: “Everybody demands! Give everybody! I don’t have it! I’m not giving it!”

Tears began to choke me. I couldn’t utter a word.

My hope for a dress for the ball evanesced.

—————

The Yiddish theatre in New York blossomed out very much in the beginning of this century. The mass immigration from Russia, Poland, Romania and Galicia stormed to America without cessation and mostly to New York. The Jewish population grew here from day to day. The Yiddish theatre was a balm for the tens of thousands of new immigrants in their loneliness.

There they wept out of their systems their homesickness, laughed out their suffering and pain that they met in their “green” years. Jewish settlements, Jewish “societies” and “orders” were found overnight. A broad and intertwined branched social life was created.

To gather funds needed for their goodwill purposes, they bought out whole or part evenings in Yiddish theatres—“benefits,” that is—thereby becoming quite an important factor in the growth of our theatre. Together with the big growth, the appetites of the theatrical celebrities of that time were strongly indulged. The urge to grab the top drove them to seek only personal success. The three walls of one stage became too cramped for several celebrities together. It became harder and harder to divide the roles among themselves. Everyone wanted to play only the good, the sympathetic, and the noble heroes in a play.

These types of roles strongly moved the primitive theatre public of that time, awakened in them pity and love, whether for the hero or the actor. So every star was out to get everything he could for himself.

Thus, the Yiddish theatre in New York divided quite quickly into separate, stable firms. Jacob and Sara Adler, Boris and Bessie Thomashevsky, David Kessler and Bertha Kalich, or Keni Lipzin.

Sigmund Feinman couldn’t fit into any of these. Whether it was backstage politics or the appointment of roles, they did not agree with his taste, his ambitions, with his feelings for justice. The theatre world in New York became tight for him. So Feinman started to wander over the American province which, as far as the Yiddish theatre was concerned, was still in their swaddling clothes. Several years earlier, the Adlers and the Thomashevskys had also tried their luck in the provinces, and they didn’t succeed. Feinman had the same fate.

Mother traveled along with him most of the time. We, that is, my little sister Lillie and I, stayed here with our Feige. We were school children, so they didn’t want to drag us around with them. But it happened that a certain city showed the possibility that it could become a stable theatrical city. So we would transfer over to that city. It nearly always ended up in failure.

That’s when the lean years were with us. I remember when we moved over to Philadelphia because it looked like it could become a stable theatrical city. Years later Philadelphia really did become such a city and supported two complete theatres. But then the time for it was not yet ripe.

So I don’t know to this day whose idea it was, Feinman’s or my mother’s, and it has not been quite understandable to me even until now how they came to such a singular and curious decision. But when the theatre closed in mid-season, we got away to a farm in Rosenshine, New Jersey. But you mustn’t confuse our being in Rosenshine with the present summer and winter hotels in the mountains, or in Lakewood where they sell Yiddish actors more than good food and fresh air….

Our Rosenshine was only a farm. Feinman hired a couple that took care of the farm work.

An impressive encounter at Rosenshine engraved itself in my memory.

He would come quite often and pass the time with Papa Feinman. He had long hair that was blown by the wind. And he always had a little bottle with him. At first when I tried to laugh at him, Papa Feinman chastened me:

“Little Celia, the man is a great poet. His name will live forever among the Jewish people. That’s Naphtali Herz Imber, the composer of “Hatikvah,” which is accepted by the Jews as their national anthem.”

So I don’t know why, but whenever I saw him after that in his posture with his little bottle, tears gathered in my eyes.

I also remember from Rosenshine that we often traveled around in a wagon among the farms, and I and my little sister sang little Jewish songs and gathered money for goodwill purposes. Our little horse, whose name was Nellie, pulled the wagon. This Nellie was somehow a reincarnation of Mendele Moicher Sforim’s mare, or Sholem Aleichem’s little horse Metuslach. She did her work so faithfully—always calmly, not hurriedly.

Riding home once from such a trip we were hit by a fearful storm. It lightninged and thundered.

Mother drove Nellie harder. She wanted to get home as fast as possible before the rain. She spoke to Nellie and implored her: “Little Nellie, my little love, go faster, faster. Little Celia and Little Lillie are going to be soaked through and through!”

It seemed that Nellie understood her, began to run faster and faster. Her hide was literally steaming and she brought us home barely a couple of seconds after the squall came down. We didn’t get too soaked. But the over-sweated Nellie got sick because of the rain. The doctor did all he could. But Nellie, poor thing, became worse and worse. She died on the third day.

When we returned to New York after Rosenshine, I had in the meantime lost a whole year of school. Mother didn’t want me to lose the year, so she went to the vice-principal, as it happened a woman, told her of the situation—what it means for a child to be left back for a year—and prevailed upon her to let me have a special test.

I was led into a classroom where several more children sat ready for the test. The teacher gave me three arithmetic problems.

I looked at the paper and didn’t know how to begin. So I sat, looking worried, and Nellie’s death surfaced in my mind. My eyes filled with tears. Just then, the vice-principal passed by—very beautiful she was. I recall that she looked at my empty paper and glanced at my teary eyes. She took my pencil, quickly did three examples, wrote “correct” at the top, removed my paper, and sent me to the right class.

An old nervous teacher, Miss Noble was her name, took my little card with my name written on it, and told me to sit at the last desk from to the rear. I sat down.

I was still quite confused from all this that happened to me so fast and suddenly. I looked around at all the children—whether I knew somebody—Miss Noble was speaking—I wasn’t listening—I still didn’t perceive anything. And suddenly I heard my name: “You, Celia Feinman, you answer this question!”

I stood up, didn’t know what the question was, didn’t even know what she had been talking about. I was afraid to ask her; maybe she’d send me back to the lower class. So there I stood in utter misery. Presently I hears someone whisper, “Asia, Asia” I followed through and answered, “Asia!” “Correct, sit down!” said Miss Noble.

I sat down covered with perspiration. I sought with my eyes who my angel was. I saw a little girl at the second desk in front of me, looking at me with happy little eyes.

I became attached to her. Dora Hurwitz was her name. We remained chums for many, many years.

I must cite here a very comical episode with that very Dora Hurwitz, my beloved chum.

It happened several years later. We were then living on Second Avenue on the seventh floor of an apartment house. Dora used to visit us very often. A fire once broke out in the house where we lived. We were on the highest story, at the very top. So Papa Feinman started to lead us down the fire escape.

Understandably, to go down the fire escape from the seventh floor is not too comfortable and secure a stroll. Dora was a fearful one all together. So she went, poor thing, trembling and shedding bitter tears. Feinman held her tightly, virtually carrying her. Feinman was already quite heavy in those days. So it wasn’t easy at all on the narrow iron steps. Dora held him around the neck and said to him, crying: Oh, Mr. Feinman, if anything should happen—I mean if I got killed, heaven forbid, my mother would—she would never forgive me….

We got down safely. Just as Feinman let himself down onto the sidewalk, she ran home half-hysterically without a by-your-leave.

Right here and now my boasting prompts me to consider my graduation from elementary school. So you won’t think I was always helpless in school, so someone always had to prompt me, I want you to know that I graduated with honors and was selected to give the valedictorian address. Evidently, the farewell speech I gave was not too bad. Many of my graduating colleagues must have thought that Jacob Gordin had surely written the speech for me.

So now I had finished elementary school and gotten into high school. I was already a girl of fifteen. Among people, such a gal is already a whole personality—especially since I was then already carrying on my first adolescent romance.

Philip Haas was his name, a law student. He used to reproach me about why I was still wearing short little dresses. When we went strolling on Second Avenue, we would walk a little separated from each other. He allowed himself to take me by the hand to cross the street only after we were beyond the little park that is between Fifteenth and Seventeenth Streets.

It would indeed be suitable for me to bring you recollections from that time, which would show what a settled personality I already was. But faithful to the open-heartedness I’ve promised you, I must bring up here an episode that will not put me on a very high level in your eyes. Perhaps you will justifiably be able to think that my childishness, my not being grown up went much higher than my short little dresses. But never mind—I’m not bound to appear to be all saintly in my descriptions. And because the episode caused chagrin and heartache, whether for me or my parents, I must tell it.

On an early morning I started out for high school, loaded with a pack of books that high school children usually carry. Passing the mail slots in our corridor, I saw a letter sticking in our mail slot. I freed one hand with great effort from the pack of books and took out the letter. It was addressed to Sigmund Feinman.

I was too lazy to go back up to the apartment to deliver the letter, and I was already a little late for school. So I stuffed the letter into one of my books, thinking it would be proper to give Feinman the letter when I returned from school.

You’re no doubt already surmising that, because of the five or six hours in school, that I entirely forgot about that letter. For several days in a row I heard talk at home about an answer Feinman was waiting for. Feinman was wrought up over it very often, Mother worried, tried to quiet him, figured it out with his counting the days on which the answer would no doubt come that day or the next.

That’s how the days ran by, one after another. The expected letter lay peacefully in one of my books, and I, the big fifteen-year-old gal, didn’t even begin to remember it.

The letter meant very, very much—whether to Feinman or to Mother, and also to all of us. The theatre manager Mitnik, in Montreal, Canada, had proposed that my parents come to Montreal for several weeks to play in his theatre. The terms were very good. It meant that they would ear over two-thousand dollars, and maybe more. They were not booked for that season. It meant an income for the whole winter. The agitation in the house rose higher each day.

“Why doesn’t he answer? After all, he begged us so. I wrote him quite early we were accepting almost all his terms.” That’s how Feinman was getting steamed up. Mother tried to quiet him, although I could see she also was very desperate.

At last, one day, they read in one of the Jewish newspapers that David Kessler was going to play in Montreal. The dates announced were the ones my parents had accepted to play there.

Right then and there something exploded in my head: “Oh, that letter!”

I ran to my books and found the letter. Guilt-stricken I brought it to Papa Feinman. Mitnik had written in the letter that he was accepting the few small changes in the terms, and that they should telegraph him at once if he could announce the opening on such and such a date. He was waiting for their answer.

Feinman remained sitting, dumbfounded. Mother was beside herself. She fell into a fit of weeping with chagrin and worry. She was ready to tear me apart, but Feinman, completely beaten, said to her quietly:

“Dina, don’t you dare put a hand on her. Leave her to me. I will know what to do.”

Mother quickly threw something over her and got out of the house, calling out, “Let her have eighty-eight good years.”

Her tone was such an angry one that it rang like a terrible curse. I began to feel the dreadful seriousness of my act. Add to it my good, devoted mother’s agitation and “curse.” I stood guild-laden, beaten down, with a strangulated throat and couldn’t utter a word. My mother’s banging of the door, when she had left, made both the atmosphere in the house and my disordered mood much heavier. After an interval of oppressive silence, Feinman came over to me, took my face into his smooth hands. I collapsed on him and buried my head in his chest and got into a fit of hysterical sobbing. Lopped off phrases tore from my strangled throat: “Oh, Papa, Papa, what I have done! I hope my hands….”

Feinman put his hand over my mouth: “Don’t talk foolishness, little Celia, it’s all over. Don’t take it to heart. Maybe we were destined for a greater misfortune. But you should know, little Celia, that one must never allow oneself to take and keep someone else’s letter, even for a minute.”

He quieted me. He immediately left the house. It didn’t take long and he returned with Mother. I ran up to Mother and, without words, we both fell on each other’s neck and had a good cry. Both of them pardoned my foolish act and my absentmindedness.

I hope you too will pardon me, and that I will not fall in your esteem thereby. And just as I’ve already told of one of my foolish acts in those years, I shall tell of another that caused as much chagrin and despair. But it brought no harm. That’s already a part of my romantic foolishness as a teenager.

He was a high school chum, and it looked like we were in love. Once when I was in a very romantic mood—we were then studying Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” in class—I wrote a terrifically romantic little love letter in which I poured my heart in love’s ecstasy. I bought a special box of writing paper, rose-colored, rewrote my little love letter to him in a very artistic handwriting and passed it on to him in class.

Most certainly he was in seventh heaven. But he was by nature a bit of a bravado, and this little letter of mine excited his ego even more. So I didn’t like several of his comments, and my love for him suddenly evaporated. Meanwhile he made a party at his home and invited me too. I refused to come. He tried to beg me several times, and I still didn’t want to. So he threatened me that if I didn’t come he would not only read my little love letter to all the high school male and female students at his party, but he would also show it to my parents.

I began to tremble. My parents should know that I, the naïve, innocent tender Celia allowed herself to write a love letter to a fellow! I didn’t know what my mother would do to me!

I became desperate. He could really do it. What should I do? How could I save myself from such shape and disgrace? But I still didn’t want to give in to him. I entrusted myself to my best pal, my eternally devoted Dora Hurwitz. We both strained our “sharp minds” and, after long deliberation, decided that I had to go to the party. But so that he wouldn’t be able to keep me scared, she had to get the little letter away from him.

When he saw me come in, he began to feel like quite a conqueror and showed me several times in sign language the little letter in his chest pocket.

My good Dora noticed this, so she began to talk to a fellow who admired her that it was very hot in the room. Why didn’t he take off his coat? He did it for her sake and proposed that all the fellows take off their coats. They all did it. That’s all we needed. We very deftly pulled out the “terrible” little letter from his coat pocket.

But my troubles didn’t end with this. He kept his postage stamps in the little letter, maybe about ten of them. The following day he discovered what he was missing and, though he couldn’t prove that I stole the little letter, he let me know that he would go to my father and tell him that I stole a fortune in stamps from him.

I saw this was a story without an end. So I took a chance and told Papa Feinman. Understandably, Mother was not to know about it, heaven forbid. When Feinman had read over the frightful little letter, he laughed heartily and said to me: “Don’t worry, little Celia. If he comes to me, I’ll throw him down the stairs. You did right well. May you will be able to teach such an impressive lesson to all your wiseacre lovers….”

But I must admit, to this fellow’s credit, that he did not come. He had obviously just threatened me, just teased me.

—————-

I have left out my grandfather’s coming to America from my account of our so-called fat years of that time. You already know my grandfather, Reb Yossef Chaim Stettin, my mother’s father, from my first chapter. You’ve already seen a picture of him. No doubt you still remember what he looked like. You no doubt also remember that when Adler wanted to give him a “job” in his theatre, he said very naively that “to stand and wave to the musicians with the little stick” seemed to him to be an easy occupation….

And though my grandfather’s coming to America had no direct impact whatever on my life, I believe I should commit a sin against you and perhaps against the theatre if I didn’t cite a quaint episode about my grandfather and theatre playing.

Imagine my telling you that my “naïve, pious grandfather” played theatre without knowing it. He didn’t even know he was on the stage before an audience of hundreds of people. He received such an overwhelming ovation as the greatest star seldom gets, even though he didn’t know that either. Sounds like quite a riddle. It’s really for that reason that I must tell it to you.

My grandfather’s making a living in London with lottery tickets didn’t go too well. So my mother prevailed upon him to come to America, by himself at the time. If he liked it, his wife and children would also be brought here. He came, lived with us in our nice residence on Grand Street. Poor Feige had a lot of trouble with him. He would mix into the kitchen—to guard orthodox dietary. Though she was strict in guarding that everything was “kosher” (ritually clean), he still didn’t trust her fully.

He brought his vocation with him. But things didn’t go too well for him in the beginning. But he got to be known real soon among the actors in all the theatres, and also among the other theatrical employees. Everyone liked him. So he made them all, bit by bit, his steady customers for his “tickets.” In time, with my mother’s help, he really brought his family over and settled here.

His vocation made him a frequent entrant into all the theatres, not as a spectator—this never interested him. He would walk right up on the stage, ask the actors and stage hands for the installment payments on the “tickets” that he sold to them on credit. So he would stroll about free and easy backstage and in the dressing rooms. It would happen that when he had to cross from one side of the stage to the other, he would unknowingly go through the open stage while the show was on.

The bizarre episode with my grandfather’s “performance” happened with and through the famous comedian, Berl Bernstein.

I’m sure many of you still remember very well the mercurial, charming Berl Bernstein during the years he sparkled in the Yiddish theatre. Indeed, my father, Jacob P. Adler, brought him to America in the late years of the eighties of the previous century. He very quickly became popular and beloved by the theatrical public. Bernstein was not a painter of characters; he was a first-class burlesque comic, a very dexterous dancer. Not only did he have dancing rhythm in his feet, he would quite frequently dance to the beat of the music with his cheek or with a pasted-on little beard.

In those years, when that type of humor was very well accepted by the great masses of theatregoers, Berl Bernstein was considered the second greatest comedian after the brilliant Sigmund Mogulesco. When Gordin, Libin and Kobrin brought what are called comic character roles to the Yiddish theatre, Bernstein’s stock fell a little. He did succeed from time to time to sparkle a bit in a character role. Thus, for example, he created and made himself famous in the role of Schamaye in Gordin’s “The Jewish King Lear,” which he played with my father.

The episode with my grandfather occurred around 1913. David Kessler had just then produced a new play by Z. Libin by the name of “The Eternal Man” at his Second Avenue Theatre, with Kessler in the title role. In the play, Bernstein had to perform the comic character role of the type of little folks who were soft, naïve, pitiful, and that Libin depicted so accurately.

When character actors in general and comics in particular are “pregnant” with a new role, they all look and grope for some kind of type that fits in with the character they have to play. You can often read in the descriptions of famous character roles by well-known great actors how they looked in this or that street until they succeeded in grabbing a type they wanted for the role at hand.

So Bernstein looked for a type for that role in Libin’s play. As he was sitting in the dressing room at his mirror and makeup table, he was cudgeling his brains for what kind of makeup to create. Just then, Grandfather came in, looking for one of his customers from whom he had to get money for a “ticket.” Bernstein’s eyes lit up in the mirror. Here was the type. He quickly turned around to my grandfather whom he knew very well, greeted him quite warmly, engaged with him in a little conversation, and with his eyes devoured his face, thoroughly observing the charming little beard, the wrinkles, the nose, the eyes, the eyebrows, the forehead—-followed by Grandfather’s grimaces, movements and clothes—all, all.

When he had readied himself for the first performance with his makeup and costuming, he looked more like Reb Yossef Chaim that my grandfather did himself. All the actors immediately recognized him. It was only that he was taller than my grandfather by a head. Bernstein had very long legs.

Incidentally, all kinds of legends and stories about his legs used to go the rounds of the public. They used to say Bernstein could do anything he wished with his legs. If he wished it, he could make them long. If he wished, he could make them short—it depended only on is desire. My grandfather used to walk with mincing short little steps. But when Bernstein, with his long legs, imitated my grandfather’s little walk, it looked very funny and called forth many bursts of laughter from the audience.

Here we were at the third performance, Saturday night. The theatre was packed. Bernstein was alone on the stage. He sang his couplet, which had become absolute law in a comedian’s role. He concluded, understandably, with a little dance which was also a must already in the Yiddish theatre.

As has been said, Bernstein was a very skillful dancer, and in his little dance in the role he always copied my grandfather’s mincing little steps. When he had finished his couplet and danced off the stage, the audience applauded very hard. This also is a standing procedure in the Yiddish theatre—the audience applauds, and he comes on dancing again. He sings another stanza and again dances off. No doubt you all know it. That’s been the theatrical routine for decades already.

That evening, when Bernstein had already danced off the stage the third or fourth time with my grandfather’s mincing little steps, just then, from the other side of the stage, almost that very second, my grandfather walked across the stage with his mincing little walk, not knowing you understand, that he was walking onto an open stage. The audience was flabbergasted. All were sure that that was Bernstein again. Even though he had left on the other side this very second? But then, he was Bernstein, after all. Even though he was a head shorter? But then many in the audience knew he could do anything he wanted with his legs….

Anyway, thunderous applause broke out. The public virtually stormed the theatre. Bernstein had seen my grandfather pass over the open stage and, hearing the storm, he immediately grasped the public’s thoughts. So he used the coincidence to best advantage. Dancing, he again got on the stage, understandably in his own full height. The audience applauded still more wildly. He danced off on the side where Grandfather had left. There, Kessler, who had also witnessed the incident, held my grandfather up purposely. When Bernstein saw he was still there, he told him immediately that someone wanted to see him on the other side of the stage, and showed him the door to the stage. And my grandfather again mincingly stepped across the stage.

The walls almost collapsed from the applause, the stamping of feet, the whistling and yelling. And just at that moment, when my grandfather got off the stage on the other side, Bernstein again showed himself on this side with mincing little steps in his elongated height. The audience never could interpret the puzzle. And the legends about Bernstein’s long legs spread even more.

As you see, my pious, naïve grandfather, Reb Yossef Chaim Stettin, unknowingly “played” a role, unknowingly got a stormy ovation—not even knowing he’d been on the stage before hundreds and hundreds of people. Engrossed in his figuring up the tickets, he heard nothing and didn’t realize what was going on around him.

Bernstein even conceived the idea that Kessler should talk my grandfather into coming to the theatre constantly whenever the play was performed. But whether it was Kessler or Bernstein himself, they well understood that under no circumstances could they get grandfather to do it. So Bernstein had to be content with his outlandish “performance” and “legendary” success of that one and only opening.

My grandfather also went home happy that evening. But it had nothing to do with his wonderful “playing,” or with the stormy ovation the audience had given him. He was practically beside himself with happiness that Kessler and Bernstein had suddenly bought from him three “tickets” each and paid him in cash that evening. He never knew why.

I wish to conclude the episodes with my grandfather, the honest, naïve, pious Reb Yossef Chaim Stettin, may he rest in peace, and in memoriam, cite his turning to me, perhaps a year or two before his death.

My mother was then playing in London. Feinman had already been dead several years. I was already the actress, Celia Adler. So my grandfather once came to me and turned to me with these words: “Tzirele, dear, I beg you, lend me twenty dollars. I’ll never be able to return them to you, but I shall pray well for you.”

His request made a deep impression on me. He hadn’t said, “give me, I beg you,” but “lend me….” He was certain he was repaying me the best way he could—by begging God for me.

When I put two twenties in his hands and kissed him on his good-natured face, he closed his eyes and kissed me on the forehead: “You’re a very proper child, Tzirele. You are worthy of bearing your grandmother’s name, Tzirele, the pious one, may she be in Eden’s light….” And still swaying he walked out. May he also be in Eden’s light.

—————

After several years of wandering over the province states in America and Canada, with their meager results and quite a great deal of chagrin and heartache, it all became very tedious to Feinman. The stable, entrenched theatrical firms in New York had no room for such a theatrical couple as Sigmund and Dina Feinman.

It was too risky for Feinman to again open a new theatrical business all by himself, in competition with the already much recognized and popular stars. This was shown by the experience of the three considerably well-recognized and famous actors: Sophie Karp, Berl Bernstein and Morris Finkel. They had all built the splendid Grand Theatre, right in the heart of Jewish New York at that time, with the help of the theatrical entrepreneur Louis Gottlieb. This was the first edifice in America built especially for Yiddish theatre. But even the attraction of the new theatre didn’t help. They barely suffered through the first season and had to give up. This of itself frightened other entrepreneurs.

Feinman saw no other way out for himself, but to try his luck in Europe. After long deliberation, he and Mother decided that Feinman should go to London. For the present he was to go alone to see what the prospects were for establishing themselves there.

The Yiddish theatre in London had at that time already got out of the back rooms and beer saloons and, just by comparison, from the club saloons. The Pavilion Theatre, a very beautiful and comfortable theatre in the aristocratic part of Whitechapel, which had been an English theatre for years, was taken over by Yiddish theatre entrepreneurs. Playing there at the time was a troupe with the fine, capable actor Charles Nathanson at the head.

Feinman appeared there in several performances as guest performer. The London Jewish public received him with great enthusiasm. The owners held him over until the end of the season. He became much beloved in London. We received enthusiastic letters and weekly money from him. The bosses proposed to him that he take the theatre over the following season. He made an agreement with them. He was very happy and satisfied.

We all went away to the mountains over the summer and allowed ourselves a good time in a fine hotel in Mountaindale. Things were very good for us.

That summer was a complete paradise for us. My first puppy love, Philip Haas, the law student, whom I’ve already mentioned in an earlier chapter, was also spending the summer in those parts. His love for me blossomed anew. The natural beauty of the famous Catskill Mountains, the dreamy moonlit nights, the quiet secretive mountains that bear so many beautiful legends, were assuredly as if made for romantic dreams. The atmosphere of the “Borscht Circuit” with the ordinary workaday connotation the name carries with it had not yet cheapened the Catskill Mountains at that time. And so Philip’s falling in love with me during those weeks became very, very serious.

Thus that summer was a very short one for us. We already had to journey to London at the end of August. Feinman had gone there several weeks before to make all necessary preparations for the theatrical season, as well as find a suitable residence for us. My mother, my little sister Lillie, and I boarded the boat.

I shall avoid all our preparations, the nervous excitement we lived through on the eve of that trip. But I cannot, under any circumstances, avoid the farewells on board ship. I believe you would never forgive me for it, because it will be a great surprise for you, just as it was for us.

It is to be understood, of course, that my loving Philip and also my best chum, Dora Hurwitz, came to the ship. But imagine my surprise and everyone else’s when my sister, Nyunia and my father, Jacob P. Adler, suddenly showed up.

I cannot undertake to explain my father’s appearance in any way whatsoever; particularly when he donated to me maybe two minutes out of the hour or more he was on board ship before he left.

I recall that three separate groups formed among us right from the start. Philip Haas, Dora Hurwitz and I—one group. My little sister Lillie, one of her best pals, Jennie Goldstein, with our Feige—a second group; and my mother with my father—a third group. Each group was busy with its own concerns.

I shall never forgive myself why I didn’t get the ideas of observing my father with my mother, even from a distance, so that I should be able to indicate to you what went on between them at that separate, unexpected farewell encounter. It must be that at the time I still didn’t have the slightest inkling that I would write my memoirs.

Anyway, Philip’s love-struck glances, his modest love outbursts held me tense. I barely noticed that a considerable crowd gathered around my little sister Lillie and her friend. The two star children’s role players of that time sang over all the theatrical songs they knew, under Feige’s direction. Lillie and Jennie used to do this when they were together. So the ship’s passengers and guests had a free concert.

It will be worthwhile, therefore, to indicate something her that will perhaps be news to a great many of you.

You all know about the richly colored career Jennie Goldstein had in our theatre. But few of you know or ever saw my sister Lillie Feinman as an actress. She was one of the most superb soubrettes the Yiddish theatre had for some ten years; she was a jewel of a charmer. She was a graceful dancer, sang very well, and in fact had everything a good soubrette needs. She was also a fine character player. She became very much beloved by the public during the years she played in London. After she married Ludwig Satz, she played with him for a number of years in Europe and America. When, after a hard fight, Satz at last won recognition here in America, he quite quickly became the most popular and famous star-comedian. So he had Lillie agree to give up the stage and concern herself with the rather substantial career of wife and mother.

I shall again have occasion to write about her and especially about Satz in the part about my career. But anyway then, on board ship, the pair of children, Lillie and Jennie, made a very great hit. When the time came for the guests to leave the ship, the three separate groups got together again.

I recall that I thought my father’s eyes were like tear-stained. I noticed nothing about my mother. We began to take leave of one another. My Philip suddenly burst into tears. My father held my mother’s hand a long time, and his eyes, full of sadness, kept constantly looking at her face. He got to kissing her only at the last moment. Philip again burst into tears.

I remember how my father spoke to me: “Don’t worry, little Celia, he’ll calm down.” Almost halfway down the gangplank, my father reminded himself and called out: “Little Celia, I’ve completely forgotten. Here is a farewell gift.”

He threw me a “bill.” I don’t know to this day what it was—I think a ten spot. The wind carried the bill off! It fell down below into the water.

When we were left alone I first noticed how deep in thought, sad and serious Mother looked. As we were unpacking in our cabin, frequent sighs tore out of her heart. I also recall that Mother reminded me very often not to forget to write “your father frequent letters. He will be happy with them. He wants your letters.”

I’m not generally a good traveler, even by train. I’m not at all myself on a ship, especially then on my first long ocean voyage. True, I made my first trip to America also by ship, but then you will remember that my mother was still pregnant with me. So that ocean voyage was very easy for me. But now, the ocean didn’t agree with me at all, at the ship’s first rocking and cradling. So I would mostly lie stretched out on my deck chair in a half-faint.

On the contrary, my sister Lillie was a complete tomboy. She gave the ocean no thought at all. She quickly became the darling of all on board ship. She waited for meals with much curiosity and appetite, something about which I was even afraid to think.

I recall how, as I was once lying on the deck chair, brought low by the notorious “oceanic-ill feeling.” I asked the steward if he would mind calling my sister for me—she who constantly indulged in deck pastimes. I heard him call out: “Miss Lillie, your kid sister wants you.” To him I was her little sister, and I am fully five years older than her.

Nevertheless, I cannot complain that no one noticed me on board ship.

Sitting on the deck chair next to mine was a charming dark-complexioned young man. Feeling as I did, I hardly looked at him at all. But once, when the ocean left me in peace a little, I noticed the open book he was reading. It was in a kind of writing I had never seen before—such curious letters, somewhat similar to our stenography. So I wanted to know very much what language that was. But I still didn’t dare begin to talk with him. Evidently, our thoughts must have met. All at once he stopped reading, took a look at me and said in very good English with something of a foreign accent: “Seems to me you’re feeling a little better.”

I agreed, with a light smile. We began to converse. He was an Egyptian. The book he was reading was in Arabic. He showed me the letters and tried to explain their meaning and sound.

He was a fine, intelligent young man. After that he constantly passed the time with me, forced me really hard to let myself be taken for a stroll around the deck. In his opinion, seasickness was more of a mental then a physical illness.

Our brief acquaintance had a wonderful ending, with an Oriental character to it. When he took leave of me, he said with a serious look, in his type of English:

“If you don’t find a fine Jewish young man, think of me. You’re such a fine, such an interesting young lady—I’d like to have you for my wife—if you don’t find a fine Jewish young man. Here’s my address. Write to me.”

Giving me a card with his address, he added, “I’ll send you money for passage to my home in Egypt. I’ll take you to meet my parents. They will love you.”

Imagine me now being a “Mrs. Egypt,” in our times.

I became acquainted with a Cockney woman. When she heard we were on our way to London, she asked me, “Zlenen Yoam?”

I didn’t understand so she repeated her question in a tone of near exasperation. “What could be clearer? Why shouldn’t you understand it?! Zlenen yoam.” Here my Egyptian friend came to my rescue. “She means, ‘Is London your home?’”

Feinman met the boat train and took us to the very pleasant flat he had prepared in “Bow, Mile End,” an extension of Whitechapel Road. We loved the place and the surrounding neighborhood, which was splendid.

We launched into our theatrical season in London. Feinman, who loved doing everything with a generous hand, was even more lavish where the theatre was concerned. He assembled a fine local troupe, even brought several actors from America, paying them all high salaries. Then came the fog for which London is regretfully famous. That year it was the worst Londoners said they ever remembered. They were accompanied by unusually bitter cold. Attendance at the theatres fell off, receipts were sparse and Papa Feinman barely met expenses.

Everyone knows that when your livelihood is depressed, your heart can’t be at ease. For me, in the midst of my sixteen-year-old youth blossoming forth in greatest bloom, torn away from my chums and boyfriends, foggy, dark London was not at all to my liking. In addition, my good and devoted pal, Dora Hurwitz, described the good times and jolly parties in her frequent letters in all detail. In one of her letters she told me about how my father had strongly scolded my sister, Frances, for going around with Philip too much. “You mustn’t do it. He belongs to Celia,” he reproached her.

In the beginning, Philip himself wrote to me ardent love letters very frequently. But I, being taken up with rehearsals, with learning roles, with performing, did not write him often enough. So he took it very much to heart and began to go out with Bernstein’s daughter. Dora wrote about that too.

All these things made my being in a foreign place, in London, that much harder. I became depressed, couldn’t sleep, and the doctor advised my mother to take me back to America at the first opportunity. So I looked forward with impatience to the end of the season when I hoped to return to New York.

I wish to interrupt here my sad memories of that time with a wonderful episode worth telling about.

I’ve indicated here earlier that Feinman loved doing things with a generous hand. You’ll be able to tell right away from this episode. You’ll also see clearly his genuinely fatherly behavior toward me.

London was very cold that winter. I needed a winter coat. My mother was much too busy to go with me to the stores, so she asked Papa Feinman to go with me to buy the coat. I recall Mother saying to him:

“So, remember, Sigmund, after all I know you, with you everything has to be done with a generous hand; don’t spend more than four pounds. You can get a very nice coat for four pounds.”

Feinman told her—four pounds, no more.

Need I remind you that four English pounds were equal to our twenty dollars in those years? And twenty dollars was considerable price for a coat, especially in London.

We went to the West End, to Selfridge’s, one of the loveliest and largest department stores in London. Feinman kept his word. He asked the saleslady to show us a coat for four pounds. She brought several. I tried on one after another. But Feinman wasn’t pleased. He looked at me a little guiltily and asked her to bring something a little better for four pounds ten. But he still wasn’t pleased.

And so it went higher and higher, until I tried on a coat for ten pounds. Then his face beamed. It was of superbly beautiful English wool, furl-lined throughout, with a big fur collar. It had a muff with a little fur hat to match. I looked wonderful in it and stood entranced before the mirror, stroking the fur and nestling pleasurably in its warmth. But ten pounds – fifty dollars!

Papa Feinman was looking at me with a big, delighted grin and said, “We’ll take it.” But remembering Mother’s words and knowing our financial situation well, I said to him, “Papa,” I whispered, “Mother said not to spend more than four pounds.”

“Well, Celischka, maybe you don’t like it?” he said slyly.

“Oh, Papa, how can you say that? I never even dreamed of trying on such a heavenly coat. But, Papa, ten pounds in our present situation! Mother will be beside herself. I know that even four pounds is a burden for us now.”

“But you saw, silly child, how poor the four-pound coats were on you. Have you any idea how wonderful you look in this splendid outfit? It's worth ten pounds just to catch a glimpse of you! I'm willing to pay a pound every time I turn around and see you wearing it. Tell you what, Celischka, I'll tell your mother it cost four pounds ten. She'll be a little angry about the extra half pound, but I'm sure when her dear eyes see you in it, she'll forgive me. As for the five-and-a-half extra pounds, leave that to me. I'll find some way to wipe out the difference."

My eyes filled with tears at his goodness—his great, warm heart. I was wordless, but he understood and hugged me.  “It'll be all right, Celischka. Mother will be glad when she sees you so beautiful.

 I could barely whisper, "Oh, Papa, Papa, you're so good to me!"

When we left the store, I virtually walked on air. Feinman kept looking at me, smiling delightedly.

When we got to the theatre, all the actors at the rehearsal crowded around me, felt the wool, smoothed the fur and gave evaluations.

Mother looked at me with beaming, happy eyes.

"You look like Buckingham Palace! Even there, one wears nothing more splendid."

Feinman was literally in seventh heaven. I was terrified over what would happen when Mother asked the price. I only hoped she wouldn't ask me. I was afraid I couldn't manage to tell Mother a lie.

Presently, the moment came. When we were alone and Mother was stroking the fur collar, she suddenly asked, "How much was it?”

Standing so close to me, I thought she was asking me. And my heart dropped a beat. I quickly put the fur collar over my ears and nose and exclaimed, "Oh, am I going to be warm this winter!”

But Feinman answered her. “Dina, my precious, it cost almost as much as you wanted me to pay for it."

"What do you mean, almost?” Mother pressed the "almost" really hard.

"Only half a pound more than you wanted. It cost four pounds ten."
 

"I knew I couldn't trust you." But Mother was only mildly put out and added with a light smile, "Oh, Sigmund, you and your free hand. But I do have to admit the outfit is worth four-and-a-half pounds."

I kissed her and she said, "Wear it in good health, little daughter. And may your luck be as bright as you are in this outfit. Feinman winked at me with a victorious grin, "Well, didn
't I tell you Mother would forgive me for the half pound? Dina, she nearly stopped me from buying the coat because of that half-pound."

I embraced and kissed him warmly.

From then on, in following years, when I dressed in the coat for the first time each winter, I confessed to an additional pound as to the price until Mother at last knew what Papa Feinman had actually paid for it.

 

A SHORT HAPPY TIME WHEN I WAS A BIT OF A CHILD
 

CELIA AS A CHILD




CELIA IN HER CARRIAGE


MY MOTHER AND I AT THE THEATRE


CELIA IN HER ROMANTIC HIGH SCHOOL YEARS


MY MOTHER AROUND THE SAME TIME
AS ME IN HER HIGH SCHOOL YEARS
 

DRESSY IN A LONDON COAT

 

CHAPTER 14


Whatever the hardships, that season in London was truly the beginning of my theatrical career—my first steps on the stage as an adult. It was my first entrance into the routine of the theatre. I began to feel the actual taste of the very strenuous, nervous hurry and tension into which the theatre forces you—studying, rehearsing and playing new roles each week.

It's certainly good and even important for a person who seeks a theatrical career to go to a dramatic school to learn techniques of acting and drama, in order not to stumble over the basics of his profession. But, as with all the arts, that's only a
beginning in order to learn the use of tools. The talent with which an artist uses them, the deftness, the ableness, and then the creative imagination follows, if the god of the arts has so endowed him. To that the performer must add devoted work in rehearsals and years of experience with a variety of roles.

The Yiddish stage can't boast that their performers have had drama school training, not even a small percentage of them. There is, in fact, no such institution among us as a drama school. Yet, the general world, in England as well as in America, had a high opinion of our theatre and made much of our performers.

 I feel the reason for our unique excellence was based on our production system. A troupe or company was engaged for a whole season and had to perform in a variety of plays. The Yiddish theatre would present four of five plays a week.  A city theatre season consisted of some thirty to forty weeks. In addition there were six to eight weeks on the road. Thus, actors played tens upon tens of various roles during the run of a season and that proved better than the very best school. Legit English-speaking actors never attained in a lifetime the number of roles a Yiddish actor was given in one season.

 For example, that season in London turned out to be a terrific source of experience, as well as achievement for so young an actress as I. It cost me a great deal of energy and not a little heartache, but in the final analysis, it was a great victory.

 In our troupe in London was one of the most colorful personalities on the Yiddish stage of that time, Fannie Vadai Epstein, who occupied an exalted place on our stage. She began her theatrical career as a chorus girl in the same troupe as my mother, in the back room of a beer saloon in Whitechapel. The four young chorus girls of that troupe, Anna Held, Jenny Kaiser, Fannie Epstein and my mother, Dina Stettin, all became famous theatre personalities.

Fannie Vadai Epstein's uniqueness consisted so much in her theatrical career as a highly adventurous youth. Her beauty and charming personality drew her into a romance that carried her away to far-off India. The "Maharajah Vadai," the governor of Bombay, India, fell so deeply in love with her that he married her.

She told me how he granted her request for a
Jewish marriage in the Docks Place Synagogue in London, how he had the street from the carriage to the entrance of the synagogue strewn with flowers. She described the fabulous palace in Bombay. To safeguard her future, Maharajah Vadai set up a trust fund of three thousand pounds a year for the rest of her life. But later, after returning to England, she sold the fund, divided much of it among needy friends and lost the rest in business. It was then she returned to the Yiddish stage in Sigmund Feinman's company.

One of the most remarkable things about this exceedingly active and bright woman was the amazing fact that she could neither read nor write in any language, whatsoever. Despite that, she spoke several languages perfectly and charmingly, played important, top roles in our theatre and even produced plays herself. To hear a play read through once was enough for her to grasp its whole meaning and even enable her to direct the play.

To hear her role read a few times was sufficient for her to know and portray the character with all nuances.

She counted among her friends the most recognized literary figures of the times
, all of whom as poets and artists paid her homage. Her home was a salon of these devotees… Yet she was lonely and I often found her weeping.

David Frischman wrote of her, "She was perhaps the most interesting person I ever encountered in my life among Yiddish actors
. Exciting as an actress, she was even more so as a splendid personality and as an image of her people, a thousand times more significant."

Priluski wrote, “The first lady of the Yiddish stage in Poland and Russia who can be recognized as a noblewoman. A delicate, womanly softness and grace in every movement, a white, genteel, mobile face with huge, deep-set eyes lighting up her entire face. A hot temperament which bursts from the deepest recesses of her woman's heart. When she extends her arms in supplication or sorrow, their grace reminds one of the lovely Isadora Duncan."

Lazar Fr
eed, my first husband, met her in Warsaw and told me about her tragic end there. She died in a small basement room of a poor uncle in 1913 in her forty-fifth year, still so young, so dear, such a loss!

At the end of our rather disastrous season in London, Papa Feinman went to Galicia, Poland and Lithuania for guest appearances in order to earn a little money. Mother, Lillie and I, and a part of our troupe, played the English provinces on a cooperative basis for a like purpose. I don't recall how successful were Feinman's guest appearances, but we, in England, did not do at all well.

 Until we had dragged ourselves to Glasgow during our sad tour, we didn't have a penny among us. Several theatrical know-hows in Glasgow advised us that the only play that could bring in good receipts was “Shulamith.” So we advertised “Shulamith.”

On the day of the first performance, a couple of new acquaintances in Glasgow took me out to show me their beautiful city. Especially splendid was the park, the pride and ornament of the city. As we sat enjoying the beauty and Glasgow's fragrant, fresh air, suddenly a man ran up to me. He was Marcus Gasovsky, our leading singer, very much out of breath. For a few moments I was alarmed, especially when he exclaimed, "Thank goodness I've found you. I've been running all over the city looking for you. Celischka, they were right. “Shulamith” has hit. It looks like a sellout. The public is grabbing up the tickets.

“So why don't you look happy, Marcus?” asked him. "One would think you were reporting the end of the world."

"Could be the end of our world. Our prima donna wanted some money immediately or she wouldn’t even go into rehearsal. I told her we’d have no funds until after the performance. So she’s left.” The troupe met and decided that you play ‘Shulamith’ today."

I almost fainted
. "I, really, such a role! and the singing! No, the group can't ask this of me. Anyway, Mother won't allow it."

"But your mother has consented. In our precarious situation, we can't give up such receipts. We are responsible to the theatre. The troupe will be dividing what will amount to ten-pounders for each of them."

With fear like charges of electricity, shooting all over me, I gave in. I went to work at once. I knew the melodies well. I had heard them throughout my childhood. My young brain could grasp a role very fast and well. I was a quick study, and as I was quite familiar with this legendary, folk operetta, I became less frightened as we worked through the afternoon. The songs were easier than the dialogue, especially in the third act, where Shulamith has a four-page monologue, in which she relates her whole tragedy and comes to a decision to feign insanity in order to turn away three suitors who are courting her violently. She was trying to be left in peace, so that she might remain true to her lover, Avisholem. In order to learn such a monologue fast, it suffices to know the plot. You can help yourself a little with the help of the prompter and the rest with supplying your own dialogue when your memory doesn't hold out. As long as the audience knows what’s going on, I would be safe.

 But some of the monologue was in rhymes, partly to be sung and partly to be recited to music. One can't play around with rhymes. Those one must know well. Having seen “Shulamith” many times, I remembered that there was a big storm in that scenethundering and lightning, the orchestra playing stormy music with cymbals, trumpets and percussion. Much of Shulamith's monologue is drowned out. Thus, I began to hope I would somehow manage to suffer through it. I learned the few lines of rhymes and thought the storm and my crazy, little innovations would pull us through.

Well, at length, the night came and I was on the stage. The theatre was packed. I had got through two-and-a-half acts well enough. The troupe looked upon me as their Messianic angel. But now I faced that scene of scenes.

I sang the famous song, "Saturday, Holiday," began to deliver the big monologue, spoke the few lines of rhymes I had learned and now expected the storm that was to sustain me in my difficult scene. All was peace and quiet. Bad luck, the storm machinery wasn't working. No thunder, no lightning and to top it all, the orchestra was playing pianissimo, the conductor's sudden inspiration. I was desperate.

I glanced backstage and saw the face of Madame Wallerstein, who was playing Abigail. She was making outlandish grimaces, her face distorted. She was trying desperately to create the stormthe thunder and wind with her mouth, her tongue, teeth and fingers. But she looked so ludicrous that I burst into loud laughter, which quickly changed into hysteria. I laughed, I screamed and ran around the stage like crazy.

Deliverance came at last. The curtain rang down. I fell hysterically into Mother's arms and then into Madame Wallerstein’s arms. It took both of them a considerable time to calm me. But my agony was not over. I still had to live through the last act of “Shulamith” in which, thank God, the dialogue was brief.

Shulamith’s lover, Avisholem, having completely forgotten her, has married Abigail who bears him two children. Both perish in infancy, one strangled by a cat, the second drowning in a well into which it had stumbled. The two tragedies jog Avisholem's memory of his oath to Shulamith, when the well and the cat were the witnesses. He then takes leave of his wife, Abigail, and journeys forth on his search for Shulamith.

Shulamith, alone, estranged from everyone, sad and confused, pours out her embittered heart and yearns for her Avisholem until she comes to the line, "What shall I do? I can't sing anything happy today." The music has given her the four hushed beats of mourning and she begins to sing the classic oath "There, by the well and the cat," when Avisholem, having found her at last, stands beneath her window, but, seeing her condition is afraid to suddenly reveal his presence lest, heaven forbid, he should shock her. So he has been waiting for an appropriate moment.

And now he finds just the moment — when Shulamith begins to sing the oath, he begins to sing after her, like an echo. Slowly she begins to come to her senses. She recognizes his voice
they recognize each other. They fall into each other's arms. They are delighted and the audience even more so.

Her father, Minoa, comes in, as does Zingetang, his clownish, Negro servant. All four now sing a happy, spirited quartette and the curtain falls.

Looks simple and easy, but that performance in Glasgow didn't work out so simply for me. Our Irish conductor either overlooked or took a dislike to the four innocent, quiet beasts of mourning. And when I had spoken the line, "What shall I do? How can I sing anything merry when fate has dealt me so much sorrow?", he let loose with a happy, spirited quartette. The cymbals, drums and trumpets clashed away in the loudest tones. How could I begin singing my mournful oath accompanied by such a brassy cacophony? I with my thin little voice.

I sat on the stage in anguish, frantically seeking the conductor’s eyes to make him aware of his mistake. Not having a conductor
's master original, he was conducting from the first violinist's score spread below him on the violinist's stand. Thus, as only his head and waving little baton was visible over the stage's ramp, the conductor could not see my desperation. There was no oath and Avisholem couldn't make his entrance.

What to do? The
seconds were flying by! And empty seconds and minutes on the stage are eternitiesnightmares! A cold sweat broke out over me.

Suddenly the Irishman became aware of the silence on stage. He raised his head, saw the desperation in my huge eyes and my head vigorously turning from side to side indicating “No” and realized that something was amiss. He stopped the orchestra and I, having already forgiven him the four beats, immediately began singing my sad oath. Avisholem could now enter and end the performance happily. In my memory I
ve dubbed that performance, the "Irish Shulamith.”

It was not actually my title. I chanced to tell my experience of that performance to Emma Finkel
, the lovely, Yiddish actress. From then on she never called me anything but the "Irish Shulamith.”

Emma was considered one of the most beautiful women of the Yiddish stage in America. A Thomashevsky
she was Boris Thomashevsky's youngest sister she began her career in the Yiddish theatre early. She quickly became one of the most superb soubrettes of that time. Emma didn't have to strain herself to accomplish this, as she was sparkle itself and the joy of life beamed out of her.

She was barely sixteen years old when Morris Finkel fell in love with her. He was then a recognized, noted actor and a personality in the Yiddish theatrical world. That impressed the young, reckless, mercurial Emma. He was forty
twenty-four years older than Emma. If that wasn't enough of a deterrent, the difference in their characters was colossal. Her family didn't even try to dissuade her. They were probably satisfied that the solid, sincere Morris Finkel would take the "young goat" in hand.

Finkel was by nature an austere, serious and even morose man and thus, out of tune with the merry, fun-loving Emma.

She bore him three babies
, two girls, Lucy and Bella and a little boy, Abe, but her life with him became no happier.

The whole Yiddish theatrical world and New York Jewry in general were shaken up one day in the summer of 1904 when Finkel, in a fit of jealousy
, pumped several bullets out of a revolver into the beautiful Emma and then shot himself. He fell dead. Emma lived but was paralyzed and spent the almost thirty years she lived in a wheel chair. In that condition she even performed in the theatre from time to time.

She lived to see her two beautiful, accomplished daughters, Lucy and Bella Finkel, reach high places in the Yiddish theatre. Bella married to the famous actor Muni Weisenfreund, one of the most luminous young stars in the Yiddish theatre who later, as Paul Muni, achieved the very highest pinnacles in the acting world, both on Broadway and in motion pictures.

Lucy was not so fortunate. She died in the midst of a brilliant, theatrical career. But Emma was spared from living through this tragedy, as she had already passed away.

Emma Finkel had been much loved in our world. As I lived on the same street as her, I used to visit her very often and while she knitted, relate amusing anecdotes and news items of our theatre world. How I enjoyed her hearty laughter! I still have a gift from her, a long, knitted scarf which I value greatly.

I would often take my Zelik'l and my nieces, Lillie's two little girls, Tzirele and Mirele. Emma loved having them, and they sang all sorts of theatre songs together, all of them beaming.

My Zelik'l, then about three, would sit quietly at my side. He never joined the singing and, in general, showed no inclination toward things theatrical. However
, once, on such a visit, when Tzirele and Mirele had carried on in all sorts of performance and Emma's hearty laughter filled the house, Zelik'l suddenly quietly slipped off the little bench on which he was sitting and without a word went into a cossets — a Russian dance in which practically sitting, you dance with bent legs, throwing the legs as if from under you. Emma and I couldn't believe our eyes. No doubt he had seen it sometime in the theatre, but it was probably Emma's hearty laughter at the girls' carryings-on that sparked the little fellow to show that he too, could participate. Perhaps it was the stirring in him of the thespian blood of his forebears, parents and grandparents. Emma's screaming and laughter over Zelikl's dance still rings in my ears.

 

CHAPTER 15

 
I am sure there are still many who are acquainted with “The Slaughter” by Jacob Gordin. He wrote it especially for our famous tragedienne, Keni Lipzin, who performed it all over America for many, many years. As contracts were then drawn up in the Yiddish theatre, the play was her property and no one else was permitted to perform the play in America. Only later, when the play reached Europe, was it played and by the most prominent actresses of that time. So it was with all the plays by Gordin, Libin, Kobrin and others. They were the property of male or female stars.

My mother, who played Gordin's works in repertory, made a great name for herself in Europe and especially London. In that city they virtually deified her. In Poland and Russia it was Esther Rachel Kaminska who gained her great name through this repertory.

When we returned to New York after the season in London, our financial status was low. Feinman
's efforts to establish ties with a theatre in New York didn't succeed. To this day I have never been able to understand why actors as gifted as Sigmund and Dina Feinman were unable to achieve a successful place in the Yiddish theatre. I know that backstage politics probably had a lot to do with it, but what they were is still unknown to me.

Having no alternative, Feinman again took up his wanderer's staff and performed all over Europe, while Mother
, Lillie and I remained in New York.

 We settled in Harlem, Mother appearing from time to time at the Star Theatre in that area.

I
gave piano lessons. In almost every Jewish home in those days, a "Misha," a "Yasha," or a "Tosha" was growing up. So Jewish mothers bought "fortepianos" on credit and tortured their little offspring with piano lessons at a quarter or a half dollar a piece. My earnings and Mother's were barely enough to keep us alive.

At length, Feinman notified Mother that he had worked out a tour over Poland, Lithuania and Romania for both of them, and that she must come join him at once. We were left with Feige, and while they often sent us a few dollars, it was poor earnings and Feige's great talent for economy that held body and soul together.

Then suddenly everything stopped. We received a dreadful wire from Mother. Papa Feinman was deada heart attack on stage at Lodz. The blow was too much for me. I was as if paralyzed. For days on end, I was so listless that I couldn't stand up. I lost all interest in doing anythingin movement of any kind. I was helpless.

The whole burden fell on poor Feige. She took counsel with Moshele, a faithful devotee of the Feinmans. No one ever knew his second name. He was called "Moshele Feinman" for his boundless
devotion to the Feinmans. So Moshele ran to my father. Somehow he could never get to see him.

 In desperation, Moshele went to the labor leader Joseph Barondess. Besides being well known in that capacity, he was then also the head of the Yiddish Actors’ Union. He had no difficulty in finding my father, who promised him he would send me ten dollars a week.

When Mother returned from Europe, she immediately refused to take the ten dollars. Feige told her I hadn't been told about it. When Mother saw I was wearing mourning, she said I was not to do that. "You have a father.  May he live to be a hundred and twenty years old!"


 

CHAPTER 16

 
It is impossible to say with certainty just when I actually took my first step on the stage.

Until our Feige showed up my mother had to take me to rehearsal with her. Thus, when I was three weeks old, I was already backstage. However, I must admit my footsteps had not as yet touched the boards of the stage.

Even my first appearance on the stage before an audience was also done without my steps, as I was six months old, and even the doting Feige had to admit that I was not that brilliant a child as to be able to walk at six months. I'm referring here to the time, when out of necessity, my mother took me onto the stage instead of the stuffed dummy she was to hold in her arms for the scene. However, being alive, I moved and turned my eyes on the audience, thus receiving my first applause on stage. Yet, this too cannot be counted as a step on stage.

Neither can I be credited for a step on stage in the scene with the Turkish sultan when my mother dressed me up in a little Turkish costume and sat me down on the steps, leading up to the throne, to get even with Sara Adler for one of her frequent slurs.

As a child of actors I was already performing although without rehearsals, without any consent and without contracts. Therefore, it is not at all easy to ascertain with certainty when I actually took my first steps on stage. In the course of my career of many years, during my big successes, inspired theatrical reviewers and publicity agents wanted to begin their material with my very first steps. After much discussion back and forth, it was decided unanimously that my first speaking role should be accredited as my first step on stage.

I believe I recall that appearance very well, although sometimes a little doubt assails me. Perhaps the scene with all its details is so fresh in my memory because my mother retold it so eloquently and so often. My wonderfully devoted Feige would talk about it in even more detail. She virtually sizzled with delight as she told the story with all the fine points, not omitting the smallest minutiae. Be that as it may, the picture is very clearly engraved in my memory.

Jacob Gordin's famous play, “The Jewish King Lear,” was being performed. In the title role, Reb David Moshele, my father had created an unforgettable King Lear of imposing stature. In the first act in Reb David
Moshele's house, his three daughters: Ethele, Gitele and Taibele, sat at the festive table together with his two sons-in-law: Abraham Harif and Moshe Chosid. Things were still happy and gay at the table. It was in that very scene that I made my first appearance.

Those who know and remember the "Jewish King Lear" will surely wonder how I got there. There is no child's role in the play, except for an infant in a cradle during the third act, an inanimate bundle of rolled up rags.

But for me a role was written in for that performance. Although I wonder now why that was done, I've never asked anyone how that came about. I do recall very clearly how
Mother and Feige dressed me for the part. Mother put a pretty, little dress on me and Feige combed out my hair, weaved in a rose colored ribbon and tied it into a bow on top of my head.

I demanded that my mother smear my face with cosmetics as I saw her do with her own face
. I was so insistent that she took a stick of rouge from her makeup table and rubbed it over my little cheeks or just pretended she was doing it. I've loved the smell of cosmetics ever since.

When we left the dressing room, Mother held me by one hand and Feige by the other.

When we got to the door that led to the stage, my mother kissed me on both eyes and mumbled something. Then she ran to the other side of the stage to make her own entrance as Taibele. Feige remained with me, bent down to me and quietly went over the words in my role.

I looked her straight in the face and repeated the lines after her. She smiled, but tears flowed down her cheeks.

Whenever I saw Feige cry, I would embrace her, kiss her and ask her where she hurt. This time I somehow sensed she wasn't crying because something hurt her. I stroked her cheeks with my little hands and smiled at her.

Mary Wilensky now came to the entrance. She was playing "Ethele," my mother in the play. She bent over to me and kissed me on the nose.

"May my year be as bright as the way she shines."

As the door opened, Feige gave me a final kiss as Ethele and I made our entrance. My real Mother came in from the other side as Taibele. All said, "Happy Holiday, Grandpa; happy holiday, Mother."

“David Moshele," my grandfather in the play and my father Jacob P. Adler, bent over to me, kissed me and then lifted me up on the table and asked, "Well, my dear, and what have you to say to your grandfather?"

Into my ears he whispered, "Speak up, Celischka, speak up, darling!"

I answered, counting the words and nodded at each word with my little head:

"Happy holiday, dear Grandpa, Happy holiday. May you live with Grandma till next year, so you can again give presents!"

The audience laughed affectionately and applauded noisily.

My father kissed me again and again and then sat me down beside him.

As I was then about two-and-a-half years old, is it possible that I could really have remembered all this? It was the second season after the divorce. My doubt is strengthened by the fact that Sara Adler, who was close to the birth of her first daughter, my sister Nyunia, almost never came to the theatre at that time.

Probably I could know only from Feige's frequent telling of the story.

Generally speaking, I was then often backstage where all the acting and theatre personnel fussed over me and brought me presents. I was everyone's darling. That's how I remember it was in the third act of “Shulamith,” that the sheep herders would sit around the fire at night and sing the famous folk song, "Flicker, Little Fire, Flicker." The entire chorus and whomever happened to be backstage participated. If I was there, they would put me down among them with a bag of peanuts. I would sing along with them, crack the little nuts and pass the kernels around to all of them, throwing the shells into the fire.

What I really hold to be my first steps on the stage was my role in Papa Feinman's play “Chanale, the Finisher.” Feinman wrote the play especially for my mother and she was outstanding in it.

I recall that when Feinman was rehearsing me in the role, I disagreed with him on certain points in my scenes. I wanted to do them differently than the way he coached me. Papa Feinman was so fine a man and an artist that he tried my way, although I was only six. It seems that the scenes emerged so naturally and right into my logical, young hands, that the role was set my way. I had one scene in which as I lay dying, I sang a very sad duet with my grandfather. I still remember my deep sorrow and the real tears I shed over my dying. I was told later that there wasn't a dry eye in the audience. After that successful performance, Papa Feinman wrote roles for me in many of his plays.

I appeared in his dramatic operetta, “The Jewish Viceroy.” It dealt with the Spanish Inquisition and the life of a family of Marranos, secret Jews. I played a little Jewish boy. We practiced our religion secretly. Were we to be caught by the Inquisition, it meant torture and death.

David Kessler played my father and the foremost prima donna of the Yiddish theatre, the unforgettable Regina Prager, my mother. Her name carries with it a piece of history in our theatre.

I must be pardoned if I digress for a moment to give voice to the pain that has tormented me all through the writing of my story. Most of those about whom I write are no longer with us, not only those of the first generation but even from my own generation with whom I performed, lived, aspired, shared happiness as well as suffered and fought. So few are left. The heart hurts. The yearning for them and those eventful, shared times is very painful.

As hidden Jews, every bit of Jewishness had to be practiced quietly in the greatest secrecy. The Friday evening service ushering in the Sabbath was a scene in the first act of the operetta in which Madame Prager blesses the candles. The window shutters were closed and the curtains drawn.

Madame Prager stood at the table and blessed the candles in song in her powerful soprano voice, her fervor virtually splitting the heavens.
 

PHOTOS: FROM MY YEARS AS A CHILDREN’S ROLE PLAYER
 



Sigmund Feinman and I in “The White King.”
 

Four Child Roles
 

I recall my trembling with fear that Inquisitorial Police would break in at any moment and take us all to the Inquisition. I was so deeply engrossed in the play and in my role that one evening I begged my mother, Madame Prager, to soft-pedal her singing of the blessing a little, so “they” would not hear it.

She looked at me sweetly with her beautiful eyes and, stroking my little cheek, said: “It’s good that you feel this way, my child. The theatre audience will also feel it and that is good. It is also good, little Celia, that you feel the play so deeply.”

 

                                                                                                  CHAPTER 17

The happiest times of my childhood career on the Yiddish stage begin in the season of 1898-99 at the Thalia Theatre when I appeared in my first role in Jacob Gordin's repertory. I was nine and already knew more or less "where in was and where out was," and even in my childish way I began to have some inkling of what was going on in our theatrical world.

I recall very well the tremor in my heart when I sat beside my mother on the stage of the Thalia Theatre, together with our troupe, while Jacob Gordin read “Mirele Efros”, the female King Lear, his newest play. I remember this wonderfully impressive head with the beautiful black beard, streaked with grey. My awe was accompanied by a kind of fear and I clung closely to my mother.

I had then already heard much about Gordin's demands for strict behavior of actors at rehearsals and at performances of his plays. I often experienced the nervous excitement of the cast during these performances. "Be careful with your dialogue," the actors were warned, "Gordin is in the theatre." Many a performer got a sharp reprimand from him for delivering what is known in theatre parlance as "sleeve dialogue."

The following is a significant example of his insistence on strict discipline in the theatre. At the beginning of his career as a playwright, “The Pogrom” was being performed at the Roumanian Opera House on the Bowery. Gordin wanted the role of a "pristav" (a Russian police official) presented in Russian. The producers, Thomashevsky and Finkel, suggested that he play the role himself. His looks and magnificent Russian were custom-made for the role and Gordin allowed himself to be persuaded.

At the first performance the pristav was seated in a home of Jews who were pleading with him for a favor. A housewife, played by Bina Abramowitz, the best Yiddish "mother" on the Yiddish stage, brought him a platter of "gefilte fish” and said to him with a flattering little smile, "Eat with good health.”

That was in the lines of her role, but La Abramowitz quietly added an aside, "I hope he chokes." It could be that if Gordin had written the play few years later, he might have written in the line himself. But then, when he heard it from La Abramowitz, he banged the table and yelled, "Perestantie, eto nie napisano!" (“Stop, I did not write that!”) Luckily, he said it in Russian, as the role required. In those first years in America, it was very hard for Gordin to speak Yiddish, so the audience didn't catch on to the fact that he was scolding Madame Abramowitz for her "sleeve dialogue."

Until Jacob Gordin's advent, playwrights in general had little to say on the stage. The actors did whatever they pleased with a play. Gordin resented this deeply, and after some heartache and much effort was able to institute strict discipline in his actors toward his plays. Nevertheless, they allowed themselves to smuggle things in on the rare occasions when he wasn't on the spot. I witnessed an example a couple of years later, at a performance of his famous drama, “God, Man and Devil.” The last act is in three scenes—the first in the poor home of the worker Chatzkel Drachma when his half-dead son, Motel, is brought in from the prayer shawl factory where his hand was sucked into a machine, the second scene in the courtyard of Hershele Dubrovner's factory, right after Motel's accident, and the third at Hershele's business office when he strangles himself with the blood-soaked prayer shawl in which they brought Motel home.

Three such scenes, with their set changes, were no easy job for stage hands dealing with technically poor stage facilities. So, after the first few performances when Gordin no longer came, Kessler threw out the first scene.

I happened to be backstage one night at the Thalia when the last act was about to begin. The stage had been set for the second scene. A minute before curtain-rise, a breathless messenger ran in with the announcement that Gordin was in the theatre. Everyone was thrown into a frenzy. From all sides came the call, "The first scene goes on! The first scene goes on!" The stagehands hurriedly took to changing the sets and the actors, their costumes. In a few minutes the curtain rose on the first scene.

My fear and trembling at that reading now became understandable, and I discovered I wasn't the only one who was so affected. All the actors had listened to the reading with the utmost seriousness. There were no theatrical carryings-on, no jesting or snide criticism of the author or his script.

The following are the notable players who performed in the premiere of “Mirele Efros,” August 19, 1898:

Mirele Efros — Keni Lipzin
Yosele, her son — David Kessler
Donnie, her second son – Samuel Tobias
Machle, her servant – Mary Epstein
Reb Shalman, her business manager – Morris Moskowitz

As always, nostalgic pain assails me when I list such a cast. It was an honor and a pleasure to have been one of them. My pain is greater when I realize that of them all I am now the only one left alive.

As I have already said, my first professional child role in the Gordin repertory was in “Mirele Efros.” In that troupe was Samuel Tornberg, a comparatively young actor who played my grandfather. He was an exceptionally fine character comedian who really found himself in Gordin's repertory. His portrayal of Nuchem, Chane Dvoire's son and his Lazar Badchin were great artistic creations. He was, of course, delightful to work with. But we did not have him long. He was thirty-eight when he died in 1911—a great loss!

After the first performance, there was tremendous applause. There were many curtain calls and Jacob Gordin was in high spirits.

After the first performance, there was tremendous applause. There were many curtain calls and Jacob Gordin was in high spirits. Strongly complimenting each actor separately, he didn't let even little me get away from him. He gave me a "straw box of chocolates," and praised me highly, especially for my scene with the watch.

"I could see in your eyes how your mind worked and planned everything you’d say to your grandma. I’m sure the entire audience also saw it in your eyes. Celia, I want you to promise me that when you grow up and become a great actress, and I’m sure of that, you will always remember that the actor must have regard for what the author has written. His written words should never be mistreated by you. Remember this, Celia.”

He kissed me on the forehead again and again and I promised him with all my heart that I would always remember. For the next several years, whenever I performed in his plays, he would hand me from the orchestra pit a straw box of chocolates.

When I was about nine years old, Papa Feinman produced his operetta, “The Jews of Morocco.” In the last act there is a ball in the sultan’s palace and, as was the custom in Oriental countries, all kinds of entertainers were brought before the ruler, such as exotic female dancers and musicians playing instruments of that time, which emitted weird sounds. There were poisonous snakes and magicians.

Feinman added still another feature in the last act. Three Arabic children sang and danced a religio-patriotic song. The three children were played by Abie Simonoff, son of the well-known actor, Moshe Simonoff; Hymie Simowitz, the costume-maker’s son, and me Celia Feinman. While the two boys were not actors, they had been exposed to theatre from infancy. Abie's sister, Betty Simonoff, of the magnificent voice, was a star prima donna in the Yiddish theatre.

We three children, wearing beautiful oriental costumes, sang:

"Oh, Allah, Allah, long life to Allah, Allah!
Who is as generous as Mohammed?
He even provides us with raisins and apfilav in our sleep."

Our trio became so popular in the Yiddish theatrical world that we were featured as an added attraction.

The first to do that, actually, was the actor Moshe Simonoff. Actor's benefits were an important part of an actor's seasonal income. They were designated "honor nights." That was so much more respectable than charity, which might be implied by a term such as "benefit evening" for the actor. When the actors were engaged by the theatre for the season, stipulated in the terms was a benefit evening, entitling them to half or all the box office receipts. During the season, second or third-echelon actors, too, would arrange such an evening for themselves.

Ambitious actors would do it because in that evening, they could appear in roles they wanted to play, but couldn't obtain otherwise because of their "status" in the theatre. For others, it was simply a matter of making the few hundred dollars that they needed so badly. They would sell tickets to relatives, friends and 'landsleit,' and friendly organizations. They well knew that they couldn't count on the general public's attending in sufficient numbers. Only popular stars could expect that on their honor nights.

To illustrate the difference between the understanding and feeling of the mediocre actor and one of talent, let alone genius, here is an interesting anecdote.

The scene is in an operetta in which an old general is mustering his army before the Sultan who is about to decorate them for bravery. The entire role of the general consisted of his crossing the stage at their head, uttering the command, "One, two, one, two...." Understandably, this small role was assigned to one of the little-known actors, of which there is always a supply in every troupe.

I have found in my experience that there are two categories of that type of actor. One consists of those ambitious to emerge from obscurity as soon as possible. They are actors who endeavor to inject creativity into even small seemingly insignificant roles and thus reveal whatever they possess. This in turn leads to important roles and progress as artists.

A second category consists of actors who make no effort to develop their small roles or even play them as well as they merit. With them it's a lost cause. They underrate everyone except themselves. To try hard and learn the insignificant words of their roles would demean them. Were they permitted to play David Moshele in “King Lear” or Ben Zion in “The Madman,” they would show Adler up. Or, given the roles of "Hershele Dubrovner" or "Schlomke, the Charlatan," Kessler would get a drubbing.

In my anecdote the actor who was to play the old general was of this second category. Kessler had just finished the second act, the audience had applauded him stormily and he was getting off the stage a happy man when he encountered the actor, made up and costumed for his role as the old general in the next act. He said to Kessler, "Things are dandy for you, Mr. Kessler. The moment you get on the stage, a spot is placed on you and follows you wherever you move. You take your stand and knock out a monologue that is chock-full of smart phrases the audience is bound to applaud. Things are just wonderful for you, and you can definitely be the great David Kessler. But what about me? What can I do with my role that is as big as a yawn? Can I get the audience to applaud my 'One, two; one, two'? In such roles you, too, wouldn't get any applause."

Kessler happened to be in a good mood and anxious to console the unhappy actor. But the actor persisted on his viewpoint.

Kessler asked him, "You know the Yiddish alphabet well, don't you?" "
Naturally, what a question!" the man exclaimed. “Very well, I am going to perform it for you. He proceeded to recite it, putting so much outpouring of soul and pathos into it that it seemed he was experiencing the most difficult moments in a man's life. He was merely reciting the alphabet.

The actor actually wiped the tears from his eyes, but he didn't give in. "That's nothing, just an actor's little trick. Many actors can do the same thing.

 "All right," said Kessler, "I'm not due on stage until the end of the act. Give me your regimental outfit and I'll take on your role. The audience won't recognize me. There will be no spot."

And Kessler went onstage as the old general. He didn't even utter the words, "One, two, one, two. But his whole body, each separate part of it rose and fell according to the rhythm, "One, two, one, two," which came out of his mouth like tortured sounds in the throat. His entire appearance was so pitifully funny that by the time he had barely done half his march reaching the middle of the stage, the theatre rocked with laughter and applause. We all stood around in deep admiration.

I don't know what the actor learned from him. But I've always
considered Kessler's lecture as the real beginning of my career from the point of view understanding acting.
 

CHAPTER 18

The reputation of our young trio grew very rapidly. The "three-nines," as they were called, became better known from month to month. Moshe Simonoff's daring inspiration to present us at his "honor evening" was tremendously successful. Several other actors seized on the idea with excellent results and good receipts on their honor evenings. We brought more people to the box office than they ever imagined in their wildest dreams. The "three-nines," the troupe jested, pulled in a full house every time—wonderful poker.

Our trio hardly cost the beneficiary anything, for even the greatest stars performed at an honor evening for a "thank you."
 
But for us this was all together a pleasant triumph as, at our age, love for the theatre burned very brightly. Besides, the beneficiaries would give us little gifts that sent us into seventh heaven.

At one of the benefits, we played the first act of Goldfaden's “Shulamith.” It was certainly a daring, innovation to entrust such roles and songs to nine-year-old children. But we studied the operetta very thoroughly. Abie Simonoff played Avisholem; Hymie Simowitz was his black, Zingetang; I, of course, was Shulamith.

The wandering Shulamith suffers agonizing thirst under the hot desert sun and begs God to perform a miracle for her as He did for Hagar and Ishmael, Abraham's concubine and their son. His wife, Sarah, had induced him to expel them from the household and God had rescued them from burning thirst. Suddenly, there it is—a well. But though there is a rope, there is no bucket. Desperate, Shulamith winds the rope around herself and descends into the depths of the well. She quenches her thirst but then can't get out of the well, poor thing. From its depths, she cries out.

It is plain that such a role is not an easy matter for a little nine-year-old girl, especially as the entire scene is done in song.

With mother, sitting in the first loge of the theatre, was the famous Bertha Kalich, one of the greatest prima donnas in our theatre as well as on Broadway. She had made herself famous in the role of Shulamith. She was so overwhelmed by my performance of that difficult scene and my singing of the famous songs that she applauded and cried, "Bravo, bravo.” Infected by her enthusiasm, the theatre stormed its applause.

But Shulamith was still in the depths of the well and had to be rescued. Avisholem with his servant, Zingetang, appear.

Avisholem takes his time and sings the famous classic, "Raisins and Almonds." Then he says, "Now that I've eaten, although not enough, it would be good to wash the meal down with water." He approaches the well and hears the cries of Shulamith. For a moment he thinks he is hearing the voice of a ghost
and is terrified. Perhaps it is an evil spirit. But soon he is convinced that it is the voice of a woman. He pulls her out of the well. Shulamith is a great beauty and, of course, he falls in love with her at once. She responds and a cat appears. They vow eternal love for each on the cat and the well, singing the famous duet, "The Well and the Cat.” Avisholem then embraces and kisses her.

But the nine-year-old Abe was very shy and couldn't bring himself to touch me. So I took his reluctant arm and wound it around my waist.

I don't know whether the audience saw it, but Madame Kalich and Mother did and Kalich burst, into such hysterical laughter that she actually fell out of her seat.

So it turned out that Hymie, who played Zingetang, was also in love with me and he steadily competed with Abie. He didn't like it at all that Abie was my lover on the stage. In keeping with his role he runs around wildly and yells that he also wants "such a thing, such a one, such a girl." But he did what was not in the script, fell between Abie and me, grabbed my hands and wound them around his neck. The uproarious laughter of that audience I might wish all comedians.

Aware of the constant rivalry between my two "lovers," my mother beamed over Hymie's inspiration. As it turned out, his infatuation with me lasted much longer than Abie's. Neither of them pursued a theatrical career, Abie becoming a lawyer and Hymie a big real estate man. As a grownup I hardly ever met Abie, but although Hymie's business is all the way out in California, he calls me up whenever he comes to New York. We meet and spend hours in sweet reminiscence of long ago, singing again many of the songs of that theatre of yesteryear. The moment he hears my voice when he calls me, he sings a little song of ours from that time:


The Passover Feast is glorious for us Jews,
Drinking wine, singing fine, lovely songs,

In praise of God who freed us from Egyptian slavery,
And brought us to Jerusalem.

I join him in the singing of the duet, and not until the end of the little song, do I ask, "Hymie, when did you get here?"

After our huge success in “Shulamith,” another beneficiary announced us in a special notice, "The famous artistic trio, the three beloved child stars, Celia Feinman, Abie Simonoff, and Hymie Simowitzin the first act of ‘Bar Kochba.’"

Abie Simonoff played the hero, Bar Kochba, Hymie Simowitz the comic Papus, and I, Dina, in love with Bar Kochba and he, with me. We have beautiful singing love scenes.

Hymie, as Papus, again suffers, poor fellow, from the first act on. I, as Dina, sing the very sad song about the destruction of the temple "Weep, All Ye Daughters of Zion, Weep, All Ye Sisters, One by One." The entire chorus stands in back of me just as if I were a grownup "prima donna."

Papus declares his love for me, Dina, in song. He is not prepossessing, poor fellow; blind in one eye, he has a crooked leg and is, in general, ugly. Ostensibly, he is a dealer in expensive jewelry, but actually he is a spy for the Romans. He is faint with love for Dina although he knows she is in love with the heroic Bar Kochba and that he cannot compete with the handsome hero. He lays all his diamonds and precious stones at her feet, hoping for at least a friendly glance. But she laughs at him, throws the ornaments in his face and shames him in public. Poor Hymie, in his genre as comedian, he was always at the wrong end of the stick.

One morning I awoke with a high fever. I was to play in “Bar Kochba” that night. The beneficiary was informed that I was sick and wouldn't be able to play. He came to my home in despair, and when he saw that I was really ill he became very worried over me. But he was even more feverish than I about finding a child to replace me that evening.

Well, it seems
, God was good. Wandering around the theatres at that time was a thin little boy with big, lively eyes, about thirteen. His name was Charlie. The desperate beneficiary was seeking help from everyone in the theatre and Charlie was suggested. It was not easy to convince him that the emaciated Charlie could play Dina. His voice was somewhat falsetto and he knew practically all the roles, as he had seen “Bar Kochba” many times.

So skinny Charlie played my role that evening. He managed so well with it that the audience was unaware of Celia Feinman's absence, that Celia Feinman was really Charlie Cohan, the same Charlie Cohan who later became very successful and made a name for himself on the English vaudeville stage. He is also the Cohan who was the financial secretary of the Yiddish theatrical union for several decades, as well as the secretary of the Yiddish Theatrical Alliance.

The practice of exploiting young Celia Feinman for actor's benefits went very far. A brand new idea hit one actor and he put on for his "honor evening" “The Gypsy,” a noted operetta of that time by Professor Moshe Horowitz, as he called himself. Bertha Kalich was playing the leading role. He conceived of the idea that I, instead of Bertha, should play the role.

She not only agreed but undertook to coach me. I remember well how devotedly and with how much affection she involved herself. She prepared me well, put on my makeup and dressed me on the evening of the performance. She seemed unable to take her eyes off me, for as she said I looked so beautiful as the gypsy.” As I came off the stage at the end of the first act, my mother and she embraced and lavished me with kisses. It was an evening of great excitement and triumph for my mother and me, as well as for Madame Kalich.

And now something happened that none of us had anticipated. The Gary Society, which prohibited children under fourteen from performing at night without its permission, stepped in. A box office employee, recognizing the Gary Society's official, sent a quick message to hide Celia Feinman as the Society was coming to arrest her.

I was pushed into a clothes closet and the actress, Mary Epstein, plunked herself in front of it. Being considerably hefty, she blocked out the door. The Gary official maintained that there was a child, as he had seen her and said that he would wait in the theatre until the end of the play. It goes without saying that the moment he left the stage, I was smuggled out and taken home. Madame Kalich quickly stepped into the role.

When I think of my years as a child player in the Yiddish theatre, between the ages of nine and twelve, I am enveloped by a sweet, warm nostalgia and I mourn a little for the loss of the "Golden Epoch of Yiddish Theatre." I had the privilege of being a close witness as well as a participant of this brilliant theatre. The high point of Jacob Gordin's creativity brought about this rich theatrical harvest.

I must designate those times as the "First Golden Epoch," because there was a "Second Golden Epoch" in which I was to play a much closer part than with the first—namely the establishment of the Yiddish Art Theatre.

During the "First Golden Epoch" Gordin enriched the Yiddish theatre with such great plays as the already mentioned “Mirele Efros,” and then, one after the other: “The Slaughter,” “God, Man and Devil,” “The Oath” and “Sappho.” I cannot and will not limit my reminiscences of those creative years merely to my performances. Thanks to those plays and the works of several other literary giants, enormous theatrical powers materialized which raised the Yiddish Theatre to a kind of immortality. Not only did the plays and the performances inspire our own more discerning audiences, but the entire American theatrical world that was enthusiastic about our theatre.

As to what Jacob Gordin meant for most actors of that time, what his plays with their richly drawn characters did for their performances is worth the attention of all actors and people who work in the theatre up and down town. The noted literary critic, Yoel Entin, said, "It was Gordin who first really revealed Adler's grandeur, probed the depth of Kessler's temperament, the truthfulness of Sara Adler's portrayals, gave reign to the delightfully mad Mogulesco, tore one's heart with love for the beautiful, intelligent, regal Bertha Kalich. In Gordin's plays were created brand new Tornbergs, Moskowitzes and Blanks." Most of the critics and reviewers concurred with Entin. It was not only the second echelon of actors who benefited when they worked with Gordin, but even the greatest and most recognized stars of those years grew in stature.

In the beginning, the wonderful Bertha Kalich had achieved fame as a prima donna, in Europe and later in America, especially in the operettas of Goldfaden. She was strongly drawn toward drama and had made several attempts in that direction, but it was not until she appeared in Gordin's plays that she became one of the most renowned dramatic actresses of that time.

Her first role in a Gordin play was as Freidence in “God, Man and Devil.” So impressed was he with her performance that by the end of that season, he had written the distinguished drama “Sappho” especially for her. Her graceful figure, wonderful voice, and her amazing dramatic power, not revealed until then, placed her at the very pinnacle of dramatic theatre. She was truly in a class by herself and at a time when there was no dearth of female theatrical talent in our theatre. We had Keni Lipzin, Sara Adler, Bessie Thomashevsky, Dina Feinman, and Sophie Karp, who were classed with the greatest acting artists on the world stage and deservedly so. Thus Bertha Kalich's rise to the very top echelon was a tremendous breakthrough. The critics, the public and the entire Jewish theatrical family agreed that she was entitled to the honored place she held.

I had a rather special relationship with Bertha Kalich. To begin with she was directly responsible for my remaining on the stage. Second, she gave me affection, personal devotion and enthusiastically helped me theatrically during my childhood career.

I learned much from her and when later I was studying a role, I remembered her frequently and asked myself, "How would she have done this scene?” In my very beginning years as a grown actress, when I knew she was in the audience I was especially anxious to please her.

In 1921, I was playing in Philadelphia at the theatre of my beloved friend, Anshel Schorr. Incidentally, in the Yiddish theatrical world Anshel Schorr was called "The Bismarck of the Yiddish Theatre." I was then already the mother of a little boy. A theatre road-city, even one as large as Philadelphia, is generally much more difficult for an actor to play in than New York. Plays are changed more frequently, which means continual rehearsals.

In Philadelphia there was a special problem. We weren't allowed to play on Sundays. So every Sunday we had to travel to either Newark, Atlantic City, Baltimore, or Washington to give the two Sunday performances. I was the star, heaven help me, and each role was as long as "The Exile" as well as very difficult. One had to study and master such a role nearly every week, and sometimes an additional one for a special performance.

So, after a week of hard work, performing, rehearsals, learning a role and attending to costumes, you had to get up even earlier on Sunday than weekdays, dash to the train and get to another city to do two performances. It was not only very difficult physically but full of stress psychologically.

One Sunday when we traveled to Washington I'd had an exceptionally difficult week in Philadelphia. To top it, my little Zelik'l had deprived me of several hours sleep. When I almost literally fell into the Washington theatre that Sunday afternoon, I was drained of every bit of strength my small and not too strong body possessed. Anshel Schorr saw how tired I was and was very concerned. He sent out for a glass of hot chocolate for me and practically held the glass to my lips.

For the matinee, the play was no less than Jacob Gordin
's “The Orphan.” I couldn't imagine how, in my condition, I could go through so demanding a role as "Chashe." Anshel came to my dressing room and sat with me while I was making up, completely drained and without zeal or courage. He tried perking me up and was very sweet.

I had seen the large posters at the entrance of the theatre announcing the appearance in English of Bertha Kalich in Maeterlinck's famous “Mona Vanna.” She was to open the next day. Doubtless she would make up before this very mirror. I didn't even recall, at the time, that I was playing that afternoon in the role premiered by Kalich years before.

At last, more dead than alive, I was standing back stage at my entrance door, waiting for the cue. At the last minute, Anshel was beside me having run from the theatre onto the back stage. "Celia," he whispered, "Bertha Kalich has just come into the theatre. She said she must see her Celia in her role.”

It was as if an electric current ran through my spine. I looked at him with pried-open eyes. But here was my cue and he actually pushed on to the stage. In the few moments when the audience met me with their applause, customary in Jewish theatre at the entrance of a star, my lips murmured, "Dear God, give me the strength not to fail her.

From that moment I began warming up to the role and also sensed that the audience was warming up to my performance, a tremendous stimulant to a performer.

As soon as the curtain fell on the first act, Anshel ran to me. He was beaming and pointed out on which side Kalich was sitting. So, at curtain call, I made a special bow toward her and threw her a kiss, although I couldn't actually see her. As the play unfolded, I began to feel satisfied that I was playing well. After each act a happy Anshel came to me to show me to which side Kalich had moved. I bowed in that direction. After the last act, I bowed to the center of the theatre where Anshel informed me she was now sitting.

There was a great deal of applause, the curtain rose again and again, until at last I fell exhausted into Anshel's arms, whereupon he kissed me in front of the whole audience.

“You would have gotten that kiss from Kalich for your great performance today had she been in the theatre, Celia. She isn't even in Washington yet. She was a figment of my imagination. I used it to pull you together. I saw you might not be able to go through with the performance. Please forgive me for my subterfuge."

I was struck dumb for a moment. It was as if I had fallen out of heaven. And then I laughed happily at his clever inspiration. ”Thanks, Anshel! They don't call you the Bismarck of the Yiddish Theatre for nothing!"

 

                                                                                                  CHAPTER 19

I was already over ten years of age when I played Jennytschka in Jacob Gordin's “Sappho.” For the sake of historical accuracy, I wish to correct an error concerning this role. In the Theatre Lexicon, and in the beautiful edition of Jacob Gordin's ten dramas issued in 1911 by “The Circle of Friends of Jacob Gordin,” it is stated that my sister, Frances Adler, played the role at the first performance. But the fact is that I played it in the premier. There is also another error in the Lexicon. In listing the cast of the premier of Gordin's “The Oath, or, Ranie, the Postmistress,” Ben Zion, the child role, is listed as having been played by Celia Adler. The name did not yet exist. It should have read Celia Feinman.

I recall this incident not because of the error's depriving me of the involved credit, but to reveal a secret. I've never told anyone till this moment that my role as Jennytschka was not to my liking. I was ten and didn't relish being an illegitimate child, even of the beautiful Sappho.

On her wedding day, the cultivated, beautiful Sophie discovers her sister, Lisa, in her bridegroom's arms. She refuses to marry him, although she is already bearing his child, and forces him to marry Lisa the next day.

Sophie's child—that's me—is born several months later.

When I played the child in “Mirele Efros,” I was unhappy that my good, beloved mother was playing the wicked daughter-in-law, Sheyndele, who was causing the great Mirele so much injury and unhappiness. Theatre audiences in general suffered over the anguish of characters, such as Mirele.

I suffered doubly when, in “Sappho,” my mother portrayed Manischke, the unpleasant, ignorant legitimate wife of Appalon who was so desperately in love with the magnificent Sophie. He had been forced into a marriage with Maria, because her ambitious, rude but wealthy father was paying for his musical education.

"The extremely warm sympathies of a 'participating' audience with its heroes and its fierce animosities toward the villains in a play was analyzed by the highly talented journalist M
. Osherowitch, a respected long-time co-worker in "The Forward," in a superbly written piece on Yiddish theatre. I value his taking up the cudgels for our theatre and have always been grateful for his warm good-nature toward actors. His masterfully written book, “David Kessler and Muni Weisenfreund (Paul Muni), Two Generations of Yiddish Theatre,” he speaks of theatre audiences with affectionate understanding and appreciation of their warmth. The famed Russian director, Taairov, states,

"At a performance of 'Othello,’ a viewer became so angry with the actor who was brilliantly playing the villain, Iago, that he drew a revolver and shot him to death. Immediately realizing the enormity of what he had done, he turned the gun on himself. Both were buried in one grave and the inscription on their headstone read, 'Here lie two
a talented actor and a talented viewer.'"

And Osherowitch says, "The Yiddish theatre had many such talented viewers and it is virtually a miracle that there weren't more victims among our great actors. Perhaps it was because our better actors, the great hearted artists of the Yiddish stage, didn't like portraying villains and arousing the ire of audiences who loved them. The wooden actors who did portray such characters on the stage played so weakly, that they didn't even deserve to be shot.”

An interesting example of this Jewish audience idiosyncrasy is an occurrence during one of my father's performances at the Monument National Theatre in Montreal, Canada in “The Jewish King Lear.” In the third act, my father as David Moshele is in the home of his eldest daughter, Ethele. Selfish and stingy, she economizes on him where food is concerned. Schemaye, his loyal servant, pleads with Ethele to give her hungry father food, "He hasn't eaten today."

"All he thinks about is eating. You'd think a person would have something else on his mind. Why don't you sit and read a book?"

Understandably, the theatre audience is very wrought up at the mean daughter, their hearts full of pity for the hungry father. Adler projected his hunger pangs graphically, his huge anguished eyes tearing at the hearts of the audience. One of them could no longer endure it, rose to his feet and angrily made for the stage yelling at the top of his voice, "Let her go to hell, Yakob, that vicious daughter of yours. She has a stone instead of a heart, and you won't get a crumb tonight. Spit on her, Yankele, and come to my house! My wife will give you food, you'll enjoy. Come, Yankele. Let her choke, that lowdown daughter of yours! Come to my house!"

When my mother was appearing at the Pavilion Theatre in London, a similar incident occurred, also in a play by Gordin.

Evidently he had the talent to so paint a dramatic situation that it moved the lively hearts of an audience. The play was “The Orphan” and my mother was playing Chashe, "the orphan," the lead role. Chashe, a servant in her rich aunt's home, is in love with Vladimir, and he with her. The girl is in seventh heaven, so much so that she gives herself to him completely. When her aunt discovers it, she drives Chashe out. But young Vladimir is conscience stricken and marries her. He, in turn, is driven out.

In the following act, they already have the child. But, Vladimir, the spoiled son of a wealthy house, is too lazy to do anything. They have nothing to live on and the rich parents won't help them. They live in a very poor, inadequate dwelling and are in deep trouble. Of course Vladimir regrets the whole affair.

He comes home late one
night somewhat drunk and very angry over his fate. He speaks rudely to Chashe, scowls at the child. Poor Chashe weeps and mourns over her misfortune. The theatre audience grinds its teeth at Vladimir and sheds tears with Chashe.

Suddenly, in his frustration, Vladimir orders Chashe to pull his boots off. That got one of the female viewers completely burned up. Although she was way up in the gallery, her screaming voice carried over the entire theatre. "Don't, Dina. Don't do it! He can darn well pull off his own boots. Don't do it, Dina!" It is noteworthy that, in all cases, the carried-away member of the audience used the name of the actor, not the character in the play.

 Jewish viewers participate intensely in the play itself, but their beloved actors remain the characters to be defended.

 

                                                                                                CHAPTER 20

There are so many wonderful songs full of longing for this “sweet, lovely childhood years which pass away so quickly,” but they never moved me, as my confused family life hardly sweetened my childhood.

 When one of our folk poets cried out:

“With horse and wagon driving faster,
Perhaps I could still catch up with my childhood years.”

 And when the poet pleads for the return of his young years, here is the answer:

“No, we won’t return,
There’s no return,
You’d be right, earlier
To humiliate us as you did.”

But now, digging into that time, nostalgia has set in. Recollections and impressions out of my childhood fill my heart with warmth. It has become evident to me how, during the years from nine to about thirteen, my theatrical intelligence and talent unfolded. I became conscious of theatre magic and a part of a unique theatrical dynasty that grew stronger, greater, artistically richer, and more beloved by theatre audiences from day to day.

 Right then, as a reckless, not fully grown person, I literally saw with my eyes and felt with my hands, the huge edifice being constructed so magically, the miracle theatre loved by thousands upon thousands by both Jewish-speaking and English-speaking audiences, a theatre that kept alive a whole and worthy culture in an alien land in which Americanization was so strongly advocated that the second generation tried to completely blot out that beautiful culture and its language.

So the question arises here, why shouldn’t all this have been grasped by Celia Adler when she was embarking on her career as a grown actress—when she should have begun to sense the larger meaning of her vocation?

The answer lies perhaps in that when, as a grown-up, I be
gan to take my first steps, I was immediately sucked into the swamp of picayune backstage politics.

Although, as is the case of any young actress, a role demanded my entire effort, my last ounce of understanding and ability, I ha
d constantly to keep watchful eyes on all sides to prevent being tripped up, to look behind me for a knife to be thrust into my back. In such situations you can't see the whole of anything, feel creation, the creation of your role. You’re too involved, taken up only with yourself, protecting your skin.

But then, there were the good things. Far from politics a
nd gossip, the naive childish eye, the not yet too developed little brain could be caught up in the greater theatre, above fear or hindrance.

And although my understanding of the theatre was still amateur, undeveloped, I nevertheless felt the enormous breakthro
ughs in the Gordin epoch of Kalich and Kessler, of Mogulesco and Tornberg, of Moskowitz and Lipzin, of Dina Feinman and Blank. I long deeply for those years. I would like to "run after them with horse and buggy…. "

I recall my intense happiness when, as if out of the blue sky, our theatre was to be enriched by an enormous theatrical power. He was coming from abroad. My heart leapt for joy when I saw the huge announcement on the posters that the "emperor among performers, Morris Morrison," would be appearing in our theatre." When I was, l told that I would portray a child in his first play, “She is Insane,” my happiness was boundless.

The hearty warmth of Morrison still glows in my memory. He had a devoted attitude toward both the theatre and his fellow actors, and especially to me. He interpreted to me so clearly and understandably the country boy I was to play, that by the fourth rehearsal, I played my role so well that he named me “little frying fish" (teenager).

Yet, although he uttered it affectionately, somehow I didn't like it as it seemed repulsive to me. When he became aware that I wasn't happy with the nickname, he told me that on the German stage there is a kind of role know as Frying Fish. "You, little Celia, would become famous in our theatre as a 'frying fish’ actress.”

At the end of the last act, Morrison's role calls for his death. As soon as the curtain fell, he left the stage. The audience applauded loudly and there were several curtain calls. The cast, recognizing them, took their bows. But the audience yelled for Morrison. The cast remained on stage waiting for Morrison to return. In his dressing room, Morrison heard the tumult; he sent his attendant to find out what the yelling was about. When he was told, he sent back a message which the attendant delivered on stage, "He says he can't bow; he's dead."

I heard only the words, "He is dead." Breathlessly I ran in hysterical despair into Morrison's dressing room. There he was, sitting at the mirror, removing his makeup. I fell on his neck and cried, pointing to the attendant, "He said you were dead."

Morrison broke into deep, chesty laughter, "Why yes, my little one, I do die at the end of the play, and I never come out to bow after I die in a role. We don't do that abroad."

Our theatrical children's club, organized by us about that time, arranged to give a performance to raise money for our treasury. We hired the theatre hall of the Educational Alliance on East Broadway and Jefferson Street. The play, “The Bells,” was to be performed in English. We studied it thoroughly and advertised it ourselves, among the school children in our various schools. Tickets were twenty-five cents and, wonder of wonders, not only all the seats in this immense hall were sold out but there were calls for standing room.

The club members, chiefly the children of well-known actors, were Lily Kalich, Ida Kessler, Joe Feinman, Freddy Bernstein, Abie Simonoff, Hymie Simowitz, Willy Wilensky, Tessie and Rose Abramowitz and
several others.

The
time came for the performance to begin. The directors of the Educational Alliance informed us that before we raised the curtain, she had to go out and make an announcement to the audience. Something about the supercilious way in which she looked at us made us suspicious. So we listened attentively.

Thus we heard her address the audience in very fancy English: "Ladies and ge
ntlemen, as directress of the Recreational Division of the Educational Alliance, I consider it my duty to announce to you that we assume no responsibility for this evening's performance. The group playing for you today hired the hall from us and paid the full fee. Therefore they carry the full responsibility for the performance.  If, after my statement, anyone now wants to leave, I shall see to it that they return your money."

You can readily imagine how we felt. Our despair and anger rose by the minute. Even revenge was mentioned. What to do?! I don't know where I got the courage, as later in my life I never reacted this way, no matter what the provocation. But then I suddenly stood up, took a good look at everyone with my big, pried-open eyes, not saying a word I got out in front of the audience. I waited until the audience got quiet. I can swear to it that I remember my speech, word for word.

"I want to tell you who is in the group playing here tonight, after the announcement by the Alliance directress a few minutes ago. Lily is the daughter of Bertha Kalich, Ida, the daughter of David Kessler; Joe, the son of Sigmund Feinman; Freddy, the son of Berl Bernstein; Tessie and Rose, the daughters of Bina Abramowitz—children of artists you all know and love. I assure you we shall give a performance that will not disgrace them. Maybe the directress doesn’t understand that, but you, I am sure, do.”

 A wave of applause and no one went to get money back.
 

 From my Young Roles as Celia Feinman
 

At last the time came when the theatre had no place for me. I was too old to play children's roles and too young to play grownups.

Generally, the years from thirteen up to seventeen or eighteen are a period of uncertainty, a time of a variety of needs, curious unpredictable changes of character, personality and looks.

I was no exception. Among other things that were happening to me, I suddenly lost my entire interest in the theatre. In fact I felt an aversion to it. I didn't even have the desire or the curiosity to attend a performance. I stopped thinking about becoming an actress. I even considered it a piece of luck that I could no longer be cast in children's roles. In short, I firmly resolved never again to act.

No matter how much I've dug into that time to grope for the reasons for this aversion to the theatre, I've found nothing.

But I did, at this time, begin to feel a very strong leaning toward teaching. Having studied the piano with much feeling and some success, I wanted to become a piano teacher. As I have intimated earlier it was Bertha Kalich who inspired me to remain in the theatre.

She was by this time playing on the English stage with great success. Her husband, Leopold Spachner, remained the manager of the Windsor Theatre on the Bowery at Canal Street. At her insistence, she agreed to give five performances in Yiddish for the opening of his new season — five plays from her Yiddish repertory.

Among the five plays was Sudermann's famous drama, “Die Heimath, or, Magda.” Many years before she'd had a great success in that play as Magda, but now they ran up against a very difficult casting situation. There is a role
in the play of the sixteen-year-old girl, Marie, Magda’s younger sister. In the past this had been no problem in the Yiddish theatre—Jewish actresses of any age played such roles when needed. All the actress had to do was let down her own hair in a braid, shorten the dress up several inches and there was the young girl. Never mind that she was too heavy by tens of pounds and that her legs were thick and far from those of a teenager. Who would be hurt by it?

But Kalich, having left such theatrical crimes behind her in her few years on the English stage, decided that a young actress must be obtained for the role. As there were none in that theatre's troupe, Spachner tried to dissuade her, in vain. Heads went into conference — what to do? Here Kalich spoke up, "Why not get Celia Feinman? She is just the right age and has the looks the role demands."

 Spachner came to talk with my mother to permit me to play the role. Mother assured him that she had nothing against it, but that the decision was up to me. When I was called in I was amazed to see Spachner in our house. Although his daughter Lily was my best chum, and I often went to their home and she came to ours, I hardly ever met Spachner, and when I did I found him not the most affable of men—just stiff and business-like. But now he greeted me rather warmly, but spoke crisply.

"Celia, you're to come to the Windsor Theatre for rehearsal tomorrow morning at eleven.”

I glanced at my mother in amazement, then said, “Youre making a mistake, Mr. Spachner. What have I to do with a rehearsal? I’m not playing any more. I neither can nor want to.”

I looked at mother for approbation. But she had a curious smile on her face and said nothing.

Spachner stared at me, as if I were out of my mind. “What kind of foolishness is that, Celia? Ye Gods, I came to invite you to play with Bertha Kalich in “Magda” and you turn me down! Do you understand what it means? An important role, Celia, a role second only to Magda. You can’t be that foolish, even if you’re only sixteen. I’ll expect you at rehearsal tomorrow.”

I again glanced at mother. The curious, wise smile was still there. I spoke up with a sure tone.

“I appreciate your taking the trouble to come to me. I needn’t tell you how much I love Madame Kalich, how highly I esteem her. But I’m no longer an actress and won’t have anything to do with the theatre. I don’t intend ever to play again. My plans for the future are different. Please excuse me.”

I ran to my room, glad I had gotten through my refusal, certain that finished it. But I was wrong. My destiny had already been decided.

Early next morning the lively, the majestic Bertha Kalich came to our house. We embraced very warmly. We hadn’t seen each other for several years and she marveled at how well I had grown up.

“Celia, dear, you don’t know how wonderfully suited you are to the role of Marie in “Magda.” Leopold tells me you don’t want to play anymore. No doubt you have your reasons for it. Heaven forbid that I influence your decision. But, dearest, playing the one performance with me need not change that decision. I beg you, Celia dear, to do me this favor. We did, after all, love each other once.”

I had virtually deified her during the years when I played children's roles with her. I always cherished the warmth with which she had treated me in those years. The adored Bertha Kalich was pleading with me. Who could withstand her? And one performance need not change my decision.

I played my first role as a grownup. In the play are the parents, an intensely religious, aristocratic family, the father a former military man in the capitol of a province. In her youth, Magda had run away from home to become an actress. Her father wouldn't forgive her.

Magda does not appear until the second act, but Marie is practically on stage throughout the first act, in which she discovers that Magda, whom she hasn't seen for ten years, has become a famous prima donna and has just returned to the city. Presently, through the window, she sees the carriage stopping at their door. As she watches, her famous sister alights. Will she come into the house? Will her strict father allow it?

 It is a scene devoutly to be desired by any actor—Oh, to have the end of an act all to oneself! Marie trembles and flutters with youthful enthusiasm mixed with hope and fear and then with ecstasy as she sees her lovely sister and utters a quiet prayer that her father may relent.

The curtain falls and the theatre storms with applause.

I wanted to run off the stage when someone called out, "Stay where you are, Celia, bow." I was alone on the stage. The curtain rose and fell several times. The audience called and yelled my name. I stood with closed eyes, frozen and panicky. My heart beat, beat!

When I finally got off the stage, Bertha Kalich kissed and hugged me to her heart. Leading me into her dressing room she put me down in her arm chair and then, standing before me said, "I don't know, Celia, why, you've turned against the theatre. I can't understand it. You are blessed with so much talent that giving up the stage is practically a sin. A great and wonderful career awaits Celia Feinman in the theatre."

I sat frozen before her, looked at her with enchanted love-filled eyes. I couldn't utter a word. I felt as though an electric current was coursing through my whole body.

Her words burned into my mind for days and weeks. Her great, warm, dedicated eyes would not let me be. I couldn't find peace with myself until at last I began to feel the desire for the theatre. Bertha Kalich had conquered me.

But she had not quite hit one mark; Celia Feinman didn't have that big career in the theatre. Celia Adler did.

To be completely correct, I must add to Bertha Kalich two more accomplices guilty of my return to the theatre. They are my mother and a theatre critic from "The Forward" of those years.

The little fire kindled by my performance of a role, forced on me, glowed quietly in my heart. Several days later, my mother showed me a theatrical review in "The Forward" and with her wise, mild and significant smile told me:

"I've already heard many times from you that you no longer have any intention of remaining in the theatre. Nevertheless it will perhaps interest you to read what was written about you in "The Forward."

 My first reaction was to pretend I wasn’t interested, but curiosity got the best of me.

The reviewer wrote about the theatrical season that had just begun and the guest appearances of Bertha Kalich, especially about her superlative Magda: “The second surprise this season was the appearance in ‘Magda’ of the famous, beloved ‘child’ of our theatre Miss Celia Feinman, as a grown-up actress. Celia Feinman has played children’s roles for many years on the Yiddish stage. She invariably called forth praise and admiration. She was acclaimed both by audiences and theatrical writers as ‘the child of the Yiddish theatre.’ But now the child is already a Miss of sixteen. In her first appearance as a grownup, she gives the brightest hope of our theatre’s having gained in her a very talented actress. There is no question but that in time she will occupy a recognized place among our great women stars. We wish her the great success she deserves.”

Not long ago I found this clipping in my mother’s theatrical archive. I am indeed very sorry that the writer’s name was not given. I would have liked to make a photostat of this old review, but the newspaper, almost fifty years old, crumbled at the slightest handling.

When I had read the beautiful words of the review, I lifted my shining eyes to mother, embraced her and wept. These were surely tears of joy, tears of happiness. I now felt released, freed from my dilemma, as to what to do next with my life.

If my feeling was not yet completely clear to me, my wise mother expounded it for me. Caressing me like a child she said,

“Feel happy, my child. These are good tears. You have passed your crisis. I didn’t interfere. I didn’t say a word the entire time; but I knew what the outcome would be. When I saw you play with Kalich, I was even more convinced that I was right. If you had ambitions other than for the theatre, you couldn’t have put so much heart and soul into your playing with so much talent and theatrical ability. You’ve found your way. Enjoy it. Live up to it. But remember, it was you yourself who found the way.”

 I left my mother’s embrace like one purified. Looking straight into her dear eyes I said:

“Mother, I’ve been your daughter for over sixteen years. I know all your expressions. When I tussled with Spachner, with Kalich, your smile was always before my eyes. Without saying a word you told me I was foolish. Somewhere within me I even began to feel you were right. But I was glad you didn’t say anything. As you see, Mother, I too am no fool. I have to take after you a little.”

I’ve given some six decades to the stage since then, served the theatre loyally with all I had in me.

That evening at the Windsor Theatre when the curtain fell on the last act of “Magda,” we took many bows with Madame Kalich constantly holding my hand. She didn’t even release me when all the [troupe] had left the stage, and only she and Kessler remained for a final bow. She held Kessler by the right hand and me by the left. It was a fine and noble gesture to grant me so much honor. Maybe she was trying to win me back to the theatre.

But when I think about that performance now, of my bowing to the audience together with those two giants of the theatre, I can hardly forgive myself. Kalich and Kessler had raised themselves to the pinnacle of theatrical achievement. Both had by then already enriched the Yiddish theatre so much with a long list of classic dramatic performances. These, the strongest pillars of our theatre, so beloved and respected. The audience wanted to pay them tribute!

For them were meant the stormy ovations. And I, a slip of a kid; barely in my first role as a grownup—I permitted myself to share in their glory. How does the little couplet go? "Where there are two, I am a third."


CHAPTER 21

Three or four years later, when I was already Celia Adler, I happened to be playing in a small out-of-the-way Philadelphia theatre. The theatre's managers were Sol Dickstein and a stock company actor, Maurice Schwartz, whom I met then for the first time. Yes, the very Maurice Schwartz, afterward director of the Yiddish Art Theatre and of another dozen enterprises he developed on behalf of the Yiddish theatre. Schwartz, who was to be considerably represented in the course of my career, was then, as we say it in Yiddish, just out from under the needle or, in another language, out of the cocoon.

Both of us were then still young puppies.

Most stock company actors wander about in various small American cities. In those years, the Yiddish theatre in America had existed for about a little more than twenty years. The percentage of actors who met for the first time was large. They were mainly young people and unmarried; they were thrown together, day-in and day-out and what with rehearsals and performances became very close, practically a family.

Understandably people differ, but as Gordin's fisherman, Malech put it in “Sappho”—"Fish and people are various—a carp likes to be boiled, a perch fried, etc. They separated into tightly knit groups—formed long standing friendships, long and short love affairs, betrothals and marriages.

In those years Schwartz was making a hit everywhere with his imitations of the "big three"—Adler, Kessler and Thomashevsky. When he did them for me, I literally lost my breath laughing.

In general, he was humorous, pleasant and interesting. We became friends, he fell seriously in love with me and we talked of marriage. He would take me to the beautiful, uncrowded and what was then the elegant Childs Restaurant. While eating, we looked at each other with loving eyes and spoke of a rich future, both in our careers and in our personal lives. I didn't become aware that after he had helped me order the best and choicest, he would just have coffee, or sometimes coffee and cake. When I occasionally commented on it, he would tell me he had eaten earlier and wasn't hungry.

It eventually became clear to me that he didn't have enough money to order anything much for himself. His earnings in the theatre, as manager, were much more sparse than I knew. I can't forgive myself to this day that I didn't realize this.

One day he came to me with a piece of news. It was shortly after the Jeffries-Johnson heavyweight championship fight when Johnson, the Negro, defeated the white Jeffries. A drawing of Johnson, which was composed mainly of fine lines that didn't bring out his color, only the contours of the face, was then being circulated. Schwartz decided to go about selling the picture during his free time. No doubt he was looking for a way to make a few extra dollars. Both of us decided that the best places to find customers for such a piece of 'art' merchandise were beer saloons.

The Johnson victory caused a number of race riots. The whites couldn't forgive the blacks for taking the championship from the white race. When Schwartz entered the first saloon, and showed the picture to the drinkers, he angered the whites for being baited with the winner over Jeffries. The blacks in turn resented the fact that the picture didn't show Johnson's blackness. In short, Schwartz barely escaped with his life.

After that performance of “Magda,” my innocence of theatre protocol hurt no one. But I'm chagrined whenever I think of it. It was some time before I understood that bowing to the audience after a performance is a serious matter in the theatrical world. On Broadway there are special rehearsals for curtain calls, how the bowing should be done, how many times this or that actor or actress is to bow in what order, when and how they must leave the stage—until the star remains alone on the stage to take the last bow.

I imagine that the audience admires the orderly way in which all this works with clocklike precision. When the curtain rises for the first time after the end of the play, the entire cast is on. When the curtain falls and then rises again there are only important members of the cast on stage. Then there are only two or three, and at last there is only the star. It's all a studied and measured process.

In the Yiddish theatre, bowing to the audience is not so disciplined. Thus it sometimes happens that the curtain rises and the audience sees actors in the process of running off the stage. But nevertheless there's always a hand or an eye that sees to it that the more recognized actor
s and stars be allocated that extra bit of applause. But the envious glances of actors already backstage while others are still bowing are quite evident.

And let's also admit here that there are stars and "under-stars" who are jealous of every bit of recognition they can get without the least modesty. Our great David Kessler, however, was ready to give recognition and overlook applause for himself, sharing it with young actors who satisfied him with their performances.

For instance, in 1919, the Yiddish theatrical unions arranged a special matinee performance in honor of Max Pine, then the secretary of the United Jewish Workers' League. The play was Jacob Gordin's “The Slaughter,” with as many members of the original cast as could be brought together. I was to play the leading role of Esterke, as Keni Lipzin had already passed away. I had never played that role before. It was a great strain on an actress to master this role for one performance. That season, the “New Yiddish Theatre” in which I was playing opened in the old Madison Square Garden under the direction of the eminent director Emanuel Reicher with an all-star troupe. But whether it was because of the important purpose of the performance or playing the role with David Kessler, I was heart and soul bent on playing it, whatever the hardship.

Two incidents at that performance impressed me strongly an
d are eternally engraved on my memory. The one occurred at a rehearsal. Naturally, the play was directed by Kessler. During a certain scene, Yetta Tobias, one of the co-players who had played with Madame Lipzin for many years, came over to me and said in a very friendly way, “Celia, in this scene Lipzin stood right here."

Kessler quickly turned to her and said:

"Don't tell her what someone else did. Let her play as she feels. She knows what she’s doing. It doesn’t have to be exactly as Lipzin did it. She must play the role as Celia Adler sees it. If she feels like sitting, it’s better that she sits.”

Kessler’s answer moved me for two reasons. First, because he had so much faith in me; second—and that was more important to me—there existed an agreed-upon approach in every Yiddish theatre that in playing a role, you must follow the technique of the first actor or actress who had played it, to the last detail, even where makeup and costuming was concerned.

So a very popular little maxim was adopted in the theatrical world, “That’s Sholem Dein’s way.” Sholem Dein was a character in “The Yeshiva Scholar.” When a new actor tried something different in his version of the role, there was a great outcry. “That’s Sholem Dein’s way.” The maxim had become a synonymous protest against accepted methods. Thus I was much pleased that Kessler ignored the accepted approach.

The second incident took place at the performance itself after the third act. All of us had already bowed to the audience several times and left the stage. But the audience continued to applaud. The curtain rose again. The actors were calling for Kessler so that all of us would bow again. But Kessler stopped all in their tracks. “No, you can hear, can’t you, that the audience is calling for Celia Adler. Go, Celia, the curtain is yours, for you alone. You have rightly deserved it.”

Kessler was happy to allow honor to be paid to a young actress.

That season, when I made my appearance with La Kalich, Papa Feinman made guest appearances in London. I have already told you in an earlier chapter that he made such a hit with the London Jewish theatrical world that the owners of the Pavilion Theatre handed him the theatre for the following season. And so Mother, my little sister, Lily and I were already getting ready to go to London. I’ve already told you about our goodbye scene on board ship when, to the surprise of all of us, my father Jacob P. Adler came to take leave of us. You also know already about my first ocean voyage and about the curious meeting with the young Egyptian man who made me a marriage proposal. I’ve also described a few members of our troupe there and a few curious episodes of that season. But I promised you then that as a grownup I would indeed have what to tell you and narrate to you of that season. The time has now come.

I could never understand where the notion arose that “it’s good to be an actor because you can sleep late.” The notion was generally accepted in many circles that actors have an easy life, a life of laziness. I can in no way confirm this. You may seldom—seldom indeed—find a drop of truth in that when a play in a New York theatre catches on, and it is played every night for a half or a whole season. There are no rehearsals, no new roles to study. I hardly ever had such luck in my long career. Certainly not in the first few decades of my playing in the theatre. They were then performing the so-called new play only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In the middle of the week they performed plays from the old repertory.

That could mean at least one role every week, sometimes two or three. You can’t master two or three roles a week and lead a life of a lazybones. You couldn’t prove it by me. I also didn’t know any other actors by whom you could. It requires very hard, intense work. True, here and there one appeared who undertook to do this. But these were hardly actors. The prompter spoke their roles for them. Their “playing” didn’t even reach the prompter’s box. No, my dears, an actor or an actress who has a serious approach to the theatre cannot lead an easy life.

It was for me a lucky and an unlucky thing to have fate decree that my first steps as a grownup be made specifically in London. In general, the theatrical situation in London was different from New York. Here in New York the working terms were already such even in those days that a worker could afford to go to the theatre even in the middle of the week. Besides that, there was a considerable middle class that could certainly afford it. The transportation facilities were also very easy and comfortable. For the Jews the theatre was a part of their lives. So they unfailingly streamed to the Yiddish theatre. On the contrary, in London this was all different. Whether it was the working hours or the difficult transportation—they made it almost impossible for many Jewish workers to go to the theatre on a working day. This limited the number of Jewish theatregoers very much, so that nearly every week we had to produce a new play for Friday and Saturday. There was no performance on Sunday. So a sort of concert was given Sunday night. In the middle of the week various plays from the repertory were given, whether there were or were not any benefits.

If you will figure it out right nowFor me, a beginner in my first season, every play—whether new or from the old repertory—had all new roles. My roles were mostly second-echelon female roles in the play. So I often had to learn five roles a week. In addition, I sometimes had to study something for the Sunday concert. Have you any idea what kind of “punishing prison” work that was?

I wish to underscore for you here that I still played under the name Celia Feinman then in London. The name Feinman was very beloved and valued then in London. So that, in addition to my own ambition to play the roles in the best way, to bring out everything the roles had, I had to guard the name Feinman very carefully. I have said earlier that that which fate had decreed for me—that my first steps as a grownup actress should really be in London—was a fortunate and unfortunate thing.

The misfortune you can see at once—difficult, very difficult. But the happiness was deeper, broader, and so to speak, disciplined me, wonderfully prepared me for my longstanding career in the Yiddish theatre. I experienced, so to speak, a physical and spiritual examination that stood by me in later years. In that one season I went through what other actresses go through in many, many years—the entire Gordin repertory, and the lesser-known playwrights of that time, as well as the world plays such as “Deborah,” “The Lady of Camellias,” “Uriel Acosta,” and others—countless roles and such fabrications as the names of which I don’t even remember.

Feinman had a couple in his troupe. His name was Markowitz, her name—Becky Goldstein. She was a splendid player of mother roles. He wrote plays when they were needed, and in London that season, plays were needed often indeed. So he could come across with a new play every week.

My young head stood me in good stead. I could learn the words of a role very quickly. But as I have already said in the context of an earlier chapter, the words in a role are not yet the role. You have to look for and find the soul, the “why and wherefore” of the role. You must be able to explain to yourself and justify every one of its good and bad deeds. You have to dig, search and rummage—it’s not at all easy. Such important roles, for example, as the bad Sheyndele in “Mirele Efros,” the wanton Celia in “Kreutzer Sonata,” the charming Tzipeniu in “God, Man and Devil,” the naïve and exasperated Manitschka in “Sappho”—if you don’t fathom the reasons for, or if you don’t want the why of their badness, their profligacy, or exasperation, the audience will hate you right off, or they won’t believe you.

That’s why all the roles were played and played very well by my mother in New York. I had a very, very hard competitive challenge—that season did a lot for me.

Practically for the first time of my life on the stage I went through the extremely interesting scene of meeting a new troupe for the first time. In a city like London where you meet actors from the provinces, the broad and spread-out Yiddish world, such a meeting most certainly has in it a many-sided interest. You meet and get acquainted with people whom you’ve never seen and with whom you’ll have to live the next six or eight months and spend the greatest part of your time.

Thus I have previously introduced you to the bizarre, almost legendary personality—Fanny Vadai Epstein; also to our lover-singer Gazowsky who serve me so devotedly and helped in what had become the famous “Irish Shulamith.” Also the considerably well-known prima donna Frieda Ziebel; Joseph Markowitz and his wife Becky Goldstein; Nathan Isikowitz; a couple—Jack Goldstein and his wife; Hamburger; the cheerful bird Sherman. I have also mentioned the new, fine young actor Boris Rosenthal, who was later connected for a considerable number of years with the better Yiddish theatre in America; and the young actor Benny Shoengold, a brother of my famous brother-in-law Joseph Shoengold, my sister Frances’ husband.

The prompter of our troupe was Isaac-Yankel Lubritsky. All of his three children later became famous in the theatrical family here in America. You know them. They occupied a very prominent place for many years in our theatre here—the versatile actresses Fannie and Goldie Lubritsky, and the buff-comedian Dave Lubritsky.

As you see, this was a full, varied troupe to which were later drawn two more recognized couples. In my continuing narration about that season, I shall again have the opportunity to pause at these newcomers. Here I shall only talk about a curious phenomenon which, so to speak, shocked me as a young beginner and brought a curious confusion to my mind.

You know that when you introduce people to each other you call each one by name and you get acquainted. So did Papa Feinman. But suddenly he pointed to one person and said: “These are the Feinberg Brethren!”

First I want you to know that the word “brethren” is used very often instead of the plain word “brothers.” So, for example, Jacob Gordin called his second or third play, “The Brethren Luria,” instead of “The Luria Brothers.” But what made me wonder was: How could one person be called the “Feinberg Brethren”? You see, this was tied up with a very curious situation in the London theatrical world of those years. Two brothers lived there, Harris and Yoschke Feinberg. They were like a self-styled firm. Their corporate existence consisted of something that strongly pestered the Yiddish theatre there. Neither one had any right whatever to play in the theatre. No great talent spurted in them. In addition, both were far from intellects. But in those years, when it wasn’t easy to get actors in London, they crashed the Yiddish theatre.

After they were making some sort of living in a few seasons, they proclaimed themselves a “corporation” and did not allow Yiddish theatre to exist in London without them. In later years, when more responsible theatrical entrepreneurs and directors took over the Yiddish theatre in London, they could in no way free themselves from the firm of the “Feinberg Brethren.” The “corporation” found all kinds of devices to saddle themselves on the theatrical managers. No device was too tough or too dirty for them. The Yiddish theatre in London almost constantly functioned with actors from other countries, and they, the “Feinberg Brethren,” threatened that no foreigner would be able to play until they, as London actors were engaged.

You doubtless know well the Jewish expression that “even a cat can spoil.” So no manager wanted to go out against them in an open fight—and they were engaged. Feinman was no exception. But he tried to convince them that they should stay home, and their salaries would be sent to them. He got it accepted by Harris, the older brother, but not by Yoschke.

Yoschke played the actor even in real life. He had a fine figure. He dressed in the accepted theatrical rigging of long ago—a top hat, a cape, and a cane, even with a flower in his lapel buttonhole. He fully personified the accepted term “ham actor”; the Jewish expression is much simpler, “an actor, a flocken.” He demanded his right to play in the theatre. That’s why when Papa Feinman introduced Yoschke Feinberg to us; he called him the “Feinberg Brethren.” He knew that besides Yoschke, he had to send wages to Harris who sat home.

There were many episodes about the “Feinberg Brethren.” I must bring you two of them. In the first episode, our great David Kessler figures. It happened not long after the season in London I am now describing. David Kessler was then making one of his hurried visits to Europe. He stopped over in London for only two weeks. The London troupe was just then very small in number, especially in male personnel. Kessler was producing “God, Man and Devil.” He already knew about “the Brethren.” But when he had to select someone to play he important role of Uriel Mazik, he had no selectees. He already saw that he wouldn’t have any easy time of it in his guest appearances. Having no alternative, he decided: Let it be at least a passable figure.... The passable figure was Yoschke Feinberg, especially when they assured him that Yoschke already played the role.

At the first performance, in the prologue where Kessler wasn’t playing, it didn’t matter to him what Yoschke did with the role of the devil. In the first act when he enters Hershele Dubrovner’s home as Uriel Mazik already to sell him a lottery ticket, Yoschke didn’t have much dialogue directly with Kessler. But in the second act, when Uriel Mazik and Hershele have a long discussion about God and Man, and Uriel Mazik has to show him that, instead of often sinning mentally, it would be better if he once and for all divorced his old wife Peseniu and married his young niece, Fredeniu, Kessler got angrier by the minute at the clumsy tones and Yoschke’s helplessness in having to pull words from the prompter’s box.

All his life Kessler suffered terribly when he met up with a lack of talent and a reckless attitude toward a role on the stage. That would bring him into such a wild state that he would lose all control of himself. In such moments Kessler could do the wildest things. Yoschke brought him to that state in that role. Kessler began to tear the lapels off his long coat, bit his own fists into bloodiness. He barely dragged along to the end of the act in the greatest of torture, when he lies on his knee before Peseniu and says these words to her: “Don’t cry, Peseniu. I don’t deserve your honest tears—forgive me, forgive me….”

But the moment he felt the curtain fall, he jumped up off his knee like a wild man, and with eyes that burned with outrage, he yelled hysterically: “Damn your father’s burial ground.”

He hurriedly made a lunge at Yoschke:

“You’re not going to shorten my life any longer!”

Esther Wallerstein, who played the role of Peseniu and saw Kessler’s anguish caused by Yoschke, jumped up simultaneously with Kessler, threw herself at him, and with the greatest effort tried to calm him—and didn’t let his outburst reach the audience or end in a tragedy, heaven forbid.

But Kessler immediately demanded of the manager that that very day, before he finished the performance, another actor for the role be gotten for the other performance. After the last act, when Kessler was sitting in his dressing room taking off his makeup, the frightened manager brought in a young man and said: “Mr. Kessler, here is a very capable young player. I hope you’ll like him.” And he fled.

Kessler threw only a side glance at the young man and, while taking off his makeup, he asked with very little confidence:

“Have you ever played the role of Uriel Mazik?”

“No, Mr. Kessler. I’ve never played the role, but I’ve dreamt of the role. I even know a part of it. If you’ll allow me, I’ll say a few monologues for you from the prologue.”

With an attitude of “what choice do I have,” Kessler told him he was ready to listen. Standing where he was, the young man began his first monologue. After the first few phrases, Kessler quickly turned around to him and observed him with big, shining eyes. The young man continued his monologue. Kessler’s enthusiasm rose more and more. The last words of the first monologue are: “The gods could be humans, but don’t want to; and humans want to be gods, but can’t.”

Here God’s voice has to ask him something and he was to answer. Without thinking even for a moment, Kessler gave him the cue:

“Satan, where do you come from now?”

And the Devil speaks further.

After a few minutes, Kessler stood up. With both hands he took the young man by his shoulders and said with such drama coming from within him as only Kessler could muster:

“Who are you, young man? Where are you playing?”

“I’m working with an amateur club here in London.”

“You have talent, young man—much intelligence and understanding of the theatre. I’m sure you could have a great future on the Yiddish stage. We need such young people as yourself in our theatre. There’s room for you in America—if you ever come to New York, come to see me.”

The young man stood there, moved, and barely stammered: “Thank you, Mr. Kessler; your words are a source of encouragement to me.”

“Think you’ll know the role for tomorrow’s matinee?”

“You can be sure of that, Mr. Kessler. When shall I come to rehearsal?”

“Come tomorrow morning at ten.”

“I’ll be on time. And again I assure you I’ll know the whole role by heart. And again my heartfelt thanks. Goodbye till tomorrow at ten o’clock.”

“Yes, what’s your name?”

“My name is Samuel Goldinburg.”

I can thank “The Brethren” for at least one thing, giving me the opportunity to bring in Samuel Goldinburg for the first time into my narrative, and in such a fine and curious fashion—the famous romantic actor who for many years occupied the highest of places in the Yiddish theatre in America—my beloved, wonderful friend who unfortunately was torn from us so soon. I need not tell you that I shall have much more to tell about Samuel Goldinburg in my continuing narration, whether of our many years of playing together, or of our intimate, heartfelt friendship and love….

Now I must tell you about the second episode of “The Brethren.” The episode has in it very much of the specific Adler charm and Adler characteristics. In this episode, my father, Jacob P. Adler, figures prominently.

You all know that my father was a frequent guest in London in the first decades of his career. He knew the “Feinberg Corporation” very well. He very often got his “comeuppance” from them. Their memory lay deep in his guts. The episode occurred already in his late years. I am almost positive that that was one of his very last visits to Europe. He was to make guest appearances in London for a few selected weeks.

The manager and a rather considerable number of the troupe naturally waited for him at the famous Victoria railroad station in London. “The Brethren” did not show up. Where were “The Brethren”? How could they let such an opportunity slip through their fingers? But the following happened:

They evidently wanted to be sure that they were the first ones to meet him. So they found a way to enter the platform where the train stopped. As soon as my father’s resplendent white head showed itself at the open door of the coach, Yoschke and Harris ran over to him with victorious faces and Yoschke called out in the loudest thespian tones: “Welcome, great Jacob P. Adler!” My father grabbed his head with both hands and opened wide his large eyes to look at them and asked: “What!! You’re still alive?!! Oh, God help me!....”

Our first season in London did not bring any special episodes with “The Brethren”—so we’ll leave them alone.

The troupe slowly settled down and got into the normal routine of the way work is done in the theatre. It goes without saying that every new role, every new play was an occasion for me as a beginner. So I was beside myself from the steady stream of more and more new plays. The whole Gordin repertory, the other plays from America—all were gobbled up. I looked with admiration at our Markowitz who easily fabricated new plays, practically on demand. Thus I recall witnessing a scene between him and a viewer:

This was after a performance of one of his contraptions. I was standing in the lobby of the Pavilion Theatre with Markowitz. A middle-aged Jewish man came over to us and addressed himself to the playwright:

“So you are the author Mr. Markowitz? I like to speak frankly. I always enjoy your plays. But I must tell you I didn’t like your play today. Something was missing. How does one say it? “The raisin is missing….”

Markowitz was not impressed and spoke up to the Jewish man:

“Tell me, what happens to be your occupation?”

“Oh, I’m a tailor.”

“You make new clothes?”

“Of course.”

“Well, imagine that I or my wife ordered a very costly new garment from you and were ready to pay the price you ask. But we stipulate a condition and force you to have the garment ready, let’s say, within two hours. How would the garment turn out?”

“I wouldn’t undertake such a thing.”

“Ah, but the several tens of pounds?”

The Jewish man found himself in a kind of quandary. You could literally see on his face that he was fighting his intention and wrestling with the great problem of sacrificing the several tens of pounds.

But he answered stubbornly:

“No, no! I couldn’t accept. It wouldn’t work out.”

“You are a lucky man. You have sacrificed the several tens of pounds. Sometimes the weekly salary of about twenty families hangs on my decision. I must execute my order. I’m sorry if one of my plays doesn’t please you sometimes….”

The man grasped and understood it all and, happily opening his eyes, pressed Markowitz’s hand:

“Oh, Mr. Markowitz, I have to ask you to accept my apology. You deserve a lot of recognition. It’s good that way. Keep on with what you’re doing. You have my best blessings.”

Since then I’ve constantly had a great sympathy for directors and actors whose fate keeps them in the provincial states for many years, where they have to have a new play almost every week, and I have never blamed them when they’ve appropriated a play from the top New York theatres in an improper way. Various devices have been found of copying a new play without the author’s or the theatre manager’s knowledge. And I want to confess to you that I myself was guilty of that kind of stealth.

That was several years later than the time I’m now describing. I was then playing in Boris Thomashevsky’s People’s Theatre; it was my second season in New York as Celia Adler. They were then playing Z. Libin’s “Someone Else’s Children” with great success. The extraordinarily charming, truly enchanting Bessie Thomashevsky, who had such a varied, rich talent, whether in comic or deeply dramatic roles that she so masterfully brought to life in her own way, played the leading role in “Someone Else’s Children.” I played the second women’s role, her younger sister. I always had an extraordinarily good memory and also the ability to take on not only my own role, but to take over practically the whole play—especially in those first years of mine. And so, because of that, it was not hard for me to do when it happened that season that I suddenly had to jump in, so to speak, into the leading women’s roles in Thomashevsky’s plays. That was several years after Sigmund Feinman’s death. My mother was then the top actress in London when she let me know that she lacked plays, and would I try to get her at least one. I recalled my first season in London when I kept running after more and more new plays. I wanted to help my mother, but I hadn’t the slightest notion of where to turn. Libin’s new play, “Someone Else’s Children” was very suitable for London audiences, and Bessie Thomashevsky’s role was as if it had been written especially for my mother.

It’s possible that Boris Thomashevsky would not have refused if I had begged his permission for me to send a copy of the manuscript to Mother—maybe yes and maybe no. But I felt that, besides the many complications with the author, Z. Libin, it was a difficult request. But my mother needed a play, so I decided on a daring step. I sat up for long hours on several nights, wrote the play over from memory and sent it off to Mother. Assuredly, I informed her in what respect I had rewritten the play.

At the end of the season I received a considerable money order from Mother to hand over to Z. Libin. I did not feel guilty as long as the author was satisfied. Maybe it’s worth stating here that, a season later, on my tour over Europe with Thomashevsky, we produced “Someone Else’s Children” in the Pavilion Theatre. I played the leading role. My mother sat in the theatre. She had acted the play many times until then. After the performance, Mother came to the dressing room, kissed me, and with admiring eyes told me: “Celia, dear, in the text you sent me that you wrote from memory, not one word was missing, not a cue from anyone’s role.” I was pleased. And if you or anyone in the profession will count it against me as an injustice, I’m ready for the penalty.

By the way, concerning the matter of stealing plays, I must tell you a very curious incident in which the following two contestants figured: one the right side—my father, Jacob P. Adler; on the wrong side—my second husband, Jacob Cone. My husband did not, and I certainly did not know then that he was fighting against his future father-in-law.

It happened in 1894. Jacob Cone was then about seventeen years old. As a beginner, he was looking for a way to enter the professional Yiddish theatre. The very talented comedian Jacob Frank and he arranged a Sunday performance in a hall in Yonkers.

By then Jacob Cone already showed two things first: his ambition to play leading roles, and second, his natural bent toward the business side of the theatre. So for that performance he chose to appear in the leading role of Jacob Gordin’s “The Jewish Priest,” which was then being played with great success in New York by my father, Jacob P. Adler.

I don’t know where Jacob Cone got a copy of the play. He made big announcements that Jacob P. Adler’s biggest success, “The Jewish Priest,” would be performed. Somehow the announcement got to my father. He became livid—how do boys dare to exploit his name in his play in such a way?! He would teach them.

So he first ran to get a summons and went to Yonkers that Sunday, having decided he would surely stop the performance.

But Jacob Cone knew that a summons was not valid on Sunday. He also made sure with a manager that he should not interfere with the performance. The naïve Adler found this out too late. His summons was not valid, and the manager assured him that he would first be able to help him the next day, Monday.

Now it was getting late and Adler had to be in his theatre for his matinee performance. My father was helpless, poor man, and he had to leave “the fighting arena” with the summons in his pocket. He took a dislike to Jacob Cone for a considerable number of years, but he reconciled himself in time.

Jacob Cone was engaged by my father for many years, and in later years was also his business manager on the tours over the provinces after the season. My father had the fullest confidence in him and held him in high esteem for his boundless love for and devotion to the Yiddish theatre. I have a considerable number of letters from Adler to Cone in which he expresses his recognition of him.

—————

The first play that season in London was entirely strange, entirely new to me. I had never seen it before, and I believe I never even heard of it. That was the world-famous romantic tragedy, “Deborah,” by Dr. Ben Zion Rosenthal. That tragedy was considered on the world’s stage as ranking with such world-famous dramas as “The Lady of the Camellias,” “Maria Stuart,” “Magda,” and others of the same kind.

All world-famous dramatic actresses of the last hundred years had it as their greatest ambition to play the tragic love role of Deborah. The Jewish motif, which is the chief subject of the drama, made this play very suitable for the Jewish audience and excited my mother’s ambition to appear in that role.

In that play, the heroine, Deborah, is a Jewish woman from Hungary at the time of the great Jewish persecutions. A group of Jews, among them the beautiful, young Deborah, save themselves from the pogroms, cross the border to Bohemia, and hide in a forest not far from a village. With her fabulous looks, Deborah is the one who finds ways and means of getting food for her co-sufferers. The son of the pious Christian village judge—Joseph, a fine, refined young man, sees her in the village. She tells him what she and all those Jews who ran away with her have lived through in Hungry and of the circumstances in which they now find themselves. The refined Joseph is moved very deeply, helps her to get food, clothing and medical help.

I don’t have to tell you that a great love develops between them, capturing them both. The dreadful permanent abyss between Jew and Christian vanished from the young hearts in love. They dream of a happy future together. But their fate does not order it so. The constant fight between Christian and Jew flares up around them. The young Joseph falls victim to intrigues and denunciation. He is forced to reject Deborah.

The disappointment throws her into a state of confusion. She wanders about not knowing where she’s going. Presently, a moonlit night, she finds herself near the church of the village just when a wedding ceremony is in progress there. She hears the tones of the organ, two happy hearts are being blessed, and her lips murmur a prayer for the new happy couple. She approaches the window of the church. She wants to enjoy the happiness of others at least, and she sees that her Joseph is the groom and the wedding ceremony is between him and Anna who has been considered his bride from his childhood years on. Her disappointment reaches its highest point.

Standing before me to this day is her wonderful image when she shows herself in the light of the moon—my mother’s splendid coppered, long cascading hair on the light-grey robe, her sweet, guileless face, her searching eyes turned toward the sky, crying the eternal Why without words….

When I now recall her playing that scene, I feel within me the greatest conviction that my mother re-enacted her boundless love and terrible disappointment in that role of Deborah. Perhaps she herself didn’t mean to, and I am not undertaking to interpret this in what I saw. But I’m convinced that she played out of her own stricken soul in those great scenes of hers of deep love and terrible disappointment…. I am therefore not at all surprised that the English press in London admired her so much in the role and dubbed her the “Jewish Eleonora Duse…”

Incidentally, I recall that in her last illness, during her sleepless nights, she very often murmured and repeated her great monologues of love and disappointment from “Deborah”….

After that role, the Jewish public in London virtually deified her. And I remember scenes of her going home from the theatre when she was accompanied not by tens but by virtually hundreds of theatregoers….a whole procession….They didn’t want to leave her, even after she had entered her own house. They stood in front of her house and yelled: “Long live our Dina.”

The London bobby (policeman) ran into the house and begged Mother to appeal to the public through the window to break it up. He couldn’t get them to do it.

I now think of my discussion with my mother at my home, which I told about in the first chapter of my narrative, and I see as clear as day that my mother’s great love for my father really never stopped. First now I understand that my father also never stopped loving his Dina. It all first now becomes clear to me—whether it was his sudden coming to the ship ostensibly to say goodbye to me, or his spending the entire time of his visit on board ship with Mother. His tear-stained eyes….I bring to mind here the scene I’ve described in an earlier chapter when my mother, my sister Lillie and I settled ourselves on board ship for our trip to London for the season I’m now describing.

He expressed his constant love for my mother more between the lines than in words in many of his letters to her. The accompanying photostat can serve as an example. If you understand “between-the-lines language,” you will be able to read into it, just as I have.


The letter above reads:

Dina-Shee,

I told Freed that I have a letter from you and whenever one can judge a person according to his writing, then I lost in you a woman with a great soul and a clear mind.

Dearest Soul, (heart), I am ill these many years and so it increases and gets worse. And to this also is added the complicated pains and it all makes my life impossible. Dear child, if you could only look into my life, you would cry and much more, you would have pity.

I have no friends, no children, and I’m struggling all my life. Too late. I never knew much of life and now it is too late. For me there is one consolation, and that is we have a child and she binds us together and awakens the feelings of pity and compassion. I cannot be more thankful and I have the best feelings toward you, praying to the one above that you may see the best and joy in you and my children.

On Monday I have a day of business worries and I will arrange when and where we can meet in the evening. I will telephone where.

Be well and also my daughter.

From me, your Jacob

—————

I played the role of Anna, who marries Deborah’s beloved Joseph. It’s worth noting here that the experiences in that role of mine, my first role as an actress in a troupe, became very useful to me in my continuing career. I recall very clearly how, at the first performance, I got lost in my admiration of my mother’s playing, and how I was moved by my mother’s Deborah tragedy. I began to feel then that an actress ought not to get so lost—an actress dare not be carried away by sentiments for another role in the play and by admiration of another actor’s talent.

I am reminded of a role I was playing several years later with that brilliant actor Rudolph Schildkraut. That was in a play by Libin, “The Mind Reader,” at Thomashevsky’s People’s Theatre. The circumstances of my playing with Schildkraut are tied up with a very important turn in my young career. I shall again have the occasion to narrate many details and marvelous episodes between me and the great Rudolph Schildkraut. I only wish to show you here how important what I had learned from that first season was, especially from that first role of mine. In the role of the “Mind Reader” Schildkraut had scenes where he had the opportunity to show his richly varied talent. And although I had played several times with Schildkraut, he virtually dumbfounded me with newer and newer expressions of great theatrical talent. I recall how, standing on the stage, I more than once found myself being on the verge of getting lost in my role while admiring Schildkraut’s brilliant talent. I caught myself saying to myself: “You mustn’t. You have your own role in mind!” That helped me….

It’s appropriate to cite a curious episode that occurred at one of the last rehearsals of “The Mind Reader.” Libin, the author, came to that rehearsal suffering from a slight cold. Sitting at the rehearsal, he complained to Thomashevsky that he wasn’t feeling quite right. So Thomashevsky asked him: “Maybe you want to lie down in my dressing room? I have a very fine couch there. I will cover you with my fur coat.” Libin grasped at this and started for Thomashevsky’s dressing room. Thomashevsky stopped him.

“Wait a second, Mr. Libin. Before you go, I want you to know this: At the last rehearsals of 'Ben Ami,' Abraham Goldfaden began to feel poorly. So I put him down on the couch and covered him well with my fur coat. Lying on my couch he began to feel much better. In a few days he was dead…. At one of the performances of Gordin’s last play, “Dementia Americana,” Jacob Gordin came to my dressing room very pale; his whole body was feverish. He lay down on the same couch and said: “Thomashevsky, I don’t feel well. I’m feverish. I get hot and cold. I want to lie here in your place for a little while—maybe I’ll feel better.”

“Certainly, I’ll cover you with my fur coat.” I covered him well. “Maybe a glass of tea with rum? And I’ll turn off the light, and you’ll lie here quite peacefully. I’ll wake you up after the third act. I did the same thing with Abraham Goldfaden.” Jacob Gordin jumped up and, throwing a few Russian “what-fors” at me, he ran away. A few days later Jacob Gordin was dead. Now, Mr. Libin, if you wish you may lie down in my dressing room on the couch and cover yourself with my fur coat.”

Libin began laughing that mincing laugh of his and said:

“Thank you kindly, Mr. Thomashevsky. I’ll get along better without your couch; and you can also have your fur coat. Keep well. I’m going home….”

Libin lived some forty-five or forty-six years after that episode. He died in the year 1955 at the Workmen’s Circle home for  older members.

In the short time of little more than two months, we produced in the Pavilion Theatre in London, besides most of the plays from the Gordin repertory and quite a considerable number of plays from a varied old Yiddish repertory, also a few of Papa Feinman’s successful old plays. It was difficult, stressful work for everyone in the troupe. It meant long rehearsals every day, difficult performances every evening, and studying, reviewing and fathoming new roles in-between.

The work fell hardest of all on Mother who performed the leading roles in all the plays. True, she had played the plays in most cases, but only just the performing of six or seven roles a week in various plays was a frightful effort, especially for an actress like my mother. Before each performance she experienced, a large measure, the nervous tremor of a first performance. This very virtue or fault I fully inherited from my mother. I’ve carried the legacy loyally all these years of my career.

Those first weeks in London engraved themselves deeply in my memory on several occasions. First, the hard work. Every role was new to me, and they were not just any old roles. They were nearly always the second women’s roles in the play. This is not a normal phenomenon for a beginner. I certainly cannot overlook the fact that I had such an extraordinary opportunity if only because my parents were the bosses. Very few young actresses have the privilege of being given such roles in their beginning years. So you can ascribe it to the partiality of my parents. However, added to this kind of work of studying and playing so many new and important roles, was my great responsibility, my ambition to justify the faith my partisan parents had in me.

I shall show you from an excerpt in “The Forward” a couple of years later that my hard work was worthwhile. Written on the theatrical page was—“What’s going to happen to Celia Feinman-Adler? She had been put on probation as to whether she has talent and can play on the stage.  She has served that probation more than adequately. She literally enchanted the theatregoer with her talented playing, as well as her youthful charm. That she is a talented actress was known even earlier because of the success she had in Gordin’s plays in London and in other roles she did in an outstanding fashion, and yet no manager has engaged her. There are a few theatres which, because of politics, will not allow this actress to practice her métier.”

So you see, my hard work that season in London was recognized even in New York in 1911. I also want to assure you that that season in London helped me very, very much in my career and in my playing.

I wish to pause here for just one of my roles that I played in those first weeks. Really a Gordin role. It seems that my first role was in a Gordin play. I mean by this the child’s role in “Mirele Efros,” which I have described in a previous chapter—sort of united me with the play’s family. The role I’m going to tell you about now was the second role I did in the play, the role of Sheyndele, the mother of the child’s role. Could be that that’s why I’m so propelled to speak of my role of Sheyndele. At first sight, it is no more than the role of the usually labeled “bad daughter-in-law.” Her bad actions are often accented and certain manifestations exaggerated to call forth angry feelings toward her, and still more to arouse more pity and sympathy for Mirele Efros.

When you absorb yourself in a role, you look for answers to remarks and behavior. You want to fathom all the “whys and wherefores.” Without these pluming, in depth, you can’t play the role as it should be played; you can’t evoke the character. It is then you first notice that the role of Sheyndele is not such an obvious one, that she has a complicated character. She is not a "thoroughly bad daughter-in-law.” She suffers from what we call an “inferiority complex.” This complex makes her fight tooth and nail against the superiority complex from her role of Mirele Efros, which I played years later.

Creating a large number of roles as I had to do in the first few months of that season in London was a very hard and stressful job for me. Papa Feinman could not look objectively on how hard the work fell on my mother and me. He looked for a prima donna with whom he would be able to stage to his satisfaction the Goldfaden and other operettas he had in his theatrical trunk.

From his guest appearances in Lemberg, he remembered the very beautiful and gifted prima donna Regina Zuckerberg, and he succeeded in bringing Regina and Sigmund Zuckerberg from Lemberg to the Pavilion Theatre. Since Feinman liked to do things with a generous hand, he brought along with them two operetta couples: Mark Schilling, a famous comedian, and his wife Ruzhe Brih, a very capable soubrette; as well as Adolph Meltzer and his wife, Anszhe Brih.

Certainly the enrichment of our troupe with so many people raised the expenses of the theatre a great deal. But it gave my mother a chance to catch her breath, and it also lightened my burden considerably. It also gave him the opportunity to be able to produce a series of famous operettas on a broad scale, in which Regina Zuckerberg could appear before the London public.

I thus recall a curious thing about Goldfaden’s “Shulamith” in our theatre at that time. Everyone knows that, in the first years of the Yiddish theatre, many female roles were played by male performers because of a shortage of female personnel. Papa Feinman did the opposite.

I’ve already told you that Frieda Ziebel, the prima donna, was in our troupe that season in London. She had a huge figure, besides her strong voice. So Feinman conceived the idea of having La Ziebel play the role of Avisholem opposite the delicate Zuckerberg as Shulamith.

Thus he decided to stage the entire operetta with women only. There as a female Zingetang, a female Menoach, and even the three suitors were women. That production of “Shulamith” was a sensation.

With that large troupe he then staged a special production of his own operetta, “Holy Sabbath,” which he had originally done in the Windsor Theatre in New York under the name of “The Jew in Sobiesky’s Times.” The operetta was a momentous occasion and played for several weeks. Sigmund Feinman himself was really the biggest success in the operetta. I then witnessed for the first time the audience’s overwhelming enthusiasm for Sigmund Feinman. He played Reb Leib Sefardy, an Oriental Jew, in the operetta. His majestic appearance, his magnetic personality, his fine, warm bass voice, his heartfelt, natural tone called forth great admiration from the audience and from me as well.

Evidently in that season in London, the Jewish audiences were constantly elated to see how Jews run from persecution. Just as in “Deborah,” there is a scene in the third act of “Holy Sabbath” in which escaped Jews hide in a forest, and all rise out of their hiding place by the light of the moon. In this patriarchal role as Reb Leib Sefardy, Feinman enveloped himself in a prayer shawl and sang, “A Prayer to God.” He poured out his heart in prayer to the Father in Heaven, that he should save the Jews from the evil decree.

He reached such high ecstasy in the scene, such holy rapture that the audience virtually sat trembling. And he was convulsed in his plea with tones of heart-breaking laments, sobs, and hysterical weeping could be heard from the corners of the theatre. I knew many London theatregoers who had seen the play several times but came to see the play again just for the third act—and pay, mind you, for a ticket to see the scene and hear the prayer song. His popularity reached its highest peak in that scene.

So that’s why it was no wonder that barely two years later, when the terrible news of Feinman’s sudden death on the stage of the Wielky Theatre in Lodz reached London, it shook up the public and a movement began at once that something be done to immortalize the name of Sigmund Feinman. An association was founded whose purpose it was to create a fund to build a theatre in his name.

Very important prominent personalities of the London stage world participated in the committee. Their approach to the task was very sincere. The splendid theatrical edifice was finished at the end of 1912 under the name of Feinman’s People’s Theatre.

That was the first time in the history of England that a theatrical building had been especially built for the Yiddish theatre. The structure was located on Commercial Road in London. The London Jewish theatrical public experienced two very lofty movements with reference to the Feinman’s People’s Theatre. First, the laying of the cornerstone of the building. Sir Francis Montefiore himself was the chief guest at the ceremony before a very large crowd. He tied up the name of Sigmund Feinman in a highly honored way with the extraordinary happening.

The second high point was when the theatre opened for the first time. With all their sincerity, the top doers of the association were not theatrical patriots and had no conception of the business side of such a theatre. Their intention was of the best. They posed themselves the task that the Feinman’s People’s Theatre be the home both for artistic opera and a literary theatre. But they generally had no practical conception of how to conduct such an institution. In the full flush of their big undertaking, they attracted Mark Medvedyev, the famous Russian opera singer, the supreme, royal tenor to go ahead with the operatic division of the theatre.

It so happened that there was just then in London on his first trip to America Peretz Hirshbein, the distinctive poet and dramatist whose famous folk plays, “The Secluded Corner,” “The Blacksmith’s Daughters,” “The Green Fields,” and “The Deserted Inn,” were truly the cornerstone of the Yiddish art theatre. The association of the Feinman’s People’s Theatre sought him out for advice about whom to hand the management of the theatrical division. They assured him that it was their purpose to have the theatre stand on the loftiest heights of literature and art. Hirshbein told them that he had the right man. He would contact him. He would let them know in a few days. He wrote a detailed letter to his good friend, one of the pillars of the Hirshbein Theatre troupe in Russia and Poland: the young, very talented actor and director, Jacob Ben-Ami.

This is how Ben-Ami told me of the incident:

“I, a puppy of twenty and some months, was in Vilna ready for military conscription, when I got the letter from Hirshbein. I was much impressed by the earnest scope, i.e. the program that the London association had undertaken. Hirshbein described it warmly in his letter and urged me to think seriously about going there. In my answer to Hirshbein, I expressed my interest in the London achievement, and I received a contract from the association within a short time.

I came to London. I was really enthusiastic over the splendid theatrical building with the most comfortable, most modern furnishings. Although the theatre had a seating capacity of nearly a thousand people, it was nevertheless built in a very intimate way, and I was very excited over the possibility of what could be done with such a theatre. But the leaders were Jewish men who were not generally versed in this matter. Thus, for example, their top leader, a man who came to meetings of the literary artistic council of the theatre in a top hat, presently asked me: “Mr. Ben-Ami, what plays are available in Yiddish?

"I was surprised and disappointed that they knew so little about Yiddish dramatic literature. They were sincere, well-meaning Jewish men, but without the slightest knowledge of how to balance the financial expense of such an institution. They blundered disgracefully in these matters. They involved the theatre in huge expenditures that it could not support."

In general, the match between opera and theatre was not a concordant one. Thus the opera was really the first victim.

About that time Mark Arnstein, the well-known dramatist and theatre buff, came to London. He very much wanted to be the director of the theatre. We gave him the opportunity to stage his famous play, “The Vilna Citizen.” In our troupe at the time was Samuel Goldinburg, who was engaged both for opera and the theatre; Leah Naomi and Miss Lifschitz, who had come along with me from the Vilna Troupe. We also produced “Ghetto Walls” by Herman Heyerman. But the theatre’s financial situation was already a very shaky one.

You are probably wondering why the Feinman’s People’s Theatre opened without Dina Feinman. This was also the fault of the impractical organizers who hadn’t communicated with Mother in time, and she was contractually bound to a theatre in Baltimore. My mother became seriously ill in the middle of the season and was operated on in the well-known Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The operation also cost me much unnecessary heartache. A telegram that came to me from Baltimore about the operation almost did to me what Satan did to our Mother Sarah when he told her the news that her beloved son Isaac “was slaughtered-nearly.” As you know, our Mother Sarah didn’t live to hear the “nearly.” I did succeed in reading the telegram over, which said: “Mother operated unsuccessful.”

I nevertheless didn’t lose myself, in my great fear, and at once telephoned the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Standing at the telephone in nervousness and despair, I kept beating the wall with my fist and yelling: “Well, why don’t you answer!!” It took a considerable number of minutes until I got the hospital in Baltimore. I kept beating the wall with my last energies. I went around with a bandaged hand for quite a number of days after that. The hand was swollen and full of blue-brown marks. At last they assured me that my mother Dina had come through the operation safely.

I immediately took the train to Baltimore. The impression of the telegram was still lying in my conscience….

When I got to my mother’s room and she met me with her loving smile, I fainted. It was apparent that the “smart” framer of the telegram gave the telegram by phone in the following way: “Mother operated and successful.” The other one had made “unsuccessful” from the words "and successful” for my sake.

When my Mother recovered, she immediately went to London with my sister Lillie.

Meanwhile, guests were brought over from America. One of the guests was Morris Moskowitz who appeared in “The Father” by A. Strindberg. But hoping to get a few good box office takes, they overlooked the straight literary side and tried to save themselves with melodrama that he had brought from America.

At last my mother came and appeared in “The Lady of the Camellias.” And Jacob Ben-Ami played the leading man’s role, her lover Armand. But it was too late to save the theatre. In order to be strong enough to more or less meet the financial obligations with which the association was burdened after that unfortunate season, they were forced to sell the theatrical building to a film company. And that’s how it functions till today.

My mother and my sister Lillie went on tour to play in Europe. And what happened to Ben-Ami? Here’s the way he told it to me:

“From there I was invited to go to America to a theatre in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, called the ‘Novelty.’ The manager was Sara Adler, who had by then separated from Adler. I was thinking of going back to Russia and perhaps again reviving the Hirshbein troupe. Had I obeyed that impulse, I couldn’t be telling you all this now, Celia dear, because I would have been lain completely without makeup somewhere in a mass grave in Russia or Poland. But it seems fate decreed differently for me.

My mother, until her death, constantly solaced herself with the thought that I came to America to please her, and that she saved me from certain destruction in Russia or Poland. I didn’t want to take my mother’s belief away from her, and I never told her why I came to America, and who really rescued me from the fate that befell the Jews at the time of the great holocaust. In my negotiations with the Novelty Theatre, I suddenly discovered that the leading male actor in that theatre was the great Rudolph Schildkraut. That impressed me and the opportunity to be able to learn from Rudolph Schildkraut drew me. I accepted the invitation. So it was really Rudolph Schildkraut who rescued me….”

It is fitting to cite here an episode with the great Rudolph Schildkraut during that season in the Novelty Theatre. Sam Kasten appeared as his servant in the play. There is a scene wherein the hero, Pozdnishev, played by Schildkraut, returns from a trip. He doesn’t find his wife home, and somehow jealousy tangles in his mind concerning what happens between his wife and the musician Truchatchevsky. Yegov, his servant, has to come in and he has to find out from him where his wife is. Kasten, playing the servant, had a long respite before he would get to this scene. In a case like that, you sit in the dressing room and, if there is someone to do it with, you meanwhile play cards. Kasten certainly was no gambler, but he got too absorbed playing. Since the play had already been on for the second or third week, the stage manager had already dropped the reins, being confident that every actor knew his cues to perfection.

Schildkraut stood on the stage in his jealous circumstances and waited for his servant Yegov. Kasten wasn’t there.

I have already underscored many times in my narrative what empty time on the stage means. Seconds draw out like eternity. In that circumstance of his, when he had to wait almost two minutes until Kasten came in, he practically went wild. And when Kasten finally ran in wheezing, Schildkraut slapped him. That wasn’t Pozdnishev hitting Yegov, but Schildkraut slapping Kasten.

Understandably, this was not scheduled to happen in the scene. Kasten got very angry, and his first impulse was to hit Schildkraut back. But whether it was his theatrical instinct or the feeling of guilt about knowing he had been tardy two or more minutes that made him overcome his anger, so that instead of retaliating with slaps, he fell on his knees and, in keeping with the play, began to kiss the hand of his angry, raging employer. Schildkraut, who had meanwhile come to himself, became ashamed before Kasten and, out of gratitude that the latter had erased his wild outburst in such an appropriate way, fell all over Kasten with kisses.

The theatre virtually crashed with applause.

—————

I have had the opportunity in my life to hear all sorts of meanings and interpretations American tourists have of England. It begins with laughing at the ceremonies at Buckingham Palace and the extraordinarily funny, almost childishly foolish procedure of what is known as the “changing of the guards.” It may be worthwhile for me briefly to picture that particular scene for those of you who’ve never seen it.

Guards are constantly walking around Buckingham Palace where England’s kings lived. Their walking strongly reminds you of wooden soldiers. Seeing the mechanical movements can’t help but call forth big laughter. You very often get the impression that these are not really living people. They often stand so motionless for a long time that you have the desire to touch them with your hands to convince yourself that they’re not statues.

However, the funniest are the few minutes when one group changes off for another. The ceremony is something you don’t believe grownup people would perpetrate—it’s that foolish. The most amazing thing though is that if you look at them for a long time, you begin to feel the awe and significance of it. I’ve always seen theatrical play-acting in it, and I’ve imagined that they must spend many hours in making rehearsals to be able to metamorphose themselves so perfectly from living people to mechanical figures.

It is also common knowledge that you laugh at the fact that you meet history of a thousand years or more everywhere you go. I have heard the expression very often: “Give me a modern, comfortable shower, and you can have the fifteen-hundred-year-old history.” But something of the awe and the respect remains with you for the renowned royalty. Many idioms in the language, even in Yiddish, cause you to be overcome to a larger or lesser degree by these feelings. Do you recall, for instance, when I described the scene of the so-called winter coat Feinman bought for me, and Mother met me with the expression, “You look like—there’s nothing more beautiful to be seen in Buckingham Palace.” Well, those and similar idioms can be heard in common day-to-day speech.

As a seventeen-year-old American girl, I was never excited by and didn’t even want to cross the street to look at somebody who was royalty, i.e. the royal family. But at the same time I often admired the democracy with which I found royalty behaving to neighboring people. I got the impression in my many visits to London that, despite the royalty, democracy is on a very high plane in London.

A scene comes to mind about Whitechapel Road in London—the street that is practically considered to be like New York’s East Side of long ago. It was a day in the spring of that London season that I am now in the process of describing. They were celebrating the yearly “Seamen’s Day.” That’s a day dedicated to the collecting of funds for widows and orphans of sailors and other ship workers.

As you will recall, my mother came to London as a little girl of eight and lived there until after she married my father, Jacob P. Adler. One of her close chums later married Harry Kosky, a young, Jewish man from London. A few years before that season in London, Harry Kosky rose to the mayoralty of the London suburb called Stepny. That, of course, is a very respectable office. You could meet all sorts of lords and ladies any day in the home.

So this Harry Kosky led the ceremony of the “Seaman’s Day,” which he had arranged in the Jewish Quarter in London. They had built a platform from which all the speeches were to be made. Needless to say, only selected, important personalities were permitted on the platform. My mother took up the highest spot among them. I can say without boasting that her name, which was strongly proclaimed in the press, helped bring a considerable number of Jewish people. The ceremony consisted in the passing around from hand to hand among those in the large crowd a small model of a ship about two-and-a-half to three feet long and considerably deep. In a certain place on the deck of the model was a split for throwing in contributions. At the same time, the important persons spoke from the platform and appealed to the people to contribute with a generous heart to this very important fund.

The ceremony’s climax came when the Prince of Wales, then a young fellow in his eighteenth year, was led onto the platform in grand style, and Harry Kosky, the mayor of Stepny, greeted him with appropriate ceremonies. He praised the loyalty and devotion of London Jewry very highly for him and handed him the East End gift to the Seamen’s Fund. The little ship was already very happy by then from the thrown-in contributions, so that the Prince, not expecting the little ship to be such a heavy load, barely missed having it fall out of his hands. One of his retinue quickly took it off his hands.

The Prince thanked the big crowd for their generous contribution in very heartfelt and simple words. The crowd’s enthusiasm for their Prince reached the highest degree, and they expressed their love for him with hearty applause and warm calls. Harry Kosky then introduced to him the several guests on the platform, among them or course, also his wife. He then brought my mother to the Prince of Wales with a separate ceremony and introduced her as the most prominent actress in London, Dina Feinman, the darling of the Jewish people in London. The Prince of Wales bowed cordially. This moment called forth the crowd’s highest ecstasy—the calls and their deafening applause expressed their satisfaction, their love for “their Dina” and for “their Prince.”

Thanks to her youthful years, my mother, who often felt herself almost like an Englishwoman, retained that memory for many years. She often spoke with pride about meeting the Prince of Wales. Standing there at the platform, I remember being very happy and very fortunate to have my mother paid such an honor. But my innate Americanism caused me to have none whatsoever of my mother’s or the big crowd’s feeling for their Prince. I saw before me a thin, refined young fellow, and my romantic adolescent heart dreamed entirely different dreams about him. I also recall that I was greatly puzzled by his frightened glances, as if he were afraid of something unexpected.

I mentioned this very thought of mine to Harry Kosky later. Kosky told me that this was his first appearance in the midst of such a huge, strange, simple crowd. And he really felt afraid. Not I, not the crowd, not he himself had the slightest notion at that time that later in life he would get to write into world history such a splendid paean to love when he would give up the throne of the great British Empire for his love of the American woman Wally Simpson, and be satisfied in living out his years as the Duke of Windsor….

The story of my mother’s meeting the Prince of Wales led indirectly to a very tragic incident in my life.

When my mother’s mother, Tzirele the Pious One, died, she left two more orphans besides my mother—a girl and a boy. My mother was the baby. When the family went to London and my mother became interested in the theatre, she sort of separated from her sister. And her life led her away, as you know, along entirely different paths. The sister, Scheindel, married in London and lived in a remote suburb of London.

After her first years in America and during all those visits Mother made to London, she hardly ever had the opportunity to get together with her sister. Scheindel was avid to go to London many times when my mother was guest-playing there. But each time other circumstances intervened that forced her to postpone the trip.

That season, my mother had not seen her sister Scheindel for more than two years. After that scene with the Prince of Wales that the newspapers played up very strongly, the picture of my mother being introduced to the Prince appeared in several newspapers. This evidently excited my aunt anew to come see her famous sister Dina once and for all, to explain—“the show must go on,” and she made the trip.

We were then playing a matinee. To my mother’s surprise she found a little card in the theatre that morning. It was from my Aunt Scheindel saying she was coming that day to the theatre and would be able to spend several hours with her. That would be the first time she was going to see my mother play. This excited my mother very much and added to her usual nervousness before a performance, the expectation of what kind of impression her sister would have seeing her play for the first time.

We waited impatiently. The time for starting the performance came. Aunt Scheindel wasn’t there. Mother had previously told them at the box office that she was expecting her sister, and that she should be properly treated and a place held for her in the front row; and that they let were to let her know when her sister came. The performance began. Mother swept the first row with her eyes from the stage, and at every opportunity asked backstage if her sister had come.

When my mother left the stage after the first act, Papa Feinman waited for her. She asked him if he knew whether her sister had come. He began to mumble and took my mother to her dressing room. Simultaneously he winked at me to go with them. Only after he had set her down in the chair in the dressing room, did he tell us about the terrible tragedy. My aunt had been run over by a runaway car right in front of the theatre as she was hurrying across the street. She had said the two words, “Dina Feinman,” with her last energies.

My mother was dumbstruck. She looked at Feinman as if she had understood nothing of what he had said to her. I stood behind her, taking her around. Her hands clung to mine. At last she broke into tears. I will not begin to tell you with what a feeling my mother and I finished that performance. That’s the theatrical discipline that is impossible to explain—“The show must go on.”

My Aunt Scheindel’s tragic death shook all of us up very much.

Understandably, it hit my mother worse than anyone else. A very warm and tender feeling had been left in her for her sister Scheindel from way back in her childhood years. As you already know, my mother had a very strong character. She carried within her sorrow, her pain, never called out her anguish, and didn’t cry out her agony out loud. She also wept silently within her over her sister’s dreadful misfortune. But for days and weeks after the misfortune, she very often spoke and told about Aunt Scheindel.

I found out from those talks that Scheindel showed my mother much devotion, much love after their mother’s early death, whether in the little city of Lipno, or in the first years in London. When, unbeknownst to her home, Mother later began to weave a theatrical career in London, what worried her more than anything was that she had hid the secret from Scheindel also. She also didn’t like it that such a beautiful, sweet name as Scheindel had been changed to Charlotte in London. Heaven forbid that it were Scheindel who had changed her name; it was the half-acclimatized Lipno countrymen who had crowned her with the really English name. That had been the first step in the process of acclimatization.

“Well, when they changed my name Deena to Dina, I could still tolerate it. But for Scheindel to become Charlotte—that was hard to digest. I can’t forgive them that to this day,” my mother used to say.

I recall then that I got the impression from my mother’s frequent talks about my Aunt Scheindel’s tragic death that she was punishing herself with the thought that she was guilty of her sister’s death. Her playing in the theatre killed Aunt Scheindel. She’d still be alive if she had not run to that matinee performance. Scheindel had fallen victim to Dina Feinman’s success as an actress. Mother wasn’t saying it then, but I interpreted it as such.

Not until many years later in America, under very peculiar and curious circumstances, did it escape from my mother’s lips. That was during a season when we were playing in Anshel Schorr’s Arch Street Theatre in Philadelphia. I have already mentioned that season in an earlier chapter. Josh Gruber, the father of the very fine actress Mirele Gruber, was Schorr’s partner in the Arch Street Theatre. Gruber’s wife, Mirele’s mother that is, indirectly led to the circumstances wherein my mother’s pain over her sister Scheindel’s death showed itself.

Mrs. Gruber told my mother that she and a group of her friends had gone to a séance from time to time. Now then, what is a séance? I even wonder if there’s a word for it in Yiddish. It has to do with magic, sleight-of-hand, with calling forth of ghosts and contacting the next world—not a Jewish sort of thing. But how does the little saying go? “Where there are things Christian, there are things Jewish.” It also attaches itself to Jews here and there.

So Mrs. Gruber talked my mother into going along with her to such a séance, and Mother let herself be persuaded. She told me: “I want to see what kind of curious thing this is.” It excited me too, and we both decided to go with Mrs. Gruber.

You ought to know that at that time this was a wide-ranging practice. Fantastically beautiful salons were fitted out in a very mystical fashion—low lights, black drapes, everything shrouded in secrecy.

After you had paid your entrance money, you were led into a waiting room. And immediately it began to work on your mood. They didn’t talk. They only whispered. You could barely see in the weak light how many more people were sitting. But you felt there were more because you heard whispering. In a little while a young woman came in very quietly and greeted us very cordially and invited us into the main room where the séance was to take place. It was quite a large room, almost completely without light, but light like from a “spot” (light-thrown) fell only on specific places. The room was half-round, enveloped in heavy, black drapes, and it had a row of seats placed in a half-circle. That’s where we sat down, directly across from the heavy drapes.

A somewhat long, heavy pause, then the one who was to carry on the séance revealed herself to us—a very congenial personality in a long, black dress. A very lovely white face with very clever sparkling eyes shone out of a frame of sparking black hair. She spoke in very secretive tones and expressed the hope that she would succeed in satisfying all the guests who wanted to be in touch with their most beloved alienated souls.

Her tall figure appeared as if it lengthened itself. Her searching eyes leveled at a distance far away began to beg and invite the alienated souls who wished to reveal themselves to those who had come there that day to seek….a long pause….A curious light suddenly showed itself in her eyes. She enveloped herself in the shawl that hung on her shoulders as if she had suddenly begun to feel a cold wind….And posing as if in prayer, she gazed with pitying looks at one little point…. Her face spread into a happy smile and she announced that the soul of a particular one was now there with us.

Immediately a sob was heard from one of the seats, and she becalmed the sober by the soul letting her know that she felt very quiet and satisfied “there.”

Sitting next to each other and holding hands, Mother and I let each other know from time to time that we understood the play….

A few more souls came and disappeared, and we heard outbursts of sobbing from other parts. I really admired that woman’s theatrical expertise as to how convincingly she accomplished her role.

Presently she strained to look with admiring eyes at one point and began to speak: “Some curious appearance, as if from afar, far past, a female person….so peculiarly dressed, a long dress with many folds, a very old-fashioned jacket….a white silk scarf on her head….Does anyone recognize her by her costume?”

No one responded. All were straining. A heavy pause… She begged: “The soul feels very bad that no one recognizes her.” You felt the crowd straining. “Wait, wait, I think I hear a name. I think—Charlotte….Does anyone recognize the name? Charlotte, Charlotte….” Suddenly I felt my hand strongly gripped and Mother whispered quietly: “Maybe Scheindel? My poor sister. Killed at the theatre because of me….” A quiet sob strangled my mother’s words.

The intermediary said: “The soul is very happy that you’ve recognized her.”

When we were out in the street, I still didn’t know how to react to my mother’s excitement. But she answered herself, as it were: “I can’t understand it. So clearly delineated her costume. Even her name. How does she do it? You can scarcely believe it. I really can’t believe it. But yet I got so involved….”

We never spoke of it again. But I wondered many times if this was simply theatrical play-setting by a capable person, or was there really such a power that could read a person’s thoughts, even if you didn’t know them….I have no answer.

—————

When I came to America from that successful season in London, there was no place for me in the Yiddish theatre.

As I’ve already mentioned in a previous chapter, the theatrical writer of "The Forward” summed up very accurately the behavior of theatrical firms toward me: “Certain theatres will not engage the young actress Celia Feinman, or Celia Adler, under any circumstances due to politics.”

When the Chicago manager Jascha Lewis, Sara Adler’s brother, at last engaged me for a season, he insisted that I call myself Celia Adler. That’s how Celia Feinman on her way from London to America disappeared, so to speak, somewhere in the big waves of the ocean.

It wasn’t easy for me to part with the name Celia Feinman. I had lived with that name some eighteen years. All kinds of childhood memories are tied up for me in that name—years of elementary school, with all the playfulness, the wonderful discoveries, the childishly cute little situations; high-school years chockfull of youthful problems, involved light intrigues, naïve romantic rambling, adolescent dreams and hopes—the first steps on the inescapable road to love that awakens so many confused feelings of joy and pain, of happiness and disappointment in young hearts….All this in my life the name Celia Feinman bore. You couldn’t part with that name in a split second.

I have often wondered how the girl feels whose name with which she has lived so many years disappears right after the wedding ceremony. But that’s in the case of marriage—something entirely different—that, after all, is the moment of the goal of every girl wishes to reach, that’s a natural phenomenon.

But surely I never thought of changing my name from Celia Feinman to Celia Adler. The name Celia Feinman demanded nothing of me. The name had figured in the Yiddish theatre for a considerable number of years, whether as star player of children’s roles in America, or in that long, hard season as a grownup in London. After all, the name had created a place for itself; the name Celia Feinman must have engraved itself somewhere in the consciousness of theatregoers, and presently it would be no more….

I happen to recall that when, as Celia Adler several years later already, I played one of my successful roles, the role of Sonitchka, a little girl of fourteen, in Ossip Dymow's “Eternal Wanderer.” A young man waited for me at the exit from the theatre after a performance. He introduced himself to me and accompanied me part of the way along the avenue.

I shall omit the tremendous compliments he poured out at me for that role of mine. But his sudden turning to me engraved itself deep in my memory: “You know, Miss Adler, your playing today in the role of Sonitchka reminded me very much of a certain young little actress who played children’s roles in the Yiddish theatres long ago. Celia Feinman was her name. I wonder what became of her. You’ve probably never seen her. You’re too young to be able to remember Celia Feinman….”

So I remember that it was as if a knot had tightened itself in my throat for a while. I felt in my heart that I wanted to weep over the lost Celia Feinman. I can’t explain to myself to this day why I didn’t tell my companion the truth. Maybe it was the foolish female instinct to deny the true age? Maybe his illusion about my youth made me smile? Or maybe I really didn’t want to reveal to him my family mix-up in order to explain my dual name?

If the young man is still alive and remembers the conversation that evening some forty years ago, he ought to forgive me for not revealing to him the secret of Celia Feinman.

I hope that I’ve succeeded in revealing to you my sentiments about the name Celia Feinman. Maybe you will now better understand my great disappointment, the chagrin and heartache I felt after returning home to New York from London. I, Celia Feinman, had it seemed, no value whatsoever for the Yiddish theatre here. Neither my many years of success as a child player, or my strenuous accomplishment in London as a grownup meant anything here. Weeks and months went by—my disappointment grew bigger and bigger. This was further helped by the strained financial situation in which we found ourselves. The doubt, the suspicion began to creep into my consciousness that maybe this was the end of my theatrical career.

When I now think of that time, I am very strongly puzzled as to why it didn’t even enter my mind to look for a career on the English stage in America. Born here, I mastered the English language like most American-born. I definitely had the right to believe that I had a certain measure of talent for the stage. Why didn’t it ever occur to me, in my disappointment, to seek to satisfy my great longing for the theatre on the English stage?

I have two answers for that. The first answer is a plain and apparent one: I’ve never been blessed with the capacity of being a doer, of having my own initiative, of being able to seek a path for myself.

The second answer goes deeper. I have felt instinctively that my satisfaction in playing in the theatre lies only in playing Yiddish theatre. I can fulfill my life only in Yiddish... Only in Yiddish can my talent get its reward. I also had this very same feeling in later years when I had the opportunity several times to play on the English stage. I remember very well that when studying my role in English, I was thinking of how I would say the phrase in Yiddish; how I could play such a scene in Yiddish.

It is indeed a great puzzle. In my private life I mostly speak English—at home, in the street, practically at every encounter with friends, with acquaintances, with family. Yet I feel that what there is creatively in theatrical art, I can reach it better in Yiddish. I’m not trying to explain this puzzle. No doubt that those who say that language is not only the words, not even the expression or tone are right. Language also has a soul, and the soul of the Yiddish language obviously conquered me, engraved itself onto my consciousness, and monopolized all my senses.

It is certain then as an eighteen-year-old girl it never even occurred to me to seek a place for myself on the English stage. I worried silently over how it was that there was no place for me on the Yiddish stage. Someone else in my place would no doubt have knocked on the doors of the Yiddish stage managers. Perhaps even of the Jewish newspapers. That didn’t even enter my thoughts. It seems that I lacked strong elbows.

Heaven forbid that I confess my worrying to anyone, not even to my faithful and devoted Feige. My father, Jacob P. Adler, had his conviction that he was not obliged to take care of me as long as I called myself Celia Feinman. Only one way was left for me, to begin giving piano lessons.

Then the terrible shock came over me, the frightful news that Papa Feinman had died suddenly. I couldn’t come to myself for several weeks. Nothing existed for me anymore. Nothing held any interest for me until my mother came home, came alone….

I cannot and will not describe to you my mother’s meeting with my sister Lillie, Feige and me, when we waited for her at the ship…. Here again I must admire my mother’s strong character, her being able to carry her sorrow and pain within her.

Her words to me a few days after her return are still ringing in my ears. “Celia, my child, a person must not give in to sorrow or permit himself to get lost in anguish… That’s a great sin….”

I was ashamed before her. I felt guilty. Besides her own sorrow, she had to encourage and comfort me. It should have been the other way around.

It was the end of the summer. The Yiddish theatres were getting ready for the new season. Although it was late, most of the theatres had already gotten their troupes together. So my mother received a fine proposal from Philadelphia, and she signed with that theatre. And a few days later, I suddenly got a message that Sara Adler’s brother, Yascha Lewis, had been calling about me.

Feige told it to me. Our good friend Moshele Feinman had told it to her. I’ve already mentioned him in an earlier chapter. When my mother heard this, she told me that there was talk among theatrical people on the “avenue” that he, Lewis, was getting ready to open a second theatre in Chicago.

Yascha Lewis came running to our house on that very afternoon. Mother wasn’t home. What Mother had heard was very true. He had taken over the Metropolitan Theatre in the very Yiddish area of Chicago. He was getting a troupe together at that very moment. He wanted to engage me as the leading lady of his theatre.

I didn’t believe my ears. Yascha Lewis, Sara Adler’s brother, wanted me, Celia Feinman, as his leading actress for his theatre! My little head couldn’t grasp it. He interpreted my confusion as being cold to his proposition. So he began to describe how he would advertise me with such big letters—he spread his hands out on high—with a big picture—he again spread his hands out. He would pay me a salary like a big star—fifty dollars a week!

My breath nearly stopped. I hadn’t said a word yet.

“But I have one request, Celia. You will call yourself Celia Adler.”

Something beat at my heart. Really, Celia Adler? Curious feelings began to spread within me, irritated me. But at the same time I felt that I mustn’t refuse. I don’t know to this day how the clever thought hit me to tell him that I would think it over; that I would give him an answer the following day. That’s pretty much the answer a settled businessman would have given. I didn’t want to tell him that without Mother, I couldn’t decide on such a thing.

For many, many more years I had to know beforehand how my mother felt about every important decision—that’s the kind of daughter I was. Was it a tremendous faith in her healthy logic? My love for her? A deep belief that her love for me was boundless? Or was it perhaps my helplessness, my insecurity in making my own decisions?

This will no doubt become clearer to us all in the course of my narrative.

My mother strongly advised me to take on the proposal.

“If you have the intention of building a career in the Yiddish theatre, such an opportunity is tailor-made for you. In your second season as a grownup actress, you will already be counted as a leading lady, even if it is not such an important theatre. As concerns the name—your name is Celia Adler. The name belongs to you just as much as to the other Adler children, just as much as Lillie’s name is Feinman. While he lived, Sigmund Feinman had great satisfaction that you called yourself Feinman. But now…. I wish for you, under the name of Celia Adler, to win as much affection from the people as you did when you bore the name Celia Feinman.”
 

MY FIRST PHOTOGRAPH AS CELIA ADLER
 

MY LAST PHOTOGRAPH AS CELIA FEINMAN

 

HEARTACHE AND SUCCESS


ME AND MY CHILD

 

“Living is experiencing.”

Now we come to what I consider the most important part of my narrative—my career.

As you already know, I had the privilege of being a close witness to the First Golden Epoch of the Yiddish theatre. I am to date the only one left of that first era. I also had the honor to be among the very close builders of what I call the Second Golden Epoch. I hope that I’ll succeed in weaving into the path of my career the most important stages of development our theatre experienced during the nearly five decades of my career as a grownup traversed. I also hope that all my colleagues who served our theatre with devotion will be reflected in my narrative with all the stature that they deserve.

I first wish, however, to pause a while at the why and how of my calling this part by the dramatic name of “Heartache and Success.” It seems to me that no successful career in whatever field can be achieved without a large measure of heartache. Success does not generally come easily.

This is even truer in the case of an artistic career. The sensitive artist has a sort of insecurity within himself, a constant fear of failure. Into it also goes a certain amount of rivalry. These are all elements that bear within them a considerable dose of heartache. It seems that rivalry and jealousy are unavoidable among actors.

In addition, the theatrical world is cursed with the weakness of gossip. Everyone knows that jealousy and gossip are two very important bearers of heartache. And our Yiddish theatre has developed these two elements to a very, very high degree. Thus it happens that many actors really suffer from heartache.

But in the first few years of my career in New York, I was destined to be caught in a terrible squall, a real freezer of angry envy and poisonous gossip. It was really a miracle that I survived it. I honestly don’t know why I deserved such a reception. Maybe you’ll find the answer why. I therefore feel that the element of “heartache” deserves a top place in my title for this section.

It may perhaps be worthwhile to state here the fact that I’ve already touched on in my narrative, that a woman’s talent by itself was not enough for her to climb high in her career in the theatre. In addition to talent, she had to have the protection of someone who held a high position in the theatre—in the business or theatrical part of it.

You all know the high opinion I have of our brilliant actresses from the first years of our theatre. But it is known in the theatrical world for a fact that Bertha Kalich would not have attained her high position without her husband Leopold Spachner; Keni Lipzin without her husband, Michael Mintz; Sara Adler without Jacob Adler; Bessie Thomashevsky without Boris Thomashevsky, and so on.

Women who were not blessed with such husbands led a desperate fight all their lives. You will see clear evidence of it in my narrative.

But now we have to go to Chicago for my first season as a grownup actress in America, and a leading lady to boot.

This really fell to the lot of Chicago, the city famous all over America because of her strong winds. You no doubt know that Chicago is considered “The Windy City.” True, in the last four decades the underworld has been carrying on a strong contest with the Chicago winds. The mighty roles of the underworld there will usurp the fame entirely to themselves. Such famous ones as “Scarface” Al Capone have cut strongly into Chicago’s fame and almost robbed the winds of their royal prerogative. Since then Chicago boasts of her underworld “heroes,” no less than of her winds.

And so it seems that the fate of crowning me with a new name fell on the city of Chicago. I don’t know why, but this beautiful city that bathes in Lake Michigan threw a strong dislike, almost hatred at Celia Feinman when first meeting her.

You no doubt recall that I first felt the Chicago winds when I was a child, barely four years old. I didn’t please her way back then yet, and she cast me aside with very bad asthma. The city scarcely worried about me and my health and, as you recall, the hospitals and doctors there quite unceremoniously pronounced hopelessly against Celia Feinman’s life. But I listened to them like Haman did to the noisemaker, laughed at them and at the Angel of Death, and to spite them became well.

It seems that Chicago couldn’t forgive me for this. Such an infant as I shouldn’t want to obey her doctors, refuse to become a corpse as they had decided for me. In short, they didn’t forget me and fell on quite a devilish plan. They couldn’t destroy Celia Feinman bodily, so they would wipe her off the globe—annihilate her—they gave me a new name and that was that. No more Celia Feinman. Who knows? Maybe there was something of a Freudian interplay here… Well, anyway, Chicago had its way—no more Celia Feinman. I had become Celia Adler—out of a blue sky.

Now I can’t say that the name Celia Adler had a strange ring to me. It happens that people change their name for one reason or another. It often happens that it isn’t easy for them to accustom themselves to their new name. To me, the name Celia Adler sounded like my very own. It happened on occasion that, in writing, such as signing my name, I almost began to write Feinman after Celia. But, in general, whether in my theatrical life or in my private life in Chicago, the name of Celia Adler rang very true to me, and I felt very good about it.

I would call the Metropolitan Theatre in Chicago, which did me the honor of crowning me a star while I was still only in my second season as a grownup actress, a side-street theatre. Even the prevailing program of the theatre couldn’t boast of the stability of a legitimate theatre. The program was planned in the following way:

The beginning of each week the performance consisted of a musical one-acter in which I had to play the soubrette, sing and dance and make the audience laugh; then a melodramatic three-acter in which I had to be very dramatic and make the audience cry. The big salary of fifty dollars a week didn’t seem to be so big after all. If I had had to live in a hotel, it would have been very small.

But I succeeded in getting a place to live in a young doctor’s residence in which he lived with his wife and child, and where he also had his office. They set aside a room for me. I ate with them and the charge was minimal.

In general, their behavior towards me was very friendly. They made me feel like one of the family.

My main expense was for clothes. As a young actress, I regretfully didn’t own a rich wardrobe. The melodramas were built mostly on current interest. And since I had to play young matrons or girls, I had to dress according to the latest style. Thus it often happened that I had to use two or three dresses at one performance. And I couldn’t even wear the same dresses week-in and week-out. So I had to acquire a considerably varied wardrobe, including evening gowns and also coats, shoes and little hats. That ran into a big expense, even in those days.

In addition, my mother, who leaned toward thrift, also wanted to implant in me the habit of living on a budget. So she told me before departing: “Celia, dear, I will add an equal sum to whatever you can save this season and hand you your first bank book.”

This excited me and I tried to be thrifty.

The work was even harder than in London, if only because I lacked contentment. I didn’t enjoy my roles.

My strenuous work in the theatre affected my health. I therefore valued very highly the devotion shown to me by the “mother” of our troupe, the wonderful Annie Shapiro, grandmother of the noted actress Charlotte Goldstein. She watched over me like a faithful mother. But I began to suffer from insomnia. She couldn’t help me with that. I twisted all night on my bed, unable to fall asleep.

On one occasion I complained to my landlord, the doctor. I surmised from his remarks that he considered it to be a theatrical exaggeration. When I insisted, begging him to give me something to sleep, he said smiling:

“The end result will be, Celia, that I’ll look in on you into your room in the middle of the night sometime, and I’m sure I’ll find you asleep like someone who is dead. That’s the way people are. If it takes them a few minutes more to go to sleep, they will go around saying that they didn’t sleep all night. You work so hard that you must sleep. The actress in you is somewhat overdriven.”

He kept his word. A few nights afterwards, he and his wife came back from a party late at night. So he brought his wife along as a witness to be able to prove to me that he was right. As soon as they opened the door, I met them with a protracted “Hello!”

“You’re really not asleep?”

He brought me a pill. It did its job. I fell asleep. That was Friday night.

Suddenly I felt someone shaking me. When I pried my eyes open, I saw the physician standing near me and, at the open door, an employee of the theatre. I didn’t know where in the world I was. Little by little I began to realize what was going on.

“What time is it?”

“Saturday, two o’clock.”

“My goodness, the matinee!”

I already had no time to dress. I put on a pair of shoes and, with a coat over my pajamas, I was taken in a taxi to the theatre. But I did feel much rested.

If you play an entire season in a province-city, you are, willingly or not, within the tight circle of the theatre troupe most of the time. Your private life is virtually all bound up and knotted together with your colleagues. Their lives become an open book to you. Your life is no secret to any of them. You are near the stage at rehearsals or performances with everyone the greatest part of the day.

What you call your home in a province-city—the room with a private family or in a hotel—you use only for a few hours to sleep. Nearly every morning, as soon as you open your eyes, you already have to dress in great haste and run to rehearsal. There, on the stage, you first open the letters you’ve received, and there you write your answers. There you get your private phone calls; there you make your appointments by telephone. In a word, you lead your entire private life as in an open forum. You practically have no private, intimate life. It goes without saying that, from such a season, you have all sorts of recollections, pleasant and lovely memories, and also those you would quickly like to forget. Also much foolishness remains in your memory.

That season my first in an American province-city, was no exception. I wish to mention here several memories from that season. I believe they’re worth telling because this will give you a clear picture of the day-to-day life in the actor’s world.

I wish to begin with several foolishnesses. Surely you know that in each melodrama there must be a schemer. There was an actor in our troupe, who, so to speak, had a lease on the schemer roles. As the heroine of the melodramas, the innocent little girl or the helpless little wife, I was always the one who the schemer chased. So, often in his pursuit, he had to kiss me.

I recall that I was mastered by two feelings: my adolescent youth somehow didn’t permit me to allow myself to be kissed for real; also the actor who had the schemer roles somehow didn’t appeal to me enough to let him kiss me for real. So I hit on my own discovery. When he had to kiss me, he would find several of my fingers between his mouth and my lips. This irritated him a great deal. He didn’t dare reproach me for it. But I played with an angry schemer until the end of the season. I can’t say that it worried me very much.

However, the second foolishness did indeed worry me very much. As you already know from a previous chapter, Yascha Lewis, my boss, had a wife who wanted terribly to be a star actress. She was very jealous of Sara Adler, her sister-in-law, and decided that it was enough that her husband was Sara Adler’s brother, in addition to being the owner of the theatre for her to become at least—to make a distinction between the sacred and the profane—another Sara Adler. So she became stubborn and he had to give in to her to let her play the leading role in a melodrama from time to time. Understandably I didn’t act in that play.

You should also know that her figure was five or six sizes bigger than mine. In my wardrobe of new clothes I bought for that season, I had what is called a “grand-dame dress.” I bought it when I, with my adolescent figure, had to play such a role in order to appear more like a grand-dame, to fill out my figure for that particular role. Understandably, I bought a dress three sizes bigger than me.

The play Mrs. Lewis acted in was put on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Those where the first few days that season when I could catch my breath.

Thus it happened that Morris Morrison, that king of actors, made a guest appearance in Glickman’s Palace Theatre in Chicago. I’ve already said that Morris Morrison showed me much warmth when, in my childhood years, I enacted a country boy in one of his plays. Since then I came to love him very much, whether as an actor or as a man. So I joyfully seized the opportunity of my free time and spent that weekend at practically every performance at the Palace Theatre. Thus I wasn’t even present at our theatre.

On Monday morning, when I came into our theatre to rehearsal and went into my dressing room for a moment, I got the shock of my life. My one and only, magnificently beautiful grand-dame dress was hanging on the wall, practically torn to shreds. I began to cry with resentment. Mrs. Lewis had permitted herself to pull my dress over her figure without my knowledge or permission. Understandably, the few sizes by which her figure was larger than mine didn’t fit her—and so the dress burst. I was left in my worry, in my resentment, and my tears. It didn’t even occur to me that she should buy me another dress. I didn’t even ask it of her.

To this day I cannot understand why Mrs. Lewis bore me such hidden hatred. I can’t recall one argument I had with her, or that I should have stepped on her toes over anything. On the contrary, when she put on Gordin’s “Kreutzer Sonata” for her so-called “Evening of Honor,” and of course played Ettie, the leading role, I was content to play the second role, the role of Celia. I hope you will remember what happened at that performance when one spurt of preserves not only killed me, but Gehrman as well. The only answer I can give is that my new name, Celia Adler, stuck in her insides, like some premonition that she surely would not become a second Sara Adler.

But one thing is sure. She bore me a terrible hatred, but with much poison. Thus I recall a scene where she drove her hatred of me to the greatest absurdity. I had the role of a female revolutionary in a melodrama I happened to play. It was a period play of a certain occurrence in Russia. I had several bombastic monologues in the third act where I pour out my whole protest against the existing order. I strongly take up the cudgels of the working class—the types of monologues that must call forth stormy applause. So right away at the first performance Friday night, the theatre literally rocked with loud clapping and stamping of feet that the audience gave me and my monologues.

The next day, Saturday afternoon, the theatre was packed. The third act came, I took my stand, and fired my monologues with even more energy and strength than at the first performance. I strongly underscored the parts that had to rouse the audience. Presently I was waiting for the storm in the theatre, but instead the audience broke into resounding laughter. I became desperate. I couldn’t understand what I had done in my playing that day so as to call forth laughter from the audience. I started to examine my dress; maybe something was not just right.

And as I was turning, I saw the following scene: the four-year-old little girl of the Lewis’s was running around confused and with panicky eyes in fear of the stormy laughter from the big audience and looking for a place to escape. Mrs. Lewis was standing in the open theatre wing and calling her back.

The stage manager told me in the utmost secrecy that she had suddenly purposely pushed the little girl onto the stage when I was finishing my strong monologue.

Understandably the audience had already forgotten to give me my ovation….

I don’t know if what I’m going to tell you now should also go into the category of “foolishness.” Maybe it makes my behavior in the incident such as to place it on the borderline of foolishness.

That season, Sarah Bernhardt, the most famous actress in the world, came to Chicago for a few select guest appearances. I very much wanted to see her performances, but the tickets were very expensive, even for the matinee performances in the middle of the week—the only performances my time allowed me to see. I couldn’t decide if I dared allow myself to spend the large sum of money to see Sarah Bernhardt and, as usual, I asked my mother.

I quickly sent her a special delivery letter to Philadelphia and told her of my dilemma. Early the next morning I got a telegram that read as follows: “See Sarah Bernhardt as often as time permits you to do; don’t economize on the best tickets; there is only one Sarah Bernhardt.”

I felt very good indeed. I saw practically every play she did. To this day, I still feel the magic that enveloped me seeing her in “The Lady of the Camellias,” in “The Eaglet,” and in “Tosca.” With her playing, she strengthened my thoughts about the great art that is hidden in acting. She truly raised the art to its highest degree.

I was indeed very thankful to her for the renewed ambition that she awakened in me for the art of acting. If anything, her playing made more loathsome to me what we call “play-acting” in that side-street theatre of ours.

It was truly a blessing from God that only a few weeks later our theatre took an entirely different turn. First, practically the entire troupe was changed. The well-known star performers, Jacob Silbert, and quite a young couple fresh from Poland and Russia, Mischa and Lucy Gehrman, came to our theatre. Our side-street theatre acquired a legitimate status. We began to perform the best plays of the Yiddish repertory. I again felt within me a strength and energy and the great ambition to want to rise to theatrical achievements, to theatrical fulfillment. My lack of satisfaction, the odiousness that our side-street theatre called forth in me the first few months, were gone with the wind. Left with me to this very day were very pleasant, sweet memories from the second half of that season.

In those few months, a heart-warming friendship of long standing, and a comradeship was created between the Gehrmans and me. To this day, I have a feeling of overwhelming satisfaction that Mischa Gehrman and I played in Gordin’s “Kreutzer Sonata” that season. He played Gregory, and I Celia. In the second act when we had to play the “sonata” together, Gehrman really played the violin and I played the piano.

That’s really a rarity. Usually when you have to play an instrument like the violin or the piano on the stage, you stand in such a way that the audience should hardly notice that you, the actor, aren’t playing. While you only pretend that you’re playing with the blow, somebody actually plays backstage…. The audience knows that the actor himself isn’t playing. The actor feels uncomfortable and it often creates a funny impression. The same thing is also true of playing the piano. The piano is so placed that as much as possible the audience should not see that the hands don’t move as they should.

But here we didn’t have to count on backstage music. We both played in front of the audience. They realized it and warm-heartedly applauded us.

Mischa Gehrman was altogether a fine musician. When he didn’t play in an operetta, he would conduct the orchestra. I very much enjoyed his wonderful handsome appearance wearing a tuxedo. His sweet, charming face, with his head of pitch-black hair—he standing before us and conducting the orchestra with his baton—yes, I still savor the recollections of the second half of that season to this day…. Only I can’t understand how it was that the gossip which was such a commonplace thing in the Yiddish theatre did not interpret our actions in a cheap and poisoned way….

I was then quite a lovely young girl. I was barely nineteen years old. Mischa Gehrman was in his early twenties and, as I’ve already said, he was truly a magnificent, handsome young man, an altogether affable, warm man. As the troupe’s lover, he practically enacted my lover or husband in every play. We would often kiss each other.

And just as we didn’t have to fake the playing in the “Kreutzer Sonata”—he on the violin and me on the piano—so it was with our kissing. I liked kissing him, and maybe I liked being kissed by him even more. Our real kissing on the stage became a sort of game with us. Lucy Gehrman, who acted with us in every play, reacted in a very funny way to every one of our kisses. Whether she was on the stage when we kissed during our love scenes, or backstage, this was her comment after a strong kiss: “Oh my, that’s a cannon!”

So this was a sort of sporting game for the whole troupe. Lucy’s remark constantly called forth hysterical laughter in me…. I was given to much laughing on the stage. I very often couldn’t control myself and couldn’t stop laughing, about what had happened to me almost up to the end of the scene…Mischa Gehrman would often say to me: “You’re quacking like a little duck….” And when he saw that I couldn’t control my laughter, he would press my head to his shoulder so that the audience shouldn’t notice my laughing, and he would say to me, “Well, laugh it all out of your system, little duck….”

The only one who didn’t enjoy our “game” was that previously mentioned schemer of ours. He was among those who had remained with us from the first troupe. Evidently, he was jealous of our kind of kissing because, as you will recall, I always hid my lips with my fingers when he had to kiss me in a play. So he once made Jacob Silbert, who was the star, director and leader of the troupe, take notice of my laughing.

So Silbert came over to us and quietly told us strictly and firmly: “Why are you laughing?” I had been laughing my head off when I raised my head from Gehrman’s shoulder. On my face there was no sign of laughter and, with a very serious, insulted expression I answered him quietly: “Who’s laughing?”

He excused himself and said, “I thought you were laughing.”

This horseplay of ours and our demonstrative kissing is, I believe, the only case in the Yiddish theatre that didn’t lead to angry gossip. I’m really wondering to this day how come the gossip mongers didn’t take us three—Mischa, Lucy and me—into their mouths. Our behavior was probably so comradely, so open, so innocent that their gossip art was aborted.

Both Mischa and Lucy acted toward me like I was a little sister. And I really admired Mischa like a big brother.

Mischa, who had secretly come from Russo-Poland, still bore many Russian idioms and expressions in his language. He never called me Miss Adler or Celia. He would call me Celia Yakovlievna, in the real Russian manner.

In his “green years,” Gehrman was strongly mastered by a very serious spirit. It could have been that it had to do with his worries over how his and Lucy’s careers would be molded in America. In Europe, he had already reached the stage of a recognized actor and even director. So a smile seldom appeared on his face, and I never heard him laughing except in his roles on the stage.

Thus I recall that very often when we both left the scene happy, laughing, I would be amazed at how quickly his manner changed. The moment we crossed the threshold of the stage, he again immediately got into his serious mood, and I remember how I was overcome by an ambition to see him laugh. I got such an opportunity.

Came the happiest holiday in America—the festive days of New Year’s. The custom usually is to have celebrations on New Year’s Eve. So the troupe also decided to have such a celebration.

We prevailed upon the owner of the saloon, which was below our theatre and which had to close at twelve o’clock according to Chicago law, to let us use the hall room of the saloon. We had our celebration there. The owner was so friendly as to even supply us with drinks.  A long table with all kinds of goodies was laid out, and we had a good time.

Lucy Gehrman was not acting in that play. So what does an actress do when she has a free evening? She goes to the theatre. She evidently had gotten into a conversation with the actors there and, when our celebration began, she still hadn’t come back. Gehrman poured two little glasses and drank to my health. I sat opposite him.

“Snowim Godom, Celia Yakovlievna! (Happy New Year!)”

He quickly downed his drink.

He didn’t notice that I had secretly poured out my own little glass. I couldn’t drink, and I didn’t want to make an issue out of it.

“Let’s have another drink, Celia Yakovlievna?”

“Certainly!”

I began to feel that this was the opportunity to make him laugh.

He poured again. We again clinked the little glasses. He downed his drink and I poured mine out. When he lowered his head from swallowing the drink and noticed the empty little glass in my hand, he opened his eyes in wonder and said:

“You’re really quite a jaunty thing! Let’s have another?”

He was also among the weak drinkers, and after the third little glass he began to laugh.

I was so happy to see him laugh that I kept urging him to drink. Mischa Gehrman’s laughter became stronger and freer after each glass. Such was his laughter that the whole troupe was infected by it and the interplay of my emptying the glasses.

It must have been already after the sixth or seventh little glass. Mischa Gehrman’s laughter rang out all over the hall when Lucy Gehrman showed herself tardy at the door.

Lucy opened her eyes wide in great surprise over Gehrman standing with the little glass in his hand and laughing out loud. Her face got serious and, with a certain strictness which was part of her character, she went over to him and said:

“Gehrman, this doesn’t become you.”

He and the whole audience got to laughing even harder. He poured a little glass and gave it to her saying:

“Snowim Godim, Liuscha, drink with me to the New Year! Drink, Liuscha! Let’s laugh together!....”

Lucy drank, began to smile, lost her strictness, and we all spent a wonderful evening.

Evidently I was not fated to have an easy life in Chicago. My spirit rose very high thanks to the change in our theatre’s course. While I liked the new theatre personnel so much, suddenly a hardship saddled me from an entirely different source. The family with which I lived—the doctor and his wife—awaited a second child. She was already in her very late months, and they needed my room for their older child. I had to look for a new residence.

The thrift my mother sought to plant in me hadn’t mastered me as yet. I didn’t as yet have a “bundle” by then, so when I found a residence for the same rent not far from the theatre, I took it.

It didn’t occur to me that I might have to endure cold in my room. The residence was heated by a big stove that stood in the kitchen. My room was far from the kitchen. But when I came home late at night after a performance, it was very cold in my room.

As you no doubt know, Chicago in general, in addition to her winds, is blessed with big frosts. That winter was no exception. The big snow lay sprawling over the city for weeks and months. I am what is generally known as a “frozen soul.” I can’t stand the cold. I leave it to your imagination to picture the situation.

I was coming home late from the theatre. The cold Chicago winds had their way with me. I crawled in deep snows. The strong frost went through me. Though my residence was near the theatre, I still had to walk from eight to ten big blocks. So I was already half-frozen before I came into the house. On coming into my cold room, just having the thought that I would have to undress and crawl into an ice-cold bed made me shiver.

So I threw off only the top coat and the shoes and crawled into my bed in all my clothes, beginning to undress first when under the cover. I rolled up shivering but got a little warmer.

So this little spot where I lay rolled up was already warmed a little, if you’ll forgive the expression. But I was a living creature and had to turn occasionally or make a move in my sleep or want to stretch out my cramped legs. I touched such ice-cold places that I was shocked out of my sleep….

I complained to my landlady. She was a very warm-hearted Jewish woman, but she couldn’t give me what she didn’t have. Nevertheless, she did what she could. Before she retired she made sure that a hot tea kettle with boiling water was standing ready for me. She advised me to get a hot-water bottle, and I filled it with boiling water when I came home. This in itself already warmed me up a little. I put the hot-water bottle into the bed, and I sneaked in after it and undressed as best I could under the cover. Then I pushed the bag down to my feet, and in this “comfort,” if you’ll pardon the expression, I somehow fell asleep.

But I was not to have even this for long.

One beautiful and cold night the hot-water bottle revolted against the boiling water being poured into it night after night. It burst and the boiling water scolded my legs. My screaming woke up the whole house. My legs got very seriously burned.

Everyone in the house tried to help me. The pains rose from minute to minute. There was only one bit of luck, in that the other boarder my landlady kept was studying to be a pharmacist, and when he saw my scalded legs, he mentioned the name of the medicine that had to be supplied in such a case.

So the question was where to get the medicine at half-past one, two o’clock at night. He couldn’t witness the pains I was suffering, so he dressed and went searching for an open drug store. Although my pains didn’t subside, nevertheless, the consciousness that real help was coming soon took me out of my despair. It took my landlady considerable time to change my soaking-wet bed so I could lie down again.

I couldn’t use my own legs to walk to the bed by myself anymore. The landlady virtually carried me over and put me to bed. I suffered terribly lying in bed and comforted myself with the thought that deliverance would come any moment now. The landlady sat with me and comforted me that he would come any moment.

Time dragged on—it was three already, four already; it was almost five already. Both of us began to despair over another thing: where was he? Why didn’t he come? He’d been gone almost three hours. Where was he?

Things happened in Chicago at night. Who knows what had happened to him? The thought that I was guilty in this misfortune of something happing to him began to discomfort me a great deal, and I practically forgot my terrible pains.

It was almost six when he fell into the house tired and frozen. I even began to smile, forgetting my legs. He read in our faces what we wanted to ask. The only drug store that was open all night was several miles away—all the way at the Loop—which is what that part of Chicago is called. He walked here and back, but he brought the medicine.

He used the medicine, which had to be change often and expertly.

No matter how tired he was, he stood at my bed and kept changing compresses. At last I fell asleep.

And yet I’m an actress. And even children in their cradles know that “the show must go on”—an actress can’t allow herself to be sick for long.

When I lowered my legs, my pains were unbearable. So they came from the theatre, carried me down from the house, put me in a taxi, carried me into my dressing room,  as I sat and kept my feet on a little bench, and I put on my makeup and prepared myself for the performance. But I couldn’t walk onto the stage. They announced what had happened to me to the audience at every performance. I thus played my role half-lying on a couch.

My only reward for the anguish of my scalded legs was that Mischa Gehrman carried me on and off at every performance.

—————

In the theatre everything went along in good order, as it did in my own personal life. Obviously, Chicago had decided it had caused me enough anguish and heartache, whether as Celia Feinman or as Celia Adler.

So I spent the last few months of the winter and the entire spring very nicely. I forgot all my troubles and hard experiences of the first months and began to feel a real satisfaction in my theatrical achievements. I frequently had a lot of pleasure from the way the troupe acted toward me, and from the love the audience showed me.

Thus it was difficult for all of us to part when the theatre closed at the end of May. Because of that, we were very happy that a short tour was arranged for us on the way home. We stopped for several performances in Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Boston, and in a few smaller cities. We were well received everywhere, and we much enjoyed our short tour.

But it was fated for the Yiddish theatrical world and the Jews in America in general to experience a strong shock that summer. I believe it reached us in Cleveland. It threw over all of us fear and sorrow. But more than anyone else, I felt disorganized and shocked.

On June 10, 1909, death robbed the Yiddish theatre of its best strength, from Jewish actors their best friend. Jacob Gordin died. Throughout the years of my children’s roles, I developed a strong love, a strong respect, a deep loyalty to Jacob Gordin. I recall how devoted I felt in his presence at rehearsals, at performances. His personality virtually gave me breath. It was my greatest happiness to serve him something, to hand him something, to bring him something.

I need not tell you that one of his compliments, a good word from him about my playing, caused me the greatest pleasure. I recall how he once wanted a cold drink at a rehearsal on a hot day. My mother, you will remember, was rehearsing the role of Sheyndele in “Mirele Eros.” She sent me out quietly to get him an ice-cream soda. When I brought it over to him, he looked lovingly at me, kissed me, and said:

“When you grow up and become a great actress, I will write such a role for you, especially that you’ll become famous with it all over the world.”

This promise of his engraved itself very strongly in my brain. I often thought of it and strongly hoped that this would eventuate.

Gordin’s last words, “The comedy is finished,” not only ended his life. They surely took away a piece of the Yiddish theatre’s life and orphaned a considerable number of Jewish actors. Hundreds of Jews wept over him. He had the biggest funeral New York had ever seen. Simple Jews and the young and middle-aged and older ones wept bitter tears as one would cry over someone who was close to them. First now they began to see and feel how the Jewish masses, workers, and folk honored and loved him. First now it became clear what Jacob Gordin was to the Yiddish theatre public.

Much has been written about Jacob Gordin, both during his life and after his death. Thus I remember how my spirit was troubled over the fact that a considerable number of European Jewish writers and theatre critics wrote with disparagement, with light appraisal of him and his colossal bearing on the Yiddish theatre. I read their writings with resentment. My resentment toward them has remained with me to this day. I began to feel intuitively a dishonesty, a sort of snobbishness in their writing. In general, I had the impression that their attitude both to the theatre and to the actors was a condescending one. They lacked love of the theatre and an understanding of the soul of the actor.

So just because of that I read with sort of a vengeful feeling how one of them, a recognized theatrical writer, complained after Gordin’s death: "Gordin’s death hit the Yiddish theatre like thunder. When I had the occasion to talk to Jewish actors about Gordin, they began to cry like little children, like children who had lost their father, the provider. Literature meant Gordin to them. Theatre meant Gordin to them—all Gordin.”

He laughed at Esther Rachel Kaminska: “For Esther Rachel, Gordin was not only a dramatist. She drew her spirituality from his dramas. Gordin was her Messiah. She begins to cry and begins to mourn him like older women mourn a loving corpse. He was, or course, our father, our pride and our hope. In whose care did he leave us? We are now lonely little orphans. Little sheep without a shepherd.”

That theatrical writer, poor soul, couldn’t and wouldn’t understand the righteous feeling of the Yiddish theatrical family for Jacob Gordin. A happy exception was Noah Prilutski. Here’s how he considered Gordin’s bearing on the Yiddish theatre:

“Jacob Gordin founded the Yiddish drama. He was the first to bring real life on the Yiddish scene. He is the spiritual father of the Yiddish dramatic artist. The spiritual father of our intellectual theatre public. Gordin wrote a great deal; he doesn’t lack weaknesses, but even they are stage worthy. His stage is perpetually in motion and the movement is not contrived. Gordin’s plays are nearly all theatrical pieces in the fullest sense of the words, and in that very thing is planted the secret of his colossal success in America as in Russia. He was the first among us to dig so deeply into the psychology of a woman.”

Without exception, our American family of writers had a relationship of uprightness and respect for Gordin. There were, of course, stricter as well as milder critics. His faults were not glossed over. On the contrary, they were boldly underscored. But all, even the strictest, have recognized his great bearing on the Yiddish theatre. B. Gorin wrote:

“The greatest and most important achievements of Jacob Gordin consist of his changing a bedlam, such as he found the Yiddish theatre in America to be, into a temple of art, artists—and great artists. He never forgot he was writing for a theatre with a live audience, so he always strove to create better and loftier things….”

Abe Cahan, editor of the “Jewish Forward,” wrote:

“His work stood much higher than the previous Yiddish dramas, and he was treated as a talent from all sides, as the great elevator of the Yiddish stage. So his stock grew high among the intellectuals. He was the center of the Yiddish theatrical world. He was popular and important. There could be no doubt of the fact that he had talent, humor, and that he understood the stage like a master.”

David Pinski wrote:

“He brings into the Yiddish drama the primary essentials of the art of dramaturgy. In practically every first act of his dramas we are introduced to living people, photographed from reality, with living individualities; to types copied from life. Gordin keeps school for others to imitate. But all the imitators are weaker than him, with less talent. They all stand below him. His direction has uplifted the Yiddish theatre. Thus he became the top master of the Yiddish stage.”

Our veteran Yoel Entin, of blessed memory, that long-time critic of literature and the theatre, gave us the most pertinent and all-round deepest appraisal of Gordin:

“In Gordin the Yiddish stage found its reformer, its innovator, its redeemer. Gordin gave us a big long gallery of types—healthy, colorful, sculptured, vivid all-around figures, representatives of whole sorts of groups or classes….a long gallery; a variety of nuances of the simple man in the street; the earth-man—from the domestic tyrant; from the folk-woman; from the businessman; from the intellectual; from the young Jewish matron; from the big-city human derelict….  Gordin’s dialogue with its fresh jerky dramatic impetus….Jacob Gordin is still our best, greatest dramatist. He had significant literary faults, but he was a heaven-blessed dramatist; he was a master of profound stage technique.”

And a few more opinions from actors. My father, Jacob P. Adler, wrote after Gordin’s death:

“When I, together with my theatrical colleagues, cry only Gordin, it doesn’t mean that we renounce the others, the new ones, the modern ones. But the fact remains that Gordin was the only one who understood the Jewish public. The public recognized his types from Jewish life.”

Bertha Kalich: “A warmth emanated from him. Each word he uttered was a piece of Scripture for me. He was the only man in the theatre to whom everyone looked up.”

In her memoirs, Bessie Thomashevsky said: “We all enjoyed speaking such a sweet prose as Gordin’s. Gordin must have experienced much in the Yiddish theatre: fight like a prophet, whether with the Jewish actor or with the Jewish public, with all due respect to both of them.”

A few funny episodes are also told about his funeral. One of the eulogists said: “Jacob Gordin didn’t die. Jacob Gordin lives—he is immortal.” The one after him called out dramatically in a voice smothered in tears: “Jacob Gordin is dead. We are all orphaned.” A Jewish man in the gallery asked of those around him: “Tell me, please, what’s going on here? Did Jacob Gordin die or didn’t he?”

Among those who gave eulogies over Jacob Gordin at the funeral were also my father, Jacob Adler, and David Kessler. My father accompanied his eulogy with much weeping. He wept bitter tears. He had to stop several times because his weeping drowned his words. Understandably, the audience wept along. Kessler, on the contrary, didn’t shed one tear. But his being broken up, his being deeply moved became manifest in each word, in every move, in every expression. The audience in the theatre virtually became hysterical during his speaking.

—————

It would seem that the new star actress, Celia Adler, had made no tremendous impression on the stage managers of New York. Nobody ran after me. They didn’t need me or just plain didn’t want me.

It may not perhaps be nice of me, but I must say something here that irked me very much at the time. In that season in Chicago, especially in the second part when our theatre received more or less legitimate status, I passed the examination for a leading actress from every standpoint. Also, my success in faraway London even reached from there to the theatrical sections of “The Forward.” You will remember how in a previous chapter I cited the remarks of “The Forward” editor to the theatre managers. It would seem that I did have the right to believe that Chicago, being much closer to New York, would surely spread my success to New York’s theatre managers. Why, then, didn’t they want me?

When the season was over in Chicago, I didn’t as yet have the slightest notion what would happen to me the coming season. After the short tour our troupe made on the way from Chicago, I landed in Philadelphia at my mother’s.

Mother was already engaged for the coming season in Philadelphia. Philadelphia was preparing to write a new chapter in the history of the Yiddish theatre. My mother had known this already sometime in the middle of the season, so she made a bit of a home for herself in Philadelphia, and that’s where I went.

I didn’t bring a big accumulated savings from my Chicago season. But I had gotten together a few hundred dollars. So Mother kept her word, doubled the sum, and handed me my first bank book. It was certainly pleasant to know that several hundred dollars had been entered in the name of Celia Adler somewhere in a bank. But then I would gladly have changed that pleasant feeling for a statement from a New York theatre that said that I would play there the coming season.

I had to wait a long time for such a statement. Meanwhile, I wandered around in Philadelphia, footloose and fancy free; and even if I didn’t tell it to you, you yourself will understand that I felt pretty awful, mildly speaking.

What did the new theatrical chapter in Philadelphia consist of?

For many years the Columbia Theatre had been the stable Yiddish theatre in Philadelphia. It was located in the heart of the Jewish area. Suddenly, Mike Thomashevsky, Boris Thomashevsky’s brother, surprised Philadelphia—he leased the Arch Street Theatre, a big theatre in the center of the city, to transform it into a Yiddish theatre. Until then, big American stars as well as repertory companies had played there constantly. The theatre was much more modern, newer, bigger, and nicer than the Columbia Theatre.

That created a big stir in Philadelphia, and the Arch Street Theatre has [since] written important chapters in the history of the Yiddish theatre for over four decades.

Mike Thomashevsky engaged a very prominent troupe of actors. Besides my mother, playing in the Arch Street Theatre that season were the well-known dramatic actor Max Rosenthal and his wife, Sabina; the prima donna of long standing Clara Rafala and her husband [Morris] Goldberg; the very talented comedian Jacob Frank; the fine character actor David Baratz; and a young province-actor named Maurice Schwartz.

Like most of the Jews in Philadelphia, I was a frequent visitor to the Arch Street Theatre and truly enjoyed the fine playing. But I can’t deny that at the same time I was heartbroken over why I wasn’t engaged.

The Columbia Theatre didn’t remain empty either. Sol Dickstein, the actor and theatrical entrepreneur, took over the Columbia Theatre for Yiddish vaudeville and movies. You can believe that it was not a big competitor of the Arch Street Theatre.

But fate decreed that both the Columbia Theatre and I were to be helped. A general strike of all streetcars. The Arch Street Theatre was too far from the Jewish area, so the strike crushed business in that theatre. The strike forced Mike Thomashevsky to close his theatre earlier. Sol Dickstein saw the chance of helping his business in the Columbia Theatre, so he talked Maurice Schwartz, his intimate colleague of long standing, into entering into a partnership in his theatre as star, and to help him in changing the Columbia Theatre into a legitimate theatre.

Schwartz accepted the offer. He proposed that I become his leading lady for a salary of twenty-five dollars a week. I didn’t argue over the much smaller salary than I had received in Chicago and accepted his offer.

For a while we continued the theatre’s policy. We played sketches by Lillian and Gilrod, the manifest writers of sketches. But his wasn’t Schwartz’s ambition.

Schwartz already had a tremendous belief in himself even then. In his frequent talks with Sol Dickstein, his colleague and friend, he often expressed the thought: “You’ll see, someday I’ll be still greater than Adler, Kessler and Thomashevsky.” And though Dickstein looked at him as if at an illusionist, and surely thought he “wasn’t all there,” we know now, however, that Schwartz’s predictions were more correct then Dickstein’s doubt. I’ll have the chance to linger yet over Schwartz’s position in the Yiddish theatre in comparison with the “big three.”

The drawn-out strike favored Dickstein, and the Columbia Theatre again became a legitimate Yiddish theatre. We began to put on plays from the Yiddish repertory. We did Gordin’s “The Jewish King Lear,” Libin’s “Broken Hearts,” and “The Wild One,” as well as other plays from the better repertory. And again the Columbia Theatre’s stage got its redress.

We were mostly young people in the troupe, and we fell in love with the theatre. Ordinarily, a director has trouble with actors coming late to rehearsal. Nobody could complain about us. Most of us would come running to the theatre at nine o’clock in the morning, though the rehearsals were not scheduled to begin until eleven. So the Philadelphia Jews really got a kick out of us.

A few episodes from that very pleasant season are virtually tearing from my pen. No doubt they are to be placed in the category of foolishness:

As a partner in the theatre, Schwartz had a benefit performance. The thought already then prevailed in the Yiddish theatre that the beneficiary had to receive presents on the stage before the eyes of the entire audience. You will surely understand that when my salary as leading lady was twenty-five dollars, how much the other actors could have been getting. Thus none of us was in a position to spend money on presents. As a stranger in Philadelphia, Schwartz didn’t have any personal friends there either.

But we felt that something had to be done not to embarrass Schwartz in front of the audience—that he receive no presents, heaven forbid. So Dickstein and I took pains to make up lovely packages and handed him a considerable number of “presents” on the stage after the third act.

After the performance, some of my friends went backstage. I brought them to Schwartz’s dressing room because they wanted to congratulate him. Just then Schwartz wanted to begin opening the packages to see the presents. With great effort Dickstein and I, knowing that the packages were empty, barely kept him from doing this.

The second episode happened in Libin’s “Broken Hearts.” Gitele, the unfortunate heroine in the play, found herself in a very sad mood. The comedian in the play, one of Libin’s little do-gooders, wanted to lift Gitele’s spirits. So he went and brought up a “small pint of beer,” and they enjoyed themselves.

The beer was real at the first performance on Friday night. The next day, at the Saturday matinee, Gitele started pouring the beer in the scene, but instead of beer, soda water came out. Of course that evoked a lot of laughter from the audience. It placed me in a very foolish position.

After the act I walked over angrily to the property man who was really Sol Dickstein’s brother and reproached him:

“What did you do to me? Where was the beer? Yesterday you gave beer, why not this afternoon?”

He remained very cold to my anger and answered:

“Never mind. For a matinee, soda water is good enough.”

I have already mentioned in a previous chapter that Schwartz was at that time very successful with his imitations of the “big three,” i.e. Adler, Kessler and Thomashevsky. He used to bring out all their nuances and character traits in a fabulous way.

That season in the Columbia Theatre when we played “King Lear” and “Broken Hearts,” wherein Schwartz played Adler’s roles, he was a true copy of Adler. Very often on the stage, acting with him in the plays, I had to look very hard at him in certain scenes to convince myself that Jacob Adler was not really hidden under the makeup of David Moshele’s.

I recall when his remarkable imitations of my father awakened an incident in my memory that I had by then long forgotten. It happened some ten to twelve years earlier. I was then really only a child. You no doubt remember when I was telling you that time that we had moved to Philadelphia for my mother and Papa Feinman to try their luck for a season in that city. The outcome was that the theatre barely survived a few months because of bad business. When the theatre closed, we went to a farm in Rosenshine.

Sigmund and Dina Feinman continued to play for several months in actually the same Columbia Theatre. The theatrical building also contained a small apartment, if you’ll excuse the expression. That’s where we had our home. The several rooms were spread out in a bizarre way. For example, there was a door that led from our kitchen to the small gallery in the theatre. From another alcove you could go right onto the stage. I recall how my father, Jacob Adler, came to our theatre for several guest appearances. So at the Saturday matinee performance, I stole from our kitchen into the little gallery of our theatre, sat down on the first stair of the throughway and saw the performance.

My father was playing the famous role of “Lemach” in Jacob Gordin’s “The Wild Man.” So I, with my childish, ringing little laugh admired how my father walked around on the stage with a whip and hit whomever came near him. It was known in the theatrical profession that in that role my father paid back with that whip any actors with whom he had to get even for something. Generally speaking, his weakness consisted of enjoying hitting someone with the whip. More than one actor got smacks without reason and complained about his pains. So actors really avoided in all possible ways coming near him in the play. But I laughed a lot in the little gallery of the Columbia Theatre about my father’s carrying on with the whip.

Presently came the last act that was very dramatic and ended very tragically. “Lemach” had his revenge on his stepmother in a wild manner, and then he stabbed himself to death. My father had a very curious idea of how to accomplish this. Under the shirt on his chest he had an inflated little balloon filled with red soda water or another red liquid and, when he stabbed himself, he punctured the little balloon with the tip of his knife, and a red stream burst out of him. It looked like blood was spurting out of his stuck chest.

When I saw from the gallery that a red “stream of blood” spurted out of my father, I let go with a terrible scream. I ran breathlessly like a wild one from the little gallery into the kitchen, from the kitchen into the alcove, from the alcove to the stage. There my father stood smiling and bowing to the audience. Even before the curtain had fallen, I ran over to him and hysterically began to feel his bared chest from which the “red blood” had streamed earlier. He hugged me to him and said laughingly: “Well now, Celia dear, did you get scared? You thought I really stabbed myself? You are concerned about your father….”

Ashamed, I quietly began to cry. I was then a gal of some eight or nine years of age.

Thus I’m yet grateful to Schwartz that his splendid imitations of my father that season should have reminded me of that curious episode.

Suddenly Schwartz informed us that he had to be in New York very urgently. He told none of us why—not even Sol Dickstein, his friend, comrade and partner. Only when he had come back did he tell us the reason for his hasty visit to New York.

Malvina Lobel, the female star of the Thalia Theatre, had put on the famous play, “Madame X,” for a special performance. As you know, this was her greatest and most successful role. But she needed an actor for the very important role of the lawyer who’s really the son of Madame X.

Morris Morrison was then appearing as the guest at the same theatre. When she complained to him of her dilemma, he recalled a visit paid him in his hotel by a young actor, Maurice Schwartz. The very thin young man introduced himself to him as a young actor who was fighting for a place on the Yiddish stage and expressed the wish to appear with Morris Morrison, in his repertory when the opportunity was there.

Morrison told this to Malvina Lobel and said:

“They say the young man from Philadelphia is something out of the ordinary. He surely fits the role.”

Malvina Lobel took Morrison’s advice and sent for Schwartz.

He studied the role hastily and played so splendidly that he was outstanding.

The role stamped him as one of the very promising young actors. As a result of that role he was engaged later that season for a tour over the provinces with the famous, charming and gorgeous soubrette Clara Young.

You know, of course, that in her later years she conquered Poland and Russia. There she became the darling both of the theatrical public, of the family of writers, and of the intellectuals in general. Unfortunately, she died in Soviet Russia under mysterious circumstances.

Her husband, the capable character actor Boaz Young, who was also a competent and successful theatrical producer, offered the young Maurice Schwartz a fine comic character role in the play with which they traveled over the province.

That secret, hurried visit to New York from our Columbia Theatre in Philadelphia was surely the first rung up the ladder of Schwartz’s successful career.

I shall very often return to Maurice Schwartz and his theatrical career yet later in my narrative. I must here and now tell you about Schwartz’s falling in love with me, about our romancing, how close I was to becoming Mrs. Celia Schwartz-Adler, or Celia Adler-Schwartz. To this day, when I think of it, I don’t know and can’t decide if I should or should not be sorry that our romance fell through….

I’ve already told you about our first acquaintance, when we began to go out, when he would take me to lunch and himself remain hungry….

I recall how I borrowed one of her little diamond rings from my mother and purposely pretended that he see and think that that was an engagement ring—to wit, that I was already someone’s betrothal. So he used to worry, poor fellow, and try to find out in various ways who the groom was. I used to pretend that I didn’t notice it.

I’ve already complained once in my narrative that the saucy little angel with the bow and arrow who shoots his love darts into young hearts ignored me completely. In my mature years then, as a nineteen- or twenty-year-old girl, I was not matched up by a hot love affair. I did not suffer from pangs of love, from love pains. Despite my few childish high-school romances, which are it seems to me, a natural event in the life of nearly all girls and boys at that age, Schwartz was really the first grownup, mature young man who so to speak courted me and showed signs of seriously falling in love.

So I sought in my heart the answer to the question: “Is this really it? Is this how a young girl feels when she comes upon her true love, when she comes face to face with a serious love?”

My heart didn’t give me the answer. I didn’t lose my breath. My sleep wasn’t stolen. My appetite wasn’t weakened. That’s how I heard and read lovers feel. I didn’t feel the symptoms….

Schwartz didn’t hide his sincere feelings toward me. I know, for example, that when about that time the young, handsome, lover-actor Joseph Shoengold interested himself very strongly in me, Schwartz, who was a friend of Shoengold’s, convinced him that he should get out of his (Schwartz’s) way.

At last Schwartz began to talk of our becoming bride and groom and sought my affirmative answer. I also began to think seriously of giving him my consent. But even then, as a girl who was already eligible for marriage, I couldn’t decide to give my consent, not knowing my mother’s feelings toward him. Even in such an important moment, and even perhaps because of it, I wanted to know my mother’s thinking first.

I didn’t say this to Schwartz. I didn’t want to give him false hopes, or I was somewhat ashamed of my lack of decisiveness, of my weak self-assertion…. But I didn’t give him my “Yes.” I was seeking an appropriate opportunity to talk to my mother.

Meanwhile, the end of the season crept up on us. Our theatre closed, Schwartz went to New York to prepare for the province-tour with Clara and Boaz Young. My mother, my sister Lillie and I began to get ready to go to Lodz to place a headstone on Papa Feinman’s grave.

Even before my mother, Lillie and I, had left Philadelphia, Schwartz was already coming with Clara and Boaz Young to the Arch Street Theatre on the province-tour. Philadelphia was really the first city of their lengthy tour. They were playing a comedy by the well-known actor Hyman Meisel.

I’m sure a great many of you still remember well that fine character actor Hyman Meisel. He played in our Art Theatre a good number of years. At the same time his daughter was a prima donna in the Yiddish theatre for many years. Bella Mysell became a darling of the Yiddish theatre public with her youthful looks and splendid voice. Besides Meisel’s leaning toward better Yiddish theatre, he was an overall brainy person. How does the expression go? “Could hold a pen in his hand.”

In the course of his career on the stage, he wrote several successfully performed plays. Mostly they were musical comedies without pretension to literature. In his younger days, Meisel was by conviction a Socialist and wrote several poems of a socialist character. They were often recited at socialist mass meetings.

This was the beginning of the century, when the Jewish workers’ movement and the Jewish unions were still in their swaddling clothes. Young revolutionary worker-leaders of that time fought with desperate strength against the existing sweatshops with all its revolting characteristics. They had to wage their struggle not only against the bosses, but also against the workers who didn’t understand and were even afraid of the word “union,” no less than the work-providers were afraid. Nearly every evening street meeting was held on East Broadway, Rutgers Square, and the other East Side streets, where our worker’s leaders would talk their hearts out to clarify the meaning of unions to the immigrant masses—“When the worker’s hand wants it, all wheels stop….”

In those days, the status of the consciousness of the working masses was very backward. Thus, for example, the story is told that, at one of those big meetings before a strike, the speaker enumerated and clearly interpreted all of the demands they were making on the bosses; an eight-hour day, only half-a-day on Saturday, a considerable raise in wages, and other union provisions. The large workers’ audience remained quite cold, didn’t show any enthusiasm at the speaker’s heart-warming words. But one little Jewish man was standing and admiring every word, virtually pulling the words out of the speaker’s mouth, nodding his head, and in general expressing his satisfaction with the speaker. So the speaker was indeed happy that his words had had an effect on at least one person. When he finished and got off the platform he casually walked over to the Jewish man, wanting to get to know the knowledgeable worker more intimately. The Jewish man pressed his hand, and looking with contempt at the audience, said: “They’re actually real dolts; ask them if they have the slightest idea, if they understand anything… Only eight hours a day! Get it? I’ll be able to work two jobs, and on Saturday and Sunday a third job….”

A knowledgeable worker….

The young Hyman Meisel used to appear quite often at socialist meetings, reciting his socially conscious speeches. His famous speech was “The Little Cow.” The working class was the little cow—it allowed itself to be milked. But he warned the little capitalist class that when the little cow got angry, it would kick with its little hoof, and this is going to be rough and tough on the little capitalists…. "The Little Cow” became a hit at workers’ meetings.

The working class was not represented in Meisel’s musical comedy called, “My Wife’s Husband,” which the Youngs played in Philadelphia on their tour.

Schwartz didn’t have a big role in the play. He played a foolish little German who declares his love for the leading heroine played by Clara Young. He made it so curiously funny that he was outstanding in the role. I liked him very much. Understandably, after the performance, I saw him and praised him very highly for his playing. He was very pleased by it. He then told me secretly that he was almost certain that he would play with David Kessler in the new Kessler’s Second Avenue Theatre the coming season.

Knowing that I would be going to Europe in a few days, Schwartz insisted we become bride and groom. I put off the answer until I would be coming back. He wanted some kind of promise from me. But I still hadn’t had a chance to talk to my mother, and I didn’t want to leave him with false hopes. But I promised myself that I would talk to my mother about it and get her answer during our trip.

I kept my word. I lost no time. Right away, on board ship, as soon as we settled down. Heaven forbid that I talk about becoming bride and groom. I began to talk in general about his theatrical talent, so that even David Kessler it seemed thought highly of him. It was likely that he would be engaged in Kessler’s new Second Avenue Theatre the next season; that he had a good chance of rising in his career.

Mother sat deep in thought, looked into the far distance, and looked at me seriously from time to time. But she didn’t say a word. So I was still left without an answer.

But I didn’t stop. During the seven to eight days aboard ship, I tried to start a conversation about Maurice Schwartz at every opportunity in one way or another, mentioning his wonderful imitations, which she also enjoyed. I told her how he once imitated Elias Rothstein for us, the then-recognized actor. I tried to imitate for my mother Schwartz’s imitation of him.

But you know that Elias Rothstein had a particular characteristic in his demeanor on the stage. He seldom stood quietly and constantly shook a leg or his shoulders. Thus his words very often came out trembling because of the shaking of his members. Schwartz strongly underscored this very characteristic of his in imitating him. When I tried to imitate it to my mother on our ship, she rolled with laughter.

I didn’t have to try hard to make my mother laugh. You no doubt know the theatrical expression, “He is my Moses.” By this it’s meant that this one or that one gloats over me—he is “my Moses.” My mother was constantly “my Moses.” She admired my every twist and turn. Very often when strolling in the street, I would make a gesture with my hand, a nod with my head, a twist of the lips. She would virtually lose her breath laughing. So it was no wonder that she rolled with laughter when she saw me imitate Schwartz imitating Rothstein’s trembling members.

Despite this characteristic of his, Rothstein was considered an important actor in the troupe. Thus, for instance, he played opposite Thomashevsky as one of his brothers in one of Gordin’s first plays, “The Brothers Luria.”

Rothstein had another weakness that didn’t show on the stage. He had a terrific leaning toward exaggerating things that happened to him. There are a number of little stories—really among the classics—of this weakness of his. For instance, he boasted that the collar on his winter coat had a special attribute. He gave the fur collar a haircut at the end of every winter when he packed his coat away for the summer. He clipped the hair to its very root. When he took the coat out at the beginning of the winter, the hair had grown longer and thicker than before.

In those years, actors who traveled in the provinces hardly ever stayed in a hotel. There were loyal theatre lovers in every city who invited a number of actors into their house with pleasure, gave them of the best during the time they were guest players in that city, and charged them a very minimal price.

But Rothstein boasted he had a family in Chicago with which he always stayed when he was guest-playing there. So it was something out of this world…. In the morning when he got up and sat down to eat breakfast: “Well, the warm little rolls virtually crawled into your mouth all by themselves. And what about all that variety of salted goodies? Where in the world can you find their equal? Well, the words just fail me…. But when it came time for the eggs…. You’re all boasting about the fresh eggs you’re eating—but they don’t compare to the eggs I got from my landlady in Chicago. A snow-white hen jumped up on the table, she cackled ‘ku-ku-ku’ three times, and a fresh egg appeared. Again, ku-ku-ku, and again a fresh egg….”

“Chicago was really my city,” he boasted. “Last season, you must know, I played in Glickman’s Theatre. Well, anyhow, I needn’t tell you that tens of thousands of people were turned away at my ‘Evening of Honor.’ No living actor has as yet experienced such an honor as the mayor paid me. It was an important political demonstration. The major invited me to be his guest. There was a big automobile parade. Hundreds of thousands of people stood on the sidewalks on both sides of the street. The mayor and I rode up front in an ‘automobile of glass.’”

When he told these stories, he gave me no indication that they were exaggerations. He honestly believed everything he said. In private life he was a refined, fine man. His behavior toward his fellow actors was with heartfelt friendship. His cavalier behavior to the women in the theatre and his private life was a renowned byword. I cannot think otherwise of him than of a fine, warm-hearted person—as an American would put it, “A perfect gentleman.”

I’ve interrupted my serious attempt to discover my mother’s opinion of Schwartz, which then interested me very much—and I turned to Elias Rothstein. My feeling of collegiality toward my fellow actors doesn’t let me pass easily by a name I remember. I want to pause over their characteristic elements, over their personalities. I have the feeling that I not only satisfy myself with this, but you the reader as well, both those of you who remember the people who gave their greatest part of their life to the Yiddish theatre, and those for whom the names are completely strange.

We will now return to my mother and Schwartz. All my attempts on board ship to find out if my mother understood what I was aiming at didn’t succeed. I didn’t get one word out of her about it.

London was our first stop in Europe. There Mother got connected with the director of the Pavilion Theatre and arranged for a number of guest performances for us on the way home. My mother’s friends, Harry and Annie Kosky, whom I’ve already mentioned a few times in my narrative, took pains with us the few days we spent there. When we were leaving Annie Kosky presented me with a smallish black straw hat, worn at the tip of the head and embellished by a red flower. It was the latest Parisian style to wear little hats. The little hat played a considerable role later in our journey.

From there we stopped in Paris for a few days. There I had a particularly enjoyable evening when my mother, Lillie and I were taken to the famous Parisian cabaret, the Moulin Rouge. I again found there my beloved brother Charlie Adler. That was the first time I saw him as a dancer. He was very deft and charming, and I fell in love with him anew, but I couldn’t stay long with him there either.

The next day we left Paris on the way to Lodz.

We also spent a few days in Berlin. Opposite our hotel was one of the popular German restaurants, Aschinger’s. I remember how when we looked at the menu seeking something to eat, we, loyal to my mother’s thriftiness, first looked at the prices. At the price of a “hundred,” which was the highest price, the meal really appealed to me. So I looked at mother and at the menu and couldn’t decide, when Mother asked me if I found what I wanted. I showed her the menu, covering up the “hundred” with my fingers: “I’d like that, but...” I took my finger of. Mother almost winced: “A hundred?! A hundred what? How much is that in our money?”

I called the head waiter over. It turned out that it was all of one quarter of our money. Mother took an easy breath and ordered very proudly: “Three portions, please.”

Suddenly I heard muffled laughs and a kind of whispering from a table behind us. I stole a glance at what had brought on their laughter. Presently I saw that it was really I who was the cause of their laughter. It didn’t mean that it was really me they were laughing at, but my little French hat. They were all wearing such big, broad straw hats that it was as if a roof had been built around and around them, sitting at the table. I felt very much on the spot and ashamed. My feelings of thanks to Annie Kosky for the nice little Parisian hat began to evaporate.

The head waiter noticed my discomfort. He came over to me and said quietly: “Don’t let it bother you. They don’t know a thing about the latest style.”

But the role of my little hat didn’t end there. From Aschinger’s we went to Berlin’s main street, Unter den Linden. Mother wanted to buy something special as a gift for Mrs. Zandberg. Her husband was the director of the Yiddish theatre in Lodz.

Thus, standing at one of the stores, I suddenly heard near me a thick, mocking laugh interrupted by some such question as this: “Tell me, Fraulein, why do you wear such a small hat? “

I looked at him wonderingly and lost.

Mother and Lillie, who were a little farther away, looked around. Noticing that I looked so lost before the tall German, she called to me from a distance: “What’s the matter, Celia?”

I answered her: “He doesn’t like my little hat!”

As if to answer my words, I heard a laughing, friendly tone in English. “I think it’s very pretty.”

I was overjoyed at an American countryman.

When we came to Lodz, several weeks of guest appearances had already been prepared for my mother. Lillie and I also played. I recall our playing Kobrin’s “The Lost Paradise,” a play that Boris Thomashevsky had made himself famous.

Understandably, Mother played the leading women’s role, a woman who left her very refined husband, Benny Leideman, with her small children and went away with a lover. She was mistaken in him. The lover turned out to be nothing like she thought he was. She suffered, she was remorseful, but she wasn’t strong enough to leave him. And she certainly felt that she was unworthy to have her refined husband take her back. Her suffering reached the highest degree in the fourth act and, in her despair, she at last decided to put an end to her sufferings and anguish—to shoot her lover, then herself.

So what often happens on the stage happened at one of the performances—the revolver refused to shoot. I don’t wish to repeat to you the despair of an actress in such a case. All of us standing backstage were beside ourselves. We couldn’t imagine how mother would get out of this situation and be able to finish the act. On the stage, Mother made all the efforts to have the revolver relent and do its duty, but it didn’t help. The revolver remained stubborn; it didn’t shoot. So mother drew herself up taller than she was, and looking with scorn at her lover, she said bitterly: “Oh no, you are not worthy of so nice a death as to be shot. And why should I lose my life over such a low creature as you are? No, I want to live. I’m going back to be a mother to my children. I’m going back to my beloved husband.”

The curtain fell at last with a storm of applause.

Isaac Zandberg was a recognized actor in the European Yiddish theatre for a good number of years. In 1905 he took over the great Grand Theatre in Lodz.

He gave himself completely over to his duties as director and gave up acting. His wife, Julia Zandberg, was also popular for a number of years, both as a prima donna in the Goldfaden repertory, and later also in the modern repertory. When her husband became director of the Lodz theatre, she took on the business side of the theatre.

Director Zandberg was a lovely person and had a fine relationship with my mother and with us. He had a terrifically high opinion of Papa Feinman, who very often played for him and died on his stage. He used to take us to a cabaret after each performance.

You will surely understand that by the time you got finished with a performance, you would come sort of late to the cabaret. Zandberg acted with a broad hand and ordered for us the best and tastiest and most memorable. And until we had been served, had eaten and drank and watched the several numbers of the program, it was already after two o’clock. I felt very tired and sleepy, but I saw that Zandberg wasn’t even considering going home. At last I took courage and asked him: “Mr. Zandberg, when are we going home? It’s so late.”

“What are you talking about, child? It’s still dark outside; one should be afraid to go out. We’ll go when it gets light.”

It was the custom to spend the time there until daylight.

Thus, I now think with pain that the lively, joyful city of Lodz no longer exists for actors and artists and Jewish people in general.

—————

The headstone for Feinman’s grave and the ceremony were very impressive.

I will bypass my mother’s feelings and ours that we experienced at that sorrowful moment.

We played for several weeks in Lodz.

Presently, we were sitting during intermission time at a rehearsal on the stage of the theatre. Out of a blue sky, my mother said to the whole troupe:

“You know, when we return home to New York, my little Celia will, by God’s grace, become the bride of a very young, gifted actor, Maurice Schwartz.”

My breath stopped. I didn’t believe my ears. So my efforts on board ship and during the entire trip had not been thrown away… What congealed my breath was that she had given no sign by facial look or expression that she had even been thinking about it.

Everyone in the troupe wished me luck. But I looked for the first opportunity to get away to our hotel and immediately wrote Schwartz a letter about the good news. I ran in joyous excitement to the post office to send away the letter all the faster. I’ll never forget that day. I didn’t sleep any more that night. In my imagination I saw Maurice Schwartz getting my letter, clearly heard his outcry of happiness, and obviously saw him run around to all his friends to tell them the happy news.

Early the next morning, when we were leaving the hotel and they handed me the mail, I noticed a letter to me from Maurice Schwartz. Though all my faculties told me that this could not yet be an answer to my message, I nevertheless opened the letter with great expectations. There wasn’t one word written in the envelope. I took out of it a wedding invitation—Maurice Schwartz invited me to his wedding with Eva Rafala.

I looked at the invitation again and again. I read the names over. Yes, that was really the way it was printed—Eva Rafala to Maurice Schwartz.

If you have an imagination, I’ll leave it to you to understand how I felt. I gave my mother the invitation with an open mouth, with lowered eyes.

We never again said one more word about it.

—————

We did not leave Lodz in a happy frame of mind. We stopped over in Warsaw for a few performances.

Engraved in my memory is the curious impression made on me by my first acquaintance with military uniforms, their hanging swords, and the military discipline. As an American girl, I had never seen it in America.

Sitting in a hotel in Warsaw, which was in the very center of the city, I looked out the window and followed with curiosity the saluting ceremony plain soldiers went through when they met higher military personnel; their straightening up, the hasty raising of the hand to the little hat; it made a deep impression on me. I revolted against it without any reason. I began to feel fear for the fate of the soldier in case he failed to give the salute.

Our performances in Warsaw were a colossal success. We got to know a considerable number of new actors and, in general, took a look at the Jewish cultural family.

So I feel an added trembling of my heart when I think of what happened to all of them there, and what, in general, remained of the busy, creative Jewish Warsaw….

At last we got to London. I needn’t tell you how my mother was received by the theatrical public.

A few days after our guest appearance in the Pavilion Theatre in London, my father Jacob P. Adler and Sara Adler came there for their guest appearances. Their first play was Libin’s “God’s Punishment.”

On the day following Adler’s coming, we were surprised when there appeared at the door of our hotel room, which was opposite the Pavilion Theatre, the majestic figure, the classic face, the world-famous white head of my father. When I said “surprised,” I used a very mild expression. I virtually didn’t believe my eyes.

Even my mother’s usually unruffled nature also felt a certain excitement. She asked him in a reproachful tone: “What is it? What do you want?”

My father answered with a pitiable face and guilty eyes:

“Is it really so fantastic that I’ve come to see you? Is it so vicious? I want to ask you for a favor—you and Celia. I need an actress to play my daughter in 'God’s Punishment.' My Nyunia played her in New York. I’d like to ask you to let Celia play the role.”

“I’ve no objection if Celia wants to.”

“Will you be at rehearsal tomorrow morning, Celia?”

“Yes, Papa.”

Early the next day I went to rehearsal with a curious feeling. I was two-and-a-half years old the last time I was on the stage with my father. You will recall my written-in child’s role in “King Lear.” And you know that I don’t consider that one of my acted roles. What does a child of two-and-a-half years know? Now, fully grown up, understanding the complete mix-up of my family life, I was preparing for the first time to play with my eminent father. A certain nervousness began to gather in my heart.

When I got on the stage for rehearsal, where Sara Adler avoided greeting me, my nervousness rose still higher…. My father approached the rehearsal very matter-of-factly—gave me my role as if there was no unusual situation here. I liked the role. I got going on studying it diligently and rehearsing it.

I completely ignored the indifference Sara Adler showed me during the several days of rehearsal. The first performance came along. The stage exhibited the house of the non-orthodox rabbi—a rich house with high steps that led to the upper rooms. Jacob Adler played the rabbi, my father in the play. Sara Adler, his wife, was my mother in the play.

Presently, both of us, she and I, were coming down the stairs, me in front and her behind me. Suddenly I felt the touch of her hand on my shoulder. I stopped instinctively. She buttoned my dress, which I had no doubt hastily left open. Neither she nor I said a word about it. After all, we were on the stage before an audience. But I had a peculiar feeling—a kind of respect for her stage duty and loyalty to her theatrical instinct.

My mother was at the performance. She sat in a loge. You already know the attitude the London public had toward her. A rather large part of the people knew the whole history of my mother’s life. So they watched my mother with a great deal of curiosity, wanted to ascertain what kind of effect Jacob P. Adler’s playing would have on her. There was a feeling of nervous strain in the theatre. And perhaps for the first time in his life on the stage my father was suffering like countless actors suffered on various stages when he sat white-headed in a theatre loge and drew the public’s attention to himself. Such moments in the theatre always made him smile, and he never felt what an interference that was for the actors on the stage. He sent someone to ask Mother to do what many managers used to beg him to do—to hide behind the loge curtain. My mother did it for him.

I was indeed satisfied when, during the course of the performances, my father complimented me several times on the way I played the role. But I valued very highly the wordless compliments I felt in Sara’s glances at me in the role. I’m sure her glances didn’t deceive me. Evidently, her theatrical instinct was stronger than her personal feelings.

A few days after the last performance we boarded the ship to return to New York.

This time I didn’t look to have any conversations with my mother on board ship. I was occupied with myself. The closer we came to New York, the more restless I grew. I tried to analyze Maurice Schwartz’s action again and again. How could such a thing have happened? Barely two or three months before, he had been so in love, so terribly unhappy over his uncertainty with me, anxious to get a good answer from me. Now he was already a married man.

I couldn’t conceive it in any way whatsoever. Something was not quite right here. Something was surely askew here. Was his love twisted? How could I meet him? What would I say to him when I got into his presence? What would he say to me? Should I be angry or show him it didn’t bother me? Was my woman’s pride insulted here? I couldn’t find the real answer here within me.

Among our friends who awaited us at the alighting from the ship was also Leon Berger, Schwartz’s chum. We looked at each other. As if in answer to my glances, he spread his hands and drew up his shoulders, as though he was saying: “What can I tell you?”

When we were finished with the customs officials and he could talk eye-to-eye with me, he told me at last how Schwartz felt and that he wanted to see me. At first I refused, but Berger didn’t leave me be and harangued me and begged me so long that I gave in.

He actually came to me that very evening. I imagine that’s how a man must look who’s being led to his execution. That’s how Schwartz looked when he opened the door. So much guilt lay in his eyes that he couldn’t lift them. His entire appearance expressed shame, dissatisfaction with himself, despair—as if he was facing an abyss.

He sat down on the first chair and didn’t say a word for quite a while. I quietly looked at him, studied him, and also didn’t speak.

I can’t say that his situation called forth pity or sympathy in me. If my face or my eyes expressed anything, it was only perhaps what was in my thoughts: “What and how did it happen?”

It took quite a while to begin to speak. His first words were about his terrible despair when he got my letter. He only told us afterwards how it happened.

I could in no way find a justification for his behavior in his explanation. I instinctively surmised that something was “rotten in Demark.” This feeling remained with me.

Only now, a few months ago, I happened to find myself several times with Schwartz’s friend of his youth, his partner in the Columbia Theatre, Sol Dickstein. I was verifying certain dates and happenings of that season. Talking to me about that time, he told me:

“Celia, you know at least how much Schwartz was in love with you? He was mad about you. The trouble was that he had already been the groom of Eva Rafala from Cincinnati for two years!”

My feeling that something was rotten in Denmark was correct.

—————

The theatrical season of 1910-1911 had begun. If you include Brooklyn, New York, then there were six or seven Yiddish theatres. Among them were the Thalia Theatre with Jacob and Sara Adler, the People’s Theatre with Boris and Bessie Thomashevsky, the Lipzin Theatre with Keni Lipzin and Morris Moskowitz, Kessler’s Lyric Theatre with Malvina Lobel, and the Liberty Theatre under the direction of Edwin A. Relkin.

It would seem that there was no place for me in all those theatres. Evidently that writer in "The Forward” who wrote “thanks to theatre politics, Celia Adler won’t be allowed to practice her métier” [was correct.] Maybe I felt instinctively that he was right. But I couldn’t possibly understand it. The fact remained—I was not engaged.

So I had to be satisfied with attending the theatre. That season the truly brilliant Rudolph Schildkraut played Thomashevsky’s People’s Theatre. I recall the deep impression his playing made on me when I saw him for the first time. I was virtually in seventh heaven. I was literally conscious of nothing around me. I was absorbed in the stage with all my senses, taken up only with the brilliant playing of Rudolph Schildkraut. I felt then that never before in my life had I ever experienced anything like it. I clearly remember that long after the performance was over, I remained sitting dumbfounded and didn’t move from my place.

When I finally got up to leave, the theatre was practically empty. I’ve never been immersed in religious feelings, but a prayer was engaged in my memory that my lips whispered constantly during the performance: “Help me, dear God, to have the privilege some day of standing on the same stage with the heaven-blessed artist Rudolph Schildkraut.”

Perhaps it will sound melodramatic, or perhaps on the borderline of literary trash, but this is how it happened: Two or at the most three days later, I suddenly got a phone call from the People’s Theatre to come to the theatre’s office. Mr. Thomashevsky wanted to see me.

I don’t know if anything like this had happened [before] in the Yiddish theatre, but this is how Thomashevsky spoke to me:

“I don’t have a specific role for you. My company is complete. I want to engage you as a substitute, the way they call it in the English theatre. If an actress should get sick or can’t come to play for another reason, you’ll have to be ready to jump into her role. You’ll have to know all the plays of my repertory well. You understand, though, that I can’t pay you very much for this. I’ll give you twenty-five dollars a week.”

As I have said, no such thing had ever happened in the Yiddish theatre before. Anyway, I never knew about it; so that when Thomashevsky spoke to me, my head was filled with the question of why he was doing it. Why did he need me? I couldn’t believe that my silent prayer while watching Schildkraut play had brought about this peculiar engagement by Thomashevsky.

The secret was uncovered for me a few weeks later. Pointed out to me were several notices in the Jewish newspapers, including the notice in "The Forward” that I previously mentioned, as well as a special long article written by Jacob Fischman, the well-known editor-in-chief of “The Morning Journal.” They all had one question: Why wasn’t anybody engaging Celia Adler? No one heard about it from my father, Jacob P. Adler; it had no effect on David Kessler, and certainly not on the managers of the other theatres. The only one who began to feel that it was right and proper that Jacob Adler’s and Dina Feinman’s daughter deserves to have the opportunity to be able to show that she belongs to the Yiddish theatre was Boris Thomashevsky.

I have deeply valued that sentiment of his all the years of my theatrical career. Writing about this situation now, I feel like using the well-known Yiddish expression: “O Earth, lie though light and tender on his grave….”

The outcry of the newspapers was the biggest surprise to me. I practically knew none of the theatrical writers at the time. I also didn’t know why I deserved such attention on the part of the Jewish press. But I’m endlessly grateful to those who stood up for me.

Let me use this opportunity to express my deepest thanks to the press as a whole for the many decades it treated me in such a fine and wonderful way. Since the only article written with a byline was the one Jacob Fischman wrote, I wrote him a thank-you note a few days later and also got a reply from him that “an actress needn’t thank a theatrical reviewer for writing a good opinion of her.” I took his advice. I never did it again.

Jacob Fischman’s article and his answer to my thank-you note to him indirectly led me to a very warm-hearted friendship of long standing between us. Fischman was a very fine and pleasant man. I don’t know if in those years of our friendship you could already call him an old bachelor. But he was and remained one to the end of his life. He was close with many actors of the better Yiddish theatre, had his firm opinions about the theatre and thespian art and had a wonderful sense of humor. It was very pleasant to be in his company, a pleasure to spend time with him. The most important women stars were his closest friends. But he never played the cavalier. Besides his strenuous work on “The Morning Journal” as editor-in-chief, he was a recognized Zionist leader and very often took part in Zionist congresses.

I remember the terrible news from the twenty-second Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, of his sudden death. Only then, from the endless necrologies in Chaim Weitzman’s funeral oration, were his many virtues and his truly fine personality revealed.

When I come to the years of the twenties of the present century in my narrative, I shall again mention the beloved Jacob Fischman and one of the “three Jacks,” who for a number of years elevated and embellished my life with their upright friendship.

Now, however, we are still only in the last months of 1910 when I was engaged by the People’s Theatre. I had the satisfaction of being in the same theatre with Rudolph Schildkraut. My thoughts were still full of the wish to have the opportunity of playing with him. My first opportunity of standing on the stage of the People’s Theatre was in Libin’s “Justice.” An actress got sick and I had to play a role second to Bessie Thomashevsky’s—without rehearsal.

In the last act I was in the courtroom where I was a witness at the trail about my dead mother. After testifying, I had to remain seated speechless among the people in the courtroom until the end of the act. The plot brought out the tragic details of my mother’s death. So I uttered a strangled, sobbing cry. Boris Thomashevsky and Leon Blank quickly turned around in my direction to see where the crying came from. Both looked peculiarly at me, and then they both looked meaningfully at each other. I didn’t know whether or not I had done a good thing with my outburst. When the curtain fell, they both came over to me and praised me for that scene: “Your outburst was a very good idea. It’s so natural that a daughter not remain sitting nonchalantly when her mother’s death was being described. It hasn’t been done until now.” Because of that, my stock went up a little.

My second important happening that season surely also had a significant effect on the continuing path of my career. Because of that happening, Thomashevsky was fully convinced that important roles could be entrusted to me. I then considered it as my Black Friday, but it was a light and shining page in the story of my career.

It was on a Friday afternoon that a messenger came to me from the theatre, gave me the script of a play with a little note from Thomashevsky: It was going to be performed at the next day’s matinee. Bessie Thomashevsky could not play the next day, i.e. I had to substitute for her in the role. The next day at eleven o’clock. Thomashevsky would go over the mise-en-scene with me.

I opened the script and my heart sank. I held in my hand Ossip Dymow's famous drama, “Here, O Israel.” I had never seen the play performed, but I remembered the play’s reviews when it was put on to the effect that the leading lady’s role was a big one, was very complicated and strongly dramatic, a role that required deep cogitation, much fathoming, in order that it be experienced and all the author put into it be brought out. How could I manifest all this in a matter of hours? But that was my fate—my first big role in New York, and I had to prepare in such a machine-like fashion.

I sat down in bed with a pillow at my back and a pillow on my lap so that the text would be close to my eyes. I decided to first read the whole play over so as to acquaint myself with the circumstances into which my role was to fit. The dramatic and tragic scenes and Anna, the heroine’s unusual heart-rending monologues made my cry a lot. In addition to the play’s tragedy, I also felt my own tragedy that I had to learn such a role in such a hurried and makeshift way. I finally took myself in hand—I had to know the role by morning of the following day.

I studied the role and the tears flowed without cessation. Understandably, I did not sleep that night, but I knew my role by heart and all the cues of the people around me.

When I got to the theatre at eleven o’clock, B. Thomashevsky went over the scenes a few times with me—where to enter, exit, where to walk, where to sit. I began to feel terribly nervous. The entrances and exits, the right place to stand and sit, all this is a great help in the play’s progress and for all participants. But my role was not made clear to me thereby; I gained very little from it for my playing.

But marvelously curious things occur in the theatre. Countless big successes, whether of an entire play or individual roles, come about thanks to such curious happenings. One of the dramatic scenes in the play, “Hear, O Israel,” occurred in the third act when I told my father, Aaron Schaefer, about what had happened to me during the pogrom.

One of the wild pogrom activists raped her. She was the bride of Jacob Enman, one of the worthy young men in the city, and now they had to prepare for the wedding. But she being of a class and proper persuasion and feeling herself so dirtied, so debased inside because of that shameful occurrence, considered herself unworthy of becoming the wife of so refined a fine man as Jacob Enman.

I sat at my father’s feet at that scene—poured out my heart, called out my pain, told my father about the terrible happening. Even though I know the speech very thoroughly, my breath congealed because of my terrible nervousness in the tight atmosphere of that moment. I wanted to speak. I opened and closed my mouth, but no sound came out of it. Thomashevsky, feeling my body trembling at his feet, at his feet quietly whispered to me: “Calm yourself; don’t be so nervous.”

But I couldn’t control my mouth and my throat. Holding my face in both hands with great effort to more or less contain the nervous trembling of my mouth, I at last succeeded in stammering out the great pain that lay deep in my heart in a voice that sounded distant and strange. When I at last succeeded in getting to the end, I became frightfully hysterical. My helplessness, my terrible nervousness that brought on the curious state of my mouth and throat fitted marvelously into the mood of my role and into what transpired in that scene. And so I succeeded in bringing out all that the role had hidden within itself.

The stormy, almost wild applause of the audience, compensated me partly for the suffering and pain I went through during the frightful minutes on the stage. Thomashevsky’s expression at me as we were bowing to the audience compensated me even more for the bitter hours I had had since I had received the text of “Hear, O Israel” in my room.
 

The theatre was getting ready to produce a new operetta by Boris Thomashevsky. During that time, Rudolph Schildkraut was to make a tour over the provinces with Shomer’s “Eikele, the Mischievous One.”

The leading woman’s role was played by Bessie Thomashevsky when the play was produced in New York at the beginning of the season. For the provinces, Schildkraut had already been rehearsing with another actress for several weeks. Now, when my stock had risen in the theatre, especially after my playing in that performance of “Hear, O Israel,” the theatre wanted me to take over Bessie’s role.

Before they notified Schildkraut of their decision, Joseph Edelstein and Goldberg, the managers, called me into their office one day and told me what they wanted. Edelstein told me:

“You know, Celia, the German (as he called Mr. Schildkraut) is now going to the provinces with 'Eikele, the Mischievous One.' We want you to play Bessie Thomashevsky’s role. Take the role, learn it, and we’ll see to it that the German gives you an audition.”

My heart almost leaped for joy when I heard this. The mere thought of the chance to play with Schildkraut, really play, not just stand on the stage with him—as I prayed for when I saw him play for the first time—to play a leading role with him, to stand face-to-face with the great Schildkraut—I didn’t even dare dream of it. I took the role, ran home and began to study. I felt that this was my great opportunity.

I was going to study the role in depth, immerse myself in each word, in each scene, and put everything I had into it. Not only was this a role that Bessie Thomashevsky had played, but my whole being was filled with the consciousness of what it means to be examined by Rudolph Schildkraut. I had forgotten to eat, to sleep—all my senses were involved in the role.

Within a few days I told Joseph Edelstein that I was ready. He sent Louie Goldberg to take me to Schildkraut’s home.

I am certain that many of you have taken important examinations at certain times of your life that would perhaps decide the further path of your life. But I doubt if anyone at any time experienced the trembling that seized me on the way to Rudolph Schildkraut. When I now think of my trip then, my mother’s constant blessing comes to my mind, the blessing she sent after me whenever she was present at my going to the premiere of a new role:

“May you find favor in people’s eyes.” I think I would have been much more secure if my mother’s blessing had accompanied me….

As I was walking, I went over the role in my mind and, if you won’t accuse me of boasting, I will tell you that I was satisfied with myself. I felt that I must please Rudolph Schildkraut with this way of conceiving my role. So my lips murmur a silent prayer. To this day, that scene vividly swims before me whenever I pass that house on St. Mark’s Place.

It was with mixed feelings that I followed Goldberg up the high steps to the first floor where Schildkraut lived—a happy feeling over what was awaiting me, a satisfied belief that I was fully prepared for the examination, but at the same time a trembling doubt—who knows if I would please him?

Mme. Schildkraut opened the door for us, greeted us in a very friendly way. Goldberg introduced me to her and told her why we had come. She was a very loving and friendly person. Her warm looks partly calmed me. She asked me to sit down and went to announce us to her husband. Presently I heard her warm-hearted voice:

“Eikele, dear, Mr. Goldberg is here with a young lady.”

I looked in amazement at Goldberg. He explained to me that she always called him by the name of the role he was playing. She returned in a few minutes. She said with a guilty expression: “I’m terribly sorry, but he says he won’t have any more rehearsals with another actress; please excuse….”

I hadn’t figured on that—he didn’t even want to see me. To shame me so…. Going down the stairs, I shed tears without stopping, like a little child. I began to feel so insignificant, so browbeaten. Goldberg tried to console me:

“Don’t take it so much to heart, Celia. It’s not as if he had auditioned you and, heaven forbid, rejected you. What can you do? That’s how he is—very, very stubborn—Goodbye.”

I was left alone. A deep pain enveloped me. I never imagined this outcome. I ran home; and the pillows on my bed would perhaps best have been able to describe my feelings that day….

I should think that each of you can imagine in his own way what went on in my heart. All sorts of thoughts were mixed up in my mind, thoughts of despair. I couldn’t possibly imagine how I could go on again, how I would go to the theatre, how I would be able to look people in the eye.

Evidently, that little old familiar saying is true: “A person is stronger than iron and weaker than a fly.” I somehow fought my way out of my depressed mood, and when the tour of “Eikele, the Mischievous One” started two weeks later on a Friday night in Newark, something drew me to see that performance. I went to Newark with a chum of mine.

He played in one of the biggest theatres. The theatre was packed. When the curtain rose, I felt a curiously rapid heartbeat. I sharpened my eyes and ears to hear every word, grasp every expression and movement of “my role.”

Unfortunately, the actress had a very weak voice, and the huge theatre was too big for her voice, which didn’t reach farther than the first few rows. Immediately an unrest pervaded the theatre. Yells and calls could be heard: “Louder, we can’t hear.” This continued through most of each act. At the end, it practically became a stormy demonstration. My heart hurt both for the performance and the actress. I got away with my chum from the theatre as soon as it was over and hurried to return to New York.

In those years the main approach to Newark was by ferry. Under no circumstances did I wish to meet the actors of the troupe. So I hoped we would succeed in catching the ferry before they arrived. But I didn’t succeed. When we approached, the ferry had just left the shore. We had to wait for another ferry. Meanwhile, the entire troupe as well as Rudolph Schildkraut arrived. All of the actors greeted me very cordially. Some of them really went all out and embraced me.

Schildkraut was standing with Edelstein’s son Isidore. Suddenly I heard Isidore’s voice saying to Schildkraut:

“That’s Celia Adler, over there, whom we sent to you to play the role. You didn’t even want to see her.”

I felt very embarrassed. I tugged at my chum as if wanting to hide behind her and slid all the closer to the gate to board the ferry. As soon as the gate opened, we practically ran all the way up to the front of the ship. There we sat down to one side.

But Isidore and Schildkraut sat down directly opposite us. I felt his sharp glances on me. I also felt I was blushing and didn’t know which way to look to avoid his constant staring at me.

My chum constantly whispered developments to me: “He’s looking at you. They’re talking about you.”

I barely lived to see the ferry approach the dock. So I whispered to my chum: “Let’s go as fast as we can. Let’s be the first to get off.”

So we succeeded in being the very first at the gate, waited for the ship to stop and the gate to open for me to be rescued from my embarrassment.

And suddenly I heard behind me a pleading, guilty, almost childlike voice in German: “I beg you, Miss Adler, play with me.”

In describing the incident of my first meeting with Rudolph Schildkraut now, I’m looking for words with which to express the feelings that I had at that moment when I heard his pleading to play with him. I believe a writer with more talent that mine would have much more to express about the curious interplay involved in that incident. Not to be wondered at is the fact that in this very incident, I had to experience practically the deepest despair, my most bitter disappointment, and also my greatest joy—and perhaps the happiest moment of my life in the course of my career. I don’t have the literary power to give you even the least indication of the jubilant happiness that bubbled up in my whole being when I heard the tender, delicate words of his: “I beg you, Miss Adler, play with me….”

I don’t wish to be melodramatic, and I decidedly wish to avoid exaggerating, but believe me that there wasn’t a happier person than I in the whole wide world at that moment.

Moments such as that with Rudolph Schildkraut were few in my long-lasting career. But they compensated me fully for the troubles and heartaches my profession caused me. Perhaps it’s the fault of the sensitive and complicated soul of an actor that he can so easily descend into the deepest despair and rise to the highest ecstasy of joy.

It seems to me that someone once said: “Actors are like children. You can easily make them cry or laugh….”

—————

I cannot recall a similar time during the entire course of my career when I felt as completely becalmed, as while I played with Rudolph Schildkraut. It’s just hard to believe that it’s possible to live through days, weeks and months, one after the other, which would be so completely festive, without the least worry.

Rudolph Schildkraut was a wonderful personality, a really loving, warm-hearted colleague and chum. His tremendous talent never stood in his way of recognizing his co-players. With all his great fame, he was so close to you, he stood on a par with you, so that you had to feel very much uplifted. He strongly valued and recognized the ability and the talent that colleagues in his troupe evidenced when occasion called for them.

So I really felt very flattered when Schildkraut once expressed himself at the end of our tour: “I wouldn’t take a sack of beets for Celia.” I couldn’t imagine a better compliment.

Various chance occurrences happen in the course of a performance. And my playing with Schildkraut in “Eikele, the Mischievous One,” was no exception. His reaction to such incidents and his mastery of the stage had no equal.

I recall a scene between him and me.

On our tour of “Eikele, the Mischievous One,” we had to play in some small city. It was in a little theatre with a very low stage. The audience practically sat with the actors close to the stage. In the first act we both sat at a table drinking coffee and conversing. In the first row, right opposite us, sat two women who constantly chewed and talked and repeated practically every word we said to each other. Understandably, their behavior very much encouraged me to laugh.

As I once told you, I’m a great “laugher” by nature. But I controlled myself with such effort and continued the scene. In my dialogue I had the following reproach to make against Eikele:

“Tell me, Eikele, why don’t you ever laugh?”

His answer to me was to have been:

“I hate to laugh, and I hate to see others laugh.”

I put the question to him and he, holding the cup of coffee to his mouth, with his mouth answered:

“I hate to laugh and I hate to see….”

He couldn’t say any more. His outburst of hearty laughter shot into the cup of coffee. Well, this liberated all my laugh muscles. I couldn’t continue talking.

Right after this scene at the table, he had to put on his collar in front of the mirror. He couldn’t fasten it to his shirt, and he asked me to do it for him. During this activity, we had to have an important conversation. I went over to him, trying to help him, that is, but I couldn’t talk. I was repressing my laughter. My answers were very necessary, however. Without them the scene couldn’t move from its spot. I didn’t talk. I laughed. He grabbed the collar and with all his strength smacked me across the face with it. I began to feel a cutting pain, but he had catapulted me out of my laughter and we were able to finish the scene.

When I got to my dressing room and looked in the mirror, I first really got scared. A red stream from my forehead down to my chin appeared as if it had split my face. Before I had time to feel sorry for myself or resent Schildkraut’s smack, he was already in my dressing room and kneeling to me began to beg. Even though he spoke a juicy Yiddish on the stage, he spoke entirely in German as soon as he left the stage. So he begged me in German. I’m going to give it to you in English:

“Forgive me, little Celia. I couldn’t help myself. The scene couldn’t continue. I made you laugh. I had no other way to stop your laughing in order to finish the scene. Don’t be angry with me….”

I had to admit he was right. Despite my pain, I forgave him with all my heart. Otherwise, the act would have been ruined.

At a later opportunity that season, Rudolph Schildkraut gave me another great satisfaction. He was on tour in Shakespeare’s “Shylock.” It was about eleven o’clock in the morning when I happened to be in the office of the People’s Theatre for some reason when the phone rang. Joseph Edelstein answered. I heard him say:

“Where are you calling from, Mr. Schildkraut? From Pittsburgh? Why change in midstream? Who should I send you? We don’t have an experienced Portia. Who? The little one? Who’s the little one? Celia Adler as Portia? Portia has to be tall….”

I clearly heard Schildkraut yell on the telephone:

“Send me the ‘little one’ at once. Otherwise there will be no performance today.”

Edelstein hung up.

“A crazy German. How do you like that, Celia?  That’s him on the way from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia where he must play tonight in the Academy of Music. He wants you to play the role of Portia; otherwise he won’t play. He can do it too, that German….”

I got scared. Portia, and tonight already! I had never thought about the role. But deep within me my heart delighted in the fact that the great Schildkraut had such boundless confidence in me.

I was immediately furnished with the role.

I ran home to study it. I was no longer afraid of cramming and knowing the role. I was more worried about Portia’s clothes because the role is played by tall women. I therefore made an effort to get to Philadelphia some two hours earlier—both to have a rehearsal with Schildkraut and to be quite sure the clothes fitted me properly.

Thus I recall that in the excitement I saw also a considerable amount of humor in that I, “the little one” as he called me, was going to him to play the tall Portia. For a long time, actors who knew or heard of the incident called me Schildkraut’s “tiny little Portia”….

It seemed that Schildkraut was not all concerned over the figure. He quickly went over the scene between Shylock and Portia with me during the time they were fitting me out in the long clothes. He complimented me several times in the course of the hasty rehearsal for learning the role so quickly.

The main reason for changing the role of Portia was the strong scene in the court in the last act. He concentrated more on that scene. From seeing him playing Shylock in the People’s Theatre, his overpowering naturalness, his simplicity in that act engraved itself in my memory. He strongly underscored and pointed out to me that my tones in that dialogue must harmonize with his human tones. I obviously succeeded and he was satisfied.

I cannot let the opportunity pass to tell you of another of Schildkraut’s episodes in “Shylock.” It happened that very season. In casting the personnel, Thomashevsky cast the actor Leibush Gold in the role of the judge in the fourth act. When the opportunity presented itself, Joseph Edelstein said to Leibush Gold:

“Don’t forget you’re going to play with the German. You’d better know your role.”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Edelstein. I know my role to perfection. After all, I’m a professional. I played the role so many times with Jacob Adler himself.”

Here now was the premiere. Shylock came into the courtroom, and the judge’s first words to him were:

“What’s your name?”

Schildkraut answered:

“Shylock.”

Leibush Gold said no more. It took a considerable while until they prompted for him his continuing words.

After the performance, Edelstein let loose on Gold:

“Was that how you know the role? You didn’t know one word right at the second cue! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”

“Believe me, Mr. Edelstein. I know my role by heart. But the German confused me. When Adler came onstage in his splendid clothes of satin and velvet, with his proud patriarchal appearance, and I asked him: ‘What’s your name?’ He answered proudly with dignity, ‘Shylock is my name.’ But here I saw coming along a snotty little Jew dressed in tatters with a yellow patch, and I asked him, ‘What’s your name?’ And he said only the word, ‘Shylock,’ so plainly and in such a crestfallen manner, that I got lost. Don’t you believe me that I knew my role? I’m going to recite the whole of it to you right here and now.”

And Leibush Gold stood there and spoke the entire monologue from the operetta, “The Little Flower.”

It was common knowledge in the theatrical profession that Edelstein never knew the roles in the plays. When Gold recited the monologue from “The Little Flower” for him, Edelstein smacked him on the back and said:

“You certainly do know the role!”

—————

Now I wish to introduce here into my story, with pleasure, the third partner of the Schildkraut family. He has been no less famous the last three decades than the brilliant Rudolph Schildkraut himself. I mean the extremely fine, gentle and romantic star of Broadway and Hollywood, Joseph Schildkraut, the son of Rudolph Schildkraut.

True, Joseph Schildkraut played no role whatsoever in the course of my theatrical career. Our paths never met in the field. But Joseph Schildkraut slid into my young girlish life in a wonderful, romantic way in the years I am now describing. He was a very sensitive and handsome fellow. It was my good fortune to have added to my playing on the same stage with the great Rudolph Schildkraut another inner joy and a fantastic, pleasant young girl’s dreams.

The tender young European cavalier fell in love with me. He showed his love for me in a very curiously charming way. He came to my house every morning and knocked on the door of my bedroom. To my question, “Who is it?” came a very quiet, somewhat shy reply. “It’s me, Bubi.”

That was his precious nickname. So I would already jump off the bed, open the door somewhat, and his hand would immediately appear with several fresh roses. I was barely on the verge of taking the flowers from his hand when he was already gone without a word, not even waiting for my thanks.

Several months before starting my present writing, I had the occasion to talk with him in his dressing room after a performance of his Broadway success, “The Diary of Anne Frank.” I told him that I was starting to write my autobiography in "The Forward” and asked him if I may tell about his youthful love for me. He warm-heartedly put his arm around me and answered with these words:

“What a question, dear Celia. I’m proud of it. I often think of that time with great pleasure.”

But I can’t say that I never played with Joseph Schildkraut because there is proof in the German New York “Staats-Zeitung” in a report of an honor-performance in the People’s Theatre for Rudolph Schildkraut that season in which his son, Joseph Schildkraut, made his theatrical debut. I had an important role in that play as his seductress.

 The critic had a very long article about that performance in the “Staats-Zeitung.” According to the reviewer, that play was called in Yiddish “God is Right in His Judgment”—Shomer’s adaptation of an old German piece called “Traumulus,” in which Rudolph Schildkraut had a magnificent role for his unusually great talent. The reviewer told us that the young Schildkraut had come to America only a few months before as a German student, and this was his first attempt in the field of acting in the theatre.

In the play, he actually played the young son of the main hero that was played by his father, Rudolph Schildkraut. Though the whole play was, of course, performed in Yiddish, the young Schildkraut spoke his role in splendid German.

As the reviewer expressed it, he showed signs of “being a young branch of the old tree.” He praised Rudolph Schildkraut very highly. He even ventured forth with the belief that Schildkraut’s coming onto the Yiddish stage somewhat shadowed the greatest Yiddish actor, Jacob P. Adler, and he added the following remarks: “It’s a curious coincidence that Celia Adler, a daughter of Jacob P. Adler, plays the seductress, the leading women’s role opposite Schildkraut’s son. And she too shows herself to be ‘a chip off the old block.’”

I don’t wish to dwell on the big compliments the reviewer paid me in the role. He also wrote in his review that Rudolph Schildkraut kissed Adler’s daughter before the entire audience at the conclusion of the performance. And in a conversation with him he told the reviewer: “My son is now beginning to study the English language and will seek a career on the English stage.”

I need not tell you that the son reached perhaps a much higher achievement than his father could have imagined. I suspect that that play with me as his seductress was perhaps the first step to Joseph Schildkraut’s falling in love with me….

I also want to mention that, many years later at one of our Yiddish Theatrical Alliance’s yearly performances in which we both appeared, Joseph Schildkraut openly recalled before the entire audience about that first love of his when he was overwhelmingly in love with Celia Adler with all the fire of his young manhood.

It seemed that that season I was actually to be left in New York without any prospect whatsoever of becoming engaged by a theatre at all. I consider that season to be the true beginning of my career as a grownup. As I have mentioned, I had played the previous two seasons in side-street theatres in Chicago and Philadelphia. Perhaps I had had moments of satisfaction, of personal success. But they remained successes that nobody told anybody about. It is certainly true that my own satisfaction over my theatrical achievements was always paramount to me.

But it is indigenous to the blood of an actor that he would want to see and hear what is being said openly about his achievements. Perhaps one gets satisfaction when fellow actors and friends speak to you with love about this or that role. But there’s always the desire and one wants impatiently for what the newspapers will say about you, how this or that critic will stop to underscore what you with much effort sought to bring out in the role. I did not have that thrill in the side-street theatres where I had played until then. That’s why I underscore so many times my happiness that season which, even though it began with a makeshift engagement just for the sake of an engagement, brought me so much inner joy and pleasure pretty nearly without the slightest worry over my theatrical attainment, except for my disappointment in the planned first meeting with Rudolph Schildkraut in his house.

My good fortune that season did not leave me until the end. A rather imposing province-tour by Thomashevsky and the troupe from the People’s Theatre had been prepared. Bessie Thomashevsky had then left for Europe, so I had to take over all her roles on that tour. I really worked very hard on that tour. The tour consisted not only one successful play, like they used to do it in later years, but of the entire Thomashevsky repertory.

Thus it always was my fate to constantly study more and more roles. I recall how Bina Abramowitz and Annie Thomashevsky, Boris’ sister, would make fun of me—“Celia and her roles” they dubbed me. Waiting for a street car, sitting in a restaurant, going to and from the theatre—“Celia and her roles.” I had no choice. I had to master three or four roles a week. So the experience of my season in London that I’ve written about was really very useful.

So I did the hard work with satisfaction, I might even say with love. My good young memory served me well. If the atmosphere and everything around you is to your liking, you can achieve anything.

That tour with its many pleasant surprises was very much to my liking. Right during the first week, when I got my salary, my breath was caught up short. Instead of the twenty-five dollars that I got in New York, I found all of sixty dollars in my envelope. It looked like so much to me. I walked around double-chinned with pride. Who was my equal? Without requesting it, such a raise in salary, more than twice as much!

I surely should be ashamed to tell you this because it shows what sort or wild, foolish goat I was. My salary had not even been raised one dollar. The additional thirty-five dollars was coming to me—every actor going on a province-tour had to get a minimum of five dollars a day for expenses. Now figure it out: seven times five is thirty-five. But me, what did I know? But I was happy just the same.

My greatest surprise came around the middle of the tour. It happened in Chicago. For the first time I studied [the part of] Ophelia in great haste and played it with Boris Thomashevsky as Hamlet. As a reward for playing the role to his greatest satisfaction, he called me into his dressing room after the performance where he and Joseph Edelstein signed a contract with me for the coming season in the People’s Theatre. My salary—all of sixty dollars.

That was the first time in my young career when I already knew so far ahead what my fate would be the coming season. So this was a truly appropriate ending to the luckiest season of my career until then.
 

As you already know from previous chapters, the city of Chicago caused me such anguish and heartache, whether as Celia Feinman or as Celia Adler. So I considered it a good reward that it was in Chicago that I signed my first contract as a recognized member of a top theatre in New York.

As we were playing in Chicago for three or four weeks, we would often go somewhere for a bite, to spend a little time together, in general, after the performance. Thus it was then, during the second or third week, when the famous Belle Baker came for guest appearances to one of those night clubs in Chicago. You doubtless know—the theatregoers of former years surely know—that Belle Baker began her career in the Yiddish theatre, actually in Jacob Gordin’s “Homeless” in my father’s Grand Theatre. True to his feeling for those who had a connection with the Yiddish theatre, Boris Thomashevsky suggested after a performance, that we all go out to that nightclub.

Belle Baker was really surprised when she saw us there and spent all of her free time with us.

A song Irving Berlin had written after the death of his first wife was then very popular—a very heart-warming melody. The words of the refrain end with “when I lost you.” Belle Baker sang this as the last song on her program and pointed directly to our table at the above-mentioned words of every refrain. When she came over to our table, she warmly embraced us all, and in a very sentimental tone of voice sang with us many of the heart-warming little Yiddish theatrical songs of long ago….

—————

When I now think of my returning home from my first tour with a legitimate New York troupe, I really wonder at what pretensions I then had in general. I didn’t require much to be content. I felt happy with so little; because, don’t let’s fool ourselves, what did my great happiness consist of? A daughter of Jacob Adler and Dina Feinman, I already had shown in various ways in Europe and America that my place was on the stage. So I got an engagement in a New York theatre for sixty dollars a week. True, in those days, sixty dollars was not a small salary, but you couldn’t really puff yourself up with it.

But I virtually floated on clouds. I don’t know if I shall exaggerate when I say that everything sang and was happy with me. I met my mother starry-eyed with a kind of proud expression with which Motie Strechel, the character comedian in Jacob Gordin’s “Orphan,” expresses himself. Mme. Trachtenberg, his rich sister-in-law, had given him some old second-hand clothes. So he packed them into his bag and was happy at the thought that Toltze, his young, second wife, would be content over it: “To come to Toltze at least once like a real man….”

Thus this expression of Gordin’s, as well as many others, was taken over by the theatrical world. When someone wanted to express that something succeeded for him at least once, he said: “To come to Toltze at least once like a real man.” I too felt then that I was coming to my mother for the first time after a theatrical season like a “real man” with a contract in his pocket.

I happily savored every minute of the several weeks that my mother, Lillie and I spent at a summer resort.

The feeling that I had created a place for myself in the Yiddish theatre with my own powers warmed me. I had, so to speak, overcome the incomprehensible, explicable quiet ban against Celia Adler on the part of the “behind-the-scenes politicians” in the Yiddish theatre. So I very impatiently waited for the beginning of the season with much good hope and inner joy. When I returned to New York after my summer vacation, I threw myself into the routine of a new theatrical season with all my youthful fire.

In those years they usually played repertory theatre the first few weeks. Z. Libin was the theatre’s author. His first play that season was “The Mind Reader,” with Rudolph Schildkraut in the leading role. I was a co-player.

But the play didn’t catch on and it was immediately taken off the boards. They hastily began to rehearse Libin’s second play, “Blind Love.” The leading women’s role in the play was written specially for Bessie Thomashevsky.

Presently there was a trial reading of the play. I was also asked to come. At that reading, all the roles were distributed. I also got a role. The name Leonora was written on my role. Libin began reading the play. I didn’t believe my ears and eyes—I held the leading woman’s role in my hands. I couldn’t understand it—what had happened? I virtually sat on hot coals; it’s a lucky thing that among actors, you don’t have to wait long to find out something. You don’t even have to ask.

When the reading ended and we rose from our seats, quiet whispers from all sides were borne to my ears: “Bessie is leaving the theatre,” “Bessie doesn’t want to play,” “Bessie is leaving Thomashevsky.”

The role was a deep, difficult and complicated one. I needn’t tell you that I threw myself into the role with all my energies and with all my theatrical consciousness.

To play a leading role in a new play for the first time in New York, to be the first to develop a character by one’s own efforts—that is the greatest happening in the life of a young actress.

To know that critical eyes would look, that New York’s Jewish intelligentsia would observe, that the theatrical profession would judge, lays a heavy responsibility on you. I survived the fever the first time, waiting for the reviews.

That is often a long wait in the Yiddish theatre. The premiere is usually Friday night; it sometimes takes a whole week of waiting for the reviews. That’s a hard week to live through, although those close to the theatre give opinions, give compliments. But the written word, the weighty opinions of the critics is the most important thing for the actor. I therefore studied my role with more zeal.

Everyone knew that Boris Thomashevsky was a very strict director. He occupied himself with the details of every role. When I now think of the big three—Adler, Kessler and Thomashevsky—I played with all of them—I have the deep conviction that Thomashevsky towered over the other two as a director. He had directorial imagination, knew for sure what he wanted in the play, and what every character had to bring out. He had wonderful natural inspirations.

I wish to bring out another thing here. Thomashevsky’s true theatrical talent could be seen better at rehearsals than at performances. His tones at rehearsals were so natural, so human; they practically moved the depths of your heart. But as soon as he felt himself standing before the little electric lights, he became something quite different. The most unnatural tones were heard coming out of him, tones that occasionally bordered on the ridiculous. The critics were right in reproving him for his tones. He would often change his natural heart-warming Yiddish speech into yelling, ear-splitting Germanese. Reading reviews of Thomashevsky, I more than once wished the critics could see and hear him at rehearsals. They would then have first seen Thomashevsky’s natural theatrical talent.

At rehearsals, after Thomashevsky had told me with broad general strokes what he wanted to bring out in my role, he gave me complete freedom to conceive and bring out the role. His trusting in me, encouraged me a great deal.

The feeling immediately became manifest from the first performances that the play had caught on. The theatrical public’s healthy instinct to decide the success of a play with undisputed authority remained a permanent salvation for me in the course of my career. Of course, you can often dispute the public’s taste….

Before having the press speak out about my first appearance in the top role in a new play in New York, I wish to reach an understanding with you in this matter. In order for my growth, my ascending in my career to be brought clearly, I must show in my narrative what and how I attained and achieved in my tens of roles. I can’t and don’t want to speak my own opinions and appraisals of Celia Adler. I will therefore give the appraisals of my playing by recognized critics, whether good or bad.... Now that we understand each other, we can go ahead….

I pause especially at my playing in that role because later you will be a witness to a curious phenomenon.

M. Baranov wrote about the production of “Blind Love” in "The Forward.” I cite: “Celia Adler had the best role, and she plays it outstandingly. It’s worth going to see the play for her alone.”

Louis Miller wrote: “Miss Celia Adler played the role of Leonora, Joseph’s bride, so tenderly, with such outstanding plasticity and uncommonly beautiful technique, with such graceful and harmonious movements that we have, without exaggerating, seen in this new star the coming queen of the Yiddish stage…”

I cite another newspaper: “Celia Adler had the leading woman’s role in the play, a deep, difficult, psychological role; and the young actress accomplishes the role outstandingly. You can immediately see the great Adler daughter—one can be proud of such a daughter. It seems to us that this young actress is developing into a great, important talent.”

That’s enough for now.

I spare the telling here of how happy I felt, how my heart virtually jumped with joy that I had elicited such opinions, that I had received so much recognition.

But that first opening success of mind had to be mixed with heartache. Thus I now come to the curious phenomenon I mentioned earlier.

For five weeks I had soared in the skies. It seems that the play would continue for weeks and weeks due to overpacked theatres. But quite suddenly, on a Sunday night after the fifth week, the cashier brought my pay like every Sunday. But instead of bringing me my envelope in the dressing room, he called me out and, giving me the envelope, he said to me sheepishly, looking aside: “Celia, next weekend you’re going to be free. Bessie is returning. She will play the role in “Blind Love.”

I barely found the door to my dressing room. My tears shut out the light from my eyes. It had come so suddenly, so unexpectedly. I tried to think, really wanted to understand why?! But I could find no answer to that in my young brain. I had no one to confide in, to whom to scream my pain, to whom to pour out my bitter heart. I had the thought that here an injustice was being done to me, although I couldn’t explain it very clearly.

A feeling of shame fell over me. I was somehow ashamed to look people in the eye. I received no word of sympathy or compassion from even one of my colleagues in the theatre. So I bore my pain within me all by myself, couldn’t find a place for myself. I tried to write a letter to my mother in Baltimore to weep in her lap from a distance. But I didn’t even allow myself that pleasure—I didn’t want to worry her.

Suddenly my coming to the theatre for the middle-of-the-week performances became a burden for me. I tried as much as possible that no one see me enter or exit from the theatre. Evidently there must have been an eye that looked, and a hand that demanded justice. So it was a happy surprise for me when, a week or two later, there appeared in "The Forward,” under the headline, “In the Jewish Theatrical World,” a whole discussion of the matter, signed with the initials “A. C.”

Because of my sparse knowledge of the newspaper world, I didn’t know whose name the letters A. C. stood for. To tell the truth, I didn’t know until a few months ago, when I had already started my narrative that it was Abe Cahan himself who had written the article.

I need not say how thankful I was to the writer, how much I blessed him in my heart.

The appearance of that article was virtually a revelation to me in those inexperienced years. I couldn’t imagine that a person in a newspaper could be interested in taking up the grievance of a young actress who had been abused. The power of a newspaper rose to a very high status for me.

No doubt the effect it had on me was perhaps due partly to the fact that I was the wronged one. But I also began to feel in my lack of experience that there was an eye that takes care….

I find it necessary for two reasons to cite the entire article from " The Forward” as written by A. C. First, the fact that such an important man as Abe Cahan, who no doubt had enough to do being the editor of the greatest Jewish newspaper besides his other literary work, had taken the time and effort to express his protest against an injustice that had been perpetrated against a young actress.

Secondly, as I have already told you, I had no idea until two months ago that the letters A. C. meant Abe Cahan. I didn’t dare think that the editor himself occupied himself with such matters. Even now I haven’t wanted to reply completely on second-person opinions, so I brought the article to Hillel Rogoff, the present editor, and he ascertained that the article was written by Abe Cahan.

Thus, I again wish to underscore that until then, and for a considerable number of years afterwards, I knew practically no writer on any Jewish newspaper, not to speak of such an important newspaper personality as Abe Cahan. It goes without saying that until then, and for a considerable number of years afterwards, my foot had not been in the editorial room of a Jewish newspaper. I find it necessary to underscore all this so that you will better understand my heartache and my deep despair over the wild gossip and dirty insinuations that certain colleagues of mine permitted themselves on my account because of the article and other similar articles and reviews concerning my acting. Now here is the article by Abe Cahan as it stands to date:

”Mme. Thomashevsky, who hasn’t played for a certain time, is again appearing on the stage of the People’s Theatre. She is acting in Z. Libin’s play, ‘Blind Love.’ Until now this role was played by the young actress Celia Adler. The writer of these lines has not yet seen the play. He has no idea of how Miss Adler plays the role, but our colleague Baranov, who has written about the play in "The Forward”—about the play and how it is being performed in the People’s Theatre—has expressed himself very favorably about this young actress. But now she’s not going to act in the play anymore. Mme. Thomashevsky will take her place. Truthfully speaking, this fact awakens sympathy for the young actress from whom the role is being taken away. If she plays well and must relinquish the role just because she is only an employee in the People’s Theatre, such sympathy is entirely natural. That’s one of the examples of the helplessness of a talented actor before a theatrical boss. These words are not written in the spirit of an adverse critique relative to Mme. Thomashevsky as an actress. We have seen her play with talent in important roles. One should also bear in mind that Libin had originally written the role for her, for Mme. Thomashevsky. But Celia Adler has appeared many times in this role, and she has made a good impression, as is reported. It is a very unusual thing for a young actress to have the chance to play an important role. She’s had this chance to play. As they say, she’s passed the examination very well. Really, now, why does she deserve that she should suddenly have the role taken away from her?

We believe that Mme. Thomashevsky, the wife of the manager and herself a star, with a career which is already assured, we believe—we say—she could be so well disposed as to give the younger, the proper actress, the beginner in her career, the chance to continue playing the role. Never fear—other important roles will be written for Mme. Thomashevsky. How nice it would be if Mme. Thomashevsky would not interfere with her young colleague.”

This brings us to the thought concerning the question of the chance of a young actor has to work himself up—of how far our star-managers let them practice their métier. But of that, another time.

The article was printed on Saturday, the 16th of December 1911, the first week Bessie Thomashevsky had played the role. It took another week for the article’s effect to hit the target…. Monday, the 25th of December, Thomashevsky’s brother-in-law, Mr. Epstein, his representative in such matters, let me know by phone that I would again resume the role the following Friday. Thus I understood that this was the direct result of A. C.’s article.

Everything went smoothly in the theatre, as if nothing had happened. Only one change did take place—I doubt if the public noticed the change. It hit me in the eye. When they began to perform the play with me in the leading role, the personnel was listed in the newspaper advertisements and on posters as: Boris Thomashevsky, Leon Blank, Sam Schneier, Bina Abramowitz, Goldie Shapiro, Mme. Weintraub, Bessie Mogulesco, and ending with the typical “and Celia Adler.” When they took the role away from me, the “and Celia Adler” understandably disappeared. It began with Boris and Bessie Thomashevsky, and then the names of the actors in “Blind Love.” When I resumed the role again, all the names disappeared from the advertisements—even Boris Thomashevsky’s. Only “Blind Love” remained.

Perhaps it’s foolish on my part to recall this matter of the advertisements. But you will understand it better when I tell you the following episode:

It happened during the 1914-1915 season when, after my great success in Dymow's “Eternal Wanderer” the previous season, I remained not engaged. The National Theatre had decided to put on “Blind Love” at a Saturday matinee. They asked me to come and play my role. They offered me fifty dollars for that one performance and promised me that I would get special publicity. Not being engaged, you will understand that I could not permit myself to refuse earning fifty dollars. I accepted it, but without great eagerness. The house was packed. I want to convince myself that the special publicity ads, “Boris Thomashevsky and Celia Adler in ‘Blind Love’" helped toward it. The theatre stormed after the third act in which I had had my strongest scene, and when we were all bowing to the audience, calls of “Celia Adler!” were heard one after another. When the yelling hadn’t stopped after a few curtain calls, Thomashevsky sent me out to bow to the audience by myself. It’s difficult and somewhat unpleasant for me to describe for you the overwhelming ovation the audience gave me as I stood alone on the stage. They were yelling “Speech!” And Thomashevsky asked that the curtain be held up and told me to say something. But I noticed such a frightened look in his eyes that, God forbid, I might say something against him for not having engaged me for the season after so many of my successes in the theatre….

Generally speaking, I’m not an orator. But I felt instinctively at the above-mentioned performance that the audience perhaps wanted to hear from me specifically about that which so frightened Thomashevsky. I had to control myself very strongly, not to burst into tears in front of the audience. I barely uttered in a strangled voice: “You will never know what a blessing you have been to me today. I thank you.”

I couldn’t say any more. The ovation got even bigger. I was standing motionless; the curtain rose and fell several times until I finally got off the stage.

On my way to the dressing room, I could practically see in Thomashevsky’s eyes tremendous gratitude and at the same time guilt over my not shaming him in front of the audience. So perhaps you will now forgive me when I sometimes pause over things that could sound foolish to average readers—a complicated soul, this actor’s soul—hard to understand their sufferings, their heartaches, their inner disappointments….

Let’s return to the season I’m now describing. I got my role back. As has been said, everything went along in the theatre as if nothing had happened. But inside me something changed anyway. No longer was there joy and satisfaction from my achievements. I got a good look at how uncertain the path of a career in our theatre could be. I got scared.

I, a young actress, had been outstanding for three years in a row in important roles and leading roles. The press had praised me for practically every one of my appearances; and yet when, for unexplainable reasons, the theatre no longer engaged me, no other theatre needed me. During my entire youth I already began to feel how helpless an actress of women’s parts was in the net of behind-the-scenes theatrical politics. Especially such a helpless, sensitive, impractical, not yet fully grown person like me.

I must admit that my inexperience and naiveté bordered very strongly on unforgivable foolishness. Out of kindness to myself I shall refer to myself as an “absent-minded angel” who didn’t see what was happening under her nose.

I must stay awhile yet with “Blind Love.” The