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

Chapter Twenty-Four: "When I'm Outside the Theatre I Am Not Alive."
Chapter Twenty-Five: Maurice in Wonderland
Chapter Twenty-Six:
The Storm Clouds Gather. 
Chapter Twenty-Seven:
Reunion in Tel Aviv

Chapter Twenty- Four: “When I’m Outside the Theatre I Am Not Alive.”

                        In late summer, 1932, Maurice Schwartz returned to an America crippled and confused, with no end in sight to the misery. Franklin Delano Roosevelt seemed to be the only one with a vision, a solution, and the confidence to pull the nation out of its economic doldrums. Only eight Yiddish Theatres that season were scheduled to open, the Art Theatre garnering the most interest because of Yoshe Kalb and its publication in America and serialization in the Forward. Commenting on the paucity of playhouses and the fewer actors, Schack noted its trashy array of “unashamedly popular entertainments, mostly with music and also, if the past is anything to go by, mostly composed from the good old pharmacopoeia of easy laughter and tears” (Times 25 Sept 1932). Still missing in action, reported Schack, were Molly Picon and Ludwig Satz, both of whom seemed content to remain overseas, unwilling to return to so decimated a battle zone.

                        Before Schwartz’s ship had docked, his excitable, high-powered business manager, Edwin Relkin, had already rented the Folks Theatre from its current owner, Isaac Lipshitz, the program printer for all the Yiddish playhouses. Lipshitz had bought the building in 1930, from the Second Avenue Realty Company, who’d bought it from Louis Jaffe, its builder. But even while Schwartz was in Europe, and on the high seas, interest was gathering over the I.J. Singer oeuvre, which was declared a masterpiece by no lesser an authority than the Forward. Yiddish radio and the rest of the press also promoted Yoshe Kalb, though there were conflicting opinions on its themes, its implication, and its caustic view of Chassidic narrowness. Some readers were incensed by the novel’s blatant sexuality. Others found fault with the thinness of the hero’s character. All would concur on the richness of the milieu and its carefully honed details.

                        The story is a convoluted one, taking place in Poland, circa 1860, in the confined world ruled by corrupt and autocratic Rabbi Melech. His decent though insipid daughter Serele is forced into marriage to Nakhumtshe, also a rabbi’s offspring, who’s never seen his bride until the wedding. Rabbi Melech craves the union so that he can marry (having already buried three wives) Malkele, a 16-year-old, beautiful and high-spirited girl. Melech is 68, and eager to become a bridegroom once more. Both weddings take place, but soon after, Nakhumtshe and Malkele fall desperately in love. One brief encounter between them results in the girl’s pregnancy and subsequent death in childbirth. The boy, who would then be called Yoshe the Simpleton (Yoshe Kalb), consumed by guilt, flees the town and wanders the countryside for many years, before returning to a town close to home. There, he becomes a gravedigger’s assistant. The gravedigger has a lump of a daughter, who becomes pregnant, the blame wrongly falling on Yoshe. The townsfolk force them to marry in the cemetery, as a means of appealing to God to spare his wrath. Once more, Yoshe runs away, this time back to his original town, where he is put on trial for being a gross sinner. Found guilty, he’s sentenced to forever wander the earth, an outcast.

                        Within days of unpacking his suitcases, Maurice met again with Singer, who’d recently arrived from Warsaw, where he’d been a correspondent for the Forward, to finalize their contract. At once, Singer began working on an adaptation of his novel. The script that resulted fell far short of the version Maurice had conjured up on the train to Warsaw, speeding him to the meeting with the Polish writer. In days, Schwartz had his own draft. He showed it to Singer and to Leon Krystal, his erudite friend at the Forward. All three agreed that Schwartz’s adaptation was the far superior, and the one the Art Theatre would work from.

                        I.J. Singer hadn’t honestly expected much to come of the enterprise, it being the European attitude to trivialize everything American. Maurice’s energy and work ethic however astounded him. “He is a person who can totally exhaust actors during rehearsals, and he included himself among them. During the period when a performance is being prepared, the larger world outside the theatre ceases to exist, as far as he is concerned. There is no day and no night, no sleep and no rest; there’s just the theatre”  (Denk 172).

                       For Yoshe Kalb, Maurice selected a cast with exquisite care. For the coarse, greedy, Rabbi Melech, he selected himself (who else?). Lazar Freed was absolutely perfect as the mystical Yoshe, this wraith-like man who Jacob Mestel described as ‘having dark eyes, which hid a deep sadness.’ Judith Abarbanell possessed the perfect naïve quality for Serele, the rabbi’s mismated daughter. Others in the swollen cast of 70 (the largest Schwartz had ever employed) were Vinogradoff, Isadore Cashier, and Morris Strassberg, who also supervised the makeup, an art for which he had special bent. For Yoshe, Anna Appel returned from Hollywood, where, in rapid succession, she’d made two films, taking minor roles.

                        Schwartz searched even more deliberately for an actress to portray Malkele. He finally chose Charlotte Goldstein, a lovely up-and-coming actress, and the daughter of veteran Yiddish actor, Jacob Goldstein. “The role is the pivot around which the play revolves. It required an actress of mature talent and experience and great depth of emotion. Yet she must be youthful enough to let the audience know that she is only 16-years-old”  (Chafran 28 June 1999).

                        The scenery was designed by Alex Chertov, and the dances by Lillian Shapero, late of the Martha Graham dance company. Leo Kutzen, the orchestra’s violinist, is credited with writing the music, but it was Maurice’s creation. He used Kutzen as a front so his press enemies wouldn’t condemn him for usurping that discipline too.

                        Maurice’s first indication that he had a hit of tremendous proportion, was the unusual interest demonstrated by the benefit managers. Word had circulated of something special at the Folks Theatre this autumn, and there was near panic within the organizations to snap up entire blocks of seats for their membership, all of whom would want to be among the very first to view what had been so hailed by every Jewish daily.

                       At rehearsals, the actors had caught the fevered excitement, sinking into their parts. Very quickly, Schwartz welded them into a functioning unit. Where an actor’s usual response is to concentrate on his or her individual part, now they paid close attention to the play as a whole. Everyone had sensed the importance and uniqueness of what they were doing. Certainly, Schwartz’s presence was responsible for a goodly part of the ferment generated. He seemed to be everywhere at once: cutting, trimming, adding to scenes, directing from centerstage instead of the first row, walking and talking his players through their lines, showing each the proper gestures and inflections, setting the pace, while maneuvering seamlessly from one scene to the next, often employing two scenes simultaneously on the same stage, like a melody played contrapuntally. He shifted his lighting accordingly, with stunning effect. He used music as a means to join and contrast these scenes.

                       Sleep became a stranger to Maurice, banished from his life so that he might expend every drop of life force produced by a non-stop brain. Indeed, he appeared to require no rest, perpetual motion incarnate, and loving every second of it. His statement to Meyer Levin was the literal truth: “When I’m outside the theatre, I am not alive”  (23 May 1932).

                       Yoshe Kalb opened on October 1, 1932, and was more than merely a singular success. It was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, and the greatest Yiddish Theatre production of any kind, shund or kunst, in its entire history. To Schwartz, it proved to be a vindication of every disaster, every flop, every sacrifice he’d endured. Yoshe Kalb would also be the high water mark of his long love affair with the Art Theatre, and become its most solid pillar.

                        Critics across the broad spectrum of opinion recognized instantly the play’s grandeur and value. Abe Cahan, once Maurice’s most ardent supporter, but of late his severest scold, described Yoshe Kalb as “extraordinary, powerfully dramatic, indescribably gripping. The audience watched and listened with a profoundly moving interest. This is true of the entire performance, from beginning to end [. . .]”  (Forward 3 Oct. 1932). More restrained though almost as positive, were the reviews from the rest of the Yiddish press, ranging from grudgingly admiring to describing the play as the greatest spectacle ever  seen in Jewish history.

                       The mainstream press was also part of the chorus that sang paeans to Yoshe Kalb and its prime mover. Atkinson (who’d dropped the J. from the front of his name), wrote two months after opening night that “if Yoshe Kalb looks and sounds exhilarating at the Yiddish Art Theatre, it is because Jewish actors understand that sort of mystical drama, and Jewish audiences are enkindled by it. [. . .] Whether business is good or business is bad, Mr. Schwartz’s theatre is alive”  (Times 18 Dec. 1932).

                       The illuminati of Broadway also came to pay homage, especially on Sunday evenings, when legitimate theatre was closed. Such household names as Lynne Fontaine, Alfred Lunt and Noel Coward, and the playwrights Elmer Rice and Eugene O’Neill, even the Hollywood vamp, Pola Negri “who almost admitted her heritage after a performance”  (Schwartz 14 July1945). Academicians came too:George P. Baker of Harvard’s Drama Department, George Brendam Powell of Yale (‘Yoshe Kalb is one of the most exciting theatrical experiences I have ever had’), and Schwartz’s longtime admirer, Professor Randolph Somerville of NYU, who visited, and made attendance a must for his Dramatic Arts students.

                        If Yoshe Kalb lifted the Art Theatre, its success had a remarkable effect on Maurice’s own finances. For years, since 1927, he’d been in hock to his friend Louis Gordon, the owner of Modern-Silver Linen Supply Company in Manhattan, to the tune of $42,000, shelled out in dribs and drabs over five years, and repaid in the same manner, at six percent interest (though Gordon seldom collected it). As a means of eventual repayment, the two entered into contract on January 15th, 1932, permitting Gordon to act as Maurice’s manager in the area of motion pictures. Gordon would receive the net proceeds from Schwartz’s future film ventures, until the debt was paid.

                        Louis Gordon devoted some time to the pursuit of cinema projects for his friend and client, often dickering with Louis Weiss, the co-producer of Uncle Moses, but got nowhere in that shark-like world. Fortunately for everyone concerned, as the profits from Yoshe Kalb grew, Schwartz repaid his loans in full to Gordon, no indication given as to whether or not the interest was included.

                        That magical fall, and well into spring, Yoshe Kalb did phenomenal business, over 300 performances, weekends only, while repertory fleshed out the week. The Art Theatre’s first such filler on November 3rd, was Asch’s very minor Chaim Lederer, which was heartily panned by the press. The fact is, Asch was raked over the coal for Maurice’s shortcomings. The latter actually wrote the play, but as with Leo Kutzen, he hid behind a front, to avoid giving the Yiddish press more reason to carp. Actor, director, producer—and now playwright? Was there no limit to the man’s arrogance?

                        On December 1st, came a revival of Gordin’s The Legend of the Jewish King Lear, a breezy though hardly-performed piece that was a lark for Maurice and his cohorts. Wrote the Times: “Mr. Schwartz revamps it as a play within a play presented by a troupe of his actors, whose tribulations backstage are even more tragic than Lear’s. [. . .] They have taken a venerable mutton and made a hash of it [. . .] which turns out to be delectably kosher”  (Times 1 Dec. 1932). Sabbatai Zvi was trotted out a week later for a short run, and a week after that, in honor of Ossip Dymov, who’d returned to America after several years abroad, the famed playwright was treated to Bread, his tasty comedy originally presented by the Art Theatre, nine years earlier. In the cast for the first time was William Mercur, a neophyte, who would later serve Schwartz in other capacities.

                       On the penultimate day of December, Schwartz sent up another repertory piece, Asch’s Motke Ganef, first presented in America in 1917 by David Kessler. The piece gave Maurice the opportunity to introduce Isaac Samberg, in the title role, to the Art Theatre public. Samberg, whom Schwartz had met in Poland, had done the role long before in Eastern Europe.

                       For January of 1933, Schwartz’s weekday plug was I. B. Zipor’s Revolt, a dramatic poem about medieval life and one of its horrors: the right of the first night, which gives a lord wedding night privileges with his serfs’ daughters. Little came of the eccentric piece, except as a vehicle for Charlotte Goldstein, in her second stint with the Art Theatre.

                        Though nearly four months had passed, Yoshe Kalb was still playing to sold-out houses, but Edwin Relkin, the Art Theatre’s business manager, decided that the show should go out on the road. Relkin, the very model of the fast-talking promoter, who believes every word he utters, had brokered a deal with the Shuberts for the City Theatre in 1928. Though in his 50’s, he had unbounded zest and verve, but of the nervous, spastic kind, and was given to extravagant superlatives about whatever he was pushing. Charlotte Goldstein regarded him as “a nut of the first order, but he was also a showman, part of an era. You had to give him that”  (Chafran 28 June 1999).

                       They could have run Yoshe Kalb for years, despite Maurice’s earlier vow to frequently change their material, an important element of repertory theatre. But Relkin kept up a steady barrage of chatter about how audiences across the length and breadth of America were dying to see the finest work ever in Yiddish theatre. Relkin was already negotiating with the manager of the Apollo Theatre in Chicago. Schwartz, who could also be persistent, who knew the art of promotion, didn’t have to believe Eddie Relkin’s rash promises of overflow audiences nationwide, but he allowed himself to be convinced. How he adored opening nights and new places to perform in, akin to the childish delight of unwrapping presents! His business sense was overcome, and on April 16th, the Art Theatre left the Folks, and the thousands of New Yorkers who hadn’t as yet seen Yoshe Kalb, and those who’d had but wanted to see it again, and traveled to Chicago, a company of 40, its costumes, scenery, lights and a full maintenance staff.

                       What overzealous Relkin hadn’t accounted for was Chicago’s The Century of Progress Fair, which opened on May 27th, specifically calculated to alleviate the Depression. It was a fairy wonderland of architectural and futuristic exhibitions, evidence of scientific marvels just around the corner. The subtext was to restore the public’s faith in industry and America. The Depression, with its bank failures, foreclosed farms, and shut-down factories, had destroyed trust in the nation and its institutions.

                        Over 22 million customers came to the fair that year. Sally Rand, not the wonders of science, was the main attraction, dancing nude behind two gossamer fans. She was arrested twice, but invited back the following year, doing much the same act. A lot fewer Chicago natives came to see Yoshe Kalb. Relkin had gone well in advance to Illinois to set up the advertising and publicity, and to prepare for the arrival of the bloated New York company. When Maurice asked about the paltry amount of advance tickets sold, Relkin grew eerily quiet. “I noticed that he’d lost his nerve. Usually, he runs around shouting: ‘It’s the biggest thing in the world,’ excited by his own publicity. Now, Relkin was as quiet as a kitten, and I knew that ticket sales were poor. He couldn’t understand why. He’d placed posters everywhere”  (Schwartz 18 July 1945).

                       Bewildered, Maurice went to see Jacob Siegel, editor of the Forward in Chicago. Siegel explained that Eddie had blundered. He’d wallpapered the entire city with only English-language posters, leaving the impression that Yoshe Kalb wasn’t in Yiddish. Then there was the Fair. And please remember, admonished the editor, Chicago Jews didn’t run so quickly to the box office to gobble up tickets the way New York Jews did. This sent Maurice into a tailspin. He’d left the highest grossing play of his career long before season’s end, to play to half empty houses elsewhere.

                        The Forward editor went about attempting to remedy the situation. He loaded his newspaper with publicity for the play, and soon after, the other Yiddish papers in town followed suit. Before long, the Apollo began filling, as it should have originally, though far short of what was needed to cover expenses. “Our fiasco in Chicago was a killer for Relkin. [. . .] He was so distraught that I had to comfort him, saying, ‘Don’t make such a big deal of it. You’re only losing a five-percent commission’”  (Schwartz 18 July 1945).

                        Maurice took pity on the agonizing business manager, and sent him back to New York by plane, to book them in the next location and make the necessary arrangements, but, above all, to forget past errors. Six hours later, Schwartz received a telegram from Eddie, announcing that the Art Theatre would open in Milwaukee a day after it closed in Chicago. Then on to St. Louis. “Don’t worry,” Relkin added as the final line. “Yoshe Kalb is the greatest thing in the world’ “  (Schwartz 21 July 1945).

                        After the hastily-constructed tour was over—one or two performances per playhouse, and income one-quarter of what might be expected—Yoshe Kalb was still very much a draw. South America beckoned invitingly, but Maurice took only four members of the cast to Argentina for the summer: himself, Judith Abarbanell, Lazar Freed and Charlotte Goldstein. The balance needed for a full-bodied presentation of the hit play, would be gathered from the wealth of Yiddish-Argentine performers. The quartet spent four months in South America, capitalizing on the runaway sensation. Yoshe Kalb was as much a hit in Buenos Aires as it had been in New York.

                         “There isn’t any lightning left in Yoshe Kalb. Organizations are not interested in the play, they’d seen it before, two or three times by many,” bemoaned Maurice  (Schwartz 28 July 1945). Nevertheless, the Art Theatre kicked off the 1933-1934 season with what he hoped would give it a running start. Despite the Depression and its aftermath, Yiddish Theatre that season had lofty expectations—and lots of competition, sufficient to cause a loss of sound judgment in scheduling the Singer work. Ludwig Satz had returned from Europe, and would be at the Public. Molly was eagerly anticipated after her foreign expedition, the theatre not yet chosen. ARTEF would be fielding The Bonus Marchers, by Paul Walker. At the Prospect in the Bronx, Jenny Goldstein had hired Vilna Troupe veteran David Herman to direct her. The McKinley and the Bronx Art Theatre playhouses were gearing up for the new season with their usual boisterous musicals.

                        While Maurice had been away in South America, mesmerizing audiences, most of the Art Theatre actors left behind weren’t able to await his return in the fall. They had families to feed, rent to pay, careers of their own to preserve. Looking out for themselves, Celia Adler, Samuel Goldenburg, Luba Kadison and Zvi Scooler, signed on with the Second Avenue Theatre.

                         Expecting to make hay with Yoshe Kalb’s fame, Schwartz tried running the piece seven days a week. In short order however, he was playing to sparse audiences. By late October, he saw the light, and made room for another production during the week, confining Yoshe Kalb to weekends and doing quite well with the shift. The tandem play selected was The Wise Men  of Chelm, a riotous comedy by Aaron Zeitlin. Two years earlier in Warsaw, Zeitlin had read his play to Maurice, who immediately purchased the stage rights. It had been slated to debut the season before, to alternate with Yoshe Kalb, but the latter’s unexpected and lingering success had changed Schwartz’s plans, and he put The Wise Men on the back burner.

                        Its scenario is an uncomplicated one. The town of Chelm, in the province of Lublin, Poland, is populated only by simpletons. The Angel of Death visits Chelm to select a bride, and while there he bestows on the town the dubious gift of immortality. His gift goes unappreciated. A medium-size production by Art Theatre standards, a mere 25, it was directed by Schwartz, who also took a major role. The cast was composed of those former players who hadn’t found work for the season, and a few new freshmen.

                         William Schack reviewed it favorably: “A delightful grotesquerie stylized without loss of humor and spontaneity, enlivened with song, dance and costume [. . .] Superbly directed by Maurice Schwartz with the change of pace such buffoonery demands”  (Times 18 Oct. 1933).Yiddish critics also were delighted with the broad comedy, describing the piece as “one of the most artistic productions in Schwartz’s career as a director”  (Zohn 187).

                        Yet regardless of the overall splendid reviews, ticket sales lagged. Schwartz and Relkin did everything possible to save the show, increasing the advertising, talking freely to the press. All in vain: after two weeks, the losses had grown to over $16,000. Maurice was understandably scathing about this latest flop: “We cannot train an audience. Our New Yorkers go to the theatre for a few hours of pleasure, to fill up leisure time, or to stimulate the nerves. Their expectations are purely practical. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough theatre-goers to appreciate these plays”  (Schwartz 1 Aug. 1945).

                        On the final day of November, the Art Theatre presented, by contrast, the deadly serious Feuchtwanger drama Josephus. Convinced of his ability to adapt quality novels into worthy plays, after his unqualified success with Yoshe Kalb, Schwartz had given himself totally to the effort.

                         Josephus was a much-dishonored figure out of early Jewish history, a Hebrew scholar, soldier and governor, who turned traitor during the Roman-Hebrew War, to save his own skin. He ended up as a Roman chronicler of that war. Feuchtwanger depicts the man, not as a simple turncoat, but as a realist and patriot, who tries to make peace between Roman and Jew, thus saving his people, a much maligned and misunderstood man. Schwartz trimmed and shaped the novel down to 22 scenes, employing a cast of 40, in an ornately handsome production, with himself in the title role. Many of his former alumnae such as Freed, Vinogradoff, Cashier, Julius Adler and Michael Rosenberg, found their way back to him.

                         Josephus replaced Yoshe Kalb on weekends, to give the newer piece a chance to flourish. But Schack wasn’t impressed with Maurice’s acting or directing. “Mr. Schwartz, while making a striking figure, scarcely conveys the man’s ambition and intellectuality, nor the full depth of his inner struggle before going over to Rome"  (Times 1 Dec. 1933). The play bombed badly. With the perceptive clarity of hindsight and a touch of sarcasm, Schwartz noted that the piece was “not too fit for a Jewish audience which looked for praiseworthy heroes, honest characters, not turncoats. [. . .] Where Jews are concerned, if the hero has sinned, he has to repent to be acceptable. The play should have a happy ending”  (Schwartz 28 July 1945).

                       With nothing on the horizon at the Folks, Maurice listened with an open mind to one of his best mainstream friends, Broadway producer Daniel Frohman., who reasoned that since Yoshe Kalb  had been so successful with Jews and Gentiles alike on Second Avenue, it would do even better playing to a wider audience. It belonged at the National Theatre on W. 41st Street. To demonstrate his confidence, Frohman would act as the producer. The same Daniel Frohman had lured Maurice to Broadway in 1923,in the ill-fated English-language treatment of Anathema. Daniel was so convincing, and Schwartz so susceptible at this low point (one of many) in his career, that Maurice decided to have a go at it.

                       The production was a first-rate flop, one of the worst in the experiences of both Schwartz and Frohman. “It is diffuse and unimaginative,” wrote Brooks Atkinson. “English is not the language of wonder, but Yoshe Kalb is labored storytelling unless wonder can be added to it”  (Times 29 Dec. 1933). This was the same Brooks Atkinson, who couldn’t stop raving not that long ago about the Yiddish version. Understandably, the Schwartz/Frohman  misjudgment closed after four performances.

                        Three unmitigated flops in a row were too much for Maurice. As he had nothing lined up, and was fearful of slipping into extreme debt and melancholia once more, he took the prudent approach and closed the season abruptly in February. He marched the troops back on the road, hoping to recoup his losses by playing Yoshe Kalb (in Yiddish, of course), wherever booked. Surely, there were thousands of hinterland Jews who’d heard of but never seen this remarkable phenomena. To Maurice’s dismay, the Art Theatre performed before surprisingly small audiences in regions of the nation still in the frozen depths of winter, in the throes of the Depression. As the weather improved, spring approaching, receipts grew larger, and he made a few greatly appreciated dollars.

                        After months of traveling, the Art Theatre arrived in Los Angeles in May, 1934, where five years before, Maurice had fallen victim to a mutinous crew and a bad press. They were booked at the splendid Biltmore, and gave an excellent performance of Yoshe before a very savvy crowd that included many members of the movie community, including Charley Chaplin, and a fair sampling of Hollywood’s top producers and directors.

                        One evening, a pair of MGM bigwigs came to Maurice’s dressing room and asked to see him at their office at the studio. In artistic limbo after the past, debt-incurring season, and no plans for the next, he consented without hesitation, even though he’d been burned before by Hollywood sweet talk, and wasn’t all that dewy-eyed about working for a Lotus Land conglomerate. He knew very well that film studio rajahs were a pretty flaky bunch: with the power of dictators, the culture of barbarians and the attention span of children.

                        Aware of this, Schwartz attended the meeting and grew dizzy over the sweet honey they poured in his ear and the astronomical sums they offered—just like before. And as in the past, they dangled a seven-year contract with escalating increases before him. He would act and direct under the immediate supervision of the head honcho himself, Louis B. Mayer.

                       The actor and the movie mogul soon met. Schwartz described him in non-mogul terms, as a “happy-go-lucky character who likes a Jewish joke and gefilte fish”  (Schwartz 4 Aug 1945). So far, so good. Mayer placed him in the capable hands of an underling, Harry Rapf, who promised him the world, though Maurice wanted just enough of it in cash to plow back into the Art Theatre, and keep it alive forever, a kind of indirect subsidy from Hollywood.

                       While considering MGM’s offer (what really was there to consider?), Schwartz received a second proposal from Warner Brothers. They offered more money—but with strings. Maurice would have to change his name, which they stated flat out would be a decided handicap. Blatantly, they told him: “In Chicago, New York, Boston or Philadelphia, the name Schwartz may be respected. But not so in Chattanooga, Kansas City or Nebraska”  (Schwartz 4 Aug. 1945). As a Jew, as an artist, Maurice was appalled. MGM hadn’t made surrendering his birthright a condition of employment, so Schwartz signed with Mayer’s company, and for less money.

                        At his next meeting with Louis B. Mayer, the studio head expressed his regrets that he wouldn’t be able after all to personally guide Maurice through his initial months at MGM. His wife Margaret wasn’t well—women’s problems—and in the morning he was leaving for treatment in Europe. Not the most felicitous of beginnings, Mayer said, intuiting Schwartz’s apprehension. He turned the actor over to Rapf, who then advised Schwartz to relax for a few weeks. Take up golf. Go to the races. Try deep- sea fishing. When they were ready to get cracking, he’ll let Maurice know. Relaxation was Schwartz’s first assignment.

                       Maurice was more than a little discouraged. “I’m used to working 16 to 20 hours a day, rehearsing and writing [. . .] and now I’m condemned to idleness. I came here to accomplish something and he advises me to become a sportsman”  (Schwartz 8 Aug. 1945). And despite his inactivity, Maurice received a fat paycheck every Monday. Punctually. Week after week. His internal clock became skewed, equilibrium knocked for a loop. He couldn’t sleep, had trouble eating and digesting; felt his mind going soft and slothful. He was living at the Grand Hotel in Santa Monica, near the ocean. In the mornings, he’d go out to the beach for a swim and a stroll; read in the afternoons, then hang out with California-converted Yiddish actors in the evening. He simply couldn't accept that he was getting paid for doing nothing more than getting a good tan.

                        Out of sheer boredom, Maurice quit his hotel and rented a 14-room house on the beach, with lots of bathrooms and balconies. To ease the monotony and loneliness, he called his brother Martin in New York, and begged him to please come and help fill up the damned mansion. And bring along his wife and daughter. Maurice and Martin would go together to the ocean and exercise on the beach. Evenings, they would invite his Yiddish actor cronies over for food, booze,  and to sing the old theatre songs and tell inside stories about their experiences—some lies, others exaggerations, all well-appreciated. Months wore on like a jail sentence, until, totally marooned from himself, Maurice jumped into his car and drove to the MGM lot, intending to back Rapf against the wall. He would tell Harry that he was in an intolerable bind and deteriorating rapidly. He had to do something to earn his keep.

                        But Harry had a few crises of his own to contend with. Marie Dressler, one of the studio’s biggest draws, had just died. And his last film had laid a huge egg, losing nearly a million bucks. So Rapf was understandably unsympathetic to Maurice’s difficulty dealing with what amounted to a long paid vacation. Icily, he reminded Schwartz what he should have guessed by now: that Hollywood runs on its own particular timetable, at its own inscrutable pace. “We have actors, directors, writers sitting around for years, doing nothing until the time is right”  (Schwartz 11 Aug. 1945).

                        Maurice took the dressing down without flinching. Later, a less tense and flip Harry Rapf scheduled a series of screen tests, Schwartz doing Shylock, Lear and some modern figures. Harry was so excited by the results that he called Louella Parsons, the Empress of Tinsel Town, to come see them. “The fate of actors, producers and directors is determined by Louella Parsons. If she has a poor opinion of someone, he’s lost. She has the ability to make some famous and to ruin others”  (Schwartz 11 Aug. 1945). The next morning, her article appeared in the Los Angeles Examiner, rapturous about the screen test, and predicting Schwartz’s certain acceptance in films. Her unexpected boost stimulated management at MGM, and Rapf ordered his writers to sit down at their typewriters and produce material worthy of Schwartz’s talents.

                       Six weeks later, nothing of substance was banged out by those mobilized typewriters. Each Monday his check would arrive. The only change was, the air around Maurice had become harder and harder to breathe. Alone in his cavernous house, he sat facing the ocean, poring over his scrapbooks, delivering his best lines to the breezes. At his fingertips, in his blood, they would come tumbling out on their own.

                       A few scripts did arrive but instead of anything resembling art, Schwartz found himself rummaging through garbage strewn with cliched dialogue and silly plots, populated by characters who showed little sign of life. “I looked into the mirror to see if I was really the director of the Art Theatre, that had presented the most beautiful plays of world literature”  (Schwartz 15 Aug. 1945). There and then, Maurice decided not to accept any of the parts proffered, but would tell no one but Mayer on his return from overseas. So many months of precious time had been wasted, and he had nothing to show for it but the thousands of dollars MGM had tossed at him.

                       When Louis B. Mayer came back to California and learned that little had been done with the Yiddish actor, he was furious. He replaced Rapf with Sam Katz, the former Chicago movie exhibitor and now underling at the studio. Katz’s brainstorm was to dig through MGM’s archives and dredge up a batch of ancient Emil Jannings and John Barrymore silent films, with the intention of converting them to talkies starring Schwartz.

                        On hold once again for the next four months, Maurice would dream of rehearsals at the Art Theatre, of opening nights, and the never-ending rounds of applause from adoring fans, and the extraordinary visitors who’d come backstage just to see him and chat. His nerves were pulled tauter than violin strings, and he couldn’t help but wonder how close he was to complete mental collapse. In January of 1935, after eight unbearable months, he sent Martin back to New York, to make arrangements about doing his highly regarded one-man concerts in assorted American cities, as he’d done in Europe. Concerning the next season, he’d worry about that later. First, he had to make his escape and get back in harness.

                       Martin managed to book 15 cities, with Maurice paying his two accompanists and part of the advertising costs. Beginning in San Francisco, he barnstormed the country, every night another concert in another city, another state, working his way back to New York. He played to crowds as large as 2000, as thin as 200, taking in from $300 to $2100, but usually netting less weekly than the size of his Monday check for doing absolutely nothing in Hollywood.

                         By March, he was back in New York State, at the Capitol Theatre in Albany, where he took in $1425. By month’s end, he was in Manhattan. “If I could embrace the entire city and kiss it, I’d be thrilled. I behaved like a mother overjoyed to find her lost child”  (Schwartz 15 Aug. 1945). And like any relieved and grateful mother, New York embraced him back. He visited his old haunts: the theatres, the restaurants, the Yiddish newspapers. Far too late to do anything about the current season, Maurice drew together what he could of his Art Theatre, the ones presently unengaged, a small regiment of 20, and took them and all his equipment, and left for Paris, where he planned to open with—what else?-- Yoshe Kalb.

                         How good it felt to be in his element again!

            In the spring of 1935, at 47 years of age, Maurice Schwartz was at the top of his game, already a formidable icon of Yiddish Theatre. Never mind that shortly before he’d endured eight months of humiliation in Hollywood, listlessly biding his time with a growing sense of uselessness. The salvation of one-night stands, using a host of American cities as steppingstones back to his New York City duchy, had partially restored him.

                        Maurice had made a full recovery and then some in Manhattan, where he’d strode again familiar ground and inhaled the more receptive and nurturing air. There was plenty here to remind him that he was Maurice Schwartz, who’d given the world Yoshe Kalb, and that its justifiably famous had beaten a path to his dressing room door to pay homage. So full of himself, an immensely imposing figure, he would remind many of an Eastern emir, with swarthy, sensuous features, dark piercing eyes, and a low sonorous voice that began in the depth of his gut and grew stronger, rounder, until it emerged thunderous and commanding. He could have been handily cast as an Old Testament prophet, a redoubtable Jeremiah.

                        His professional manner was frigid, imperious. He never answered to Maurice, or the more ancient Morris, but only to Mr. Schwartz, even from those who’d been with him for decades. One reporter, observing him at work, wrote: “Mr. Schwartz possesses the gleaming eye that draws into itself all the living power that floats about the surrounding space. He discharges that power in a gleam ironically sad, usually directed upon a host of other actors, who are storming about, while he sits rigid and silent, dominating the scene by sheer concentrated genius”  (Levin 10).

                         And like some Oriental potentate, he could be unstintingly cruel to incompetent actors, or those with talent who gave less than everything to a performance. His sense of humor, though often dry and witty, could also have a cruel underpinning, especially toward its hapless object. The Art Theatre player closest to him during this exalted period in his life, Charlotte Goldstein, has arguably the most incisive view of this enigmatic man. “Oh, he could be cruel alright. But it didn’t stem from viciousness, but rather, oddly enough, from his humor. And he did have humor in full measure. His cruelty was directed toward those he considered bad actors, or good actors not giving their utmost, as he did, performance after performance”  (Chafran 28 June 1999).

                        Bearing a solid sense of self-possession and his place in the cosmos, Schwartz crossed the Atlantic once more, armed with a recognized and beloved repertoire, surrounded by a cadre of 20 top flight actors, and carrying all the necessary equipment to present Europe with the finest Yiddish productions the continent had ever seen.

                       They opened at the Renaissance Theatre, one of Paris’s oldest playhouses, where Sarah Bernhardt had once captivated the French with her splendiferous acting and personality, the two inseparable. But for all its past glories, the place was a veritable firetrap, webbed with winding wooden staircases that could easily become blazing torches. It simply had to be bribery that prevented its condemnation. Nevertheless, Maurice went full steam ahead with Yoshe Kalb, which soon proved to be a sensation in the French capital. Wrote a non-Yiddish reporter for the Times: “The greater part of the audience at this first night obviously did not suffer my disability of being unacquainted with the dialect [. . .] for they seemed almost as enthusiastic as were the performers”  (Carr 26 May 1935).

                         The Art Theatre spent most of the summer in London, at His Majesty’s Theatre in Haymarket, where the best English plays from Shakespeare to Noel Coward were presented. At first, their reception was invigorating, the British mainstream critics very favorably impressed with Yoshe Kalb—not as great literature, but as spectacle (as were their American counterparts). One English reviewer described it as “a magnificent piece for the theatre [. . .] brilliantly expressive.” He reported that “the demand for curtain calls even drowned out the playing of the national anthem afterward”  (Times 31 July 1935).

                        When in London, do as the Londoners. Since its better drama critics would attend premieres and spend an inordinate amount of the intermission at the playhouse bar, so did Schwartz. He was no tippler, but he did so want to win over the press, all in the service of his Art Theatre. Whether the hail-fellow-well-met routine paid dividends, Maurice would never know for sure, except he did receive universal raves from the staid London Times, and the trendier Daily Examiner and Daily Herald.

                        With the arrival of fall, interest in Yiddish Theatre slowly petered out in London. Maurice blamed the unexpected slack on the assimilation of London Jews into the general society. Perhaps a tour of the English hinterlands might reverse the Art Theatre’s fortunes, just as a summer tour in America had always been good medicine for the spirit and the bank account. Relkin booked them into Leeds and Manchester, where they bombed badly. “Both cities have synagogues, cantors and rabbis. Their Jews observe tradition by preparing gefilte fish for the Sabbath. They collect charity for Palestine—not too much, but every little bit helps. However, Yiddish Theatre for them was an alien concept”  (Schwartz 22 Aug. 1945).

                        By late autumn, the troupe had moved on to Belgium, a nation with a distinguished history of tolerance towards its Jews, if not outright cooperation in business and political matters. Antwerp and Brussels Jews were part and parcel of the towns’ commerce, engaged in the lucrative and highly specialized diamond trade. The Art Theatre played Antwerp for ten shows, Brussels for five, and each performance a sell-out. The company more than made up its losses in England.

                       Next stop was Holland, a land dear to decent men everywhere, because it took in the expelled and persecuted Jews of Inquisitional Spain. The country of Spinoza and gracious Queen Wilhelmina, who regularly visited the synagogues of Amsterdam as evidence of unity and friendship. A seemingly cold people, the Dutch Jews demonstrated few signs of life during the first performance of Yoshe Kalb. Backstage, a flustered Isadore Cashier grumbled that they were in the process of laying an enormous egg. But after the final curtain, “the audience rose and applauded for a very long time. It was followed by bravo calls that lasted for more than three minutes. We will never forget that evening”  (Schwartz 29 Aug. 1945).

                        From Amsterdam, most of the company returned to Paris, then back to New York, Anna included. While Maurice, Martin (his business manager for the tour), and stage manager Ben Zion Katz, as well as all the Art Theatre’s sets, costumes and lighting fixtures, went on to Warsaw to continue the tour. The reason for the abrupt schism was the refusal of the Polish Actors Union to permit foreign performers on its stages. It had too many of its own mouths to feed.

                        Anna’s returning to America with the bulk of the troupe was the result of worsening relations between herself and Maurice. The bitter truth was he’d found another playmate to be young again with. She was the doe-eyed beauty Judith Abarbanell, the insipid Serele of Yoshe Kalb, who’d been with the company since Jew Suss in 1929. They’d fallen under each other’s spell and Anna knew it, tolerated the affair, but decided to show her repugnance by going home, leaving the two lovers to become bored with one another. Judith would go to Warsaw with Maurice. But the affair was neither brief nor casual, instead lasting for years, with Anna’s tacit approval. As far as can be determined, he hadn’t given vent to the impulses of the boy trapped within the man (Charlotte’s analysis) since his 1924 partial escapade with Dagny Servaes. They would enjoy a passionate union, Maurice and Judith, that burned feverishly while it lasted.

                       Warsaw had four Yiddish playhouses, but only the Kaminsky was available. It had many shortcomings. Its acoustics were poor: voices from the stage seldom carried beyond the first six rows. The stage was tiny. Seating capacity was very limited. The seats themselves were old and worn. Schwartz’s main problem however was an embarrassment of riches. He had too large a group of actors to select from, each with an overweening sense of self-importance, and a firm conviction of being the bulwark of Yiddish Theatre in Poland. Competition among them was fierce. As a matter of tact, and to limit the infighting, Schwartz engaged the entire company for his productions. “I was impressed by the Yiddish actors in Poland. They were very dedicated to the profession despite the handicaps they had to face. In the primitive playhouse, they suffered in winter from the cold, in summer from the heat; from holes in the roof when it rained or snowed”  (Schwartz 1 Sept. 1945).

                        Maurice admired how, regardless of the many obstacles, they traveled from city to city, knowing it was their duty to uphold Yiddish Theatre in Poland, and to his delight, the habitually bickering group fell instantly in line with Schwartz as their ringmaster. He demanded of them no less than a rendition of Yoshe Kalb equal to that of the Art Theatre in New York. It seemed not to matter that many of Warsaw’s most illustrious kunst players were assigned minor roles. The play was the thing, and, after all, Yoshe Kalb was born in Warsaw and should be performed here to its best advantage.

                        With rehearsals going splendidly, Maurice couldn’t have been happier. He put in impossibly long hours and loved every second of it. He’d come back to the hotel with Judith, drained but so pleased to be alive and in the center of things. If he missed Anna, or considered divorcing her, he wrote nothing of it. Then disaster, in the form of the Polish government, ended his euphoria. Perhaps to curry favor with its Nazi neighbor, the Warsaw authorities grew bolder in what had been only a tepid antisemitism. In Schwartz’s case, it surfaced as a prohibition against the use of the sets, costumes and lighting fixtures that had been toted over Europe and were now moldering in a government warehouse, under lock and key. Obviously, the bureaucrats were trying to delay, if not cancel, the production of Yoshe Kalb.

                        A bribe of $10,000, in the form of an import fee was demanded. Officials also tacked on a second tariff of the same amount, to ensure the removal afterward from Poland of the  equipment, as if Maurice intended to dump such valuable items like unwanted garbage. Those actors with political connections began calling in favors to ransom the materials. No way could Maurice pay the combined bribes. Finally, Hirsh Hirt, one of the Polish troupe and an officer in the military reserves, got to the right person, and for just a few thousand zlotys, had the warehouse gates opened. Martin and Ben Zion Katz rushed over in a truck and rescued the sets, costumes and the very valuable lights.

                        Jewish Warsaw went into a highly charged state, contemplating the opening of Yoshe Kalb. Never before had 60 actors worked together on a single, albeit minuscule, stage, in 26 gorgeous scenes, and with such advanced equipment. All his travails in Warsaw had been acceptable prologue, thought Maurice, at the close of the final scene, as the rousing applause threatened to shatter the cracked ceiling of the Kaminsky theatre. The play ran for 20 magnificent weeks in the Polish capital, the theatre filled to capacity each night despite the organized bands of college students who tore down the posters. This was the spring of 1936, four years since Schwartz had tasted the ugly potion Hitler had been brewing, and he could now feel its accumulated results in the streets of Warsaw, in its restaurants, in the very hotel where he and Judith were staying. While at the highest levels of government, the Poles were engaged in a bootlicking campaign to endear themselves to the Nazis, who abhorred them. Mein Kampf was openly displayed in all the city’s bookstores. A terrible premonition engulfed Maurice, as had I. J.Singer during their meeting in 1932, that some monstrous disaster awaited the Jews of Poland. It was therefore with profound relief that Schwartz took a brief hiatus from Yiddish Theatre to fly back to London and make an English film.

                        The how and why of the movie The Man Behind the Mask cannot be retrieved. All that remains are the surface facts. It was a Joe Rock production, directed by Michael Powell, (who also did The Red Shoes in 1948), and adapted from the 1906 Jacques Futrelle novel The Chase of the Golden Plate. It was shot in three weeks, with Maurice in the title role as the Master, a mad, career criminal, who steals a valuable icon. The movie was never released in America.

                        Schwartz returned to Warsaw, to the spicy stew of Yiddish Theatre, for only a few weeks more. He then took the company to Lodz, a city with an even greater devotion to theatre than Warsaw. The elite of American Yiddish Theatre had played Lodz: Kessler, Thomashevsky, and Sigmund Feinman, who’d literally expired on its stage 30 years earlier. During the short six weeks in Lodz, Maurice could see how conditions for its Jews had deteriorated. In a spate of viciousness, the Polish parliament had outlawed Kosher slaughtering, deeming it barbaric. To Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike, it was a patent indication of more restrictive legislation to follow, like the infamous Nuremberg Decrees.

                        Martin phoned Maurice at his hotel with the disturbing news and suggested they scrub the evening’s performance, as sort of protest. Half an hour later, he called back to say that they must play as scheduled. Tickets had been sold. Crowds were already milling in front of the Roszmantoszche Theatre. Approaching the playhouse by cab, Maurice could see the throngs gathering anxiously, murmuring their confusion and anger. They saw him and ran to his cab, pleading with the actor to perform, if only to defy the antisemites, who would like nothing better than a cancellation. He took a quick poll of the crowd, found it overwhelmingly in favor of going on with the show. Jew Suss happened to be the evening’s fare, a piece about German intolerance of a bygone era, but an example of the more things change, the more they stay the same. The performance ended with the spontaneous singing of ‘Hatikva,’ the Jewish national anthem, by the audience.

                        In Lemberg, their host was the Coliseum Theatre. Once a nondenominational playhouse, where Max Reinhardt had once brought his company, it had become a strictly Yiddish theatre. Polish performers and audiences, infected with the same hateful disease, now refused to attend. In fact, all over Lemberg, once a city of harmony between Jew and Christian, many acts of inhumanity were occurring. Because Jews were afraid to venture out in the evening, theatre-going had been reduced to afternoon matinees, that is, if Lemberg’s Jews thought at all of theatre, many being fired from offices, factories and government posts.

                        It was with a sense of deliverance that Maurice and Judith left Poland and arrived in Vienna, “one of those magical cities [. . .] that make you feel as if you’re in a crib, having sweet dreams”  (Schwartz 18 Sept. 1945). Drinking in the thick, creamy Austrian aromas, he realized how much he’d missed the Strauss waltzes, the strolls in the Wienerwald, the opulent atmosphere of its pastry houses. This time, Anna wasn’t with him, but Judith was, and he could see the city anew, through his young lover’s eyes.

                        Schwartz had taken the Polish troupe along, and they were booked at the Burgertheater, one of the oldest and finest playhouses in Europe. But at once he discovered here too the changed, charged climate, the Hitlerian taint having spread to this most civil and cultivated of all Continental cities. He could have predicted that the city fathers would attempt to block the opening of Yoshe Kalb. This time the ruse employed was a violation of the fire code because of the high-powered projectors he’d been lugging all over Europe. Schwartz dashed over to the American Embassy for help, but received none. Conditions in Austria were very volatile, he was told, a veritable powder keg. Nazi influence was increasing daily.

                        Tension mounted as the time shortened until opening night. Viennese Jews were fabulous theatre patrons, and with momentum building, Schwartz hoped against hope for a satisfactory resolution. He hadn’t the stomach to tell a soul that the Art Theatre had been refused a permit. Opening night, eight PM. Curtain time. An overflow audience of  2000 filled the Burger, many of whom had heard but disregarded rumors of cancellation. There was no disorder, no grumbling, no vague threats against the authorities. They were being good Austrians, and the worse they expected was a slight delay,

                        Faced with no alternative, Schwartz had to go onstage and tell the audience, primed for an exciting evening, that the opening would be postponed. Maybe tomorrow, or the day after. Or maybe never, but he couldn’t say that. Then, about 10 PM, word came from the American Ambassador that permission to present Yoshe Kalb had at last been granted, but only for a single week. And for a single week, they played the hoary, aristocratic Burger. By the following week, they’d moved to the lesser Reklan, on Praterstrasser, the accepted home of Vienna’s Yiddish Theatre. After the Burger, the Reklan seemed hopelessly inadequate, but soon Maurice found the arrangement completely satisfying.

                         In the Jewish quarter, the local Brownshirts made life as difficult as possible—as the Polish students had—ripping down posters and attacking Jews in their coffeehouses and restaurants, as they waited for the theatre to open its doors. It soon became a dreary challenge, day after day, to do theatre and ignore the boys wearing swastika armbands. Maurice knew he’d have to leave. There was nothing further to be done for the Jews of Vienna, and by overstaying—an irritant to the local Hitlerites—he’d be making life worse for his co-religionists.

                        Schwartz disbanded the brave, excellent troupe and sent it back home to Warsaw. He and Judith left for Paris. Even there, in the birthplace of tolerance and rationality, he felt the disease at work, eating at the very foundation of democracy. Even there, Jews were being targeted for abuse and violence. Jewish-owned stores were attacked and vandalized, its proprietors brutally beaten.

                        Not long after Maurice left Paris, haunted by an image of a limitless grave as wide as all Europe, yawning open and swallowing its entire Jewish population.

                        “The season at the 49th Street Theatre was not a good one,” admitted Maurice Schwartz. “It was on a small scale, so losses were also small. We didn’t cater to the audience’s tastes. They expected something extraordinary and we played mediocre theatre”  (Schwartz 3 Oct. 1945). He’d come back to New York at the tail end of summer, 1936, much too late to rent a playhouse on Second Avenue. Yiddish Theatre seemed to be thriving, with 14 houses set to open: a whopping eight in Manhattan, four in Brooklyn and two in the Bronx. Of the Manhattan group, three would be on Broadway: ARTEF at the 48th Street Theatre, Maurice at the 49th Street Theatre, and at the Biltmore, the Yiddish unit of the Federal Art Theatre, subsidized by the United States Government, through the Works Progress Administration, one of the many creative measures taken by the Roosevelt brain trust to get the country on its feet again.

                        Curiously enough, what Schwartz had been beating the drum over for the past 20 years had come to pass. Federal Theatre planned to operate playhouses, sign leases, pay salaries and royalties, and run box offices, hoping to attract wholesale audiences of Americans to its productions. From 1935 to 1939, the years of Federal Theatre’s existence, millions of dollars were poured into “the largest theatre-producing organization in the world”  (Times 18 Aug 1935). In 1940, concerning the program’s termination the previous year, Schwartz wrote: “All credit must go to that effort for the excellent productions it succeeded in displaying. But that attempt was based only on putting people to work, not primarily in retaining an art that was collapsing”  (Times 1 Dec. 1940).

                       With a repertory of over 75 plays, the program employed some 1700 actors in 1935, with more slated to join them. Part of this overarching umbrella, were Yiddish Theatre units in New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles, presenting works by the best in Yiddish plays, by the finest Yiddish playwrights.

                       With a robust but mostly trash menu that season, Yiddish Theatre had outlived yet another death notice from the critics, one of whom had written a particularly mordant one at the close of the previous season: “Never before, not even in the Depression year of 1929, did Yiddish theatre show such a deficit [. . .] One of the worst seasons since its inception [. . .] with a still poorer outlook for the future”  (Smolar 362).When Schwartz’s boat docked in New York harbor, Eddie Relkin was there to welcome him home. What’s new on Second Avenue? Schwartz wanted to know. Relkin’s reply was evasive, the gist of it being that every house on the Avenue was spoken for, offering the same old garbage, but the 49th Street location Uptown was still available. Too bad though that it had a seating capacity of only 800, and a lozenge-size stage. Chastened by past losses on large stages with grand productions, and hampered by the lack of options for the new season, he told Relkin that “maybe it was better to do things on a smaller scale, so expenses would be  less and the plays more moderate”  (Schwartz 27 Sept. 1945).

                       Spoiled by grandeur and spectacles, Maurice had to bow to the exigencies of the day. He’d try a season of less, hoping it would prove to be more. He’d adjust to what was, as he always did, trying to stay alive.

                        There is some controversy over the play Schwartz brought back with him from Paris. Jacques Bergson  was supposedly written by Victor Felder, a French playwright. Everything points to Felder actually being none other than Maurice Schwartz, hiding behind yet another stick figure. Indeed, Schwartz was an experienced dramatist, three of his complete manuscripts slumbering in YIVO’s archives, including The Cloud, the play he’d written for Celia Adler when they were together in Philadelphia. There is sufficient evidence pointing to Schwartz and Felder being one in the same. On December 5, 1936, Maurice received a letter from the US copyright office in Washington, DC, denying his application to register Jacques Bergson, “an unpublished dramatic composition [which] gives as the author Victor Felder, a citizen of France. Is not Mr. Felder the author of the original version? It is understood that the copy deposited is not the original version, but a Yiddish translation and adaptation for the Yiddish stage”  (Bouve 5 Dec. 1936).

                        On the surface, it appears that there is no original copy of  the Felder manuscript because there is no original Mr. Felder. And yet, the play that opened on October 31, 1936, credited Jacob Nadler with the translation from the French. Nadler was a real enough person, a bit player at the Art Theatre, who spoke not a word of French. But real or trumped up, Felder’s name appeared in the credits, his play directed by Schwartz, who took the main role, followed by his core of steady players. William Schack liked the piece, comparing it to previous Art Theatre selections and complimenting Maurice for “one of the most full-bodied performances of his career”  (Times 31 Oct. 1936). Schwartz played the right-wing Jewish father of two socialist sons during the turbulent 1930’s in Paris. American Jews however seemed less than sympathetic over the plight of French Jews. The play ran for eight uninspired weeks then was replaced on Christmas Day by something completely different, Jacob Prager’s The Water Carrier. (Prager would perish later with fellow playwrights Mark Arnstein and Alter Katzizne in the Warsaw Ghetto.)

                        A folk comedy in two acts, with music and dance, this was a return to the Yoshe Kalb style of Yiddish Theatre, despite the playhouse’s limitations. Schwartz knew that this was what his audiences wanted and expected. The music was written by Alexander Olshanetsky, who’d been composing since 1930, and would become a giant in his chosen field, though the score for The Water Carriers was his lone contribution to the Art Theatre. Lillian Shapero arranged the dances, Robert Van Rosen the sets.

                        Once more the playgoers were taken to the familiar ground of shtetl life for this assault on religious hypocrisy and greed. The wickedly humorous piece concerns a poor, innocent half-wit who is caught up in the religious politics of a tiny Yiddish town, after he is mistakenly declared a miracle worker. “For those who fall in with the author’s spirit, the fun is fast and furious, though its obviousness palls at times. There are moments too, when the spirit of burlesque wavers, and the values it sets out to ridicule seemed to be played up for their picturesqueness,” wavered William Schack.  (Times 25 Dec.1936). Despite other good notices in both presses, the piece failed. As did the third and final play of the terribly disappointing season. Opening on February 10th, was Borderline, a play by the German-Jewish playwright Albert Ganzert. It was slated for midweek showings, with The Water Carrier covering the weekends.

                        A hit in Vienna the season before, the Ganzert piece was another didactic take on the deteriorating European scene, this time set in Berlin instead of Paris. It concerns the havoc stirred up in a happy, distinguished, German Christian family when the grandfather, a beloved physician is discovered to be a Jew. Wrote one reviewer: “At this safe distance from concentration camps, one asks, So what? Even if the consequences are such as can be confirmed”  (Times 10 Feb. 1937). Like the critic, few Jews in America actually believed that Hitler meant what he said and wrote.

                       Mercifully, the season ended on March 7th for the Art Theatre, more than a month earlier than usual, and by late spring Maurice was once again in the same Vienna where the previous year he’d viewed its transformation into a city of hate and intolerance. But only long enough to do a few solo concerts before moving on to Palestine, booked to do the same, but more importantly to see his father for the first time since Isaac had emigrated to the Holy Land.

                        The sea voyage across the Mediterranean was long and tedious. Maurice used the boredom to study his 22 solo pieces, half to be delivered in Yiddish, the other half in Hebrew, an impossible language for an adult to learn.. He docked in Port Said, Egypt, then boarded the night train to Tel Aviv. The Arab porters were slow, the flies thick, the fetid air thicker, the endless desert from horizon to horizon diminishing him to insignificance.

                        At the Tel Aviv station, Schwartz was amazed to see large numbers of Arabs, cloaked in their burnooses, as generation after generation of them had dressed. Even more surprising were the Palestinian Jews everywhere to be seen, those tough hearty souls “who had the courage to build Tel Aviv and other settlements. They dried the swamps, they irrigated the desert and turned it into gardens”  (Schwartz 10 Oct. 1945). Maurice had arrived in Palestine after a troubled year of unrest between Arab and Jew, and he sensed a deadly tension in the atmosphere. He checked into the San Remo Hotel facing the sea, reminiscent to him of Coney Island near his home in sea Gate. He was greatly impressed with Tel Aviv, especially its sights and sounds: the men and women swimming in the ocean, the children cheerful and happy, all uttering the language of David and Solomon.

                        A visitor appeared the next morning, I.D. Berkowitz, Sholem Aleichem’s son-in-law and adapter for the Art Theatre. Years before, he’d moved to Palestine, becoming a highly regarded writer and scholar. “It’s high time you came to see us,” said Berkowitz , smiling broadly. “If not to settle here, then at least for a visit. You should come back again and again. This is the place for Jewish artists”  (Schwartz 13 Oct. 1945).

                         Quite soon, Schwartz learned that for the Palestinian Jew, theatre was a truly  serious business, not merely a way to kill time. For old and young alike, going to see a play was an integral part of one’s education. And so, Maurice practiced his Hebrew, isolating himself in his hotel room, paying close attention to every sound, to each subtle intonation of the guttural language. He had to get it perfect.

                        Isaac Schwartz had become a resident of Jerusalem, but he insisted on making the journey to Tel Aviv to see his son. The trip would be hazardous, with snipers poised along the road, ready to pump lead into passing vehicles. His father looked very different. His gray beard was now white as fresh snow. He’d missed his children and grandchildren, and they were now very much on his mind. He lived alone, cooked his own meals and looked after himself. Seeing Maurice, he barely managed to hold back the tears. “My father came close to me, spoke quietly, the way a mother speaks to a child. ‘It’s good of you to make such a journey to come see me.’ A fine smile covered his face”  (Schwartz 17 Oct. 1945).

                       The intense joy Maurice felt was boundless after Isaac agreed to spend the entire month of his son’s stay with him in Tel Aviv. With a white-hot doggedness, Maurice prepared for his first concert. He would be performing before a standing-room-only audience at the Ohel, a theatre like no other. The Ohel (Hebrew for ‘tent’) was originally known as the Workers’ Theatre of Palestine. Founded in 1925 by Moshe Halevy, its aim was to develop a socialist-based theatre for actors, who would also work the fields and groves. By 1927, it became abundantly clear that Ohel members had to devote themselves completely to creating a national theatre, so they became full-time actors. Three years earlier, in 1934, the troupe had made its first highly successful European tour. Schwartz had seen them in London, on one of his tours.

                        It was a sparse but spacious hall, Maurice noticed, with an inordinately great number of windows. His first dramatic concert consisted of a one-man performance of Yoshe Kalb, with himself doing all the parts. Zalman Schneour, the vibrant, imposing writer Schwartz had met during his first visit to Paris in 1924, and a current Palestinian resident, had translated the play for him into Hebrew. “The Ohel was filled to capacity with the finest Yiddish scholars. We also had guests from Jerusalem [. . .]. They were eager to see how a diaspora actor who had performed in Yiddish would fare with Hebrew”  (Schwartz 20 Oct. 1945).

                        Maurice accepted the challenge, handling the two dozen parts, male and female, in Hebrew. The evening was overly warm, not a drop of air from the open windows, not the wisp of a breeze from the sea. He must have done well, as he was roundly cheered, but more importantly, was invited to repeat his performance in Haifa, Jerusalem and other cities.

                        When Moshe Halevy asked Maurice to direct Ohel’s production of Yoshe Kalb, inspired by Schwartz’s solo presentation, he accepted with some reservation. Its stage was far too confining, seats for only 600. Lighting was deplorable: a single projector with limited wattage. But even worse, was the task of whipping into shape this particular troupe. By nature, Maurice was not suited for the Ohel’s languorous pace. More importantly, he had less than three weeks before scheduled to go home. A play of Yoshe Kalb’s intricacy and depth required a minimum of a month of eight-hour days, non-stop except for a short lunch break.

                        Schwartz assembled the actors and told them he wanted a ten-hour a day rehearsal schedule. Without opposition, the Ohel players accepted his edict. Earnest about doing a superlative job, they threw themselves into the Schneour translation, enthusiasm effervescing, After ten days, the troupe of 20, doing 40 roles, knew their lines. Lacking the proper lighting, Maurice improvised with the one and only projector and sheets of colored paper, to produce the desired effects.

                       “The premiere of Yoshe Kalb was very festive and finished ten minutes earlier than expected. The actors had to take 12 curtain calls. Success was as great as in New York. Schneour’s translation had a poetic lilt [and] felt like drinking good old wine”  (Schwartz 27 Oct. 1945). Under Schwartz’s direction, the Ohel played the entire week in Tel Aviv, every  evening,  to full houses, as requests for Yoshe Kalb poured in from all over Palestine. The few hours he managed to steal from the theatre, were spent with Isaac, who was becoming increasingly anxious to return to Jerusalem and his monastic life.

                        Maurice took his father back to the small lodgings Isaac called home and examined with sadness the tiny hovel where he spent his days and slept on a tiny cot. But as much as he pitied the old man, he respected the sincerity of his choice, and the principles behind it that had guided his existence. “I suddenly felt very weak. It occurred to me that this might be our last meeting. I became so emotional that I cried like a baby”  (Schwartz 31 Oct. 1945).

                       His Palestine tour completed, Maurice made his tender farewells with Isaac and took off for Paris. Propelling him was the thrilling prospect of opening the 1937-1938 season with a dramatization of I.J. Singer’s magnificent epic The Brothers Ashkenazi. In the City of Lights, he couldn’t help but notice its further decline. Thousands of German Jews were streaming into France, each one desperate to go to Palestine or America. France was only a resting spot, no longer considered safe for them. Fascist Parisian papers were extolling Hitler, Mussolini and Franco. Bullies were sprouting everywhere, fomenting attacks on Jews and on Spanish Loyalists, who’d become refugees after the Falangists had overthrown the democratically-elected government in Madrid.

                        Maurice returned to America in an ugly mood. Waiting for him at the pier were Anna, his managers Relkin and Milton Weintraub, and Rubin Guskin. Protected by the Atlantic Ocean and enmeshed in the nation’s own internal problems, they didn’t care to hear horror stories about Europe. They were delighted to see Maurice and excited as well with the chance to do The Brothers Ashkenazi. They were certain it would be as gargantuan a hit as Yoshe Kalb had been.


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