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

Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Very Last Time
Chapter Twenty-Nine: A Great World Drama
Chapter Thirty: "I Have No More Strength Left."
Chapter Thirty-One: "The Theatre Is a Failure as an Industry."

Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Very Last Time

                        Published in 1936, the first novel I.J. Singer wrote in America, The Brothers Ashkenazi was an international sensation. It was hailed as a masterpiece, appearing first in the Forward in weekly sections, then published in English and many other languages. The work proved ideal for Schwartz’s brand of theatre, having a panoramic sweep and a depiction of Jewish life against the background of anti-Semitism, the latter especially brought home to him during his two recent tours of Europe.

                        There would be no playhouse available to him along Yiddishdom’s equivalent of Broadway, but as luck would have it, the Venice Theatre was unspoken for. Located on Seventh Avenue between 58th and 59 Streets, the playhouse had been built by the Shuberts specifically for Al Jolson, and named for him. Jolson opened there in 1921 with Bombo, and never played in his namesake again. In 1923, Morris Gest leased it for the Moscow Art Theatre, for the troupe’s first tour of America, the one that absorbed so many of Maurice’s patrons, much to his anguish.

                        Though I.J. Singer’s involvement in Yoshe Kalb was minimal, merely an observer during the birth of his first staged work, he became an active participant in dramatizing The Brothers Ashkenazi. Both Schwartz and Singer were listed as dramatists of record, Maurice’s name appearing first. The collaboration was a happy one, each pleased with the results. The felicitous union prompted a promise by Singer to create future original plays for the Art Theatre.

                        The ambitiously broad and deep novel deals with nothing less than the development of the Polish city of Lodz, from an insignificant crossroads village, to a bustling industrial textile center. Beginning with Napoleon’s disastrous retreat from Russia at the dawn of the 19th Century, the plot works its convoluted way to the Bolshevik Revolution, and its horrific aftermath for the Jews of Poland. But more than historical fiction, The Brothers intricately limns the adversarial relationship between two diametrically dissimilar brothers, who spend most of their lives at each other’s throat. Max is the hard-driving, unethical, crude schemer, while Jacob craves the gracious, assimilated lifestyle of a bon vivant. Only after the Reds overthrow the Czar, do the two patch up their differences, but far too late, as Jacob is shot dead before Max’s unbelieving eyes by a racist Polish officer. Max lives on for a short while, then dies of a heart attack.

                        More than its Cain and Abel aspect, the novel describes every social class and circumstance of Polish Jewry, and was wonderfully and compactly captured by Schwartz and Singer in two parts and 17 scenes. Certain that he had a major hit on his hands, Maurice gathered a large, eminently qualified cast that read more like the telephone directory of a small town. Over 50 players, with another two dozen extras as soldiers, wedding guests, Chassidim, and factory workers. Among the Art Theatre regulars were Julius Adler, Isadore Cashier, Samuel Goldenburg (as the charming Jacob), Zvi Scooler, Morris Strassberg, Yudel Dubinsky, and Michael Rosenberg.

                         Among the latest additions to the troupe: Kurt Katch, brought from Germany by Schwartz specifically for the play. Katch would later pop up in Hollywood, appearing in such movie classics as Watch on the Rhine (1943) and The Seventh Cross (1944). Also imported from Germany was Greta Rosen, in the key role of Dinah, Max’s unresponsive wife. Though she too would remain but a single season with the company, she won the heart of every male actor—Maurice included—for her fine Nordic looks and manner. Helen Beverly (the future Mrs. Lee J. Cobb) was also a newcomer, and like Katch, would immigrate to Hollywood, playing mostly bit parts.

                       Unlike Yoshe Kalb, the 1937-1938 season opener was rich in story and immediacy, the kind of tale Jew and Gentile alike could relate to, especially the part dealing with brother against brother. That Jacob becomes romantically involved with his own niece, Max’s fiesty daughter, only added spice to the stew. The work had its premiere on September 20th, 1937, to much acclaim. In the Times, William Schack wasn’t given his usual reviewer’s format of listing the actors and their roles, perhaps because the roster was so large. Within a cramped 40 lines, he wrote: “If the new work has less sound and fury than Yoshe Kalb [. . .] it has more significance for our times”  (21 Sept. 1937). Nevertheless, though he found some scenes to be extremely powerful, their cumulative effect wasn’t forceful enough.

                        Every other English-language reviewer employed only superlatives in describing the piece. Typical of the more sanguine Yiddish critics was this from one not predisposed to favor him: “The opening of every new play of his was an occasion of great disappointment to me [. . .]. No wonder then that the shadow of last year’s failures hung about the stage as the curtain rose over Maurice Schwartz’s newest production The Brothers Ashkenazi. I am happy to report that it is a great play”  (Margoshes 1).

                        All in all, the piece was every bit the magnificent triumph Schwartz and his staff had expected. It ran for 18 weeks continuously, without any repertory productions inserted as filler. Maurice had originally intended to introduce three other works after The Brothers had completed its run—Esterke by Aaron Zeitlin, Shakespeare’s King Lear, and a new play about the Jewish-American patriot, Chaim Solomon. But packed houses, night after glorious night, changed his mind. Only one number was put up that season, which ended early in March 1938. Indeed, a radical transformation had taken place in Maurice’s theatre cosmology and practice. From presenting about thirty productions his first season at the Irving Place Theatre in 1918, he’d confined himself to a single play 20 years later. The reason was Schwartz’s uncanny ability to change, to make the hard choices, to recognize how the audience had evolved over that span and was unwilling to support repertory theatre. And there was the economic factor to consider: it simply cost too much to mount a play and assume its many costs, never mind the wear and tear on his actors, who would have to bounce each week from one work to the next. He had a splendid hit in The Brothers Ashkenazi, and would stay with it—like his Broadway counterparts had been doing for years—as long as the piece drew profitable houses. For the most part, Maurice had also abandoned the world classics, coming to rely strictly on plays by or about Jews. This was what his audiences wanted. This is what he would deliver. It had been Joe Edelstein’s formula for success, and maybe the old fox was right after all, thought Maurice, having grown less idealistic over the years.

                        Perhaps too, Adolph Hitler had nudged him in this ethnocentric direction. In a press release promoting The Brothers Ashkenazi, Maurice told of his shift to more didactic drama: "The play has a message—that’s what is bringing us this new audience. Parlor drama won’t do these days [. . .]. The theatre must educate. It must attack. We have learned that. There is no other way of holding your audience.”

                        The season completed at the Venice, Maurice packed up the troupe and hit the road to Europe, highlighting The Brothers and other tried and true standards from his bag of Art Theatre tricks. Paris was the first stop, where he would present a work about anti-Semitism to a city becoming more stricken with it since his last visit—almost like bringing coals to Newcastle. Months before, the Socialist regime of Leon Blum had fallen, leaving a moral vacuum. Germany had grown more nakedly savage, as the Luftwaffe, honing its skills, had destroyed the Basque city of Guernica. Within the Third Reich, a concentration camp for political prisoners at Buchenwald, near the charming city of Weimer, had opened for business.

                        At the Renaissance Theatre, the company won the same plaudits with The Brothers Ashkenazi that it had five years earlier with Yoshe Kalb. The expensive seats were snapped up at once, but the gallery remained nearly empty, night after perplexing night, Schwartz wondered what was happening: “Is it possible that Parisian Jews had become rich and were ashamed to sit in the galleries?”  (Schwartz 10 Nov.1945).

                        A short time later, he discovered the reason: Paris was filled with refugees afraid to gather in a public place such as the Renaissance, lest they be arrested for lack of a valid passport. German Jews, mainly, they’d crossed the border illegally, and dreaded being sent back, only to end up in some hellish place the inhumane Nazis alone could devise. At once, Schwartz took steps to remedy the intolerable situation. Borrowing an interpreter, he called on the head of the Paris police and stung him with barbed criticism: “I came here from America, not to make money, but to present quality theatre for Jews and non-Jews. Why do you want to arrest those who haven’t passports and are trying to escape Hitler’s persecutions? Isn’t this France, the first republic of the world?”  (Schwartz 10 Nov. 1945).

                       Angered at the badgering, the police official shouted back that he couldn’t bend the law to suit Maurice Schwartz or anyone else. Then he calmed down and promised to see what he could do. As leverage, Maurice slipped him a batch of free passes to the Renaissance. The following day, the Police chief let Schwartz know—strictly entre nous—that his officers would no longer question anyone near the theatre about passports.

                        Another situation flared up almost at once. Maurice was summoned to the office of Baron Robert Rothschild. At first, Maurice speculated that the Baron, long a generous supporter of Jewish causes, might offer to cover the Art Theatre’s gigantic expenses. An elderly, rather distinguished-looking chap was waiting at the Baron’s office. At first, Maurice assumed he was an employee, but the man identified himself as Rothschild, and wasting no time, he lambasted the American actor for the temerity to come to Paris and endanger the fragile position of French Jews by playing the Communist anthem ‘The Internationale’ during The Brothers Ashkenazi.      

                      “ ‘The Jews, always the Jews,’ intoned Rothschild. ‘Haven’t we enough to bear already? Must you aggravate the situation?’ “  (Inge 10 Sept. 1938).

                        Schwartz explained that he wasn’t promoting Communism, but tried only to present the song as an integral part of the play. The Baron refused to listen, raging on, explaining that he considered himself the protector of French Jewry, and that ‘The Internationale,’ presented by a Jewish theatre group, no matter how much it was respected and admired, would only provoke more violence against his wards.

                        Maurice was just as unmoved: “I assumed a relaxed position, and told the Baron that our play is Jewish history, events of Jewish life in Russia at a particular period in time. The Russian people sang ‘The Internationale’ on the streets of Moscow and Leningrad. I can’t change the scene”  (Schwartz 14 Nov. 1945).

                        Unmollified, Rothschild demanded that the players sing ‘The Marseillaise’ or ‘Hatikva’ instead. When Schwartz refused to oblige him, the Baron threatened to shut down the playhouse. Coolly, Schwartz declared that “all your millions can’t close the theatre. The people want it open. We didn’t come here to play for you [. . .] We may not please the bankers, but we’ll please the tailors and the shoemakers”  (Schwartz 14 Nov. 1945).

                        The two exchanged a few more heated sentences, and when Maurice got up to leave, Rothschild offered to repay him for all the Art Theatres expenses, if he'd pack up and leave France. Schwartz flatly refused the bribe, and quit the Baron's office, reeling from his audacity in defying the most powerful Jew in Europe. The dramatist in him relished the thought of perhaps converting their exchange into an exciting stage piece.

                        As a postscript to the clash, Maurice noticed that the next day Rothschild was in the audience. He sat sulkily through ‘The Internationale,’ but appeared to enjoy the rest of the performance.

                        In July, the Art Theatre was in London, for two weeks at the Phoenix Theatre on Charing Cross Road. The English press was at odds over which was the better play—Yoshe Kalb or The Brothers Ashkenazi, though they thoroughly enjoyed both. On the 28th, the engagement over, Maurice was set to go once again to Palestine. Conditions there had worsened exponentially. His manager Leon Hoffman had written from New York, begging him not to go, with Arabs raiding the kibbutzim and mowing down Jews on the streets of Tel Aviv. Maurice wrote back that he felt obliged to go and wasn't afraid of death. “Let it come when it will. People need to look at life with open eyes. If the Arabs throw a bomb [. . .] go on with the Art Theatre, keep providing the Jewish people with better theatre. Now is the time when they need good theatre because we have practically nothing left. Everything has been taken from us”  (Schwartz letter 28 July 1935).

                       Maurice landed at Lod Airport on August 1st. In Tel Aviv, he played Reb Melech for two benefit performances—one for the Red Mogen Dovid (the Jewish Red Cross), the other for WIZO, the welfare organization that aided needy women and children. Abraham Shlonsky, the Palestine poet, had a Hebrew translation of The Brothers Ashkenazi waiting for him. If anything, the tense situation in the country had ratcheted up a few notches, with conditions having worsened for the Jews of Europe, and refugees pouring in, much to the Arabs’ murderous indignation.

                       The actors at the Ohel were all agog about tackling the play, and devoted themselves to its success, as they’d had the year before with Yoshe Kalb. Of course, Maurice visited his father again, now shepherding him to the hospital for cataract surgery. The operation was a success, but the recuperation period took longer than expected, Isaac’s advanced years a serious handicap. Taking leave of his father was more poignant than before: “I had the feeling it was to be the very last time. He felt the same way. He wasn’t a person to show emotion, but he seized my hands, held them, and wept”  (Schwartz 17 Nov. 1945).

                          When it was at last time to go, Moishe Shertok (later Sharett), the Zionist leader, sent ChaimWeizmann’s own bulletproof car to take him to the airport. Two vigilant bodyguards toting heavy weapons flanked Schwartz in the back seat, and remained with him until boarding time. The three passed the hours talking Middle East politics and the absolute certainty that, one way or another, there would soon be a Jewish State. 

Chapter Twenty-Nine: A Great World Drama


                        “I want you to read the piece for yourself,” wrote Maurice from London to his co-manager Leon Hoffman in New York. “You can tell me your opinion later. Don’t be frightened just because it’s long. The stage directions take up half the play”  (Schwartz letter 28 July 1938). With a fervor and elan of someone years younger and less hardened by the sober realities of producing theatre, Schwartz added: “I believe we have a bigger thing than The Brothers Ashkenazi, more realistic, with a greater vision.”

                        The ‘bigger thing’ that had driven Maurice to superlatives was Sholem Asch’s Three Cities, a novel of the apocalyptic events surrounding the Russian Revolution, as seen through the prism of a Russian-Jewish idealist. The three cities referred to are  St. Petersburg, during its capitalist glory days; Warsaw, a boiling cauldron of revolutionary activity; and Moscow, convulsed in the throes of upheaval, as various political factions vie for control of a stricken city and nation. A voluminous trilogy, written between 1929 and 1931, and originally titled Before the Flood, it was the first Asch novel to become a worldwide best seller. Maurice read the tome while on tour, and couldn’t help but compare it to The Brothers Ashkenazi. Excitedly, he bought the stage rights while in Europe and began preparing a dramatization. It would be the ninth Asch work for the Art Theatre, more than any other writer, including Sholem Aleichem.

                         “I will read the adaptation to Asch myself when I arrive home. I’m sure he’ll kiss me for it. The adaptation is worthy of the book, and the book is worthy of the adaptation,” concluded the ebullient though immodest Maurice  (Schwartz letter 28 July 1938).

                          Schwartz and his troupe arrived in New York aboard the Queen Mary on September 5, 1938, and started rehearsal almost immediately at the Venice Theatre, where he still had four years remaining on the lease. Martin informed him that the Art Theatre publicists had done their work well, and sales of benefit tickets were brisk. He expected also to be solidly booked for months. But leapfrogging far ahead of ticket sales were the expenses of floating so immense a leviathan as Three Cities. Over $28,000 had already been spent across the boards before the first performance could be given. With that much invested, no other play was scheduled for the season, a testament to his faith in the piece and in his adaptation. Three Cities would have to carry the Art Theatre until spring.

                        Setting personal grudges aside, placing theatre excellence before pride or animus, Maurice hired his old adversary Jacob Ben-Ami to play Zachary Mirkin, the lead. Producer, director, and playwright Schwartz contented himself with a much lesser acting role. Other sterling actors engaged for the season opener (and, with any luck, the closer too), were Baratov, Gersten, Cashier, Goldenburg. Luba Kadison, Lazar Freed and Scooler. Powerhouses, each and every one, they were but a small fraction of the 45 players comprising the Art Theatre that season.

                        Sholem Secunda wrote a fine score, and a young, outspoken and innovative scenic designer, Sam Leve, conjured up wondrous feats of near magic in his first stint for Schwartz. Leve,s career as a scenic designer for the Art Theatre and on Broadway would cover over 30 years. Using the revolving stage technique employed in the past by Schwartz, to eliminate the interruption of shifting scenes, Leve prepared “a procession of beautiful settings that unified the play’s episodes”  (Theatre Arts Monthly Dec. 1938).

                        On October 10th, 1938, Three Cities opened to reasonably fine reviews from the Yiddish press, but mixed from mainstream critics. From this blockbuster novel, so much had been expected by everyone. Too much resulted in too little, according to William Schack: “A playwright bent on adapting a book to the stage was faced with an embarrassment of riches. By not foregoing enough of this novelistic wealth, by attempting to summarize it in a panorama rather than condense it in a narrower form of action, Mr. Schwartz has written a pageant rather than a play”  (Times 11 Oct. 1938). In general, the Broadway critics of the major New York dailies were badly divided over the play’s merits. The Sun, the Daily News, and the Daily Mirror found much to admire in Three Cities, while the Herald-Tribune and the Post echoed Schack’s complaint about the overwhelming amount of material spread out over the four hours it took to cover those fulminating days that shook the world.

                        Many unflattering reasons have been advanced by self-styled experts for Schwartz’s playwriting failures in general (though none have been offered for such triumphs as The Brothers Ashkenazi and Yoshe Kalb). Over his career, Maurice transformed 22 novels into serviceable and often brilliant theatre, and even the most antagonist critic had to admit that he did have a sixth sense for what worked on stage, and an ability to take the totally different medium of words printed on a page, and breathe life into it. But like any mere mortal dramatist, he had his hits and his misses.

                         True to form, Schwartz blamed the eventual box office demise of Three Cities on everyone but himself. On Sholem Asch, for starters. “Critics claimed the problem of the play’s climax was that the hero returned to Warsaw, instead of remaining in Moscow. Asch was adamant, not willing to change. They had a point, but I couldn’t pressure Asch, as our next play was also by him”  (Schwartz 26 Nov. 1945). Regardless, the play ran well for four months, though its end could be predicted because of astronomical operating expenses. Schwartz  wanted the best of everything, but that had cost much more than he could afford. The nest egg accumulated from the previous season and the European tour, had melted away, and a hurried decision was made to launch, as soon as possible, a trimmer, less expensive vessel.

                       On December 23, 1938, Who Is Who, H. Leivick’s fifth work for the Art Theatre, was presented. The piece was well within the shrunken scope of Schwartz’s new interest in urgent and timely plays about what was happening to Jews within Europe. Leivick’s was the story of a Jew trying, but ultimately failing, to negate his heritage because of burgeoning religious bigotry.

                        In Who Is Who, a German refugee and former concentrate camp inmate, flees his country and comes to America with his family. A widower and scholar, Professor Shelling is hired by a small New England college, where he and his two children can live in peace and seclusion, sheltered from intolerance and persecution. Neither child knows he’s Jewish, a deliberate deception by the professor to spare them what he’d suffered in Germany. But the truth comes out, and Elizabeth and Ludwig react with rage against their father for hiding the truth from them. In the end, after a heated confrontation with his children and some wrenching soul-searching, Shelling decides to acknowledge his Jewishness.

                        For the play, Sam Leve’s only set consisted of four sturdy columns, which he varied in number by different lighting arrangements, over the three acts. “Schwartz had no time for technical rehearsals. And besides, anything elaborate would have cost too much, and he had little money left for the season”  (Leve 28 May 1999).

                         To illustrate Maurice’s never-ending cash flow problem, Leve told a story, here paraphrased. On the closing night of  Who Is Who, one particularly dedicated process server (part of an army constantly dogging Schwartz) is waiting in the wings of the Venice Theatre to hand him a summons for money owed to some supplier. The curtain descends, the process server dashes out on stage to deliver the document before Schwartz can scurry off and elude him. The curtain rises again for the actors to take their bows. The unwary process server is trapped on stage with the bowing players, Schwartz included. Not to stand out awkwardly, the poor fellow takes his unearned bows with the rest of the cast.

                          Among the first-timers at the Art Theatre, was Martin’s daughter, using the stage name of Miriam Riselle. An exceptionally beautiful girl, she portrayed Shelling’s daughter. The Times reviewer was unenthusiastic, indicating that “Mr. Leivick has written, as we should expect of him, a thoroughly honest work [. . .] which Maurice Schwartz has directed skillfully”  (Schack 24 Dec. 1938). Happily for father Martin and Uncle Maurice, the best notices were earned by Miriam. Maurice was pleased indeed that his niece had done so well in her debut, but kept it to himself. As her relative, he dared not express an opinion.

                        Miriam however didn’t last long in her part. The strain on her voice—it was a very emotional role—produced a hoarseness she couldn’t shake. Luba Kadison was pressed into service, informed that she would have to play Elizabeth the very next day. Luba went home, learned her lines overnight, rehearsed the following morning, and went on the same evening. Naturally, she was sensational, and because of it, Maurice kept her in place for the balance of the play’s run.

                        Even if Schack wasn’t over-enchanted with Who Is Who, the Yiddish press applauded Maurice’s attempts to transform the intolerable events taking place overseas into brilliant theatre. S. Margoshes and William Edlin of the Day, Abe Cahan at the Forward, Moses Katz at the leftist Freiheit, and Joel Antin, writing for  the Yiddisher Kemfer displayed a rare consensus in applauding Schwartz’s latest enterprise. The work had a decent run, lasting well into the following year.

                        Early in February, just prior to the Art Theatre’s early closing for the season—now standard operating procedure for Maurice, so he could tour the United States, South America and Europe, and return home sufficiently enriched to bankroll the next season—a revival of Yoshe Kalb was given. It was far simpler, and cheaper too, than starting up with new material, music and stage sets. A week later, for the same reason of economy, he tossed off a second revival, A Secluded Nook, the Hirshbein classic that had truly founded the Yiddish Art Theatre. As a sign of the changing times, Schack reported: “The audience was not as large as one expects in the case of a man who has written so graceful a chapter of Yiddish Theatre history, but those who had come had the pleasure of confirming their previous beliefs that this reputation was well-deserved”  (Times 15 Feb. 1939).

                        Schwartz boarded up the Art Theatre in March, his funds running on empty, unable to do more than the two new works. Before taking off for his peregrinations around the globe, he arranged to have the Yiddishe Bande, the riotously satirical Polish company of singers and actors, come to America. Rescue may well have been on his mind, as each day brought Europe and its Jews closer to the precipice. Six months earlier, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had flown to Hitler’s retreat at Berchtesgaden, to negotiate an end to the crisis the Nazi dictator had caused over Czechoslovakia. At once, France and England mobilized its armed forces. Shortly after, a conference in Munich resulted in a peace agreement that in effect dismembered the Czech nation. Then, on November 4th, using as pretext the assassination of a German official by a Jew, the Nazis conducted its vilest pogrom to date, destroying countless Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues. Over 30,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps. This widespread atrocity came to be known as Kristallnacht, because of the many windows shattered by the German populace.

                         In Palestine, unrest increased, as Arab extremists, occupying Bethlehem, Tiberius and old Jerusalem, murdered many Jews before the British authorities retook the cities and restored order. On May 17, 1939, while the Art Theatre was in Europe, His Majesty’s Government repudiated the Balfour Declaration that backed creation of a Jewish State, and stringently restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine.

                        Schwartz pitched in to help establish the Bande, which he’d seen and enjoyed in Warsaw. He leased the Belmont Theatre on W. 48th Street, where the last presentation had been a series of documentary films about the Spanish Civil War. He lent them his musical director, Sholem Secunda, his managers Martin Schwartz and Leon Hoffman, and his American press agent at the time, Oliver N. Sayler, the Russian Theatre maven.

                        The World Trembles, was the title of the overall production, and consisted of 21 hilarious sketches, with from one to four performers, and using the works of an eclectic mix of writers. Among the more familiar players were Lily Liliana and Leon Liebgold, the star-crossed lovers from the movie version of The Dybbuk, which was made two years earlier in Warsaw.

                        Before leaving for Europe, Schwartz had one more duty to perform. He attended an afternoon testimonial in honor of Sarah Adler’s Jubilee in Yiddish Theatre, held at the Downtown National on Houston and Second. She was 80 years old. Present were her daughter Frances and son-in-law Joe Schoengold; Stella Adler and her husband Harold Clurman; Luther Adler and his wife Sylvia Sydney, as well as Morris Carnovsky, Frances Farmer, Leif Erickson, and Sam Jaffe, magnificent actors all.

                        On the dais, Maurice recalled memories of the incomparable Sarah, whom he’d long admired as a young patriote. He told of investing his entire savings of $900, as an  impresario, in a project called ‘Maurice Schwartz Presents Mm. Sarah Adler.’ The still-active performer demonstrated her vitality by doing a bit from one of her greatest successes, Tolstoy’s Resurrection.

                        But a far sadder commentary on the declining state of Yiddish Theatre that season was Boris Thomashevsky doing a three-a-night cabaret act with his second wife Regina Zuckerberg, at the Rainbow Inn on Second Avenue and 4th Street, an ignominious end to his career. By July of that year, he would be dead of a heart attack at the age of  seventy-one

Chapter Thirty: “I Have No More Strength Left.”


                         After a fruitful spring touring Europe. Maurice came home to America on June 20, 1939 aboard the Ile De France, enthused as usual about opening the Art Theatre for another season, his twentieth at the helm. He had a tentative agenda for the new year that included the Asch play titled Salvation (though its original name was The Psalmist Jew). Depending on the piece’s longevity, he was also considering Esterke by Aaron Zeitlin, who’d (given Schwartz The Wise Men of Chelm in 1933), and David Pinski’s unheralded Saints and Satan.

                         His real reason for an early return was an exciting project awaiting him in New York. He was to begin filming Tevye the Milkman, after having waited for years. Maurice had at last found another devoted fan willing to put up the cash. Harry Ziskin, co-owner of Broadway’s busiest kosher restaurant, headed a consortium of investors, and they’d raised $70,000 for the package, a sum unheard of for a Yiddish movie. Together with Schwartz, they’d formed Mayman Films,Inc. Tevye would be the only movie it would produce.

                        With Salvation slated to open in late September, Maurice hoped to limit shooting to 22 days, amazing for a film of this magnitude. The indoor scenes were to be shot at the Biograph Studios in the Bronx, where D.W. Griffith had made some of his original flicks, rented for a single month, at the cost of only $2000. The outdoor work would be done on Long Island, on a 150-acre potato farm in Jericho, estimated expenses being $3000, including meals and transportation to and from Manhattan. The location was selected because of its similarity to the Ukrainian countryside where Sholem Aleichem had originally placed the locale.

                        Shooting began in late July, during the most scorching summer the natives could remember. Schwartz, as both leading actor and director, labored unsparingly, sweltering behind his thick peasant’s beard and heavy cotton clothing. Forever a fastidious taskmaster, he drove the crew especially hard from dawn to dusk, taking advantage of cloudless, sun baked days. They expected no less, his everlasting troupe members that included Julius Adler, Morris Strassberg, Boaz Young, and his niece Miriam, as the problem prone Chava. Absent and sorely missed by Maurice was Joe Schwartzberg, the Spufka of old, and beloved companion of Schwartz’s salad days. He’d died in Manhattan on July 20th, at 50 years of age, from a heart attack.

                       With a compulsive perfectionist like Schwartz, filming moved along slower than expected, but advanced inexorably to completion, despite the blistering days and the usual delays in moviemaking. “You can’t hope to pass off a cheap, inferior picture, even if it’s in Yiddish,” he told an interviewer. “Patrons of Yiddish film are just as particular about entertainment as other audiences”  (Pryor 30 July 1939). With pressure heavy on Maurice to achieve something quite special, even groundbreaking, he rehearsed each scene, exterior and interior, at his Venice Theatre, before committing it to the camera. Not only did this save valuable time, but it preserved even more valuable dollars, though both commodities were in short supply.

                       The 1939-1940 season was an especially active one for better Yiddish Theatre, Besides Salvation, there was Jacob Ben-Ami’s production of I.J.Singer’s Chaver Nachman. Breaking once more with Schwartz—their re-association had endured only a single season—Ben-Ami had gathered a goodly part of Art Theatre personnel and set up shop at the Downtown National. Among those who spurned Schwartz for the purist Ben-Ami, were Celia Adler, Joe Schoengold, Vinogradoff, Jacob Mestel, Yudel Dubinsky, Lazar Freed and Ludwig Satz.

                       Singer’s story is a fascinating one about an impoverished, idealistic, Polish Jew turned revolutionary, who, after devoting his life to the Cause, becomes disillusioned and is callously expelled from it. The reviews were good, but hardly worth the remarkable coalition of talent expended. Perhaps the missing ingredient was the theatrical acumen of a Maurice Schwartz.

                        Also of interest to the serious Yiddish theatre-goer, awash in the welter of shund presented that season was ARTEF, operating out of the Mercury Theatre on W.41st Street, where Schwartz had briefly operated in 1931, when it was known as the Comedy Theatre. The socialist-minded group was offering Chaver-Paver’s Clinton Street , Dymov’s East Side Professor, and a revival of Uriel Acosta, for which Sam Leve designed the scenery and arranged the lighting. It would be the company’s final season, a victim of the Nazi-Soviet pact of August 23, 1939, which provided for the dividing up of Poland and the Baltic States. All left-wing New York had been appalled and horrified to find Hitler and Stalin in bed together, the entire left-of-center movement in America splintering fatally. Lifetime loyalties and friendships broke up as well. Disillusionment set in and paralyzed even the most diehard Marxists. Devout patrons stopped coming to see plays that painted the Soviet Union as mankind’s last best hope.

                        Casting against the grain, Schwartz went outside the large reservoir of available performers to choose Leo Fuchs for the major role in Salvation. A fine song-and-dance man, Fuchs was a bright star in Yiddish musicals, beginning in 1935, lasting for 30 years. He had the charming manner and easy grace of an Astaire or a Ray Bolger. With only half an ear, Maurice listened to the many arguments against Fuchs from the Art Theatre players, from his managers, from the hordes of ‘experts’ doling out free advice. Some even suggested that Schwartz himself take the part, that of a young man, who grows old over the two acts. An old man, Schwartz could handle impeccably, his early reputation built on such portrayals. But he was 51, weary from a summer of moviemaking, and quite unsuitable as a mere stripling.

                        Miriam Riselle, fresh off her punishing weeks filming Tevye on the potato farm, would play opposite Fuchs. She was proving to be an excellent leading lady, with a natural poise and the stage presence of an experienced prima donna. Though Ben-Ami had spirited away a large handful of the Art Theatre players for his company, enough quality actors remained for Salvation: Julius Adler, Strassberg, Cashier, Appel, Schweid, Abarbanell, and Gersten.

                        The plot, set in the Pale of Settlement, concerns Jechiel, a pure soul, who becomes a Hebrew teacher to the family of an innkeeper, whose daughter Reisel falls in love with the boy. They marry, but she dies in childbirth. Destroyed, Jechiel leaves town to roam the world for many years. Slowly, his reputation as a wise man grows. Returning home, he falls victim to other misfortunes, until, grievously ill, he dies. This is over-tilled soil in the Yiddish Theatre canon, but Maurice found much to admire in Asch’s poetic language and purity of vision. Moreover, Asch had given him a hit the previous season, and Maurice sorely needed a winner with which to kick off the new one.

                         Though their friend at the New York Times, William Schacht, was delighted to note the regrouping of so many Art Theatre veterans, and the infusion of a few new faces, “it would have been a happier occasion if their vehicle broke new ground”  (Times 29 Sept. 1939). He lamented that most of the scenes were woefully undramatic, which was Maurice’s fault as adapter, though the Times critic found much to admire in the staging, the music, the dancing and the performances.

                         Schwartz bristled at the unfavorable response in general by the English-language press, even if he would liberally quote from their more positive reviews: “It’s ridiculous to have to get our instructions from Broadway for traditional Jewish plays. Right or wrong, those critics harmed us [. . .] The spoiled Jewish audience listened to the critics and stayed away from Salvation”  (Schwartz 24 Nov. 1945). But in spite of poor reviews, the play ran for a not- too- shabby 100 performances. Not a total loss, but hardly the big profit maker Maurice had hoped for and needed.

                       The movie Tevye opened at the Continental Theatre on Seventh Avenue and 52nd Street, on December 22nd. Very favorable notices followed close behind. Bosley Crowther gave it a backhanded, upbeat review: “While Hollywood insists that successful pictures cannot be produced in the East, a picture like Tevye comes along and refutes the argument”  (Times 22 Dec. 1939).

                        The 96-minute, black and white production was the first non-English flick to be included in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1991, the rarest of honors. According to film historian J. Hoberman, the production “stands apart from other American-Yiddish talkies in its superior production values. The film is extremely well shot and elaborately orchestrated [. . .] As Tevye, Schwartz gives a bravura performance—a perpetual motion machine of non-stop singing, humming and talking”  (308).

                         A quick study of whatever he undertook, Maurice had learned filmmaking exceedingly well, by hands-on involvement, as he learned everything else related to theatre. The Yiddish critics thought so too: for the first time in decades, they fell over one another to heap praise on Tevye, even those ivory tower intellects, who’d been unforgiving for his frequent excursions into excess and his inadequate adaptations. The film opened three days before Christmas, during the same year that spawned some of the best American films ever made: Stagecoach, Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and Wuthering Heights. To many in the Jewish community, those who more frequently patronized the movies than Yiddish Theatre, Tevye was every bit their equal. An instant classic, the film played the Continental for five weeks, before opening in many New York area movie houses.

                       Maurice next turned his attention to the season’s finale, Sholem Aleichem’s odd comic piece If I Were Rothschild. The Zeitlin work planned for the current season would have to be postponed until the following year. Pinski’s Saints and Satan would be forgotten altogether. Liberally altered and brought current by Maurice, If I Were Rothschild is part vintage Sholem Aleichem and part political tract. It begins in the mythical town of Kasrilovka, immortalized in his other fiction. Chaim Chono is a poor (as are all Sholem Aleichem characters) Hebrew schoolteacher, who would give away every kopeck of Rothschild’s millions to help his similarly penniless townsfolk. Through a misunderstanding, Chono and his family run afoul of the law, and are placed under house arrest. While confined, he falls asleep one afternoon, and dreams he’s the awesome baron (perhaps the same Rothschild whom Maurice had defied in Paris), who’s involved in a global peace conference with such international figures as Hitler, Stalin and Chaim Weizmann, even though Sholem Aleichem died in 1916.

                        The theme of the conference is eternal world peace, and delegates from every nation bicker over how to achieve this elusive goal. After much heated debate, Chaim wakes from his daydream to find himself and his family no longer confined, and can return to their former routines.

                        Leo Fuchs and once-only Art Theatre actor Abraham Lax, would alternate the role of Chono, while Fuchs and Maurice would take turns at the secondary character Menachem Mendel, a marriage broker and all round con man. Miriam Kressyn, also from the Yiddish musical, a fine singer, actress, and dancer, would make her Art Theatre debut as Chono’s daughter. She would go on, over the next three decades, to achieve fame and an earned reputation, shifting quite handily between both branches of the profession, becoming, at the close of her career, a much-respected instructor in Yiddish Theatre at Queens College. In the early ‘40’s, she would marry Seymour Rexsite, an ingratiating, multitalented presence on the musical stage, and eventually the president of the Hebrew Actors Union. Often appearing together, the couple was considered the Yiddish Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.

                       William Schack wasn’t impressed by the beloved humorist’s incursion into world politics, or by Schwartz’s adaptation and updating of the piece: “Though the resulting extravaganza [. . .] has its moments, it falls considerably short of its objective because it lacks a clear-cut point of view”  (Times 1 Jan. 1940).

                        Maurice was terribly disappointed by this and other poor reviews of the play. He’d come through a particularly vulnerable moment in his life. For weeks, he’d been putting himself and his crew through many marathon rehearsals. One evening, around seven, he collapsed onstage and was rushed to the hospital, where he was found to have a severe lung infection. There, his control of the play hadn’t ended. From his bed, Schwartz had written the temporary director detailed instructions on how to improve the entrances and exits of the female lead, Miriam Kressyn. “Please see her at 10 o’clock in the morning and show her what to do. All my directing comments are here. Make sure that the entire troupe attends the rehearsal. I have no more strength left”  (Schwartz letter 17 Dec. 1939).

                        Many times, especially after weeks of long rehearsals, Schwartz would be felled by serious colds bordering on pneumonia, accompanied by spiking temperatures. This one, more debilitating than most, sent him first to the hospital, then south to Miami to recuperate and regain his strength. If I Were Rothschild opened, flopped and closed soon after a well rested and restless Schwartz returned to New York. He took up his director’s mantle again, but left the acting to others.

                        Following the close of the season, Maurice took the company on tour, but of America only, as war in Europe was spreading rapidly over the continent, its nations falling to the Wehrmacht in rapid succession. Remaining stateside, Schwartz and the Art Theatre visited the American heartland to do Salvation and other favorites. As usual, he did extremely well. Over the next ten weeks, they made up the previous season’s deficit and set a bit aside for the season to come. It was a pattern Maurice was quite used to.

Chapter Thirty-One: “The Theatre Is a Failure As an Industry.


                        As was his modus operandi out of experience and necessity, Maurice Schwartz would open the 1940-1941 season with another extravaganza. Esterke by Zeitlin, a bustling, boisterous costume drama based in fact, about Poland in the 14th Century, centering on the love affair between a simple Jewish girl and the monarch who risked his kingdom to possess her, causing violent upheavals at court and among the peasantry. By play’s end, the affairs of heart and state are happily resolved. Christian king and Jewish maiden walk hand-in-hand into the sunrise of a bright future. On the cusp of world conflagration, with the threat of Jewish extinction patently real, the message embedded in Esterke was as timely as it was obvious.

                         In actuality, Casimir lll ruled Poland from 1333 to 1370. An enlightened head of state, he invited Western Jewry, fleeing persecution arising from the Black Plague, to settle in his country and develop its trade and commerce. To this end, he fashioned an equitable code of laws for everyone, and encouraged Jews to participate in Polish life. As to his personal history, in 1356, 20 years after granting privileges to the Jews, he fell in love with one of them: Esterke. Together, without benefit of clergy, they had two sons and a daughter.

                        Esterke may have had a larger meaning for a world becoming familiar with such terms as ‘final solution,’ and such locations as Auschwitz, but for Maurice, the piece had all the elements of damned good theatre. The Yiddish public had the same thought, as advanced ticket sales were reported to be over $50,000, thus guaranteeing a noteworthy hit. That season, the Art Theatre settled in at the Public Theatre, on Second Avenue and 4th Street, the result of a deal worked out between Edwin Relkin and Jacob R. Schiff, who was unrelated to Jacob A. Schiff, the philanthropist, who’d done so much for Jewish immigrants 40 years earlier. Jacob R. Schiff, the Public’s current owner, was the chairman of a large commercial banking firm, and a devoted patron of Yiddish Theatre.

                        Maurice’s company was to be the sole serious Yiddish troupe in town that season. ARTEF was gone, and the assorted splinter groups led by Ben-Ami or Jacob Mestel or Joe Buloff, were inactive, its members either on tour or engaged in mainstream endeavors. By early August, Maurice told Schacht, he had a full plate ready for the upcoming season. He’d begin with Esterke, and depending on its reception, would put up Hutzmach by Itzhak Manger (a reworking of The Witch). After that, a piece by the novelist and writer for the Day, Benjamin Ressler, whose 60,000 Heroes had been done by the New York Theatre Troupe in 1935, a core of Schwartz players made available after he’d packed up early and left for Europe. Time permitting, he’d do Haman’s Downfall, then close the season with a rollicking Sholem Aleichem work, Sender Blank, based on one of the master’s short novels.

                         In the same article, Schack issued his usual gloomy prognosis about that perpetually comatose patient, Yiddish Theatre. This time, there was much to be concerned over, especially the sad state caused by the sale of benefit tickets, the very foundation of its business. Resignedly, he noted that  “selling blocks of $100 benefit tickets at 25 to 40 cents on the dollar, and a complete house for $500 to $900 on weekdays, may not make the managers rich. But it will give employment to some 200 actors [. . .] and presumably amuse the public, which frequently grumbles but comes again”  (Times 25 Aug. 1940).

                         Schack’s colleague at the Times, Brooks Atkinson, also found much to bemoan about mainstream theatre, and for basically the same reason: money, the lack of it, in this tenth year of the Great Depression. “The theatre is a failure as an industry. As a creative art, it rests on the hollowest foundation it has had in my time [. . .]. The professional theatre has been living in a vacuum for a number of years”  (Times 10 Mar. 1940). Citing exorbitant expenses, Atkinson stated that few Broadway producers would risk money on anything fresh, experimental, daring or controversial. Only what had been successful before would be presented again.

                       Maurice believed he’d found the magic formula for Yiddish Theatre, at least, beginning with Sabbatai Zvi. On October 17, 1940, he was certain, with the opening of Esterke, he’d recover that magic once more. Miriam Riselle handled the hefty title role, and Samuel Goldenburg played Casimir. Again confounding his detractors, Schwartz took for himself the minuscule part of an old peasant. The Times review next morning, though very good indeed, was much too brief. William Schack had written his last column the year before, and was replaced by Lester Bernstein, a beginner, who would climb the corporate ladder, becoming an editor at Time Magazine, then, in 1969, the managing director of Newsweek. In his first Yiddish Theatre assignment, Bernstein wrote: “It was like old home week [. . .] the first original play in the last ten Schwartz productions”  (Times 18 Oct. 1940).

                        The five other New York dailies and Variety were more generous in their assessments and the space allotted for Esterke. The World-Telegram led the field: “One finds himself sitting spellbound before the heroic elements of showmanship that have gone into its creation. The spectacle is one of complete enchantment”  (19 Oct. 1940). But despite unanimous raves from the Yiddish and the English-language papers, Esterke was not the blazing comet Schwartz had hoped for. Audience came, but not in numbers sufficient to match the swelled expenses of the show, not—as William Schack had previously noted—with the greater part of revenues going to the benefit funds.

                        One respected Yiddish critic, who claimed to be in the Schwartz camp, had a ready explanation why plays such as Esterke usually failed. Leon Glazer compared Maurice to those revolutionaries who eventually become infused with the same philosophy of those they revolted against. In Schwartz’s case, he wanted the colorfulness of the shundists, but he also wanted excellent, realistic drama, and searched all his life for its fusion, which led to the spectacle. “The truth is that he wanted everything at once from theatre: tragedy and comedy, heresy and religion. He wanted to see in the theatre everything that constitutes the modern and the old-fashioned Jew. He came with so many desires that it was impossible to satisfy them. The Yiddish theatre-going public really wanted the impossible”  (June 1960).

                        And it was to this ‘impossible’ public that Schwartz tried catering. They were the ones footing the bills, filling the playhouses, and keeping Yiddish Theatre barely alive. Therefore, the big, strong plays with the powerful dramatic tensions found in the works of Asch and Singer, or, when they hadn’t anything available, in Maurice’s own tinkering with manuscripts. The truth was, Schwartz was forever walking a tightrope, refusing to submit to shund while trying to please the larger audiences needed to stay solvent. Each year the tightrope was raised higher, made longer and more dangerous, while below, the safety net became thinner, until it disappeared entirely.

                        This sort of circus act was apparently ignored by many of the anti-Schwartz purists on the Forward and the Day, and those small but loud Yiddish journals, whose theatrical gods were Jacob Ben-Ami, Jacob Mestel and Joseph Buloff, none of whom lasted more than a year or two at the strictly repertory theatre, which was directed at that very exclusive cabal of Yiddish intelligentsia, who couldn’t fill the first six rows of a playhouse, much less the entire place.

                         With Esterke a critical success but a disaster at the box office, Schwartz moved at once to recapture his audience. He skipped over Hutzmach, and went directly to Sender Blank, which was from Sholem Aleichem’s most prolific period: the last decade of the 19th Century. Written in 1888, under the title Sender Blank and His Household, the earthy comedy focuses on a robust, self-made merchant, the richest man in the town of Berditchev. Blank is certain that he’s dying, and his large family (from two marriages), and the entire town, are thrown into disarray, as he is also the leading citizen. Soon, those with a financial stake in his death bicker among themselves, jockeying for position, wanting their slice of the pie. Played by Schwartz, the patriarch recovers miraculously, upsetting plans made by all for the redistribution of his wealth. Voices are raised, threats made, friendships destroyed, as quarrels lead to near violence. Above the fray and whole again, Sender takes great pleasure in the fuss he’d unknowingly kicked up. Restored, he decides to live a fuller, happier life, never mind the storms unleashed.

                        Jacob Rothbaum, formerly of the Kaminsky Theatre in Warsaw, and future director at the Folksbiene, was hired to dramatize and direct. Secunda and Chertov did the music and settings. The cast of 30 was basically the same players as in Esterke, except for Maurice playing the title role, a part he wore like a second skin. Though the Times didn’t see fit to review Sender Blank, Robert Coleman of the Mirror did: “This is hilarious farce [. . .] Schwartz is as much at home in this adventure in zanyism as he was in the serious works”  (22 Nov. 1940).

                        Despite the scant critical attention paid the Sholem Aleichem work, it ran well and long to mostly capacity houses, until late in January, 1941, when it was replaced by Benjamin Ressler’s Worlds Apart. This was the kind of play Schwartz had become deeply committed to, in direct response to the plight of European Jewry. Rabbi David Horowitz escapes from a German concentration camp and comes to America (as had Dr. Shelling in Who Is Who), where he’s taken in by his rich son. In the luxurious residence, the Rabbi feels out of place, unable to enjoy its many amenities, while overseas many fellow -Jews are being slaughtered. He flees to the Lower East Side, to live among the poor. In America, Horowitz sees injustice everywhere and is appalled. He incites a strike in his son’s factory (reversing the situation in Rags). The Rabbi, as much social reformer as man of God, believes that America should be in the forefront of rescuing Europe’s Jews. One of the acolytes he makes is his own grandson. In the end, Horowitz manages to unite his son, grandson in this worthy crusade.

                       “It is true,” Schwartz wrote, “that the theatre should not be made a tribune for propaganda, but can we deny that Ibsen, Gorky, Chekhov and Eugene O’Neill have helped, with their plays, to launch the liberation of the enslaved, and to inspire mankind to fight for a better, more attractive world?”  (Times 23 Jan. 1941). Could Maurice do less in these tragic, dire days than offer a work such as Worlds Apart?

                        The Yiddish press generally agreed, but Bernstein of the Times thought otherwise: “The production fails to achieve uniform excellence because the author [. . .] has given his second act over to an omnibus of problems, and, in solving them, he has compromised reality with wishful thinking, and violated the consistency of a few splendid characterizations”  (23 Jan. 1941). Variety, which measures a play only by its bottom-line appeal, was more positive: “The Art Theatre’s first definite click in several seasons should considerably reap back some of the losses sustained by the outfit’s two earlier box office flops”  (29 Jan. 1941).

                         By the beginning of March, the Art Theatre had completed its season, and was off to the provinces. That old warhorse and vein of gold, Yoshe Kalb, opened on the 4th at the Forrest Theatre on Walnut Street in Philadelphia. On the 6th, it was Sender Blank at the Plymouth in Boston. Sometime during that overly cold winter of 1941, Maurice received a cable from his friend and attorney Charley Groll. Charley and his second wife Jenny Goldstein (the leading tragedienne of shund), who’d been married once before, to Max Gabel), were on a three-year tour of South America, Charley serving as her agent and counselor. Groll offered Maurice a neat deal to join them. He’d rent the Soleil Theatre in Buenos Aires and cobble together a worthy troupe.

                       Maurice hadn’t been to South America since 1933, and felt a strong yen to return, but without the Art Theatre, just Anna and himself. With Europe going up in flames, and England taking a pasting from the Luftwaffe, Maurice decided to accept Charley’s proposition.. The Schwartzes flew to Buenos Aires, as travel by ocean was too risky. Wolf packs of German U-boats were prowling the Atlantic, sinking everything in their periscopes.

                        Sender Blank may not have been a sensation in New York, but Buenos Aires Jews flocked to see it. Spanish reviewers as well as their Yiddish counterparts were absolutely enchanted, comparing the playwright to Moliere, while considering Maurice Schwartz without equal. Clearly, Charley Groll had done a fine job. The Soleil was a topnotch playhouse, and the troupe proved more than adequate. Yet, while Maurice was adoringly received and well attended, it was quite evident to him that the assimilation process he’d abhorred in New York, was also taking place in Argentina: “The younger generation was missing. In 1933, a family would buy 15 tickets for husband, wife, children and grandchildren. At present, they bought at most four tickets [. . .]. Our audience consisted of the older generation. They were following the path of America, England, France and Poland”  (24 Nov. 1945).

                       Saddened by this insidious trend, Maurice spoke to many Argentine Jews about what he’d noticed. To a person, they shared his concern, but presented no solution. Another phenomenon that horrified him was the erosion of democracy in the nation. Perhaps the Nazi plague had reached its shores. Yiddish was prohibited in public places, even in the synagogue. Spanish was the sole language permitted. Only Yiddish Theatre was exempt, and though the language was fast receding, into the past, Schwartz’s audiences were still large and enthusiastic.

                        Sender Blank ran for 30 performances, and would have been the only play on the tour, but Maurice wanted these hungry souls to feast on The Brothers Ashkenazi and other Art Theatre favorites. Over and over during his visit to South America, he inhaled like an erotic perfume, the responses of his audiences, and their graciousness at banquets given in his honor. At one of them, a group of Charley Groll’s friends suggested that he remain permanently in Argentina so he might form a nucleus around which Yiddish might be preserved and encouraged, and as a result, the Jewish community strengthened. More concretely, these concerned leaders had a deal for him. They were willing to build a home for the Art Theatre. “The building would also house a large library, a dramatic school and music studios. The plan would allow me to spend six months in New York and six months in Buenos Aires, with the same plays presented in both cities”  (Schwartz 1 Dec. 1945).

                          Maurice readily accepted the proposal, telling Charley Groll’s friends and the Argentine press that he’d be back next year to finalize the wonderful arrangement. He couldn’t help but remember his so-called ideal partnership with Louis Jaffe, and how it had gone awry. But he was willing to take the chance again. Sold on the prospect of a less peripatetic, more stabile way of doing theatre, Maurice packed up and made ready to home to New York, which may no longer be his only home, if all went well. “My goodbyes at the airport were just as wonderful as my arrival. Groll, the actors, and a few hundred theatre friends came to say farewell. It was to be only temporary. I would be back soon”  (Schwartz 5 Dec. 1945).


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