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The Life of Maurice Schwartz and the Yiddish Art Theatre
by Martin Boris

Chapter Twelve: "I Can't Describe My Suffering."
Chapter Thirteen: Beginning Over
Chapter Fourteen: Empty Pockets
Chapter Fifteen: Innocents Abroad

Chapter Twelve: “I Can’t Describe My Suffering.”

                        With spirits bolstered by a summer spent among friendly out-of-town critics and ardent enthusiasts, Maurice Schwartz opened the 1920-1921 season at the Irving Place Theatre with I.L. Peretz’s The Golden Chain. A mystical drama with a prologue of pure poetry, it nevertheless had a history of commercial failure. In 1906, Peretz completed The Destruction of the Tsaddik’s House in prose, in Hebrew, then revised it in Yiddish as Der Nisoyon. Ester Rokhl Kaminska’s company performed the altered version in Warsaw, but it fared no better. Peretz tinkered with the work some more, and in 1907, the play resurfaced as The Golden Chain, but was still unacceptable to the Yiddish public.

                        Schwartz blended both versions, firmly convinced he could prevail where others had not. He loved the language, was fascinated by the tale of a rabbi who can’t tolerate the deterioration of Jewish tradition, so greatly that he refuses to utter the prayer ending the Sabbath. The rabbi craves an eternal Sabbath. The chain referred to in the title is the linkage of four generations of rabbis that it broken when the youngest one lacks the proper fervency. Maurice considered this most unusual and lovingly prepared amalgamation the most important and personally meaningful production so far in his career. He understood the characters and the portraits of chassidic life in the Pale—all part of his own background in the Ukrainian town he’d left as a child.

                       To Maurice’s extreme sorrow, the audience (or lack of one) was a good deal less enthralled with The Golden Chain, staying away by the multitudes. After two weeks of hoping for a miracle to save this sick patient, Schwartz had to bow to the Wilners’ pressure and pull the plug on what they and everyone else in the production considered an unsalvageable loser. Bemoaned Maurice, “I cannot describe my suffering over those two weeks. Every night I woke up with the fear that they were going to close the Irving Place Theatre”  (Schwartz  24 Dec. 1941).

                        The final performance of The Golden Chain had the dreary and mournful atmosphere of a wake. Gloom hung thick and dark over the actors and the audience, the few faithful who’d come to see the dear departed off to the nether world of unsuccessful plays. Putting on the bravest face possible, his heart completely shattered, Schwartz remained on stage after the final scene. He thanked the public, small as it was, blessed the good and loyal players, and promised both groups that better times awaited them. Before he tore himself away, Maurice sang the main song ‘Shabbos, Shabbos,’ not dirge-like, but with unflagging hope. The weeping audience joined in.

                       This scalding experience, almost like the loss of a loved one, initiated in Schwartz an endless obsession about subsidized theatre: its need, its benefits, its sad absence in America. The Golden Chain was an eminently worthy piece of Yiddish Theatre that would have eventually found a wider audience if only the money was there to keep it going until word of mouth took effect. One more month would have done it, Maurice was convinced.

                        Not that Schwartz, the most rugged of the rugged individualists, had become enamoured with the Russian experiment with Socialism. But this vitiating experience he’d recently endured made him envy at how the Moscow Theatre was supported by governmental aid, thus liberated from the need to make money like a grocery store. "People in the arts shouldn't have to think about profit. Their main concern should be spiritual, to present high quality plays"” (Schwartz 24 Dec. 1941).

                        Over the years, Schwartz would beat the same drum about this deplorable fact of American theatre life, a cry few would heed. His Jacob-like tussle over money—how to amass it for a production and keep it from frittering away as play after play took a nosedive, then facing the legal and ethical consequences of repaying what he’d borrowed—would drain much of his time and energy. Often, he’d glance with a jaundiced eye at his co-religionists, especially those with fortunes or in positions of power. “Temples spend big money for Jewish centers, sports areas, swimming pools, but no one is ready to support theatre. It’s a luxury that has to support itself”  (Schwartz  24 Dec. 1941).

                       To add to Maurice’s woes, Wilner had tightened the purse strings after The Golden Chain folded. He had little money to assemble the next play. If for any reason it proved to be a dud, he doubted if there would be a third play, and if he and the Irving Place Theatre would survive.

                        During the previous summer, flushed with the adrenalin injected by Teyve, Schwartz bought another play from Mrs. Sholem Aleichem, who was understandably pleased to sell it to him. The Bloody Joke was the piece’s original title, and concerned the exchange of identities between two students, one Jewish, the other a Russian Gentile. Siomka Shapiro switches places with Ivanov for a short while to prove how difficult it was to be a Jew in Czarist Russia, given the many indignities and persecutions. Hard to Be a Jew was the play’s new name, and for it, I.D. Berkowitz did an exceptionally fine adaptation. Schwartz expected another huge winner. “The play filled us with enthusiasm, and it seemed to me that it could be the bridge between Second Avenue and the Irving Place Theatre. It will attract not only theatre-goers from Washington Heights, the Bronx and Long Island, but also from Suffolk,Norfolk, Ridge and Pitt Streets”  (Schwartz 24 Dec. 1941). Obviously,Schwartz was now thinking more like a theatre manager in Manhattan and not Moscow, box office oriented, understanding as never before what his tenuous hold on the Irving Place depended upon.

                       Although the play required a month of rehearsal, they had no more than a week. Maurice told Anna that she’d be seeing even less of him and girded himself for an indefinite stretch of meals eaten on the run, and countless problems. He gave heart, soul, mind and body to the task, which was in truth a supreme labor of love, heaven and hell in the same place.

                        Schwartz distributed the roles with infinite care and complete awareness of his actors’ capabilities. He chose Muni to play Ivanov, the Christian who pretends to be a Jew. Maurice’s faith in the quirky but brilliant actor had grown geometrically over the last season and in the ill-fated The Golden Chain. Undoubtedly, Weisenfreund would do a superlative job in his first major role. But Muni balked and fought his boss doggedly about abandoning his small parts. Instead, he begged Schwartz for the role of David Shapiro. Maurice declined; he’d decided to play old Shapiro himself.

                         Not in false modesty, Muni claimed that he was a plain actor, not fit for fame. He accused Schwartz of trying to get rid of him by assigning a larger part. Schwartz was dumbfounded: “He couldn’t comprehend that my intentions were good, that it would advance his career. He had no idea what a great future awaited him in Yiddish Theatre. An actor can’t know his potential unless he takes the opportunity to use it”  (Schwartz 31 Dec. 1941).

                        Muni’s misgivings were totally unfounded, as the play garnered nothing but the highest acclaim. The ‘sensation’ that Maurice had touted in the Yiddish press the year before proved to be the real thing in Hard to Be a Jew. The lad out of Yiddish vaudeville in Chicago received a barrage of plaudits, led by Abe Cahan, who declared that “Muni’s name should be inscribed in the Golden Book of Yiddish Theatre”  (Schwartz 31 Dec. 1941). (Of course, no such book existed, Cahan often going overboard when extremely pleased.)

                        With the success of Hard to Be a Jew, Maurice had buoyed and thrilled the entire Jewish population of New York, except, this is, his father. Isaac Schwartz had seen his son perform only once in Teutonic Hall in Brooklyn. But the patriarch wasn’t sufficiently moved to come see his son act in Kessler’s playhouse, or with his own troupe. Rose, on the other hand, had never missed a play during his seven years at the Second Avenue and two on Irving Place. “She loved to sit in the theatre, reveling in me, and telling the women around her that so-and-so with the round beard or the lopsided whiskers is her son, Moishe. [. . . ] Her only complaint was that God hadn’t blessed her with a grandchild”  (Schwartz 3 Jan. 1942).

                        And never would, as Anna and Maurice had no children in Rose Schwartz’s lifetime. They did however adopt two orphans, a brother and sister, in 1947, when he was in his late 50’s and old enough to be their grandfather.

                        Either because of pressure from Rose or Maurice’s growing fame, Isaac made the journey from Brooklyn to Irving Place, to pass judgment on his son in the role of David Shapiro. And a worthwhile experience it was for the loving father and devout Jew, who had great reticence about expressing that love to a son who’d given him so much heartache and so little joy because of his peculiar occupation. “With Hard to Be a Jew I not only strengthened the theatre and won the affection of the press and the better theatre audience, I also won my father’s belief in me”  (Schwartz 3 Jan. 1942).

                        On Armistice Day, the Irving Place Theatre presented Fatima by Itzhak Katzenelenson, the first Yiddish playwright to have his work performed by Habima in its maiden season in 1918, in Moscow. Rounding out the month, Schwartz ran Arthur Wolf’s Yankel the Coachman. In early December, Maurice experimented with an evening of three one-act plays—Arthur Schnitzler’s The Last Masks (about an artist who cruelly uses his personal relationships as subject matter); Sholem Aleichem’s Advice, adapted by Berkowitz; and the latter’s own creation Landsleit. On the 28th of that month, Schwartz utilized Gordin’s seldom performed The Tree of Knowledge, not among the finest of his work. Three days later, on the last day of 1920, he dredged up Bisson’s Madame X, the play that had brought him back to New York for a one-night shot at the Thalia.

                        It wasn’t until the middle of January that the Irving Place came up with another hit, Meshtchania (The Middle Class), a wicked satire on the Russian petite-bourgeoisie. Written in 1901, it was Maxim Gorki’s first play. Though not a Jew, the famous Socialist “more than any other writer, portrayed Jews in a positive manner. He was interested in Yiddish Literature and was personally acquainted with Yiddish writers and often did favors for them when he could”  (Schwartz 3 Jan. 1942).

                        No matter the success with the Gorki piece, Schwartz needed a hit as never before. Relations with Wilner were rapidly going to pot, exacerbated by the competition at the Garden Theatre, though its tenant, the Jewish Art Theatre had its own excess of serious problems, chief among them the squabble between Louis Schnitzer and Jacob Ben-Ami. The flash point was Mrs. Schnitzer, who demanded top roles in all the theatre’s productions by virtue of being the boss’s wife. She’d refused to compete for them like every other player. Gone before the start of the 1920-1921 season were Gershon Rubin and Celia Adler, neither able to abide the haughty Henrietta Schnitzer. In midseason, Ben-Ami left, to work for the energetic Broadway producer Arthur Hopkins, who’d been involved with George M. Cohan and Sam Harris.

                        Even with Rudolph Schildkraut brought in to fill Ben-Ami’s shoes, the flame had gone out of the Jewish Art Theatre long before season’s end, and it was no more. Over the years, its legend has grown to a kind of Camelot in the minds of Yiddish purists, an ideal too utopian to have ever truly functioned in the workaday world of satisfying mass tastes, and performers with the healthy taint of personal aggrandizement.

                        With the demise of the Jewish Art Theatre, its members scattering, its playhouse dark and unused, Schwartz and Wilner should have patched up their differences and made a go of their partnership. Another situation arose however that made an accommodation impossible, if indeed there was something at this juncture worth saving. One of the actresses in Meshtchania was a young and very pretty woman named Jenny Vallier. A Gentile, she “had no great love for the Jews. Above all, she was filled with her husband’s poison. He was a German Junker, who would have enjoyed eating a Jew for breakfast and topping it off with a dozen Jews for dinner”  (Schwartz 7 Jan. 1942).

                        Audiences adored Jenny; the critics couldn’t praise her enough. Their titular head, Abe Cahan, personally congratulated Maurice for bringing so refined talent to the Yiddish stage. When the Wilners realized what a treasure Schwartz had found, they immediately set about cultivating her friendship and her Junker husband’s. During the courtship that followed, Schwartz learned that Jenny’s very impressionable mind had been turned against him by Max. The possibilty also existed that Wilner had secretly arranged for a Vallier claque to cause disturbances during Maurice’s moments onstage, the object being to drive him into the wings.

                        Soon, the Irving Place Theatre became repulsive to Schwartz. He considered a permanent exit, then leasing another playhouse for the 1921-1922 season, thus walking away from what had become, for all practical purposes, his home. He’d often arrive at dawn and remain long past midnight to deal with the myriad of problems associated with even the most modest production. He hadn’t the stomach nor the inclination for petty theatre politics, the kind that drove Celia from the Jewish Art Theatre. “I was only interested in one thing: a theatre where I could come to express, where I could direct good plays with talented actors”  (Schwartz 7 Jan. 1942).

                        The Irving Place Theatre was no longer that sanctuary, the holy place he’d envisioned. Disconsolate, Schwartz went to his attorney to arrange cutting his ties to Wilner, before Max could destroy him, using Jenny Vallier as his tool. After much back-and-forth negotiations between the disputing parties, it was decided that Wilner would buy him for $3200, not the $4000 he’d invested. Maurice wasn’t given cash, but a promissory note signed personally by Max and Stella. In spite of this and their monumental conflicts, Schwartz didn’t hate Max. “I couldn’t forget that he was the first who believed in me and gave me the opportunity to play Yiddish Theatre on a higher level”  (Schwartz 7 Jan. 1942).

                       It should be noted that Ben-Ami had expressed the very same sentiment about Schwartz.

                       During his last weeks at the Irving Place, Maurice, as best he could, went about the serious business of presenting plays. On January 27th, he produced Jacinto Benavente’s Eyes of Fire. Benavente was a playwright much admired by Schwartz, his pieces being bright, witty, with substance, and very popular in London and on Broadway. Almost single-handedly, Benavente had brought to the Spanish stage all the winds of change blowing across Europe for half a century. A writer of over 200 plays, he’d won the Nobel Prize in 1922. Unfortunately, Eyes of Fire didn’t gain the Yiddish audience nor the critical acclaim at the Irving Place that it deserved.

                        Schwartz completed the season and his association with Wilner by offering Simeon Yushkevich’s A Poor Man’s Dream. Like Chekhov, Yushkevich was a medical doctor who never practiced, who wrote instead. One of those Yiddish playwrights encouraged by Gorki, he came to America in 1921, becoming, among other interests, a contributor to the Day.

                       All in all, the Irving Place Theatre had presented about 15 plays for the 1920-1921 season. Two-thirds were within the Yiddish repertoire, while the rest came from world literature. Given his problems with Wilner, Muni and Jenny Vallier, it’s a wonder he’d been able to accomplish this much. When at last the season came to an end, Schwartz had to face the appalling fact that he and David Kessler had something else in common, besides their love of good theatre: Wilner had managed to get rid of both of them, discarded like broken pieces of equipment. Maurice was profoundly sorry to go. After all, he’d poured, without measure, so much work, health and love into the premises. “I left the theatre with a pair of suitcases crammed with plays, and a promissory note, but quite a different person from when I’d come to it. As poor as I was, I was a millionaire because of the faith and love of the theatre world inside me”  (Schwartz 7 Jan. 1942).

                        Schwartz would also walk away with a vast store of theatre savvy packed in his brain, and the respect of many in the profession. In three extraordinary years, he’d learned to direct and to comprehend what elements made up a good piece of theatre. He wouldn’t be leaving alone, as most of his crew had pledged to follow him wherever he led. Sooner or later he’d set up shop again, gather his investors, then present the brand of theatre they’d  happily join for nothing more than union minimum.

                        On the horizon however, gigantic and insoluble problems loomed, which few in Yiddish Theatre had ever considered. With the newly-elected Harding administration, came the Emergency Immigration Act, signed on May 19th, 1921, restricting immigration to the United States. The Act limited those coming to the New World from Europe to three percent of that nationality in America at the time of the 1910 census. The total number to be admitted was capped at 355,000. Aimed at Southern and Eastern Europeans, the act decimated the flow of Jews that had once funneled through Ellis Island, many of them future audiences for Yiddish Theatre.

                         Three years later, The National Origins Act, born of post-war isolationism and fear of Socialist contagion, lowered even further the influx to two percent of the foreign-born from that particular country living in the U.S. at the 1890 census. In the year before the first Act in 1921, over 119,000 Jews arrived in America. In 1925, the year after the second Act, only 10,000 were admitted. As much as any internal problem on Second Avenue—and they were legion--, these two pieces of blatantly discriminatory legislation would eventually prove fatal to Yiddish Theatre.

  Chapter Thirteen: Beginning Over

                       A fresh start with a resurgence of vitality, Schwartz rapidly dismissed the wear and tear on his psyche to greet the shiny bright season of 1921-1922, primed as never before to pursue his dream. Over the summer, Maurice had been busily preparing on two fronts, besides his normal routine of touring the provinces. He desperately needed a playhouse in Manhattan no later than early August. Theatres were in extremely short supply, none being constructed since the war’s end, building contractors finding more profit in other commercial and residential structures.

                        Proctor’s on Broadway and E. 28th Street was available, and Schwartz eagerly began negotiating for a lease. But before one was finalized, Maurice received a note from Tex Rickard to stop by for a chat about the Garden Theatre. It had recently been vacated by Ben-Ami’s troupe, its members scattered to the four winds of Yiddish Theatre. Schwartz had always liked the location and its superior acoustics, its intimacy. Perhaps he was also intrigued knowing that his only serious competition had made a mess of things there, failing after only two years of fine offerings but poor management.

                       On the spot, Richard decided to lease the Garden to him. The tough, no-nonsense promoter put his one-and-only offer on the table: a seven-year lease at $24,000 annually, with only a $1000 security deposit. Then and there, Maurice signed the agreement. When word of the deal spread throughout the Yiddish Theatre world, there was the general consensus that Schwartz had bitten off much more than he could chew. The cognoscenti in the offices of the Forward and the Day, the wise men who took their bagel and coffee at the Café Royale, and the various patriotten, predicted certain bankruptcy. If  Ben-Ami and Schildkraut couldn’t make it at the Garden Theatre, what chance had a brash, over-extended, part-fraud like Maurice Schwartz?

                        A playhouse guaranteed, Schwartz went about gathering a company. First off, he scurried to Philadelphia, where Celia had gone after having put up with imperious Henrietta Schnitzer for far too long. Again Maurice spun his pure gold scenario of better theatre to her, but this time he pointed out, without money-hungry Max Wilner limiting him. And again she bought the concept and returned to New York. With the Jewish Art Theatre but a distant memory, Schwartz had the pick of the finest Yiddish actors on the planet. He recaptured Anna Appel and Jehiel Goldschmidt. Added Bima Abramowitz, Julius Adler (not of the famous clan), Julius’s wife Amelia, and Bessie Mogulesko. As promised, his old crew had come onboard, the one that had promised to follow him everywhere. Noted by his absence was Muni Weisenfreund, who’d moved down a few blocks and a few notches in stature by going to work for Joe Edelstein at the Second Avenue Theatre, now under his control. Muni did musicals with Bessie Thomashevsky, and Maurice appealed to Joe to kindly return the mercurial actor. Muni however was drawing fantastic crowds so of course Edelstein refused.

                        Schwartz had a theatre, an expanded troupe of the very best players, and as daunting as securing both had been, he had to scale yet another mountain. “Opening a theatre is no small matter. I had to install decorations and lighting, bring the theatre into a better state. For that, money was needed. Taking over a playhouse is like erecting a building”  (Schwartz 10 Jan. 1942). The Schnitzers had left nothing behind when they quit the premises, removing the sets, the scenery, the lighting fixtures, and every stitch of moveable equipment, including the stage curtains.

                         Maurice had left Wilner with no cash, only paper. His ace-in-the-hole, his savior, was Meyer Golub, Anna’s brother-in-law, who “had a heart as big as the island of Manhattan”  (Schwartz 10 Jan. 1942). Golub was in the liquor business and had done quite well for himself. He didn’t hesitate offering Maurice the princely sum of $10,000 to jumpstart the season, with additional jolts that would raise the loan to $23,000. More experienced, annealed by his association with Max and the troubles arising from it, Schwartz incorporated himself, becoming the Classic Theatre Corporation, its chief officers himself and Anna. His brother Martin, good with numbers and dealing with people, was installed as theatre manager. Schwartz also gave a name to his greatly enlarge troupe: the Yiddish Art Theatre. It certainly suited his aims. And perhaps he was also trying to capitalize on the defunct Jewish Art Theatre and its reputation. For the next 28 years the Yiddish Art Theatre would be inextricably associated with Maurice Schwartz, the two entities becoming one, even when in later years there was no physical location for the part that wasn’t Schwartz, when it had shrunken to reside solely in Maurice’s heart and mind.

                        Over the summer of 1921, Schwartz was also furiously reading plays he might later bring to life. At the time, the Vilna Troupe was creating a world-wide sensation with its wonderfully original The Dybbuk, under the direction of David Herman. The author, Solomon Rappoport, who wrote under the name S. Ansky, was a playwright, an agrarian Socialist and a folklorist. He’d headed an expedition for the Jewish Historic-Ethnographic Society of St. Petersburg, traveling with recording devices (as Bela Bartok had done in his native Hungary seeking out folk music), trying to capture and preserve Jewish legends of the backwater hamlets of the Ukraine and Belorussia. Tales about a ‘dybbuk’ are rife in Jewish legends, as well as appearing in the Cabala: an evil spirit that roams the earth until it finds a home. This spirit is that of a young person who has prematurely died, its soul returning to inhabit another’s body.

                        The play concerns the fate of a young couple promised to one another at birth by the two fathers. Happily, they also fall in love as adults, but the girl’s father marries her off to a rich suitor. The boy, beside himself with grief, seeks solace in the Cabala, then dies. The wedding goes on, but during the ceremony, the girl faints, and out of her mouth emerges the voice of her dead lover. He demands his rightful bride. The dybbuk in her must be exorcised. But in the rabbinic court, during its mystical proceedings, she suddenly dies, her soul then uniting with the boy’s for all eternity.

                         Schwartz knew, as he knew theatre intimately, that he had to have The Dybbuk for his splashy grand opening of the Yiddish Art Theatre. Every instinct told him this would be his greatest triumph ever. Ansky was dead, but Maurice negotiated with Chaim Zhitlowsky, Ansky’s authorized agent in America, for the five-year royalty arrangement.  “I devoted myself to the production with great energy. I wanted to be as successful as the Vilna Troupe had been, perhaps even more so”  (Schwartz 14 Jan. 1942). His players, over 20 in number for this lavish but tasteful production, caught his fervor and gave their utmost during the rehearsals. The composer Josef Cherniavsky wrote a hauntingly beautiful score. The set designer, Alex Chertov, did exceptionally in his first professional assignment. Celia Adler took the role of Leah, the possessed bride. Schwartz played two distinctly different roles, as the young sweetheart Chonon, who dies in Act One, and Azrielke Miropoler, the sage rabbi, who doesn’t appear until Act Three. “I liked both roles, but the role of Chonon was more important to me. It’s a truly tragic role that contains the poeticism of Shakespeare”  (Schwartz 14 Jan. 1942).

                        Opening on September 1, 1921, The Dybbuk had to face enormous competition not only from shund theatre, but also from its mainstream counterparts, the Broadway stage and the movies, to where much of the Yiddish public was going for its amusements. Marilyn Miller and Leon Errol were at the New Amsterdam in Sally. The Ziegfeld Follies was attracting droves to the Globe. Rudolph Schildkraut and Eva LeGallienne were sell-out hits in Molnar’s Liliom, and at the Booth, George Arliss was appearing in The Green Goddess. At the movies, Douglas Fairbanks was mesmerizing in The Three Musketeers, while impossibly handsome William Farnum starred in Perjury at the Park Theatre, the price of admission a tolerable 50 cents.

                        The New York Times , in its first full-length review of a Schwartz production, went overboard with praise. Wrote its reviewer: “The trial before the rabbis is the strongest and most compelling scene that has been seen on this stage, which has witnessed many remarkable scenes [. . . ] The first act in the old synagogue has a Rembrandtesque quality that is extraordinarily vivid”  (Block 21 Sept. 1921).

                        At the Yiddish Art Theatre, the play was an important artistic and commercial hit and ran for 18 weeks. Much of the handsome profit went to repay Meyer Golub. Although most Yiddish drama critics applauded Schwartz for his first presentation of the season, there were those die-hard anti-Schwartzites who found serious fault, comparing unfavorably his version with the Vilna Troupe’s. Too realistic, they declared, and not as moving  (Zohn 149).

                         Certainly Schwartz could have milked The Dybbuk for many more weeks, likely for the entire season on weekends, the big money-making days, “but it’s simply repugnant for me to run the play for so long, even though in the middle of the week, we took to playing repertory. We longed for fresh material, a new play, a new role [. . .], to experience the fervor of a theatre premiere”  (Schwartz 14 Jan. 1942). Though he played to sold-out houses, Maurice dismantled the sets and plunged into the next production. He had a comfortably fat bank account and was driven to try something daring and original. During the week, while The Dybbuk continued to draw well, he presented a Moshe Nadir work, The Last Jew. The production received terrible notices. Alter Epstein of the Day was especially caustic: “Perhaps the author wants to tell us something in dramatic form. Perhaps some theme enchanted him, but he wasn’t able to turn it into something important, worthwhile [. . .]”  (11 Nov. 1921).

                        With no one to answer to—and better yet, with sufficient money sitting in the bank—Maurice undertook with great elan an enlarged revision of the previous season’s one-act hit Landsleit, by I.D. Berkowitz. The compact comedy about a Ukrainian Gentile who visits his Jewish countryman in America, and falls in love with an unmarried sister, was expanded to three acts. Schwartz played the Gentile, Jehiel Goldschmidt the Jew, and Bima Abramowitz the Jew’s wife. Berkowitz attended each rehearsal and enjoyed himself tremendously. Everyone in the production agreed that the enlarged piece would be the grandest success, especially Maurice. “The play is fully realized, with true-to-life characters. The humor is like fresh water from a well. I.D. Berkowitz can paint people. He also knows the stage. His dialogue is never stale”  (Schwartz 14 Jan. 1942).

                         The customers thought otherwise. Landsleit fell like a bird shot out of the sky, a total flop. Maurice found himself consoling Sholem Aleichem’s devastated son-in-law with pearls of wisdom gathered over the years. He said that no one can truly tell about the fate of a play; it’s all a big gamble, and really, actors like himself were the worst predictors because they concentrate only on their own role, ignoring the work as a whole.

                        H. Leivick, whose real name was Leyvik Halpern, was another Yeshiva product who exchanged the strict orthodoxy of Judaism for the strict orthodoxy of Socialism. Exiled to Siberia, he escaped and landed in America before The Great War temporarily shut down immigration. Here, he alternated for most of his life between playwriting and paperhanging. It was Maurice Schwartz who introduced Leivick to the Yiddish Theatre audiences with his first play, Rags. Only Schwartz was willing to take a chance on a complete unknown, and with a story about a strike that takes place inside a rag factory. He considered it “the first important contribution to the Yiddish Art Theatre of a play about American life”  (Schwartz 17 Jan. 1942). The rest of the troupe wasn’t as enthusiastic. They considered the piece weak and boring. Some of them devised all manner of excuse not to accept parts. And those who consented, never really expected the clumsy work to be performed.

                       Rags opened on December 6, 1921, with a reluctant cast of 20, including all the theatre’s ace players except Celia Adler. Alex Chertov did the grim factory settings. The true core of the play is the familiar conflict between a European father and his Americanized son, a theme of poignant relevancy then, as the second generation came to adulthood. All its scenes take place in the rag factory, a site painfully familiar to Maurice, the son of a rag factory owner, and perhaps one of the reasons he loved the piece. That evening, the benefit audience was moved at first by the vast gulf between father and son. But in the third act, when the ragpickers go out on strike for a mere 50 cents a day raise, then slink back for fear of losing even their small pittance of a salary, the audience broke out in laughter. What should have been desperate tragedy was perceived of as delicious comedy.

                       Schwartz was irritated. What was so funny about the old ragpickers’ humiliation, the men no more than rags themselves demanding so very little? He glared out at the audience of self-satisfied, middle-class Jews, who were making good wages, living in fine homes and driving the latest cars. They were vastly different from those who’d once slaved in sweatshops and would understand the pathos of workers for whom half a dollar meant the difference between just getting by and slow starvation.

                       “They didn’t like the play,” some of the troupe whispered to Maurice during their final bows. Later, they’d remind him that he’d been amply warned of such a negative reaction. What the fledgling Yiddish Art Theatre didn’t need, in their collective wisdom, was a play about grubby old men toiling away in a factory. The first reviews were equally as negative. After some serious and tortured consideration, Schwartz consigned Rags to the middle of the week, hoping to keep it alive somehow while trying to save the day with their next production, Prince Lulu, by Leon Kobrin. The title conveys little of its contents: a serious comedy about a cantor who would rather be a Broadway musical star.

                         Meanwhile, Rags ran in tandem with Prince Lulu, the former’s audience continuing to laugh in the third act, during the strike scene. Then the cast was thrown into near panic, when on a Tuesday morning it was learned that Abe Cahan would be attending that very evening. The worst was feared. If he witnessed a Jewish audience audience laughing at men on strike, the powerful force majeure might condemn the play altogether, sealing its fate. Nervously, the players went through their paces on Tuesday evening, even though Maurice expressed the attitude that so powerful a champion of the unions as Cahan would find much to his liking. After all, the entire history of the Jew in America was condensed into this oddly beautiful work.

                        During the troubling third act, an epiphany came to Schwartz on stage, a solution to that grating laughter from the smug crowd. At the crucial moment, Maurice, as the Americanized son who sides with the workers, discarded the Leivick text and improvised his own. Instead of accepting the bitter herbs of a failed strike, he now urged the workers to continue it and not surrender. Not a laugh in the audience that evening. Instead, a thunderous ovation. Even the normally poker-faced monarch of the Yiddish press leaped to his feet and cried ‘bravo.’ After the cheers died away and the crew had taken its bows, Maurice told them: “It’s our fault that they laughed. Leivick and I are to blame”  (Schwartz 24 Jan. 1942).

                         Joe Schwartzberg, the prompter, wrote the change into the script, and ever after it was performed this way.

                         In his reviews in the Forward—two, spaced a few weeks apart--, Cahan could hardly contain himself. He heaped dollops of sweet honey on everyone concerned with Rags, initiating a stampede at the box office, and Maurice had no choice but to run the production every day, including weekends. Prince Lulu had to be curtailed and Kobrin, a respected and established playwright by now, was understandably incensed.

                          Critics for the English-speaking press were no less generous in their reviews. Wrote one: “This is an attempt to reach at impalpable and elusive spiritual values in human beings, and it calls for a great artistic scrupulousness, and a fluent and strong imagination. Both of these Leivick has, and a great prepossesion for the theatre besides”  (Drucker 29 Jan 1922).

                        But due to Abe Cahan’s huzzahs, the run of Rags had to be curtailed. The Forward editor made the unprecedented move of publishing the entire play in its pages. However, it wasn’t a play to be read, but acted, that shone only in performance. Following its spread in the Yiddish newspaper, ticket sales took a nosedive, the audiences declining, until Maurice had to replace it. On January 11, 1922, he mounted Andreyev’s The Thought, based on the short story by his favorite Russian writer. The plot concerns the revenge inflicted on a rival who has married the woman they both love. Very Poe-like, is its obsessed, highly neurotic narrator.

                         During the first week of February, Maurice tried a Sholem Asch play, The Dead Man. Asch was the first Yiddish writer to gain a universal readership. In 1906, he wrote the notorious (for its time) God of Vengeance, which was declared sacrilegious when Kessler did it at the Thalia. The drama was closed down in 1923 with Schildkraut in the lead on Broadway, in an English-language version.

                        Jonah Rosenfeld’s strikingly modern short story Competitors had caught Maurice’s attention for its unusual plot of a highly dysfunctional family, in which the mother goes out to work, and the father, a scholar, remains at home to look after the children. The eldest child, a daughter of ten, vies with her father for control of the household. The insightful, psychological nuances are superb. Rosenfeld adapted his short story for the Art Theatre, the play opening early in March. It was moderately successful. Come April, Schwartz produced another Fishel Bimko piece, Oaks, adapted from his first attempt at drama, On the Shores of the Vistula. Written in 1914, the play deals with the intense struggle between a father and a son over the affections of the same woman. In 1924, Eugene O’Neill wrote Desire Under the Elms, with a similar plot. O’Neill may have seen or overheard talk about the Bimko play and borrowed freely. More likely, he had in mind the Phaedra/Hippolytus legend as originally written by Euripides.

                        Schwartz completed his remarkable third season in May, sailing courageously into a Chekhov work never before done in America and performed only once in England, a full year before the Moscow Art popularized it. In Maurice’s hands Uncle Vanya became Uncle John, perhaps because of the Red scare gripping the nation. Contrary to many critics’ charge that Schwartz simply had to hog the spotlight, he neither acted in the play nor directed it, having little to do but oversee the production. Leonid Snegoff, a respected actor and director, was brought in to stage the work and play the title role.

                          To many Yiddish Theatre scholars, this initial season at the Garden Theatre marked the real start of Schwartz’s Art Theatre. For the two seasons under Wilner’s mercenary control, Schwartz had been forced into many unwise and hasty decisions. But he’d also been permitted to take risks and learn from sad experience, to establish a pattern he’d been able to follow here at the Garden, and adhere to afterward. The parameters he’d set for the Yiddish Art Theatre formed a troika of the finest Yiddish classics such as Gordin’s masterpieces, the best in modernists represented by Leivick, Bimko and Asch, and the world-renown, non-Jewish dramatists such as Andreyev and Chekhov.

                        To these critics wearing the blinders of preconceived orthodoxies, who valued strict ideological conformity over splendid theatre, Schwartz would forever be a mystery, an unreliable opportunist at worst, a stumbling pragmatist at best. “From the variety of types of plays Schwartz produced [. . . ], it might be surmised that he was either an experimenter in the theatre arts, or was eclectic in his selectivity, or protean in meeting the everchanging fortunes endemic to the world of theatre”  (Lifson 373).

                         From a study of the man and his work, and his astounding longevity in the face of overwhelming obstacles, the answer must be that he was all three and probably more, the more being his uncanny ability to make come alive whatever he applied his talents, zest and intelligence to, unsparingly, and with little regard for monetary gain.

                      Duly impressed by the public’s response to Rags, Schwartz opened the 1922-1923 season with Leivick’s Andersh. The title means ‘different’, and different was its hero, returned to his life after the war, a Jewish businessman who comes home expecting to find everyone and everything changed because of the horrific international slaughter. Finding instead, that nothing and no one has, that the conflict was only a momentary quaver that has been absorbed and forgotten.

                        “The cast is amazingly well-chosen and unwaveringly good,” pronounced the New York Times, in an otherwise luke-warm review that also found “scenes of exceptional vividness and pathetic, humorous charm”  (26 Sept. 1922).

                       But like Americans in general, the Yiddish clientele had become ‘alrightniks,’ not interested in the past. The entire nation it seemed had become addicted to the gyrations on the dance floor and on Wall Street. The Roaring Twenties had become the nation’s fast-hurtling vehicle to wealth and happiness eternal. The past was only some outworn skin to be shed at will.

                        Surprising everyone except his wife, Muni Weisenfreund had returned to Maurice’s fold for another season. He’d grown disenchanted with Edelstein’s Second Avenue Theatre and making a buffoon of himself by playing superannuated roues and oversexed counts, though he did it with verve and grace. Indeed, Muni was secretly happy to rejoin his former employer, though he honestly felt that Maurice was jealous of him and the wildly cheering and stomping ovations that followed his every performance. At Edelstein’s, he made good money and proved to himself that he could be a commercial success. “But he had the feeling that everything he did as an actor had to say something, total up, add dimension to the audiences’ lives and to his own”  (Lawrence 88).

                        Muni’s return should at lease in part demolish the canard that Schwartz couldn’t tolerate actors in his troupe as powerful as himself, a supreme egotist who refused to be outshone on the same stage. Celia Adler had also come back the year before. In fact, many of the especially capable actors either remained with him for decades, or would come back time after time, for a season or two, or more, drawn not only by the superior quality of the plays selected, but because of the brilliant creative light he threw off and the radiant heat he generated.

                        Reciprocally, Maurice was only too happy to sign up Muni for another year, troublesome and finicky though the latter was. He handed Weisenfreund the list of plays slated for the new season.  And it was a breathtakingly ambitious assortment from the same three categories that was fast becoming his trademark. Three works by Sholem Aleichem, two by Hirshbein, and an assemblage by the younger Yiddish playwrights he’d been bringing along. As far as world classics were concerned, the Art Theatre would be performing Gorki, Strindberg, Shaw, Ibsen, that clever reprobate Oscar Wilde, and the savagely funny Nicolai Gogol. Twenty-four plays were definitely scheduled, with a few others, just in case.

                        The Inspector General by Gogol has been called the greatest play ever written on Russian soil. With diabolic needling, it attacks bureaucratic corruption and incompetence, not only in Czarist Russia, but everywhere. For this gem, Schwartz went outside himself, beyond Yiddish Theatre, importing Vladimir Viskovsky of Moscow’s famed Theatre Korsh as director. Perhaps Schwartz felt over his head, with so exalted a Russian treasure, and needed one of Gogol’s own countrymen to properly present the piece, as the year before, he’d turned to the foreign Leonid Snegoff for Uncle Vanya.

                          With its Russian subtitle, Revisor, the play made its American debut at the Yiddish Art Theatre on October 6, 1922. Working together and playing off one another like a comedy team, were Schwartz as the inane chatterbox Khlestakov, who is mistaken for an inspector-general come to audit a small town, and Muni, as Ossip, the accidental imposter’s old servant. In addition, was the Art Theatre’s usual nucleus of players, as proficient in satire as they were in murky tragedies such as Andersh.

                        The New York Times review was a love letter from start to finish. “It is difficult in the short perspective of 15 minutes after the last curtain of The Inspector General at the Yiddish Art Theatre not to yield to a very pleasant impulse and flounder enthusiastically from raptures about the play”  (9 Oct. 1922).

                        Schwartz returned on October 23rd, to his modernists with Asch’s Motke Gonef (Motke the Thief). Written in 1917, the play is set in the Polish-Jewish underworld of pimps, whores and thieves. Asch dramatized it from his own novel and Muni was slated for the title role by Schwartz, convinced he’d made the absolutely perfect choice. Weisenfreund, who would later become nationally famous in the 1932 film Scarface, played Motke, a career criminal who escapes the law by hiding out in a traveling circus. Reformed by the experience, he returns home, but in order to save his town, he must and does revert to criminal activity again. Yiddish audiences, though not disdainful of villains who change into heroes, of a mix of light and dark in their stage characters, preferred the belly laughs and scathing indictment of the Czar’s minions to the sludge of the Jewish underworld in Poland. Motke the Thief was moved from weekends to weekdays, The Inspector General taking its place.

                        As well, for the Monday-through-Thursday crowd was Schwartz’s version of Moliere’s The Rogueries of Scapin, reborn as Scapin’s Follies. The play is a convoluted farce about two young, impoverished men from Naples, who marry two girls, one rich, one not. Scapin, the shrewd manipulating servant of one of the Neapolitans, uses his wits to orchestrate a happy ending to their plights. Of course, Schwartz played Scapin.

                        In the first week of December, Maurice tapped the bottomless well of Sholem Aleichem with The Big Lottery, (aka The Big Win, aka The Two Hundred Thousand, aka The Great Fortune). Originally scheduled for the spring of 1923, the play was rushed into production because of the arrival in town of the Moscow Art Theatre. Attendance so far for the season had been poor to middling, and if Schwartz didn’t mount a pre-emptive strike against the Russian visitors (recognized by many as the greatest Art Repertory company in the world), the Yiddish Art theatre would be in serious trouble. Many of the plays Maurice had scheduled would be scrapped, while The Big Lottery was pushed up to counter the Russian invasion.

                        Morris Gest, David Belasco’s son-in-law and a producer of opulent spectacles at the Manhattan Opera House, helped arrange the tour, renting the Jolson Theatre on Seventh Avenue and 59th Street. He also hired Oliver Sayler, the brainy and able expert on Russian Theatre, to act as publicist, preparing the New York playgoer for the visitors. All agog, the Yiddish press wrote loads of worshipful articles about the Moscow Art Theatre and its remarkable founder Stanislavsky, its coterie of incomparable actors—as if the Yiddish Art Theatre hadn’t its own equivalents.

                        The Big Lottery had premiered while the Moscow Art Theatre was still in Paris, the Schwartz production receiving mediocre notices but excellent sales. Sholem Aleichem’s mythical town of Krasrilevke was the site for this engaging piece on human foibles and life’s dirty tricks. A poor tailor, Soroker, played by Schwartz, is told that he’s won 200,000 rubles in the national lottery. His world turns topsy-turvy, as does the lives of Ettie his wife and Beilke his adored, unmarried daughter, who is now besieged by suitors. Events reel out of control, until it’s learned that Soroker hasn’t won the lottery after all. But when the bubble bursts, the tailor returns to his previous state, none the worse for the experience.

                        As usual, I.D. Berkowitz honed an admirable script, and Schwartz worked with an able crew, including Muni as one of the daughter’s suitors, again a minor role. Joe Schwartzberg was credited as the ‘librarian,’ perhaps a fancy title for prompter. Martin Schwartz, Maurice’s kid brother and Samuel S. Grossman were co-managers. Alex Chertov fashioned the scenery.

                        At first, the rearrangement of The Big Lottery from the next spring to early December, in order to get a head start on the Russians, seemed a canny business decision, but with the Jolson Theatre doing a land office business since the installation of the Moscow Art Theatre, receipts at the Garden dropped precipitously. Schwartz bitterly voiced his sense of betrayal by compatriots who chose strangers over practically family. “Jews of New York were so busy with the Russian Theatre they didn’t know what we playing”  (Schwartz 4 Feb. 1941).

                       By the time The Big Lottery was yanked, the Yiddish Art Theatre had lost $18,000. Schwartz’s quarrel was not with the Moscow Art theatre—on the contrary, he thought they were wonderful—but with fellow Jews, for their lack of loyalty and the dearth of appreciation for what he’d given them over the years.

                        Around Christmas time, he floated up an interesting piece by the Polish playwright Gabrielle Zapolska, who’d recently died at the unfair age of 61. The Four of Us depicts the complex lives of a quartet of urban middle class characters. The play was witty, sophisticated fare, and very much in accord with Maurice’s overall agenda, but nothing much happened at the box office.

                        About the next presentation, playwright and New York Times foreign correspondent Herman Bernstein wrote in its playbill: “Leonid Andreyev gave me the manuscript of Anathema in 1909, before it was published and before it was produced by the Moscow Art Theatre. Anathema was Andreyev’s favorite among his work.” Though Andreyev was not a Jew, this play was fully sympathetic to their hopeless plight in Russia and the reason the Czar sanctioned its closing after only 37 performances. Offering the piece to the Yiddish Art Theatre, Bernstein indicated that though its milieu is Jewish, the situation is universal.

                        Besides his enormous respect for the Andreyev work, Schwartz had selected it in a desperate attempt to fight fire with fire, to compete with the Russians at the Jolson by using one of their own playwrights. At first, Maurice’s troupe rebelled against Anathema and were ready to go out on strike to prevent Schwartz from destroying what they’d labored so mightily to nurture. But they probably never knew how precarious their jobs were, singularly and collectively. Schwartz did: the Yiddish Art Theatre was barely clinging to life.

                         Reuben Guskin, the head of the Hebrew Actors Union, was asked by them to halt the play. “Guskin called me and asked how I could possibly succeed with a Russian mystical play, if the Russian troupe, with their best actors, was playing right here in New York? He said, ‘Don’t you think a genuine Jewish play by Sholem Aleichem wouldn’t be a more practical solution?’ “  (Schwartz 4 Feb. 1942).

                       Schwartz patiently replied that he’d done exactly that with The Big Lottery and lost a bundle, and that if he didn’t have a solid winner next time at bat, the Yiddish Art Theatre would have to close its doors. Guskin grudgingly agreed and backed off, then turned the screws on the mutineers. They set about learning their parts. This running against the grain is yet another example of Maurice’s survival instinct, which served him well over his long career, until it stopped. No one in Yiddish Theatre got in and out so much financial hot water as he did, falling and rising again, a perpetual phoenix.

                      Anathema opened on February 8, 1923 and received stunning notices, which was like effervescent champagne after a long dry spell of commercial disasters. Typical of the non-Yiddish notices was the one in the Times, stating that the Andreyev play “frequently approached the superb”  (9 Feb. 1942). Its plot revolves around the statement made by Anathema, the Devil, that he could corrupt the most pious of men. Somewhere in Russia, David Leizer, a poor, sick, saintly man, is designated as the Devil’s object. Anathema comes to him in the guise of an American lawyer, who’s brought a large inheritance from a dead brother, over four million rubles. Suspicious at first, Leizer accepts the money, but then distributes it to the needy, losing a son and a daughter in the process. Hounded by hordes of beggars, David flees to the desert. The mob follows. Anathema demands that Leizer curse the beggars and humanity in general. David refuses, but for his altruism, he’s stoned to death. Anathema is denied his victory however as Leizer is accepted into heaven.

                        Schwartz directed and starred as Anathema. Muni was cast as David Leizer. Samuel Ostrowsky, a talented painter, prepared the sets for the seven scenes, each of which was separated by a short intermission. This indeed was unsettling for an audience used to three- and four-act plays with one or two 15-minute breaks for snacking and gossip.

                        Early in the play’s run, David Belasco came once, then once again, fascinated. Daniel Frohman, the very astute and successful producer, visited backstage with well-heeled friends, who urged Maurice to do the play in English on Broadway. It just so happened that the 48th Street Theatre was available and would be the perfect venue to show all New York his remarkable ability. A golden opportunity, they said. Dazzled by their interest, their compliments, their firm convictions and deep pockets, Schwartz succumbed to the flattery, though Anathema was doing good business at the Garden Theatre. More than the love ballads they crooned to Maurice, there must have been other forces at work. Surely, he must have grown disturbed by Yiddish theatre-goers who’d turned up their noses at the sumptuous banquets he’d laid before them: the best plays, the greatest playwrights, the finest actors. Maybe if he abandoned them for a short while, they’d realize what they had to lose.

                        Herman Bernstein had added fuel to the fire with his inspiring English translation. Frohman’s friends had spoken to the Equity Players, an offshoot of Actors Equity, and specializing in superior theatre. They agreed to provide the cast with, of course, Schwartz’s approval. The move Uptown seemed not only a brilliant idea to expand his audience, but also to solve his nagging money problems. He could take from the filthy rich to pay for the impoverished Yiddish Art Theatre. After delighting the faithful at the Garden for six more weeks with Anathema, Maurice took an open-end leave of absence and tossed himself into the strange maelstrom of Broadway Theatre, a completely foreign world to him.

                        At the 48th Street Theatre, Schwartz cut out for himself the role of David Leizer, who he probably coveted after seeing how magnificently Muni had handled it. Ernest Glendinning, a most capable actor, was chosen as Anathema. Schwartz had thought of taking Muni with him Uptown, but needed him to provide substance for the Art Theatre. Schwartz couldn’t possibly do justice to both operations at the same time. Rehearsals went well enough, though Schwartz knew at once that the Equity Players, each and every one, couldn’t hold a candle to his own troupe. Complicating matters, an offer had come in from a movie studio to purchase the film rights to Anathema for $80,000. Herman Bernstein cautioned him that movie people were nothing but thieves and liars (a fact Schwartz was to learn a short while later on his own). However, a corporation for the stage production was formed, with Maurice receiving ten percent of the stock, which he promptly sold for $10,000.

                        Though Schwartz had been blinded by all that putative easy money and dubious fame dropped into his lap, from people he could hardly fathom, he was reunited with stark reality after the first reviews. the Times panned Anathema, without the saving grace of a nod or two for the performers. The reviewer compared the play negatively to the Yiddish counterpart at the Garden. “What to a Russian audience is profound philosophy set forth in luminous symbols, seemed to an American audience pompous vaporings—a meaningless story enveloped in turgid verbosity”  (Corbin 1 April 1923). Anathema, American style, ran for an evanescent 13 performances.

                         The same Equity Players, under a reeling Schwartz, hoping to salvage something of their tarnished reputations and perhaps a few dollars, tried The Inspector General on May 1st, but failed to rescue the ailing patient. Once again, the Times was unimpressed: “The trouble lies with a company of mainly English-speaking actors trained to modern realism, who struggle valiantly with the broad and heightened manner of the classic company. They are abundantly real but not abundantly amusing”  (Corbin 1 May 1923).

                          Maurice Schwartz limped back to the Garden Theatre chagrined, chastened and badly in debt. “Those few weeks on Broadway ruined me. I came away with lots of prestige, but empty pockets, and when I found myself back with my friends on our stage at the Art Theatre, I performed all my Yiddish parts every night with enormous delight”  (Zylbercwaig 2238).

                        Yiskor, slated to open on April 13th, two weeks after the American debut of Anathema, should have been Maurice’s life preserver. It involved the story of a young, handsome Jew, who is loved by a Polish princess, but chooses martyrdom rather than betray his faith. Its author, Harry Sackler, was one of those brilliant young playwrights Schwartz took great pleasure in introducing. But the piece was not the savior the Yiddish Theatre required to end the season, which closed on a sour note, as would many a season for Schwartz. The future seemed cloudy and unpromising. Among the blows Schwartz had to face was Weisenfreund’s announcement that he wouldn’t be back in the fall.

                         Schwartz absorbed this and other hard knocks, while preparing to make the summer tour, where he might have his faith, his sanity and bankroll restored. And,of course, to prepare for the season to come in the fall. He needed the people of the provinces as much as they needed him.

 Chapter Fifteen: Innocents Abroad

                        The third and somewhat truncated season at the Garden Theatre began on August 31st with Sabbatai Zvi, by J. Zhulovsky. The story of a false messiah was based on fact. Zvi (or Zebi) was born in Smyrna in 1626, a Cabala student who turned to asceticism and was rumored to have had the ability to effect miracles. After the brutal Chmielnicki massacres in Poland, European Jews yearned for a savior to rescue them from intolerable oppression. Eventually rising to prominence as the sought-after rescuer of the Jews, Zvi was seized by the Sultan in Constantinople, who imprisoned him for a short while, then offered the supposed miracle worker the choice of conversion to Islam or death. Choosing life, Zvi was then vilified as an apostate by the entire Jewish world and shunned.

                       The Zhulovsky work, translated by Joel Entin and Moishe Katz, was given extra special treatment by Schwartz, with settings by Samuel Ostrowsky, music by Alexander Olshanetsky and dances by Russian ballet master Alexander Kotchetowsky. Over 30 actors were employed and almost that many extras, to act as Turkish soldiers, slaves, servants and dancers.

                        Schwartz had gone all out to ensure a running head start for the season. It was the first historic Jewish play he produced. Indeed, many Yiddish Theatre savants pinpoint Sabbatai Zvi as the start of Maurice’s love of high-class spectacle. It was to become one of a dozen or so standards he’d repeat whenever the Art Theatre would go on tour, a sure crowd-pleasure.

                        Moving in this direction, Schwartz would cut down on the number of plays he would present in a season, including the international dramas. In his initial season at the Irving Place Theatre, he did over 30 works. For the current year, he scheduled less than ten.

                        While Zvi ran for many weekends, Maurice introduced America to Andreyev’s The Seven Who Were Hanged, to be given during the week. The original short story was a harrowing tale about the execution of seven Czarist prisoners, some thieves and murderers, the others political activists. The time was 1905, during the first attempt to overthrow the Russian monarchy. Though seven were hanged, the cast numbered 40, Schwartz utilizing this method to maximize his cast and to attract the largest audience possible for whom more was more.

                        Beggars by Leivick, though a fine read and a sharp treatise on the philosophy of begging, fell flat. Consisting of 35 tawdry characters hanging around, unemployed, complaining about life, it opened on the weekend of November 20th. One reviewer found the play totally unrewarding. “Beggars is utterly sordid, unrelieved by the slightest touch of nobility, which sometimes can redeem even the lowest conditions”  (Deering 30 Nov. 1923).

                        Fading quickly, Beggars was replaced by Bread, Dymov’s riotous comedy about organized labor practices, and two bakers from Russia, who emigrate to America and run into problems that test their friendship. While Bread ran on weekends, Maurice tried out another Benavente work, Dolls (Hombrecitos), written in 1903. At the end of its short run, Schwartz reverted to that most elementary of Yiddish playwrights, Avram Goldfaden, with The Two Koomy Lemels. “Goldfaden is an eternal well. The French never tire of Moliere [. . .] and Jews never tire of Goldfaden”  (Schwartz  14 Feb. 1942). Schwartz however felt that Goldfaden had never been utilized to the fullest. He knew he could do better and overhauled the play, giving it features never before imagined. He pored over the text, studied the music. He gave a new spin to both.

                        The play’s background is rooted in the Haskala movement that echoed—decades later—the 18th Century Age of Reason, which had liberated religion, politics, social life and morality in Christian Europe. Old forms of thinking broke down, especially in England and France, and their reverberations took form in Jewish Europe as the struggle between Orthodox religion and a more modern approach. In the schism, most Jewish intellectuals and artists sided with the progressive elements.

                         In The Two Koony Lemels, this intense conflict manifests itself in the story of a marriage arrangement between a prominent rabbi’s daughter and another noted rabbi’s son, Koony Lemel, a half blind, limping, stutterer. Chayele, the bride-to-be, loves Max, her tutor, an enlightened young man. In order to safely court his beloved, Max comes to Chayele’s house disguised as Koony, hence the two of them. The plot thickens and boils over, until concluded, to almost everyone’s satisfaction. Schwartz’s particular spin was not to treat the cripple as an object of derision, but to invoke the audience’s sympathy, while at the same time, maintain the original work’s highspiritedness. “The audience was impressed by the way we presented the play and gladly paid the $2.50 for a ticket [. . .] We succeeded in transforming a play presented numerous times before and offered it in a completely different light”  (Schwartz 14 Feb. 1942).

                       During the season, with the Hebrew Actors Union blessing, Maurice opened a rudimentary school to attract new talent. He gathered would-be actors to participate as extras in crowd scenes, paying them a paltry $10 a week, but giving them the chance to learn their craft through direct observation and on-the-job training. These novices first took an exam, then were selected for training, and would appear in minor roles, or, if needed, step into major roles with little or no notice. Most quit after a while, unable to handle the rigors of theatre conditions, or the low wages. The arrangement worked well for Maurice and for the students who remained. Some rose through the ranks to become regulars, such as Ben Zion Katz, Michael Rosenberg and Zvi Scooler.

                        Schwartz’s interest in new talent went back to 1918, with his offer to establish a club of 100 young theatre aspirants. The club was actually formed in 1923 under the title ‘Folks Farband Far Kunst Teater.’ Membership was a dollar a year, which entitled the participant to a 25 percent discount in tickets and subscription to the Yiddish Art Theatre  (Lifson 437). Most of those attracted were leftwingers, who were openly opposed to Schwartz’s methods and choice of material. Maurice was not unsympathetic to their political outlook, but never considered theatre as the proper vehicle. To him, theatre was an end in itself, and any message imparted secondary, if at all.

                      Under the heading of no good deed goes unpunished, Maurice instituted Sunday morning lectures at his Garden Theatre about the plays he was producing. At these gatherings, the leftists, the critics and other theatre mavens would caustically condemn him for producing commercial theatre, as if paying salaries, expenses and trying to show a profit, was some horrible crime (Lifson 437). These were the same carpers who sniped at him unmercifully over the years, holding him to a higher standard than anyone in Yiddish Theatre. Not long after, the left-leaning members broke away completely, forming their own, often successful, company, the propagandist ARTEF.

                        Cheap labor had become a necessity for Schwartz, as his casts burgeoned and other costs skyrocketed during the inflationary 1920’s. An example of Schwartz’s labor problems, which were to become a given of his theatre existence: Sabbatai Zvi was conceived as a drama with music. The play required a full orchestra. When The Seven Who Were Hanged followed it in October, a problem arose, as the piece didn’t call for music. The musicians complained that it was far too late in the season to find employment elsewhere, and demanded to remain in place at the Garden. Schwartz paid them for an extra week of idleness and no more. A strike resulted. The union rule specifically stated that those hired at the start of the season must be kept on until its end. Dismissal, except for extraordinary reasons, was forbidden. A committee was formed to mediate the dilemma, and it cost Maurice a significant sum to undo the strike.

                        Blood Laughter, by Ernest Toller, opened on February 14, 1924. It was based on the playwright’s Hinkemann, written in a Bavarian prison, where he was serving a 15-year sentence for his part in the 1919 communist-led revolution in Munich. Like Andersh, it concerns an ex-soldier returned home—in this case to a bankrupt Germany—permanently damaged. But where Marcus in the Leivick piece is spiritually wounded, the German is physically unmanned, the symbolic counterpart of what was done to Germany by the Versailles Treaty.

                        The Art Theatre’s last scheduled play was Karen Bramson’s The Eternal Lie, due to open on April 14th. Bramson was a popular Danish playwright, and she constructed her piece around a love triangle. Its subtext concerned the question of whether it was moral to destroy a person’s happiness with a distasteful truth. Reminiscent of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, the play wondered if ignorance was truly bliss. But late that winter, Schwartz received an exciting offer to tour Europe the following spring and summer, instead of trodding the boards to those Yiddish-American outposts as usual. The visit would be the very first by a Yiddish ensemble based in the United States to perform in England and on the Continent. It would also prove to the world that Schwartz and his remarkable Art Theatre had arrived, had become world artists, on the same stratospheric level as the Moscow Art Theatre. To the bargain, he had a repertoire with which he could dazzle the entire western world, an array of awesome works he’d introduced and made classics of.

                        The invitation to perform abroad had come from the Anglo-Yiddish manager Moshe David Waxman, though Schwartz was not terribly impressed meeting the foppish man, noting his natty clothing and excessive hairdo. Waxman showed him telegrams from London theatre-owners, expressing great interest in the Yiddish Art Theatre. Maurice couldn’t resist. “Actors are plagued by the desire to travel. They are like gypsies. They would like to be all over. They look forward to meeting new people, to playing successfully for them, to traveling on boats and trains”  (Schwartz 18 Feb. 1942).

                        Most of all, Waxman had aroused in him a deep nostalgia for London. He couldn’t help recalling how as a mere child, he’d been separated from his mother and spent two Dickensonian years, trawling the streets of Whitechapel. Now a man of some notoriety, he longed to see again where he’d risen from, and to show Londoners how far one of their own (if only briefly) had come. How could anyone resist this enticing scenario? “I will have the chance to play Yiddish Theatre in the city where I was once a beggar”  (Schwartz 18 Feb. 1942).

                         When Reuben Guskin learned of Schwartz’s plans, he tried to dissuade his friend and adversary from taking yet another hazardous venture into alien territory. This was no mindless excursion among the Gentiles, Maurice assured him, alluding to the fiasco at the 48th Street Theatre. They would be among their own, with friends. “Our reputation will increase. We’ll show the entire world that our theatre is a jewel”  (Schwartz 18 Feb. 1942). Grudgingly, the union president gave his blessings, but only after Maurice promised that the Art Theatre would complete its schedule for the season. Guskin had his members to protect.

                        To honor his commitment: the Bramson work, Schwartz went to the Arch Street Theatre in Philadelphia, and hired Paul Baratov to manage the Garden in his absence. Baratov—later he would change his first name to Ben Zvi—had been an international star in Eastern Europe. Besides managing, he would take a part in The Eternal Lie and other productions. Left behind as well would be Leonid Snegoff, Julius Adler, Yudel Dubinsky and Anatol Vinogradoff, to ably hold the fort.

                         To Maurice’s great fortune, the Democratic Party asked to sublease the Garden Theatre for its summer caucus while preparing for the upcoming Presidential election in November. The $10,000 charge would provide for all the expenses of getting to London and then some. Or so Maurice calculated. In London, Schwartz’s emissaries rented the Scala Theatre for a whopping $3000 a week, for a total of six weeks. For the expedition abroad, Schwartz took a troupe of 20, including three managers, the decorations, costumes and paraphernalia for a dozen plays, and his own electric generator for the elaborate lighting arrangements used in the productions.

                        Sometime during the hectic spring of preparations, Sidney Goldin, an old acquaintance and budding Yiddish filmmaker, came to Maurice with a tasty deal. He wanted to shoot Yiskor with Schwartz and his company while they were in Vienna. In short order, Harry Sackler, the playwright agreed to do the screen adaptation.

                        More than 1000 (Schwartz’s estimate) friends and admirers gathered at the dock, where the S.S. George Washington was loading for the voyage. Among the boarding actors were Mr. and Mrs. Muni Weisenfreund. Schwartz had asked him and his wife Bella to join the Art Theatre on its European jaunt. It would also be the first time back for Muni, who was born in Lemberg, Poland. Aboard the liner, the rancor and bruised egos of both men evaporated in the salt air and ocean sun. Over the seven-day journey, the company rehearsed in the Grand Salon some of the plays they’d be doing. After one session, Muni cornered Maurice. “I want to apologize. I’ve been thinking of you as a son of a bitch. But I’m the bastard. I’m the pain in the ass”  (Lawrence 99).

                        Also in a conciliatory mood, Schwartz admitted some of his own faults and promised to make amends. He swore that every actor would get equal billing, to begin with. But the rapprochement dissolved soon after the troupe disembarked, and they glimpsed the marquee of the Scala, in the ritzy West End of London. ‘Maurice and Company’ was how it read, with the names of the cast listed alphabetically in small letters, Weisenfreund’s name at the very bottom, “down where the dogs pee on it”  (Lawrence 99). Over the next few weeks, the two men would snipe at one another, until Muni suddenly quit, taking Bella with him on a long European holiday.

                        Waiting on the London pier, over 500 English Jews milled about the gangplank, the result of Moshe David Waxman’s publicity efforts. Maurice and Anna were whisked away to the Cecil, one of the city’s poshest hotels, while the rest of the company was taken to the Whitechapel, the standard second-class watering hole for visiting Yiddish performers. The next morning, the dailies were replete with stories planted by Waxman about the London vagrant who’d made good in America, and his troupe, here in town, at the Scala, ready to open with Sabbatai Zi. Advanced ticket sales for the premiere were excellent so far, but beyond that rather anemic. Waxman had a ready explanation: the troupe had arrived during Passover, when London Jews traditionally shunned all forms of entertainment. This, Schwartz refused to accept, and badgered Waxman to try reversing the custom. Waxman then arranged a press conference, where Maurice’s early life was injected as promotional material, to pump up lagging sales at the box office. A campaign was organized, very American in tone, to find the kind policeman who’d directed him to the bakery. Unfortunately, the man was dead, but after a media blitz, his sister was found.

                       At a public ceremony that was more photo-op and media stunt, Schwartz presented the woman with a gift worth about $25. All the hype for just one member of the troupe (even if he was the boss and its main attraction) annoyed the other 19 members of the Art Theatre. It was the hated star system over again, and it riled them no end. Schwartz knew at once that he’d made a terrible mistake, and he belatedly invited the group to the ceremony. “When the actors came, I saw their angry faces and understood their attitude. Our enterprise wasn’t for one person. They were also being feted, but it was a case of too little, too late”  (Schwartz 25 Feb. 1942).

                        The Yiddish Art Theatre began rehearsals under mutinous conditions, never letting Maurice forget his shoddy treatment of them. Meanwhile, their $10,000 nest egg was fast shrinking. He cursed Waxman for deceiving him, but chided himself more for believing the man’s hot air. However, détente was achieved soon after, between Schwartz and his players, and on April 18, 1924, Sabbatai Zvi opened at the Scala. Supreme actors, each and every one, they worked through their animosities, united by a single goal: the theatre. Opening night was a gala affair, attended by such notables as the daughter of Prime Minister MacDonald, and those fabulously rich Anglo-Jewish families, the Sassoons and the Montefiores. The English, famous for their reserve, didn’t applaud, not once, between acts, the way unbuttoned New Yorkers would. Instead, they saved it until after the final curtain, and rose as one to cheer for two whole minutes. Afterwards, the entire cast was invited by a Parliament member for tea on the terrace of  the Parliament building.

                          From then on, the Yiddish Art Theatre could do no wrong. The press, both English and Yiddish, lauded its every play, each performance. The homes of the wealthiest were open to them. One not-so-wealthy English Jew, Chaim Weizmann, visited the troupe at the Scala and recommended they play in Jerusalem. “I listened with enthusiasm to this interesting personality, and developed a strong desire to learn Hebrew and eventually visit Israel”  (Schwartz 28 Feb. 1942).

                        Though many Englishmen attended the Scala, the Yiddish Art Theatre kept losing money. The problem was the high cost of doing business in Britain, compared to its cheap theatre prices. London wasn’t New York. The highest paid London worker earned about $20 a week. Business was excellent; they broke all records at the Scala, but when expenses exceed income, as Mr. Micawber noted, the result is misery. Schwartz worried over the erosion of the Art Theatre’s bankroll and he abandoned any hope of making money. His object now was to limit his losses. The truth was, he was flat broke, nothing left to take them to Paris. In desperation, Maurice remained in London an additional two weeks, hoping to earn passage money to France. He booked the Prince of Wales, a cheaper theatre, but with little profit in the end. Feeling almost as impoverished as he had 20 years earlier, Maurice asked for and received a $2500 loan from a prominent Anglo-Jew (which he was to return a year later).

                       They left London in the middle of June, and characteristically, Schwartz didn’t bemoan the large deficit he’d incurred. “The material losses were nothing compare to the love and kindness we were treated with”  (Schwartz 4 Mar. 1942). At the time, he fretted, complained, lived in anguish, trying to make ends meet, falling further behind each day, borrowing from a stranger and yet, in retrospect, he could shrug off the quotidian terrors and take the long, philosophical view. Maurice was patently no businessman, but then few artists are.

                        “Paris: the city of enchantment and glamour. France: the country of liberty, equality and brotherhood. Who didn’t wish to be here at least once in life? The magic city with its broad boulevards, where people sit in coffeehouses and drink wine and listen to music”  (Schwartz 7 Mar. 1942). They arrived nearly broke, only $10 of the loan remaining. The French press and representatives of every major Jewish organization were waiting at the train, but very formally, and even a tad cold compared to the English.

                        The Paris Theatre held only 600 seats, which when filled brought in no more than $380. Its stage was too small for the elaborate sets Schwartz had lugged from America, but despite the obstacles and lack of funds, the Art Theatre was resoundingly successful. In addition, Schwartz met the leading intellectuals and artists of Europe, among them the poet and writer Zalman Schneour, who penned the novel Noah Pandre, about a Jewish ruffian. Schneour could have been taken for some Italian prince: tall, elegant, with intensely dark eyes and a neat black beard.

                       As in London, the Art Theatre’s income hardly covered outgo. Schwartz rapidly fell in debt to his actors, an intolerable situation he’d pay for dearly after they were back in the States. Money woes made Schwartz’s two weeks in Paris long and tormenting. Often, he and the troupe had to depend on the kindness of others, better-off French Jews and American visitors, to treat them to dinner. Thrilled when he’d arrived in Paris weeks before, he was even more elated leave. Like many a would-be conqueror, he left somewhat disenchanted.

                        Vienna was also a city of art, music, gaiety and first-class restaurants, but with Germanic stolidness. Schwartz’s advance man had booked the tradition-encrusted Karl Theatre on the Praterstrasse for their performances. It was Vienna’s leading opera house, where the music of Strauss, Kalman and Franz Lehar had delighted the Austrians. The Karl had a large stage, suitable for the Yiddish Art Theatre’s more gaudy productions. Schwartz felt better about this and took it as an omen of better times to come.

                        For filming Yiskor, the Schonbrunn had been rented. Formerly one of Emperor Franz Josef’s castles, the Schonbrunn had become a movie studio after the war, and was surrounded by magnificent gardens, where between scenes, the actors could meander and inhale the scents of roses and muguet. During their short stay in Vienna, the troupe worked exceptionally hard: evenings at the Karl, days before the cameras at the castle. They were well-paid, and in American dollars. Maurice used many of his own players for the film, integrating them with Austrian actors such as Oscar Beregi, Fritz Strassny, and the particularly lovely Dagny Servaes,

                        Schwartz cavalierly offered a preamble for what was to happen on the film set. “It’s customary in Hollywood that the leading man and the leading lady playing together at being in love, end up actually being in love”  (Schwartz 25 Mar. 1942). But he never thought it would happen to him. He had a wonderful wife, who was as well a business partner and friend with whom he shared everything. And really, he had no time for dalliances, busy night and day, not a moment to himself. A man with staggering responsibilities.

                         Dagny Servaes initiated the affair in the film, and in real life. She was a tall, ebony-haired, soulful beauty, and a fine actress. They were thrown together, on set and off, doing their scenes, then being transported together to and from the Schonbrunn. The affair to Charlotte Goldstein Chafran, a future and exquisite leading lady at the Art Theatre, who knew him well, said that Schwartz had come of age without ever having the opportunity to change from boy to man. “So the romanticism he should have experienced growing up remained forever trapped in his psyche, unfulfilled forever, demanding expression and release, and a companion of his youth to share it with. Anna couldn’t fulfill this role. There was nothing of the girl in her [. . .]She couldn’t play in the park with him”  (Chafran 28 June 1999).

                         With Dagny, he’d found his playmate, and in a limited way, experienced what is labeled, in more recent times, a midlife crisis. Demonstrating little resistance, Schwartz drew closer to Dagny, until he realized that nothing good would come of his infatuation for the beautiful Austrian actress. A brief, sweet moment in time, but it was over before it had really begun. The film and the plays completed, it was time to go home to prepare for the fall season at the Garden. In his mind, he’d already departed Vienna, and was knee-deep in the new presentations, in New York, the most exciting city in the world to him.

                        Three years later, in the autumn of 1927, Max Reinhardt brought his company to Manhattan to do A Midsummer Night’s Dream and other pieces he was famous for. Dagny Servaes was part of the troupe. There is no evidence that she and Maurice saw one another then or ever again.



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