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

To Seymour Rexsite, Charlotte Goldstein Chafran and Caraid O'Brien, each of whom I met along the way.
And for Gloria, who has been here all the while.

I wish to offer eternal gratitude to Martha Herbstman, David Goldman, Shane Baker and Aaron Taub for
their stunning expertise in the Yiddish language, which has survived against all obstacles and disasters.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 1.  In the Beginning.                                                                                      
 2.  “I Burned with a Passion For the Theatre.”                                              
 3.  “Go Home and Don’t Get Involved in Theatre.”                                      
 4.  The Start of an Incredible Adventure.                                                      
 5.  “You’ll Be in Good Hands.”                                                                    
 6.  Greening Out in Philadelphia.                                                                  
 7.  “He Was a Bad Teacher, a Mean Teacher.”                                              
 8. “I’ll Be Looking For Greener Pastures.”                                                   
 9. “The Theatre Must Be a Sort of Sacred Place.”                                         
10. “Our Policy: the Best Plays and Players.”                                                
11. “Mr. Schwartz, You Are Killing Me.”                                                      
12. “I Can’t Describe My Suffering.”                                                              
13. Beginning Over.                                                                                         
14. Empty Pockets.                                                                                           
15. Innocents Abroad.                                                                                       
16. “A Season of Major Accomplishments.”                                                    
17. “I Have My Memories.”                                                                              
18. “We Made a Mistake in Our Extravaganza.”                                               
19. “I Signed the Contract With a Broken Spirit.”                                             
20. “Need Breaks Iron.”                                                                                      
21. “We Shall Have Many Years Ahead of Us.”                                                
22. “He Was a Little Afraid of Buloff.”                                                              
23. “An Exit Made More in Sorrow Than Anger.”                                             
24. "When I'm Outside the Theatre I Am Not Alive."                                     
25. Maurice in Wonderland.                                                                                  
26. The Storm Clouds Gather.                                                                             
27. Reunion in Tel Aviv.                                                                                      
28. “The Very Last Time.”                                                                                   
29. “A Great World Drama.”                                                                                
30. “I Have No Strength Left.”                                                                             
31. “The Theatre Is a Failure as an Industry.”                                                       
32. “Do You Realize What a Catastrophe Has Befallen Me?”                              
33. “The Thwarted Angel of Death Hid Himself.”                                                
34. The Old New Beginning.                                                                                 
35. “A Very Unspectacular Season.”                                                                     
36. “I Had Planned For a Longtime.”                                                                    
37.  “The Greatest Thing We’ve Done to Save Our Lives.”                                  
38. “We Will After All Still Do Great Things.”                                                     
39. “Our Enemies, Burning Like a Fire.”                                                                
40. “Young People Are Playing in the Comedy, Not Old Men.”                           
41.  “I Detected a Warm Friendly Feeling.”                                                            
42. A King in Surgical Stockings.                                                                           
43. “Papa Works Too Hard.”                                                                                   
44. “It’s a Life of Woe, of Pain.”                                                                             
45. “Somehow Yiddish Theatre Will Continue Here.”                                            
46. “I Am Overworked and Exhausted.”                                                                  
47. The Death of an American Citizen.                                                                    
 


Works Cited

Chapter One: In The Beginning

                      Consider this archetypal Yiddish melodrama: A father leaves turn-of-century, virulently anti-Semitic Russia with half his family, to plant foot in America, before sending for the other half. A year later, having established himself in Manhattan on the Lower East Side after much struggling, the father sends the steamship tickets back to Russia, to bring over the balance of the family.

                       Things go smoothly exiting the country, but in England, at the final way station on the journey to New York, there is a horrible mix-up and the eldest son, age eleven, is left behind to fend for himself.

                        The marooned child, not knowing a single word of English, wanders the cold, dismal, dangerous streets of London, barely surviving until, two years later, he is reunited with his joyful parents.

                         This is marvelous material for a writer of trashy fiction, perfect for the gristmill of Yiddish Theatre, to be ground course or fine, by hacks and truer artists. Except that this particular story line is fact in its broader outline, and strangely enough happened to, of all people, Maurice Schwartz, arguably the greatest figure in the century-old history of Yiddish theatre, once a vibrant and thriving, but long-since deceased world.

                         The pages that follow are an attempt not only to resurrect the undisputed monarch of this vanished kingdom, but to illustrate the world he inhabited, a time when the American Jew was as much European as he was a Yankee, until the balance shifted in the span of a few generations and the reign was over.

                          Avram Moishe Schwartz was born in 1888, in the small Ukrainian town of Sudlekow, which lay in the Polish section of Russia, some one hundred and fifty miles due west of Kiev, and eighty miles east of Lemberg. The patriarch of the family, Isaac, was a comfortable grain dealer in the prime wheat-producing area of Russia. A devout Jew, his life was bounded by the typically standard Orthodox triangle of family, synagogue and work. Besides his wife Rose, that family consisted of three boys and three girls. Moishe, the oldest of the boys, had an outstanding alto singing voice that stood out in the synagogue choir. He was also a born performer, but the Orthodox branch of Judaism turned its pietistic nose up at all forms of artistic expression, except for the Esther-centered plays during Purim. Choir singing had to suffice for those with other more worldly talents.

                        In 1898, Isaac split the family in two, taking his three teenage daughters to America, leaving behind Rose and the three boys, Moishe being the oldest at ten. It was a well- conceived plan, as the girls were old enough to obtain work in New York and help accumulate the money to buy another round of steamship tickets. The waiting period however was short, as after a year of scrimping and saving—Isaac had created a rag-sorting business on Lower Broadway—Rose received a letter from America that contained the tickets and their marching orders.

                        Rose Schwartz immediately packed the family’s belongings and within a week they were in the port of Hamburg (the jumping off place for most European Jews), and on their way to London. In the British capital, they took a train 200 miles across the waist of England to Liverpool. From this port, they’d board a vessel jam-packed with other like-minded immigrants and brave the awesome Atlantic to the Golden Medina. This route, Isaac had discovered, was considerably cheaper than sailing directly from Hamburg.

                       The snafu began innocently enough. Isaac had sent Rose an adult ticket for herself and three half-price tickets for his sons. But during the year’s separation, Moishe had shot up like the proverbial beanstalk, not exactly a man, but with a man’s appetite. Because of the short hop from Hamburg to London, this wasn’t deemed a problem, but the boarding agent in Liverpool was incensed: why a strapping lad like Moishe could eat for two, even three! The agent told Rose and the two younger boys to please board the ship first.

                       Rose, who’d become disoriented and confused over the half-price ticket hassle, dutifully obeyed, certain that the matter would be quickly resolved. After the ship got underway however, she soon discovered that Moishe was not with them, that he’d been detained on shore. After the error was realized, Rose wailed and beat her breast in vain for the captain to return to Liverpool. The journey without her eldest son must have been hellish, each day soaked in tears, sorrow and guilt. Not the least of her problems was what to tell Isaac.

                      Those first few hours had to have been equally as devastating for the misplaced child. Not a shilling in his pocket, not a word of English at his command. Truly a Joseph in the alien land of Egypt. The impact on his psyche, on his inchoate personality, cannot be overestimated. “It gave me an insight into what life is. It was my first university”  (Braggiotti).

                       When his situation became apparent, he fled the steamship office onto the street, tearful and panic-stricken. A passerby thought enough to stop the boy who, using gestures, made his plight known. The stranger led Moishe back to the office, where he was given a refund for the half-price ticket. A tag was attached to the boy and he was shipped back to its London headquarters like a piece of lost luggage. There, in the narrow, garbage-strewn streets and back alleys of Whitechapel, the city’s worst slum area, he had to fend for himself.

                        After the refund ran out, he lived catch-as-catch-can, searching for odd jobs and barely managing to stay alive. In the winter he slept in the subway and in church basements, on park benches in the summer. And starved all four seasons of the year. He joined breadlines and queued up at soup kitchens, accepting charity ladled out by young volunteers.

                          The week before The Day of Atonement, wandering along Whitechapel Road in the Jewish enclave, he heard music coming from within a synagogue. He entered and won a job singing in the choir. The choirmaster was a kindly, hoop-bellied man named Simon Hawkins. Taken with the young urchin, Hawkins gave him a pair of his own but oversized trousers. The boy found a length of cord to use as a belt. Moishe couldn’t afford a haircut and looked for all the world like one of the many shabbily dressed clowns who scraped out a living on the even shabbier streets. Even the most hardened East Ender would gawk at the boy. Children would throw stones as if he were some mangy dog.

                         After the brief synagogue gig was over, Moishe resumed his ways as a homeless vagrant, until a Bobbie spied him on a park bench one night and took him to a German bakery along his beat. The baker gave him shelter, allowing the urchin to sleep in the back room. For months, the boy walked the streets during the day, covered head to toe in flour dust, making him an even greater subject of ridicule Later on, Moishe found a corner in a tannery to occupy, and in the evening he would climb out a window, to an inner courtyard where herrings were being pickled. Night after night he’d dine on sour herring and stale bread. For seven months he existed on nothing else. Often he’d find his way down to the Thames and stare dejectedly at the blinking lights of distant ships. Indeed, once he stared out and wondered what was the use of enduring it all. “But at that moment I saw my mother’s face in the water and I said no, I shall live on”  (Braggiotti).

                        All good things and some bad eventually come to an end. In Moishe’s case, rescue came at the close of his second year in Whitechapel. Long before, his father had placed an ad in the London newspapers and at last there were results. More than a few Londoners had noticed the hapless child. When Isaac arrived and saw his son, barely recognizable under his rags and tangled mop of hair, the overwrought father fainted. Revived, Isaac had to remind himself more than once that this filthy ragamuffin was indeed his son. Convinced, he set about rehabilitating the boy, first with a hot bath then a haircut and finally a visit to a clothing store on Whitechapel Road for a completely new wardrobe.

                         The year was 1901, and Isaac hadn’t seen this semi-stranger in three years. In that period Moishe had endured more suffering and privation than most experience in a lifetime. The time spent in London would also serve him well in the coming years of huge success and terrible failure, of the high peaks of elation and deep valleys of depression, of bitter disappointment and sparkling moments of the greatest triumphs Yiddish Theatre has ever known.
 

Chapter Two: “I Burned With a Passion For the Theatre.”

                        On the packed steamer crossing the limitless Atlantic Ocean, arriving in New York after the incredibly long voyage, Moishe and Isaac had plenty of time to get reacquainted. It had been three grueling years since the father split the family down the middle and took his half to America. Fully one-quarter of Moishe’s life had been spent out of Isaac’s influence, perhaps the most important segment of any youngster’s life.

                        The reunion with his mother and siblings was warm and emotional, as the tears flowed freely from all participants, especially from Rose, who still blamed herself for much of the turmoil in Liverpool. But the tears soon washed away the stains of guilt and the family was made completely whole again. Rose and Isaac brought their reclaimed child home to the modest apartment on Cherry Street on the Lower East Side, practically in view of the East River.

                        But the child Rose had inadvertently left behind in England was not the young man she’d embraced with her every fiber at the gangplank in New York. It was more than the physical changes that had taken place in the shift from age ten to thirteen. After all, he’d lived alone in London’s worst hellhole, survived its jungle of assorted predatory animals. His childhood amputated and jettisoned, he’d grown a tough carapace. Moreover, it would take Moishe a while to get used to being shivered over by a loving mother, to taking orders from an often stern father, to blending in with his brothers and sisters. By thirteen he’d become a country of one.

                        At once, Isaac registered him in the Baron de Hirsch school on East Broadway. De Hirsch, the foremost Jewish philanthropist in the world, had established a trade school for the sons of recent Jewish émigrés from Russia, to help them become useful citizens. The Baron had made it his personal mission to rescue as many victims of Czarist persecution as possible. A quick learner, having picked up Cockney English in Whitechapel, Moishe (now Morris) adapted well, especially in his literature class. Afternoons found him toiling in the small factory his enterprising father had begun, supplying recycled rags to the burgeoning clothing industry in Lower Manhattan.

                        The America that Morris had come to at the dawn of the twentieth century was a vibrant overturned anthill of a growing nation, flushed with pride after having flexed its muscles and beaten Spain three years earlier, becoming a world power in the process. The population was exploding, mainly from the avalanche of hopeful immigrants—nearly a million by 1905—passing through Castle Garden, Ellis Island and other portals of entry. Most of them settled in Manhattan, especially the Jews, favoring the Lower East Side. New York City quickly became the largest Jewish city in the world.

                         At once, Morris developed an intense bonding with his uncle Mendl, who would often receive cheap tickets to the galleries of the Yiddish theatres on the Bowery close by. “He secretly took me to a Sunday, and at that moment, from the first curtain, I became a theatre fanatic”  (Schwartz 1 Jan. 1941).

                         For many reasons, all of them sound, Isaac Schwartz took a dim view of his son’s newfound interest. His hope was for Morris to become foreman in his factory. Morris, as it so happened, had other plans.

                          At the time, Yiddish Theatre was confined to a few blocks on the Bowery between Canal Street and East Houston Street, and consisted of three major playhouses and a few minor ones. In each of them, wrote Hutchins Hapgood , is the ghetto world, the New York of Russian Jews, a world of “tinsel variety shows, ‘dive’ music halls, fake museums, trivial amusement booths of all sorts, cheap lodging houses, ten-cent shops and Irish-American tough saloons [. . .]”  (113).

                           While Isaac railed against the foolish waste of time and money, his difficult son hung around the unsavory Bowery. Morris was too headstrong to obey his father, a boy who’d heeded only his own voice for so long. The arguments over the kitchen table became so heated that Isaac actually fired his son who’d some time earlier quit school to work full time in the rag factory, and, more than once, despite Rose’s frantic pleas, the boy packed up and left home, only to return the next day or the day after. But Morris never surrendered to his father’s demands and Isaac was forced to accept the seamy love affair with the Bowery theatres. If this is what my son wants, Isaac’s manner suggested, then so be it. But he’ll regret it later.

                         Together Morris and his uncle would saunter off to the Bowery, mostly to see and hear and delight in the star who’d captured both their hearts, the comic genius Zelig Mogulesko. Their idol was the first professional Jewish actor anywhere. Avram Goldfaden had hired him for the troupe of players he was assembling in Bucharest, Romania, where Mogulesko had sung in synagogue choirs and in the chorus of French operettas. By age 30 this natural performer was recognized as a major talent.

                          Morris had become what was first known in Russian-Yiddish theatre, then in American, as a patriote.  A fan in the most rabid sense. Patriotten would dress like their idols, ape their manners, their voice patterns and the clothes they wore. They had favorite meeting places, usually a restaurant near the playhouse, where they would gather for hours, debating and bragging about their actor-heroes.

                            The first object of patriote love was Boris Thomashevsky, Uncle Mendl’s favorite. Unbelievable as it may seem, Thomashevsky had practically originated Yiddish Theatre in America. An immigrant cigar maker’s son who also worked in a cigar factory in Manhattan, Thomashevsky claimed to have been in the first Yiddish play presented in New York in 1882, The Witch by Goldfaden, though this has never been firmly established.

                        Hapgood describes him as “a young man, fat, with curling black hair, languorous eyes and a rather effeminate face, who is thought very beautiful by the girls of the Thalia. Thomashevsky has a face with no mimic capacity and a temperament absolutely impervious to mood or feeling”  (139).

                         Morris was a loyal but not fanatical follower of Mogulesko. For his preference he got a black eye from a patriote fiercely attached to another star of the period, Sigmund Feiman.

Uncle Mendl was not a great Feinman partisan either, nor fond of any serious play in which he acted. He much preferred the wildly popular lowbrow operettas and musicals. When Morris would take him to see a more realistic offering, Mendl would groan. “You’re making me spend my few pennies so that I should see real life in the theatre. Don’t I have enough real life at home? When I see real life on stage I feel melancholy. When I come to the theatre, I want to laugh. I want to hear people sing. I want to see them dance”  (Schwartz 2 Feb. 1941).

                        This was no idiosyncratic tic. Mendl was expressing the view of most Yiddish theatre-goers, then and over the next half century, much to the disgust and frustration of the serious Yiddish actor, director, playwright and producer. But the Yiddish audience then was an unusual one. The vast majority of them were recent immigrants who’d barely escaped the many forms of the Czar’s wrath. They’d come to America expecting to find paradise on earth, only to discover intolerable sweatshops and crowded tenements. Like Mendl, they attended theatre as a reprieve from, not a reminder of, their own tawdry lives—if only for a few hours. Anyone in Yiddish Theatre who offered otherwise was only swimming upstream against a strong current.

                        In all honesty, Morris loved the lighter fare, the Thomashevsky extravaganzas, nearly as much as Uncle Mendl. He adored the music, the grand, sweeping, impossibly trite plots. He knew all the songs by heart, would sing them at the drop of a hat. From the very start, he was never a strict ideologue, a theorist driven by one pair of philosophic blinders or another. To him, good theatre transcended categories and labels. And so Morris steeled himself to remain above blind partisanship and heated arguments over which star shone the brightest. “Yet I burned with a passion for the theatre [. . .]. I worked for my father all week and thought every second about the theatre”  (Schwartz 5 Feb. 1941).

                       Before long however, Morris found an actor not to idolize, but to emulate. David Kessler, to whom Morris was to hitch his wagon a decade later, had a riveting stage presence, powerful dominating eyes, and a sonorous voice. Born in 1871, he’d come to America fifteen years later and at once became a popular figure in better Yiddish plays. Hapgood labeled him “one of the best of the Ghetto actors in realistic parts  and one of the worst cast, as he often is, as the romantic lover”  (131).

                       If theatre was now in Morris’s blood, the infection spread to his brain. For months on end he didn’t miss a single Kessler performance. There were nine of them weekly, one a day plus Saturday and Sunday matinees. For the true believer, the Saturday matinee was the week’s high point. The faithful would begin lining up early Saturday morning waiting for the box office to open, their lunches and snacks crammed into brown paper bags. The queues for the gallery would extend into the street and around the block. Tickets would be quickly sold out. There was an excitement in the crowd as palpable as rain. They were like pilgrims waiting to be admitted to a holy shrine.

                       The theatre packed chock-a-block, its house lights would dim around 2 PM or thereabouts, Yiddish Theatre of that era being notorious unpunctual. The footlights would spring to life; the band would play the introduction; the curtain would rise, as an awed hush fell over the boisterous throng. And Morris would be transported to wherever the playwright was taking him.

                         A subtle shift took place in Morris during his Kessler phase, and he wondered how in God’s name he might become an actor like this man, which was a far cry from hero worship. But where to begin? How to break into what surely was a rarified brotherhood of the gifted and the lucky. He confessed this dream to his parents. Ever the cynic (or realist), Isaac shook his head and made dire predictions. An Orthodox Jew, he had no love for that which  frivolously displays itself in public, and on the Sabbath yet. Being a businessman, his father also knew how hard it was to make a living at even a legitimate trade. Rose however refused to discourage him, certain as only a Jewish mother could be, that her son would grow up to be not only a good man, but a prosperous one.

                        Morris’s proclivity towards Kessler continued until he saw Jacob Adler in   Solomon the Wise  and The Jewish King Lear, both by Jacob Gordin at the People’s Theatre. The careers of both Gordin and Adler, playwright and actor, are permanently entwined. Each propelled the other to great heights, and together they launched the first magnificent Golden Age of Yiddish Theatre.

                          Jacob P. Adler, born in Odessa in 1855, had been a dilettante and a dandy in that very cosmopolitan Russian city. Until he met Goldfaden and his traveling players in 1879 and decided he had to become an actor. After some success in London that ended in tragedy—he lost his first wife and child to illness, and his theatre to a mistaken call of ‘fire’ that resulted in seventeen patrons being trampled to death—he came to America in 1887. He was no immediate success like Kessler and Mogulesko. With his second wife Dinah, he went off to Chicago where competition was less keen. Nothing came of it, so the Adlers returned to London then reversed themselves and left once more to try New York.

                         This circuitous route led to the People’s Theatre on the Bowery and favorable recognition, then ultimately to his dominating the Yiddish stage for many years. An actor of enormous power and noble features, Adler despised the type of acting (exemplified by Thomashevsky) that used exaggerated body motions, gestures and comic antics. Adler preferred employing face, voice and eyes to extract the inner truth of the role he was playing. To be natural and honest was the sum and substance of his career.

                          Jacob Gordin had also emigrated from Russia, but directly. “He was a man of varied literary activity,” wrote Hapgood. “Of a rarely good education, a thorough Russian schooling, and of uncommon intelligence and strength of character. He is Russian in appearance, a large broad-headed man with thick black hair and beard”  (167). Natural allies, the two men formed a loose partnership that endured for years. Together they created a vital center for Yiddish intellectualism. For nearly two decades Gordin’s plays were the most important ones on the Yiddish stage, with Adler their finest interpreter.

                           Secretly, Morris began running with the Adler faction headquartered on Eldridge Street. Of all the sects of stalwarts, the Adler boys were the toughest, the most devoted. They called their leader the Great Eagle, because in Yiddish ‘adler’ means eagle. “The splendid eagle has spread its wings” was how his patriotten announced to each other the opening of a new  play starring their idol.

                        The incipient actor began to educate himself, reading better literature to fully appreciate Adler and Gordin, as he never could have in a formal school, this teenager who’d received the first part of his education on the streets of Whitechapel. Ibsen and Shakespeare were among the non-Jewish dramatists he furiously attacked, absorbing entire monologues from Ghosts and The Merchant of Venice.  “After a year of reading all the published plays, I understood how an actor performed and what he brought to the play and what was not the intention of the writer [. . .]. I was never interested in the playwright before, but now he was beginning to interest me more than the actor”  (Schwartz 12 Feb. 1941).

                         Since its inception, Yiddish Theatre had always been an actor-driven medium rather than play-oriented, the vehicle for the star. And if Schwartz believed then in the writer’s primacy, time and painful experience later modified his views and actions. This shift and many others in Schwartz’s long, unparalleled career has been the subject of much written about him in English and Yiddish, a great deal of it unflattering. Word and deed did not always coincide with Schwartz when he became the vital powerhouse behind the Yiddish Art Theatre. Eventually, a play, a novel, a short story to him would be merely the raw material from which to extract good theatre. In his hands, the Yiddish Art Theatre became neither an actor’s nor a playwright’s vehicle, but the director’s. For this reason, Schwartz anticipated the rise and dominance of the movie director.

                        One day, a bolt of lightning sizzled through the Lower East Side. A new playhouse was to be built on Grand Street. It would be the first theatre specifically constructed to house Yiddish Theatre. Before, there had been only three top grade locations of any substance, all on the Bowery, within sight of one another. The most sophisticated was the People’s at 199 Bowery, close to Delancy Street, with a seating capacity of 1750. It was opened in 1883 by Harry Miner and bore his name in the original title. Among its early stars, before transition into a Yiddish playhouse, were Lily Langtree and Thomas Keene. Its current Yiddish attractions were Mogulesko, Adler and Thomashevsky, the latter two never appearing together in the same play. Adler would take the high road, while Thomashevsky usually traveled the low of less-than-artistic clunkers.

                          Down a few blocks at 45 Bowery was the Windsor, which billed itself as ‘the largest and most popular theatre in the City.’ Before it closed forever in 1917, the Windsor had survived a fire and several name changes. During its Yiddish phase, it served as the site of many popular operettas. Directly across the street at 46 was the elegant Thalia with its five-stories high front of Greek columns. Like its two competitors, the Thalia began as a non-Yiddish theatre called the Bowery. It served up mostly German language plays. David Kessler was the main attraction during its Jewish phase.

                          But now a fourth temple of sorts was to rise on Grand Street and speculation ran high among the various factions as to who would open it. Kessler? Adler? Mogulesko? Maybe even Boris Thomashevsky and his actress-wife Bessie. Those with and without money bet on their favorites. Tension mounted, but the various opposing armies maintained a kind of uneasy truce. With other partisans, Morris would stand and gawk at the construction site. “And even though the many fan clubs didn’t know if their stars were going to perform at the new theatre, they couldn’t hide their joy that they would be there. Their happiness was passed from house to house, from shop to shop”  (Schwartz 20 Feb. 1941).

                          When the posters went up announcing the grand opening, the Lower East Side let out a collective sigh. The first play was to be Joseph Lateiner’s  On the Rivers of Babylon,  a biblical epic, one of many from the lightning pen of the master of such gaudy melodramas. The era of good feelings among the usually opposing forces continued. Whoever would be the performers, whatever the play, they all pulled together for a smashing start for the Grand. On the night before the opening, many of the faithful slept on the theatre’s fire escapes and by the stage doors.

                           Of course every ticket had been sold long in advance and only the gallery was available. A squad of police had been dispatched to maintain order. Eager patriotten were circulating in the lobby offering to pay up to fifteen dollars for a seat, any seat. “The crowds were so thick people fainted and had to be continually taken out. Peddlers did well, selling bagels and soda”  (Schwartz 26 Feb. 1941). And for all their prayers and anticipation despite being squeezed in the gallery like oranges in a crate, the play was a terrible disappointment. Instead of applause, the actors were rewarded with boos, catcalls and curses. Groups of every loyalty boycotted the Grand, refusing to make the long climb to the gallery.

                         After a disastrous half season of like offerings, the Grand closed. A donnybrook then took place over possession of the once-virginal but now sullied theatre. The Zukor-Loew’s powerhouse organization wanted the Grand as a movie house. That year, The Great Train Robbery  --a twelve minute film-- had become an enormous hit, ushering in a new form of entertainment for the masses. But Jacob Adler yearned for a home to do the more realistic plays of Gordin and his successors. After much wrangling that ended up in New York State Supreme Court, Adler got his wish.
 

Chapter Three: “Go Home and Don’t Get Involved in Theatre.”

                        Severe shock waves were felt by foot soldiers and civilians alike on the Lower East Side over the Grand Street Theatre fiasco. Patriotten  of every preference and intensity made it their cause celebre, as they filled the cafes and restaurants, and made longwinded speeches every evening until dawn, when it was time to go to their sweatshops and offices, retail stores and pushcarts. Nowhere were the reverberations more keenly felt and with greater passion than in the many amateur dramatic clubs that were springing up in the Ghetto like mushrooms after a summer rain.

                         Even before there was Yiddish theatre in America, a few such clubs were in existence, devoted to the cultural enrichment of the mostly Russian immigrants. The Promised Land had developed no solid achievement of drama schools the way Russia, France, England and Germany had, so these restless, gifted, but culturally starved Eastern European Jews created their own. Not in the traditional temples of art, but in social halls, private homes and any convenient location large enough to accommodate a group of stage struck young Jews sufficiently motivated to talk about and perform in serious drama.

                           Within a generation, these literary and theatrical clubs became a major force for good literary drama, as well as the breeding ground for budding actors and playwrights. Each member was the patriote of  an even larger army. Some clubs were named for the writer of their choice: the Jacob Gordin Dramatic Society, the Mendele Moshe Sforim Literary-Dramatic Society, the I. L. Peretz Society. Its members would slave all week in their shops, factories and stores, but in the evening and on weekends they’d present theatre to a very rarified and appreciative audience of the like-minded. Not only were incipient playwrights and actors nurtured, but a matching public was cultivated to enjoy as well.

                         A literary society of smaller size and much less polish was the Delancey Street Dramatic Club, which actually met in a basement on Attorney Street close-by. It boasted over 60 adherents, few old enough to vote or legally consume alcohol. But children then were more mature, especially the offspring of immigrants, who were often on their own, trapped between two cultures—the one at home and the one on the streets. Through a friend, Joseph Schwartzberg (hereafter known as ‘Spufka’), a member of the club, Morris had been invited to audition for membership. There was no other way to join. He was thoroughly tested and accepted.

                          Meanwhile the storm continued unabated over the demise of the Grand and Adler’s somewhat suspicious takeover, the biggest brouhaha ever to hit the very circumscribed world of Yiddish Theatre until then. It was common wisdom among the  patriotten that if the first play of the season was a bomb, the entire season was lost. And so it happened with the Grand despite the enormous talents of those involved on stage and behind the footlights. When it trickled down that the Eagle had seized the prize in his talons, wiping out the jobs of so many actors, a holy war—more a children’s crusade—began against Jacob Adler. Marcus’s Restaurant on Grand Street and Goldstein’s Café on Forsyth percolated with wild talk about using force to deny Adler his prize. Hotheads threatened to use metal spikes, wooden clubs, knives.

                         Round and round went the threats to clip the Eagle’s wings, but nothing came of it. The dismissed actors quickly found work elsewhere, some with the new despised owner, as Adler moved swiftly to reopen the Grand. Nevertheless the opposing patriotten were neither satisfied nor forgiving. “Among the foes, a life-and-death struggle broke out. Each fan had to swear by his parents that he would shun the Grand Theatre. For months the playhouse remained under excommunication”  (Schwartz 12 Mar. 1941).

                           The first offering of the reopened theatre didn’t go over well, but the second,  Broken Hearts, became a runaway hit. The play was written by that post-Gordin , transitional dramatist Solomon Libin, who wrote over 50 plays, many well-crafted and depicting the life and woes of the immigrant sweatshop worker, the problems of real people in true situations all too familiar to the Ghetto inhabitants, Libin himself a former factory worker. The highly successful piece at the Grand shattered the opposition’s resistance. The more they tried to deny Adler, the more the general public flocked to catch his performance. Unable to hold out any longer, and despite his own conscience, Morris went to see what all the fuss was about. Afraid to be caught by the more physical anti-Adlerites, he took in a Monday evening performance, when no self-respecting patriote would be there. He sat in the first row of the gallery hoping to be pleasantly disappointed. But the Eagle worked his theatre magic and soon Morris was drawn back into the fold. Adler the actor was forgiven even if Adler the man couldn’t be.

                        What Morris loved the actor for was the Eagle’s total immersion in his work, as Schwartz himself would be later on. “Every minute of his life was dedicated to the theatre. This was his life. It occupied every minute of the day. He even played theatre at home. There was almost no difference between the stage and his private life”  (Schwartz 19 Mar. 1941).

                         As Adler’s fortunes rose at the Grand, David Kessler’s declined, if only temporarily, at the Thalia. One play after another became an instant hit, especially the ones Gordin wrote for him: The Demented, The Stranger, and The Tree of Wisdom. Previously, Jacob Gordin had been closely allied with Kessler, but as with Morris, his loyalty had shifted. In Schwartz’s view, the noble and lofty playwright had made the change for mundane reasons. “Adler paid better. Adler invested more money on stage sets. Adler’s wife Sarah was a treasure and a terrific talent. What her husband lacked, she completed”  (Schwartz 19 Mar. 1941).

                        Morris couldn’t help feeling pity for the put upon actor, yet aware that much of Kessler’s woes were of his own making. Adler came prepared; he knew his lines perfectly, every shade and nuance, and never mind the prompter’s aid. But Kessler would spend hours in Marcus’s, gorging himself with food and drink, and playing pinochle until near curtain time. He’d rely heavily on the prompter to feed him his part.

                          Divided loyalties troubled young Morris’s conscience, but the windstorm raging among the faithful at the Delancey Street Dramatic Club was even worse, with the most hot-tempered hurling silverware and curses across the meeting hall. Often, weekly sessions would deteriorate into shouting matches that would spill out onto Attorney Street. Crowds would gather to take sides, cheering and jeering from the curbs. Threats were made to kidnap Gordin, to maim Adler. In a calm moment, a plan was drafted to send a small group to visit Gordin and beg him to return to Kessler. But that harebrained scheme had to be abandoned: how do you get any two patriotten to agree on anything? A brighter idea took hold. Morris would confront the mighty blackbearded Gordin himself, a party of one, and make the plea. He’d take the ferry to Brooklyn where Gordin lived, fall to his knees, pour out his heart.

                        Late next afternoon, Morris made his way along the East River, then under the newly constructed Williamsburg Bridge, hoping possibly to catch his man at the ferry slip. All the while, he berated himself for his audacity .”Then I saw him coming, looking distinguished. I hid behind the wooden statue of an Indian in front of a tobacco shop. I saw him at the corner. [. . . ] Short of breath, I ran to him. I spoke hoarsely. ‘Mr. Gordin, save the great Kessler’ “  (Schwartz 29 Mar. 1941).

                         Morris must have appeared like a madman, raving crazily. Gordin saw him and raised his cane as if to ward off a thief. Almost incoherently, Morris spewed out what was on his troubled mind. Gordin listened attentively, now at ease, used to the mad  pronouncements from young theatre striplings.

                        After Morris had exhausted the speech he’d gone over again and again between Grand Street and the ferry slip, Gordin led him to a candy store, where he ordered seltzer for the boy and a dish of chocolate ice cream for himself. Between gulps, Morris made his pitch. “I want you to write a few good plays for David Kessler. It’s a real shame. I feel for him”  (Schwartz 29 Mar. 1941).

                          Gordin regarded him with compassion. He paid for the seltzer and the ice cream then invited the now calm youngster to take the ferry with him to Brooklyn. On the river, they’d talk things over. At that hour of the day the ferry was deserted. Gordin sat him down by a window and took off his jacket. It had been uncommonly hot and sweat was dripping from his magnificent beard, and he asked about his old friend and recent enemy with a poignant bitterness. He leaned on his cane as he spoke, observing the gentle waves the ferry was making. Then he turned back to Morris, his eyes misty. “Such a food lover. Such gluttony. He will die looking into a food plate .[. . .] Such talent, such temperament. He should be able to conquer the entire universe, but to him hot dogs and pinochle are more important” (Schwartz 2 Apr.1941).

                       Gordin then grew silent for a long while, drawing figures with his cane on the ferry deck. On the Brooklyn side, he glanced up at Morris with an infinite sadness. “Boy, go home and don’t get involved in theatre. Even composers and  actors die of hunger in the Jewish Theatre. Forget about Kessler”  (Schwartz  2 Apr. 1941).

                        The playwright got off the vessel but Morris remained onboard, watching Gordin disappear into the approaching darkness. Morris swallowed hard and returned home. Not longer after, he came to a decision. He would disregard the great artist’s advice. The fire in him refused to die and he would no longer settle for a life of reflected glory as a mere admirer. He found himself going over in his mind the performances of every actor he’d ever seen, knowing with absolute and arrogant certainty that he could do better, or if not, then differently, on his own terms and with no convenient mold to pour himself into. He simply had to become the character he was playing.

Chapter Four: The Start of an Incredible Adventure

                        Brave resolutions notwithstanding, Morris soon found himself adrift in a morass of doubt and despair. “A gallery patriote have I been and a gallery patriote I’ll remain,” he whispered to himself  (Schwartz 5 May, 1941). More than a few evenings, after a day laboring in the rag factory, he’d tiptoe out the apartment on Cherry Street, skulk along the night-draped streets of the Ghetto, to the walkway of the Williamsburg Bridge, as he’d once been drawn to the bridge over the Thames. The darkest thoughts would swamp his self-tortured mind about the hopelessness of his life. With the first arrows of sunlight announcing the new day, an idea lit up his brain. If he couldn’t enter Yiddish Theatre through the front door, he’d find his way in via the back door, the Jewish music halls. That very evening he went to Spivack’s Music Hall on Eldridge Street. He was prepared to offer himself free of charge, even sweep the floors. Try any entry-level position.

                          Isadore Rabinowitz, the manager at Spivack’s, glanced at him disdainfully, asked what the wet-behind-the ears kid wanted, probably knowing full well. Morris sucked in his belly, threw out his chest and declared that he wanted to be an actor.

                           “He wants to be an actor,” repeated Rabinowitz, first to the fearful Morris, then louder to the young men, cronies, backstage with the manager. The same idea for mischief must have simultaneously infused all three men because they ordered him to disrobe, except for his pants. Morris obeyed and they told the makeup man to apply greasepaint and a wig. “I sensed that they were making fun of me, but I was helpless [. . .]. I reasoned that maybe this is how it had to be to get a role” (Schwartz 5 May 1941).

                         Adorned with as much makeup as the jokesters could pile on, Morris was trotted out on stage during a live performance. “The footlights blinded me. Barefoot, I ran from one side of the stage to the other, searching for a way out. The other actors watched and wouldn’t let me escape. I began to run towards the audience, hearing their laughter. A cold sweat covered my face and my naked body. ‘Act, do theatre,’ I heard from behind the stage”  (Schwartz 5 May 1941).

                         The humiliation kept up for minutes longer though it seemed like hours. Everyone in Spivack’s appeared to be in on the gag, everyone except Morris. At last, the boy ripped off as much of the glued-on hair as he could and barreled his way through the blockade of performers and out the stage door. Nearly naked, he fled along the streets of the Ghetto as if on fire.

                          This first-hand episode with the cruelty of grown men towards a green kid should have been the final nail in the coffin, should have been ample evidence against entering a profession ruled by actors behaving badly because they were afraid of allowing new talent in. Not long after and recomposed, Morris was at the Forsyth Street Café with his friends. Together they concocted a scheme to form their own acting company and go out on the road. They were only following the example of what Yiddish performers were doing ever since Goldfaden’s group first began touring the big cities and hinterlands of Romania and Russia. In the larger American cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia there were a few more-or-less permanent houses vying for the theatrical nomads. During the summer, Yiddish actors formed itinerant companies bringing much needed culture to the smaller towns as well as a few sorely needed dollars for themselves.

                         In ‘the provinces’ finding a suitable theatre and a place to hang one’s hat was no easy matter. “Sometimes a troupe had to settle for a dingy room three flights up, off a dirty alleyway and far from the Jewish neighborhood [. . .]. Sometimes a troupe was invited to appear at a local synagogue or community center with the understanding that the play would suit the host’s convictions”  (Sandrow 80).

                         Undeterred and undaunted, the boys began dreaming aloud. What they had in abundance was an enormous amount of energy, an unbounded faith in themselves, and a limitless love of theatre. What more did they need?  They had no one to chide them for their youthful ignorance. The untried group chose Bridgeport, Connecticut as the first stop on the tour because it was closest, the ferry ride a doable 75 cents. A few days later, on a glorious spring morning they boarded the ferry, a festive air of adventure and celebration suffusing each member. They’d taken along enough sandwiches and wine for the entire trip, and a large basket of fruit, nuts and candy. The day was warm and impossibly sunny, each of them bursting with courage and hope for the new, incredible adventure, unsure of what lay ahead but certain they’d acquit themselves well, if not brilliantly. Plans were made and expanded upon as the ferry ploughed toward Bridgeport. “We’ll play in different cities of America, return to New York and show them what kind of actors we are”  (Schwartz 7 May 1941).

                         What awaited them was a baptism of fire never to be forgotten, a serio-comic catalogue of everything going wrong that could possibly go wrong. With practically no money they checked into a small boardinghouse, took full advantage of the owner, waited an eternity to finally get booked into the local YMHA, went door-to-door and store-to-store selling tickets while talking up their non-existent triumphs back in Manhattan. They made their collective debuts before a pumped up, over-expectant audience, with few costumes, little makeup and no musicians in The Immigrant, a piece made famous by Mogulesko. Not surprisingly, the Jews of Bridgeport rebelled and nearly started a riot. The police had to be summoned and the audience’s money was refunded. The disgraced troupe left town on the first train out. They returned home a beaten lot, their tails between their legs like whipped dogs.

                         At low ebb, Morris was deeply chagrined over the entire fiasco and told his father he was seriously thinking about getting a workaday job. Isaac was not impressed with his son’s admission of failure and promise to do better with his life. He knew that very soon they’d be battling again over the same thorny issue. However, for the time being, peace blanketed he Schwartz household. The family—except for Isaac—was ecstatic over the conversion of the sinner. Isaac remained noncommittal, waiting for the day when the same scenario would be replayed and he’d have to throw Morris out of the house once more for the final time. Until the next time.

                         Not to put the family through the wringer as he’d done so often in the past, Morris voluntarily left the apartment on Cherry Street. He found a dark tiny room on Forsyth Street around the corner from the Grand and got a job in a factory making brass and copper signs. He worked for ten hours a day and earned five dollars a week. With that paltry sum, Morris found that he could eat decently, pay his rent, and buy a book now and then. His free time he spent holed up in his room, trying to find a more solitary and less frenetic use of his creative instinct. He tried his hand at writing. He also began reading poetry, especially the work of Morris Rosenfeld, the exquisite sweatshop poet.

                         The job in the sign factory and his life as an isolated writer didn’t last long. The old itch returned, insistent as ever. In the bowels of despair, Morris languished in his small space until one evening Spufka pounded on his door. He hadn’t been seen in weeks and his friends were worried. But more than that, Spufka had come with good news. “Come on, Morris. Come to rehearsal. We’re doing The Twentieth Century in Brooklyn at Teutonic Hall. You’re going to play the role of the father. It’s a big part. Morris, you’ve been rescued”  (Schwartz 17 May 1947).

                        While preparing for his New York debut at the Teutonic, another opportunity came along that he couldn’t ignore. He was asked to journey to the hinterlands of Brownsville, Brooklyn to Singer Hall on Pitkin Avenue, its main thoroughfare. Singer Hall “was a narrow room with wooden benches, a stage the size of a yawn, and a curtain that fell making noise as it came to rest on its wooden frame”  (Schwartz 17 May 1941).

                         The play they were going to do was The Wild Man, the Jacob Adler vehicle he owned, given him legally by its writer Jacob Gordin. Morris signed for the stupendous sum of three dollars a week, playing an elderly father. It was a juicy part, and the chance to do theatre and get paid for it. But word soon got back to Adler that his private property was going to be sullied in the farmlands of Brooklyn, and by a band of rank amateurs. The Eagle threatened vociferously in Marcus’s and other Yiddish watering holes to have the thieves arrested.

                          But his interest perked, Adler had to come and see for himself. He appeared on opening night, bringing along an entourage of four that included his attorney. Taking his seat in the audience after being recognized and paid homage, Adler muttered loudly that he would teach these robbers a lesson. A lawsuit. Prison. Behind the footlights, the cast saw and heard the thundering—and trembled. The company manager came out from backstage, approached Adler with fear and reverence and “begged the great Eagle to have mercy on us. We swore never to touch any play over which he had legal rights, but begged him to let us perform this one”  (Schwartz 21 May 1941).

                          Adler wasn’t moved. He sat nonchalantly opening a box of chocolates on his lap, eating one after another, repeating his threats of prison for the insolent boys. After the first act was over however, Adler stood up and initiated the cheers. The audience immediately joined in, the ovation lasting a full three minutes. He and they were genuinely moved. Morris noticed the Eagle take out a handkerchief to wipe away his tears. After the final curtain fell, the entire company basked in the lengthy ovation that more than made up for the jarring effect of Adler’s presence. No matter: the Eagle had helped the struggling youngsters, tending to convince them that indeed they may yet become recognized actors.

                         Their exhilaration was short-lived. The company manager had a dispute with the landlord and they had to leave. Morris was not terribly upset, as the engagement at Teutonic Hall was coming up fast. Soon Morris and his friends were busily involved, preparing for The Twentieth Century, the play they were supposed to do in Bridgeport had not misfortune overtaken them. In the Zolatarevsky piece, a priest’s son falls in love with a Jewish girl, causing a pogrom, as if just being Jewish in Russia wasn’t reason enough.

                          The prospect of Isaac viewing the play was surely the reason Morris had labored so diligently on his role. Of the Schwartzes, including the aunts, uncles and cousins, only his father had never seen him act. Isaac, it seemed to Morris, had been holding back on purpose, a last ditch effort to deny the reality of his errant son’s choice of career. Morris worked on the family to get his father to the theatre. He spoke to Rose, the girls, even Mendl, to apply pressure on all fronts. Stodgy, intractable Isaac finally gave in. He’d go see the silly nonsense about, of all things, a pogrom, as if he had to be reminded. Pogroms had been one of the reasons he’d left Russia less than a decade ago.

                         The day his father would attend, Morris rose early and rehearsed before his mother and three sisters. He became that old man, the father of many daughters who are raped, whose house is ransacked and destroyed. The sobs he wrung from his trial audience braced him. He prayed he might do the same to his father later that evening. With every fiber of his body, Morris wanted Isaac’s approval, if not understanding, of how much theatre meant to him.

                         Heart beating faster and irregularly, Morris arrived at Teutonic Hall at 6 PM, planning to have enough time to transform himself into a 60-year-old man. “I needed at least 60 wrinkles on my face. I wasn’t experienced in mixing colors to get the proper shade for wrinkles—the eyebrows, the beard, the deep lines in my forehead, the sunken bones in my cheeks”  (Schwartz 21 May 1941).

                           Exiting the cubicle of a dressing room where Morris had aged 40 years in two hours, he ran smack into Isaac and Mendl in the narrow corridor. “Neither of them recognized me. Uncle Mendl asked where he could find Morris Schwartz, who was in the play. I felt like shouting out, ’Uncle, Father, it’s me.’ I would have loved to kiss my father for coming to the theatre. He’d finally acknowledged me as an actor”  (Schwartz 24 May 1941).

                        In his much-practiced role voice, Morris informed the pair that they couldn’t see Morris Schwartz, that he was busy putting on makeup and changing into costume. The two men started to leave, to join the rest of the family in their seats. Morris couldn’t hold out any longer and ran ahead of them, blocking their way. He identified himself, had to do it a few times, then Isaac at last recognized his son and wished him good luck with all his heart. “I seized his wrinkled hands and kissed them. He became very emotional. In a rush he opened the door and left. I mounted the stage, ready for my performance”  (Schwartz 24 May 1941).

                         For that particular and special evening, Morris didn’t merely give a performance, he lived it, pouring every drop of himself into the horribly violated man from Kishinev. Waiting at home later was his family. In the kitchen, Rose was preparing potato pancakes, an indication of their great happiness. Isaac, whose reaction was uppermost in Morris’s mind, sat in his customary chair at the kitchen table, grinning broadly and sipping his strong, black , Russian tea. It was 1 AM and he had to be up at 4 to recite his morning prayers before going off to work. The voices of the family swirled about Morris’s head, full of praise for his portrayal on stage. In their midst Morris approached his father with great trepidation and asked what he thought of the play, of his part in it.

                        “Fairly good,” came the lukewarm reply. “You played the role of an old man very well. Your voice was a little peculiar but maybe that’s how it was supposed to be”  (Schwartz 24 May 1941).

                        Morris had expected much more. He’d used everything he knew, stretched himself further than ever before—and for so little in return from his father. He retreated to his bedroom, tears barely held back. His father understood that he’d offended the boy and entered Morris’s room and gave him a kiss on the forehead. “When does a father ever kiss his children? It had happened to me only once before, when he left for America. I understood now that he approved of my career. My success was a foregone conclusion”  (Schwartz 24 May 1941).

Chapter Five: "You'll Be in Good Hands."

                        The day after his bracing personal triumph at Teutonic Hall, impressing his father (and that unexpected kiss), Morris learned he’d also impressed someone else nearly as important. Leo Largman, the renowned and respected impresario, had heard about the excellent youngster from, of all people, Jacob Adler. The Eagle had sung his praises in Marcus’s Restaurant, which was like having it printed in the Forward.

                         Largman’s particular niche was producing Yiddish theatre outside New York City, the cost of operation being lower, therefore the profits greater. Many a touring company, condemned to ‘the provinces’ depended on, even flowered, under Largman’s expertise in organizing theatre companies, booking playhouses, and routing the groups logistically to cities with the greatest concentration of Jews.

                        Like some scavenger, Largman would come to New York City, scout the smaller theatres and halls looking for fresh talent and even the superannuated old timer willing to work for literally pennies. It was not an entirely one-sided deal. The arrangement permitted the nascent actor to gain the necessary experience denied him in a city overpopulated with Yiddish actors who were often trapped between a solid cadre of established but insecure players and an unforgiving audience. What had happened to Morris at the music hall was but a microcosm of backstage reality. Besides, it was impossible for a beginner to break into the Hebrew Actors Union, which Morris was to relearn a few years later. Its entrance requirements: being approved by the entire membership after reciting a few well-chosen monologues, were too strict for even the finest hopeful to pass.

                         On the evening Morris had acted his heart and soul out for Isaac, Largman had been in the audience, liked what he saw and heard, and sent for the seventeen year-old who’d transformed himself so remarkably into a sixty year-old. When in Manhatan, Largman resided on Broome Street, where Morris was told to go. For moral support he took along Joe Schwartzberg, the steadfast and reliable Spufka. Admitted to Largman’s chambers, Morris was scrutinized from head to toe then offered a place in the company he was organizing to play in Baltimore. First though, they’d play Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven. “For these shows you won’t get paid. On the contrary, you’ll have to pay me. The key to your success lies in my hands,” said Largman in a booming voice (Schwartz 24 May 1941).

                         Morris listened, frozen by awe, as Largman smugly smoked one cigarette after another, but the boy had enough presence of mind, sufficient self-confidence, to stand up to the famed impresario, wheedling from him a contract of eight dollars a week, with an extra dollar thrown in to serve as stage manager, though Largman failed to describe the duties. He emphasized that salary would begin in Baltimore.

                          The offer was accepted. Spufka was also hired, conditions left unstated by Largman.

                         “Eight dollars?” his father asked incredulously after Morris told him. “For this you have to paint your face every night?”  (Schwartz 24 May 1941).

                          In Patterson, New Jersey, the company had its first tryout. By then, Morris had developed a strong dislike for Largman, who turned out to be, despite his surface charm, a terrible bully. Morris’s second role was as Eliezer in Goldfaden’s melodramatic operetta The Sacrifice of Isaac which was first produced in America in 1887. For it, Mogulesko composed a song in which Eliezer laments the death of his child. “For years I wanted to perform that role and sing the song. I always hated to see how an actor would stand center stage and sing as if he were in a cabaret or Romanian restaurant [. . .]. I believed the actor should sing the song within the dramatic scene”  (Schwartz 28 May 1941).

                        He told Largman his idea but was cautioned against making any changes in the time-honored script. “Bigger actors than you have sung right up in front of the audience. The audience likes it that way,” said Largman. “Don’t spoil things, Mister. There are ten actors waiting for your spot”  (Schwartz 28 May 1941).

                         The direct warning went unheeded, as Morris, convinced he was correct theatrically, did the song his way: within the context of the play’s action, not apart from it. At first the audience hissed, then laughed, but he persisted. In the wings Largman was making loud threats to pull down the curtain. After the song was over, the converted crowd burst into wild ovation, then asked him to do it again. Morris hesitated until Largman dashed out and raised  the boy’s hand, telling the audience, “I found this young man in a hall in Brooklyn. I arranged this for you, friends. I told him to sing the song differently [. . .] and he listened to me”  (Schwartz 28 May 1941).

                        Largman wasn’t the first Yiddish manager to take credit for his actor’s innovations, nor the last. A decade later, Morris (then Maurice) would do the same, in a slightly different situation. But pleased with the successful rebel, Largman signed him up for another two years, sealing the bargain with a fifty dollar advance. Morris took the five ten-dollar bills and brought them home to Rose like a trophy he’d won. “Mama, you’re going to get more like these”  (Schwartz 28 May 1941).

                        Less than half Largman’s age and hardly his equal, Morris had the grit, the audacity, to follow his instincts. He’d taken a huge risk—and it paid off. Risk would become the very essence of his theatrical cachet from then on, usually with more at stake but often with fewer positive results.

                        Before long, to his Baltimore crew Largman added two other actors, Clara Rafalo and her husband Morris Goldberg. The pair was a study in contrast. ”Clara was young and charming, and had burning gypsy eyes. She had a strong voice and knew how to sing. Her husband, who ruled her with an iron hand, was a peculiar, very angry fellow with bright red hair. The troupe took an instant liking to her, but hated him”  (Schwartz 31 May 1941).

                        As with many traveling companies, theirs was a viper’s nest of intrigue and backstage politics: who got what role and how, who took the most elegant bows, who was dallying with whom—all grist for their Byzantine mills. Before long, the Largman company was in a state of extreme unrest, rendered unable to carry on in top form. It soon broke apart with Morris going off with the Goldbergs to Cincinnati, where Clara’s parents owned a grocery store. It was a small group, and Morris may have gone for the chance to grow as an actor, a bigger fish in a smaller pond.

                         Ohio: a world away and Morris’s first time in the Midwest. The Goldbergs rented the Auditorium Theatre, where they did theatre only twice a week, Wednesdays and Sundays.  Morris was immensely content within the confines of the Auditorium, not only because he took on more roles, but as he also served as stage manager, a function Largman never really allowed. Being the Goldbergs’ stage manager in reality meant toting around scenery and applying makeup. He relished the work however, as he could absorb the technical side of the profession.

                           The playhouse owned two projectors that were gathering dust since only the footlights were employed to light the stage. “When I saw the projectors, I decided to surprise Clara in a scene she was doing in Bar Kochba. Her singing that evening was totally different. She looked much better [. . .] and performed differently. The audience applauded more enthusiastically than ever”  (Schwartz 31 May 1941). For his ingenuity, Goldberg fumed and cursed, as had Largman. Clara stood by her makeshift lighting director, encouraging him to carry on with fresh ideas and novel approaches.

                        Above the marital fray, Morris continued to experiment. With his own meager savings of thirty dollars—a nice piece of change then—he bought ten, hardly-used projectors from a British traveling company down on its luck in the States. So armed, he tried out original placements of the lights about the stage, resulting in amazing effects and ambiences. He’d toil hard between breaks and performances, while fellow actors leisured in bars and restaurants, or played cards.

                         One evening, in the audience was an even greater impresario than Leo Largman: the master manager from Chicago, Elias Glickman. Next to New York, Chicago was Yiddish Theatre’s favorite city (The Eagle himself performed at Glickman’s Palace Theatre.) To capitalize on the situation, Clara announced to the crowd that the famous impresario was among them in a box seat. Glickman came on stage to praise the fine cast. Taking Morris aside, he asked the boy wonder to come to his room at the Queen’s Hotel where he was stopping. Could Morris dare say no? Turn down the biggest chance of his life? He agreed but asked for permission to bring Spufka along to act as his prompter.

                        With Joe Schwartzberg to feed him the lines he may have forgotten, and to provide inspiration, Morris delivered as never before for this very special audience, never mind that it was in a hotel room. After the sound of his own voice ceased echoing in his ears and the room had grown eerily quiet, Morris waited. And waited, continuing to wait while Glickman contemplated the floor, the high ceiling, the four walls. At last, he spoke. “Young man, you have a fine voice, as soft and delicate as needed. Your motions are not bad, a little nervous, but that can be corrected. You’ll be in good hands. I’ll pay you fifteen dollars for the first week, eighteen dollars for the second, and twenty-two dollars for the third. Our season begins August 15th”  (Schwartz 31 May 1941).

                        Morris tried not to betray his ecstasy at being deemed worthy of working for Glickman, and at an improved salary. He wasn’t that self-absorbed not to ask about Spufka, a par excellence prompter. Spufka however was years to young to be a true practitioner of that art. Besides crouching in a small box in front of the footlights to cue a performer, a prompter would also scribble down changes in the script that arose during rehearsals. He’d often act as consultant to the director, even deciding on choice of play and when to change the menu. More than a few playwrights rose from the prompter’s box.

                         On a warm June evening a short while later, with nothing much to do after the season at the Auditorium ended and the troupe had disbanded for the summer to take fill-in work until the fall, Morris was standing at his window, feeling serene and relaxed, though a bit homesick for Cherry Street. He’d sent fifty dollars of Glickman’s check to Rose, and her return letter brought a longing to glimpse her face. His eyes drifted dreamily along the Cincinnati skyline, coming to rest on the building across the alleyway. Framed in a window parallel to his was a young lady peering at him. Morris recognized her as the daughter of the corner grocery store owner. They’d met earlier but briefly though he’d noticed that she was stunningly beautiful, with milky blue eyes and hair the color of wheat. Her name was Bella.

                        Over the next month, in the languorousness of the superheated Midwestern summer, a mild flirtation with the grocer’s daughter exploded into Morris’s first love affair. Spufka did his best to cool down his hopelessly romantic friend reminding him that pretty girls were fourteen to the dozen but roles with Glickman’s troupe were rarer than hens’ teeth. Disregarding the sound if cynical advice, Morris carried on with Bella, walking the baked streets of Cincinnati along the Ohio River in the late afternoons, making promises to the young lady he shouldn’t have.

                       Then reality intruded in the form of a telegram from Glickman, ordering him and Spufka to Chicago to begin rehearsals. Morris asked Bella to elope with him; she refused, unwilling to run off and shame her parents. Rendered weak and helpless by her refusal, Morris surrendered to Spufka’s admonitions, and the two young men caught the evening train to Chicago.

                        Elias Glickman was pleased to see his two recent employees. He introduced them to the rest of the cast, many of whom were familiar to Morris, ex-New Yorkers who had sought a steady berth out west. As might be expected, the troupe viewed the new additions with normal Yiddish Theatre suspicion. At once, Morris immersed himself in his work yet Bella remained an obsession with him no matter how hard Spufka tried to dislodge the girl from his mind. He kept hammering at Morris to move on. His efforts at first were wasted as Morris sunk further and further into a slimy pit of depression.

                        Morris credited Joe Schwartzberg’s tough love and constant attention with getting him over the brief and unsatisfied love affair. The crisis ended, his addiction to Bella became history and he could concentrate on theatre as never before. He had plays to do, lots to learn. He’d lost Bella before he ever really knew her, sacrificed to ambition. The trade-off looked better each time he thought about it. Theatre was his one true and abiding love, his perpetual mistress. He would never again find himself having to make such a choice.

                         As Largman had come hunting for fair game at Teutonic Hall, as Glickman had scavenged the Auditorium in Cincinnati, so Mike Thomashevsky, Boris’s younger brother, paid a visit to the Palace. The meeting with Mike, probably just as covert as the one with Glickman, soon took place. Thomashevsky told him to come visit in New York. If Morris wasn’t considering a radical sea change at the moment, Spufka was. He reminded his friend that Philadelphia, where Mike ran the Green Street Theatre, was a thousand miles closer to New York than Chicago. “From there you’re within a few hours of the family. You can also go see Feinman, Kessler and Mogulesko”  (Schwartz 28 June 1941).

                         Meanwhile, Schwartz’s relationship with Elias Glickman was fast souring. Like Largman, like most actors turned manager, Glickman was more smoke than substance. Vain, insulated by the flattery of surrounding parasites, he wasn’t as concerned about theatre as he was about making money. Certainly, Morris’s disenchantment was deepened by the prospect of working for Mike Thomashevsky—and the proximity to the Bowery. We’ll never know if harsh words were traded, only that after a single season, the boys quit Glickman.

                         They’d been away for two years and while gone Yiddish Theatre in New York continued to thrive. Stars such as Adler and Kessler were still worshiped from below by the enamored patriotten, who continued to fight each other claw and fang, while their idols carried on the same old rivalries and animosities. It was however “a period of uncertainty and vacillation between the production of better plays and of cheaper pieces and operettas”   (Lifson 242). The trend toward realism initiated by Gordin and Adler was strong but counterbalanced by a return to the Hurwitz/Lateiner school of what came to be known as shund (trash).

                          If a kind of homeostasis prevailed on the Bowery during Morris’s absence, much had happened in the greater world, In Russia, an abortive revolution had been brutally quelled by a terrified ruling class. Albert Einstein had created his own revolution in science by presenting his all-encompassing Theory of Relativity. After years of seething controversy in France, Alfred Dreyfus was acquitted of treason, in the process fanning the flames of a virulent native anti-Semitism.

                        When Morris breezed into Marcus’s in the summer of 1907, he carried with him like an aura the earned reputation of solid achievement, a person to keep an eye on, a comer. He was dressed to the nines in the spiffy new clothes purchased in Chicago. At the Schwartz apartment, he’d been treated like a conquering hero, exactly as Morris had envisioned that spring day two years before on the ferry to Bridgeport. To his son’s pique, Isaac regarded Morris with characteristic misgivings, never mind the fancy duds and the money sent home to Rose.

                        Marcus’s Restaurant—more than just the mecca where patriotten like himself would press their noses to the window and gawk at the luminaries—was also where theatre managers met to clinch deals, to work out terms of a contract with the players. The arrangement “was written on a small piece of paper, regardless of whether it was a big or a small part. [. . .] How happy was the actor who could take a walk on Grand Street with a contract in his pocket, knowing that he had a job for the next season”  (Schwartz 28 June 1941).

                         Mike Thomashevsky was waiting for him at a table in the rear. He’d brought along Anshul Schor, his manager at the Green Theatre in Philadelphia. Schor, a vastly talented playwright as well, wrote over fifty dramas and musicals, in addition to managing theatres on the East Coast. He made the final decision to hire Morris, as he made most of the decisions at the Green Street. The negotiations were brief and to the point. “My wages were to be twenty-nine dollars a week, a rarity among actors at my level. I was as happy as anyone could be”  (Schwartz 28 June 1941).

Chapter Six: Greening Out in Philadelphia

                            The only person in all of Manhattan unhappy over the contract with Mike Thomashevsky was Joe Schwartzberg. After so many good and bad years together, they’d have to go separate ways, Morris now on the fast track to fame (or so they thought). Unfortunately, the Green Street Theatre had its own prompter on a thinly stretched payroll, and Joe couldn’t be hired no matter what.

                        The regulars at the Green Street were the usual Yiddish Theatre mix of long-time thespians (some excellent, others dreadful has-beens) and young climbers with the same wide range of talent. Both groups were as jealous and guarded with Schwartz as Largman’s and Glickman’s ensembles had been, not that every Yiddish theatrical company in every era wasn’t a richly complex novel overflowing with odd characters, superheated love affairs, petty intrigues, smoldering hatreds and crosscurrents of conflicting purposes.

                       This particular company boasted its own vital center of important players, Ida and Charles Nathanson. By that year, Charles had already amassed an enviable list of credits, though only 34 and already a veteran of European Yiddish Theatre. His wife Ida was a lesser light, her strong suit being Charles’s spouse. The Nathansons proved to be quite antagonistic towards Mike’s latest find, especially Ida, who immediately sniffed out a definite threat to her husband. An instant dislike blossomed between Morris and the Nathansons.

                        Anshul Schor was an able ringmaster in this circus of barely-tamed performers. He favored Mike’s new find, gave Morris the choice secondary parts opposite Charles Nathanson. While Ida would stand in the wings and mutter her discontent.

                        Turkel, the influential critic of the Philadelphia Tag was overly lavish in his praise of the newcomer. In the same column he needled Nathanson for his tendency to overact, to rant. Demonstrating a total lack of sensitivity, Morris took advantage of the column, exacerbating tensions by hanging up in the Green Street lobby an assortment of photos: Morris in the roles he hoped one day to tackle, roles he eventually did recreate elsewhere and with supreme authority, among them King Lear, Uriel Acosta and The Wild Man.

                        Though only 20 years old, Morris was no stranger to backstage chicanery and must have known the problems he was creating, especially with the Nathansons, the prideful old lions. But arrogance of the worst order was the kindest that could be said of his actions. He’d believed the flattering review by Turkel and through design or accident caused a terrible row at the Green Street. Ida cornered Mike and told him to get rid of those damned photos in the lobby, then the trouble-making upstart who’d hung them there.

                        Over the next few weeks, a power struggle took place between the rightfully indignant Nathansons and the too-self-impressed Morris, with Schor trapped in the middle. Charles and Ida threatened to quit unless the boy was fired. Which he subsequently was, only to be rehired when his absence—according to Schwartz—took its toll at the box office.

                        For the next season, the troupe relocated to the Arch Street Theatre on Seventh and Arch because their former home had been declared a fire hazard. The Arch was a stately old Greek style structure that resembled the Parthenon, with its columned front and wide stone steps. Built in 1828 as a rival to the Walnut Street and the Chestnut Street Theatres, it was once managed by Louise Drew, grandmother of the Barrymores.

                        During his short stay in Philadelphia, Morris would play every role handed him, never bothering to take an evening off, never refusing to go on for an actor who wanted an evening to himself. If he’d felt any resentment at being overworked, nothing of it surfaced in his writings. Indeed, to such an ambitious, hard-driving neophyte, the chance to show off his versatility, his wide range, was a blessing. By the end of the second season, Morris had gained enough self-assurance and expertise to take charge of a nearly defunct theatre, the Columbia, owned by Sol Dickstein, his to experiment with and resuscitate.

                        At about the same time he met Celia Adler, Jacob’s daughter by Dinah Feinman. Celia had been raised in Yiddish Theatre, first on the stage in 1892, a baby in her father’s arms. Six years later, while Morris was singing in the choir at Sudlekow, she’d been a child actress at the Thalia, appearing in Gordin’s Mirele Efros with Keni Liptzin, David Kessler and Mary Epstein, Boris Thomashevsky’s sister.

                        Morris and Celia met, and at once the sparks of common interest and sexual attraction flew between them. She was Morris’s age and very bright, extremely talented, overflowing with ambition and the passionate yen to do better than was being offered to the Yiddish Theatre patron. The company that Schwartz cobbled together for the summer of 1910 “was made up primarily of young actresses and actors who were in love with theatre. Usually, a director has problems with actors coming late to a rehearsal. This was not the case with us. Most of us would run to the theatre at nine in the morning, even though rehearsals didn’t begin until eleven “   (Adler 268).

                        This enterprise was the first evidence of Schwartz’s charismatic effect on a troupe. Initially, he tested the waters with minor stuff: sketches, a few songs from Yiddish classics, then a one-act play he wrote especially for Celia, his first. “The heroine was a young lady who couldn’t have the man she loved because he was already married and the father of two children. She arranges a party for him in her home, the only guest at the party. She drinks a glass of wine with him. The wine contains poison. They both die”  (Schwartz 29 July 1941).

                        It could have been predicted  with some degree of accuracy that Schwartz, ever the romantic, would fall head over heels for Celia. “You know what happens. You’re together day in, day out, with rehearsals and performances taking up most of the day. You become very close, almost like a family. He was for the most part very amusing, pleasant and interesting. We [. . .] became friends. Schwartz began to flirt with me and we dated”  (Adler 190).

                        At first, to Morris’s great discredit, he thought of Celia more as a prize to be won than as a young, lovely, vital actress on his wavelength. The reason was a matter of naked ambition. Joe Schoengold, a fellow actor, was also a close friend who became Jacob Adler’s son-in-law. “I wished him the best, but I started to feel jealous. Adler was a king and now Schoengold had become a prince and would perform the best roles after Adler died. Joe would become his heir. I wasn’t concerned about the money, just the plays”  (Schwartz 29 July 1941).

                        Again Schwartz revealed his dark , self-serving, monomaniacal side. Love of theatre superceded every other form of that emotion, even self-love. Over the years, this obsession would surface so many times, in so many ways, that everyone who knew him took it for granted.

                        Between rehearsals at the Columbia, the actor and actress would meet for lunch at Childs. She’d order a sandwich, while he’d have only a cup of coffee. He’d tell Celia he wasn’t hungry, but later she learned that he hadn’t enough money for two meals. Obviously, running the Columbia Theatre wasn’t a very financially rewarding endeavor. Before long, any thought of becoming a prince like Joe Schoengold had vanished, consumed by his growing passion for Celia. And the more he pursued her, the more elusive and evasive she grew. Morris was certain of the reason. “Although Celia didn’t hate me, she was thinking of her future. Her family had suffered enough in the theatre and her mother Dinah used to say, ‘Get married to a man who can give you and your children a satisfying piece of bread’ “  (Schwartz 29 July 1941).

                        Undoubtedly Celia liked and at times loved the marvelously entertaining young man—but not as a husband. His future prospects may have been good, but managing the Columbia was more a labor of love than a means of support. In her memoirs, Ms. Adler recorded her ambivalence toward the relentless actor. “Schwartz was the first grownup young man that courted me, showing me signs of genuine love [. . .]. Was it true love? Or is that how a young girl feels when experiencing her first relationship, when she is standing face to face with a real love affair? My heart refused to answer me”  (273).

                         An incident was supposed to have taken place that, if accurate, confounds the writer seeking clues to the true character of this brilliant and protean figure. Celia and Dinah were preparing to go to Lodz to have erected a headstone on Papa Feinman’s grave. (He’d died there on stage a few years earlier.) Morris paid a call on them to say bon voyage, and to inform them that come the fall, he might be working for David Kessler, in the new theatre being constructed for him on Second Avenue, a half-mile north of the Bowery playhouses. Despite her cruel toying with his affections in the past, Morris had pressed on, hounding her for a commitment. Celia, as usual, put him off again, at least until her return from Poland.

                         On the boat during the long sea voyage to Europe, alone with her mother, Celia broached the general topic of Morris Schwartz. Wisely, she didn’t bring up the subject of marriage, discussing only his talent as an actor. Then, in Poland, in the mingling with Yiddish Theatre people, Celia overheard her mother state as fact the impending marriage of her daughter to ‘that up and coming actor, Morris Schwartz.’ A short while later, in her hotel room, Celia dashed off a letter to Morris, telling of her mother’s approval at long last.

                         The next morning an envelope arrived from Schwartz containing only an invitation to the wedding of Morris Schwartz and Eva Rafalo.

                         Eva Rafalo? Celia knew of her as the 19-year-old sister of Clara Rafalo from Cincinnati, and also an actress. After rereading many times the invitation, she handed it to Dinah. Not another word on that subject was spoken on the interminable journey home, though Celia thought of nothing else, a blend of outrage and shame making her mute and morose. Her first evening back in Manhattan, the pending bridegroom, according to Celia, paid her a visit. His eyes were full of guilt and he was unable to offer a satisfactory explanation for his actions, for diddling her for so long, for the inexplicable deception. Incoherent rambling was the best he could come up with.

                        Years later, Sol Dickstein, owner of the Columbia, told Celia that the man who claimed to adore her had been engaged to Eva for two years, long before he’d come to Philadelphia. Vastly more experienced and infinitely wiser by then, Celia felt no pain, no anger.

                          Actually, Morris and Eva did wed, but the marriage lasted no longer than most honeymoons. From Schwartz’s account of his rather shabby treatment of Bella, the beauty he’d run out on to answer Glickman’s call, she may very well have been Eva Rafalo, both women being from Cincinnati and grocers’ daughters.

                        In the autumn of this pivotal year of Morris’s life, he cryptically announced to the cast at the Columbia that he has to rush to New York and would tell everybody why later, after he got back. The reason was his friend Sholom Perlmutter, Kessler’s prompter, sent for him pronto. “You’re in luck, Morris. You now have the chance to become famous overnight. But you have to learn the role of the attorney in Madame X overnight”  (Schwartz 16 Aug. 1941).

                         The French play by Alexandre Bisson, written in 1908, is a sudsy piece about a woman who is forced to abandon husband and child, then descends into a life of crime. Twenty years later, she re-emerges as the murderer of a man intent on harming her son, who happens by chance to act as her defense attorney. As things occurred in the tight community of Yiddish Theatre, Morris Morrison, his friend and co-performer at the Arch Street had a leading part in the piece and was asked to recommend someone special to play the lawyer. Kessler was out of town on tour and the final choice was left to Perlmutter.

                             “The idea of acting in New York for the first time, so suddenly, without rehearsal or preparation was like trying to swim across the ocean in a couple of hours”  (Schwartz 16 Aug. 1941). Nevertheless, Schwartz left Philadelphia at once. Perlmutter met him at the station, took Morris to his apartment on Avenue A, stuffed him with food, then fed him the lines he had to master by the next day. They remained at the impossible task until 2 AM, until Morris and the attorney had fused into one, until the actor felt confident enough for a visit backstage at the Thalia to meet the cast. Over Sholom’s objections. He didn’t want the boy parading himself before Kessler’s troupe, knowing what bloodthirsty sharks they were, worse than Ida Nathanson. For more than mere sport, they’d pick him apart, enjoy the feeding frenzy.

                        Perlmutter fought Morris as long as possible then consented. At the Thalia, Morris learned how correct the prompter had been. “When I went to my dressing room, the actor Leibush Gold offered me a welcome. ‘Just who are you, kid’ he asked icily, then launched a string of colorful insults”  (Schwartz 20 Aug. 1941). A second actor and Kessler’s other prompter added their corrosive comments to Gold’s. The combined object was to make Schwartz’s one-time-only New York debut as difficult as possible, perhaps even keep the outsider on the outside.

                         Disregarding everything but the chance to excel, Morris eagerly went on that evening. “I played my part with confidence, as if I’d already played the part a hundred times. I did a great job [. . .] not like an actor, but rather like a real young lawyer”  (Schwartz 20 Aug. 1941).

                        Schwartz claimed receiving ten curtain calls (an exaggeration?) accepting the audience’s adulation, but the attempt to intimidate him by Kessler’s crew, then going onstage to give his all, took its toll. After the final bow, he retreated to his dressing room, where he collapsed in a chair, trembling, unable to remove his makeup. He expected a panic attack, but if it took place, it was short-lived, ended by Max Wilner, Kessler’s son-in-law and business partner. He burst into the room, lavish with praise, promising that as soon as Kessler returned to New York, there’d be a contract signing. Guaranteed.

Chapter Seven: "He Was a Bad Teacher, a Mean Teacher."

                       Exhilarated after his one-night triumph, Morris returned to Philadelphia, still on an Alpine high. His fellow actors were more than warm in their congratulations, the news having reached the city faster than the train. Those he wanted most to impress: Celia and her mother were cordial but cool. Dinah however remained firm in her unwillingness to consider him a suitor. Was it his profession still, or the sticky marriage he’d gotten into and out of in record time? Waiting at home for him was a letter from Perlmutter. “Come to New York tomorrow. Kessler wants to hire you. Twelve noon at the Thalia. Don’t expect anything big because Kessler wants everything for almost nothing”  (Schwartz 22 Aug. 1941).

                        He would be returning to New York in grand style after having spent six years in the hinterlands, learning his craft, perfecting other theatrical skills, surviving overly critical audiences, pouting prima donnas of both sexes, and managers better suited to run a cotton plantation—all while keeping body and spirit together on subsistence wages. He’d be arriving at the epicenter of his chosen world, and nothing or no one would keep him from claiming what was his by virtue of skill and hard work. This would be his posture with Kessler, he told himself.

                        Next day at noon at the Thalia “Kessler looked me over with his big, evil-looking eyes that were always bursting with fire, even when he was easy to get along with. His pupils were fixed in one direction, joining his thick black eyebrows, surrounded in a sea of white, like a thief in the forest”  (Schwartz 27 Aug. 1941).

                         Kessler opened with a compliment, recalling one of Morris’s top-notch performances at the Arch Street Theatre. That out of the way, Kessler shouted for his manager to write up a contract for thirty dollars a week, thirty five dollars the next season if Kessler liked him, if he lasted. End of negotiations.

                        In the fall, Schwartz pulled up stakes and returned to New York, eager to get started. As the Second Avenue Theatre was not yet completed, Kessler and company took up temporary residence at the much less impressive Lyric Theatre on Siegel Street in Brooklyn, a thoroughfare lined with stores and pushcarts. Now part of this first-rate troupe in its second-rate theatre, Morris soon discovered that David Kessler was no absentee owner like Largman and Glickman, men more interested in being flashy promoters than dedicated managers. The boss proved to be a hands-on tyrant, an impossible taskmaster, a blusterer in dealing with his actors, cursing and ridiculing them soundly, publicly, in Yiddish, Russian and English. “He was a bad teacher, a mean teacher, who wouldn’t explain, but a teacher from whom I could learn a lot. [. . .]Almost all those who played with him grew to be—some more, some less—actors with well-defined tastes for better acting. His mockery often pushed actors to do better”  (Bialin 7).

                        On September 1, 1911, Kessler’s Second Avenue Theatre opened with befitting hoopla and ceremony. Mayor William Jay Gaynor, one of New York City’s most colorful characters, was on hand, as well as a host of Jewish and Christian dignitaries. The theatre, the finest of it time, was completely modern, with sinfully plush seats and an overhanging balcony for special guests. Kessler had thought in terms of a larger, more refined, better-incomed trade to see him perform. Max Wilner thought only of the bigger box office revenue the change in location would generate. For the premiere, Kessler chose a safe bet, or so he thought: God, Man and Devil. At higher prices than the Thalia would fetch.

                        “The opening was a total fiasco. The management counted on a very huge audience. But they made a gigantic miscalculation. The crowd had already seen [the play] and were not in a rush to pay the higher prices”  (Schwartz 20 Sept 1941). But this would change as other, fresher plays were given and accepted by the public. Business picked up, and more restaurants opened close by to accommodate the increased traffic. Following Kessler’s lead, other Yiddish playhouses would open along the avenue , from First to Fourteenth Street, thus shifting the geographic center of Yiddish Theatre.

                        For the length of his contract, from 1911 to 1913, Morris accepted every role demanded of him by his mentor, a man Schwartz came to love and admire despite his glaring faults. With two productive years under his belt, Morris decided that the time was ripe to obtain his Hebrew Actors Union card, the indisputable badge of legitimacy for Yiddish actors. It would be an undeniable entry into the charmed circle, the steep mountain to be conquered before he could be considered an actor. As has already been established, those within the union did their utmost to keep out those attempting to enter, regardless of ability. The first obstacle for Morris was the one hundred and fifty dollar fee, a near impossible sum for a struggling performer. It was overcome after Morris importuned  his mother, Mendl and a cluster of relatives to pony up the cash, strictly as a loan. Not a cent came from Isaac, who was dead set against throwing away good money in a hopeless cause.

                       The test was scheduled at the union office at 108 Second Avenue, two blocks from the theatre. Morris was given fourteen days to prepare material sent him. He’d be doing monologues from Shomer’s Ezekiel Mazik that had been first directed by Boris Thomashevsky in 1911, starring Rudolph Schildkraut. His friends had two weeks to do some serious politicking to change minds already made up, their votes predetermined. Disregarding the obvious, Morris threw himself into perfecting his material, naïve enough to believe that by sheer ability alone he’d prevail. It was the only game in town, and he had to be one of the players.

                       The day of the test arrived. The union hall was abuzz with actors and actresses who’d known him personally or by reputation during his two seasons with Kessler, most of them avid to trim the upstart’s sails. In fact, they considered it their solemn duty to man the barricades against all invaders, no matter the fact that in the years immediately prior to the First World War, Yiddish Theatre in general was robust, with playhouses proliferating on Second Avenue and spreading to Brooklyn and the Bronx.

                        The test was scheduled for 3 PM. Long before, the noise began as idle chatter and kept rising steadily like water filling a tub. Heated arguments for and against Morris reverberated throughout the room. There were no neutrals. ”The hall was dark. The small electric bulb didn’t illuminate it properly. I saw the audience as in a fog or steam bath. I avoided the actors’ faces and did my monologue with fire and clarity”  (Schwartz 27 Sept. 1941). And when he was done, drained of his boundless energy, he held his breath and waited, nerves frayed to tenuous threads, skittish as a condemned man awaiting an eleventh-hour reprieve from the governor.

                        Overwhelmingly, he was rejected by a vote of 96 to 11.

                        David Kessler was livid when he heard that his favorite protégé had been so badly treated. He took Morris aside, tried comforting him, but without success. Heartsick, Morris couldn’t help wondering if his bright future at the Second Avenue Theatre hadn’t been suddenly eclipsed. Needless worry, as Kessler, who may have been a martinet, was also a loyal friend. He wasn’t about to abandon the fine young actor he’d been cultivating for two years, who could be depended upon to handle any role and at a moment’s notice. He ordered Max Wilner to draw up a new contract for the 1913-1914 season that included a ten-dollar raise. Morris could hardly express his gratitude.

                        Within days after his rejection, Morris was urged by Uncle Mendl to apply for a second test. After a short healing period, he contacted the union and was granted permission to try again. So what would change the votes of those who’d turned thumbs down on him before? He would, by doing even better than before, so smashingly that they’d have to feel remorse and  welcome him in.

                        For the second test however Morris realized that he had to work behind the scene to improve his chance at acceptance, to build a groundswell, as if he were running for Congress. Uncle Mendl, who’d grown extremely knowledgeable about theatre, suggested they go see Abe Cahan, the chief editor of the Forward and the most powerful force in New York Yiddish culture. Mendl told his nephew that no one knew better than Cahan who was talented and who wasn’t. With large measures of hope and fear, Morris went to face the revered giant in his castle at The Forward Building on East Broadway. He’d met Cahan before, in Chicago, at a labor benefit dinner, and recognized him at once as the person contributing most to the overall betterment of American Jewry. He also admired Cahan as a drama critic who favored the kind of theatre that was “an expression of life experience, not just amusement material”  (Schwartz 8 Oct. 1941).

                        Morris screwed up his courage and entered The Forward Building. In the lobby, he nearly changed his mind, recalling how Cahan would terrorize the blustering David Kessler after the actor presented shund plays or strayed from the printed text. Whenever the feared editor was expected to attend a performance, Kessler would diligently bone up on the dialogue and never improvise. With a few strokes of his pen, Cahan could make or break a play. Berating his  own chutzpah, Schwartz entered the Managing Editor’s outer office. He stood in limbo, listening to Cahan in his private office, barking out orders to Hillel Rogoff, his assistant editor, a proven maven himself in Yiddish cultural affairs. A second editor, Leon Gottlieb, approached Morris, asked the lad what he wanted.

                        With admirable self-command, Schwartz identified himself and explained his purpose in coming. Gottlieb listened patiently, then his expression changed from indifference to interest. He knew of the young actor and his problem with the Hebrew Actors Union. Offering sympathy, he led Morris into Cahan’s office, the sanctuary of the almighty arbiter of Jewish culture in America.

                        “Schwartz? Schwartz ?” Cahan plumbed his mind. “Where is he playing? What is he playing in? A newcomer to America?” he asked gruffly  (Schwartz 15 Oct.1941). However, Cahan instantly regretted his slight. He asked Gottlieb what roles had the twenty five year-old played? The assistant editor rattled off a few and Cahan promised to visit Kessler’s theatre very soon to catch the performer. He conceded that Yiddish Theatre could use a transfusion of new blood.

                        ‘Very soon,’ was too indefinite for Morris, as the second test was fast approaching. He asked if he could audition for Cahan here and now, only a few minutes needed to show his stuff, He’d done the same for Elias Glickman. Cahan didn’t object, warming at once to the plea. “A talented actor can perform in a restaurant, even in his home, while a non-talent couldn’t be helped with a crown and a royal costume”  (Schwartz 15 Oct. 1941).

                         Emboldened, Morris gave his audience of two a sample of what he would present to the union: one of Chatzel Drachma’s monologues from God, Man and Devil. He blocked out everything from his mind—the editor’s office, the minimal audience, his previous failure—and gave a superb rendition. When Chatzel became Morris once more, the chief editor ordered Gottlieb to find out why Schwartz had been denied his due.

                         The morning of the second test, a Friday the union hall was packed; many more had shown up for this test than the last. Not only the actor-members, but critics, theatre managers and owners. It was a true Lower East Side happening, and one of the attending journalists quipped that Schwartz couldn’t hope for a larger turnout at his own funeral, which in a large sense this might be should he fail again. If he’d given a bravura performance for Cahan, Morris gave an even more spectacular rendition this Friday afternoon, pulling out all the stops and holding back nothing. Cooling off after, he sweated out the ballot counting alone, with only his thoughts and emotions.

                        He’d won, and by a razor-thin margin, and though he was saddened by how many had voted against him, he was elated that at last he’d have a union card, He could now play in any Yiddish theatre and with a salary more commensurate with his skills. Relaxed and buoyed by his victory, he dove into new roles, expanding his repertoire, learning, always learning, growing. Friends warned him against getting too cocky, too full of himself. There still existed many who couldn’t abide him for his talent, his aggressiveness. Modesty was always required, and a union card was no free pass to become careless or lazy.

                         During the years from 1911 to 1918, while Schwartz was serving his apprenticeship with David Kessler, not very much progress was made in the cause of a more literary Yiddish Theatre. Any sincere trend in this direction was met by three forces of resistance present since the very beginning, when the Hebrew Opera and Dramatic Company presented The Witch at Turn Hall on East 4th Street in 1882.

                        The first serious obstacle was the all-pervasive influence of the star system, where the leading player would appropriate a role whether or not it dramatically suited him. “The stars of great talent such as Adler and Kessler could really portray the role and the public would believe them. But with it they set a bad example for those who came after them, when performers with scant talent permitted themselves to attempt the same”  (Adler 86). With these lesser talents and even with the brightest luminaries, Yiddish Theatre was shortchanged in the fare offered the public. The star, who was often the manager and the director, would decide the play and the cast regardless of suitability. The piece’s author was frequently forced to tailor the role to the star's tastes.

                        In effect, what ‘starism’ did was smother the star’s rivals in the very circumscribed and competitive world where opportunity for advancement was severely limited and the laws of the jungle prevailed. The result of course was not the play being the thing, but who the star was.

                        The second detriment to the more creative theatre movement initiated by Jacob Gordin was the benefit ticket system. Traditionally, new plays were reserved for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but to keep the playhouse alive and solvent during the week, ‘literary’ plays and experimental works were presented then. These benefit audiences were often first-timers, introduced to Yiddish Theatre by the sponsors of the various organizations, clubs, benevolent associations and labor unions that working class Jews belonged to. Discounts to these groups ranged as high as seventy-five percent, while tickets to their members were resold at full price, the difference used to support that particular group. The money given to theatre managers went a long way to cover a weekly nut of from three to five-thousand dollars.

                         With benefit money so vital, it’s no wonder that theatre managers did their best to please the organizations’ sponsors with known, pre-sold winners, with what had always worked in the past and was sure to work well in the future. With working class audiences in the majority and quite content with shund, small wonder that the fare presented held little cultural or  literary value. It was the same material that had enthralled Uncle Mendl.

                            And lastly, Yiddish Theatre stagnated because of the mindset of its managers, who “were obligated to satisfy the committees [. . .] and the societies that purchased the benefit performances for their organizations. Thus the theatre benefit trade governed the repertoire of the established theatres”  (Lifson 252).

                       Jacob Gordin was dead by 1908 and his influence after waning. Shund reigned supreme once more, if it indeed it had ever abated. Only Kessler, Adler and occasionally Thomashevsky kept the flame alive by resurrecting Gordin’s better plays, and by offering—if only rarely—younger playwrights such as Leon Kobrin, Sholem Asch, Ossip Dymov and David Pinski, all of whom were trying mightily to break into the profession.

                        Yiddish Theatre may have been stuck in neutral, but American Theatre was beginning to stir itself—not on Broadway, but off the beaten track. In 1915, The Neighborhood Playhouse was started on Grand and Pitt Streets by the Lewisohn sisters, as an outgrowth of the Henry Street Settlement House. The Playhouse, designed specifically as a holy shrine for art pieces, presented the Jewish community on the Lower East Side with the newest and finest in English-speaking and Yiddish plays. A year earlier, the Washington Square Players developed from the elite intellectual group known as The Liberal Club, a theatrical company that offered full-length plays that ran counter to the mostly inane pap appearing on Broadway. Among the playwrights introduced were Eugene O’Neill, George Bernard Shaw, Chekhov and Maeterlinck. Later, it would transmute itself into the Theatre Guild.

                        A third movement toward better theatre during this period was the Provincetown Playhouse on Cape Cod, but transplanted to Greenwich Village. At first, one-acters were given, then full-length works by O’Neill, John Reed, Maxwell Bodenheim and Paul Green. More than strictly a theatre company, the Provincetown was also a laboratory for training young playwrights and taking risks on experimental works.

                        But with the coming of a cataclysmic war, there were also changes that would filter down to Yiddish Theatre. The younger generation was replacing the old, even as the old ways hung on like survivors clinging to a life raft. For a while immigration was halted as the war intensified. With their ancestral homes cut off, Jews turned their attention to the very circumstances of living in America. The new Yiddish playwrights, reflecting the changes, would begin to place more and more emphasis on surviving in the Golden Medina. Theatre people like Morris Schwartz would sense the shift in wind direction and chafe at doing the same old things in the same old ways. When the time was right, they would rise up and take action.

Chapter Eight: “I’ll Be Looking For Greener Pastures.”

                        The assassination in 1914 of Arch Duke Ferdinand in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo ignited a powder keg that had been smoldering for decades. With Europe devastated by conflict, America was transformed into democracy’s arsenal, its factories from coast to coast turning out supplies to feed the Allies’ war machine. Employment, prices for all goods and services, profits, and the pace of life in America rose, and with everything else, America’s influence and power in the world.

                        Rising too in the swell of prosperity was Yiddish Theatre, especially at David Kessler’s Second Avenue Theatre. In every Jewish restaurant and store along the Avenue, photographs of Kessler’s troupe adorned the walls as if they were saints and presidents. Not only did East Siders flock to see the newest Kessler piece, but Jews from every neighborhood in New York came in droves.

                        In May of 1914, after the season ended and the war in Europe was but a month away, Morris married Anna Bordofsky, a twenty-four-year-old, oddly beautiful girl from Brest-Litovsk in Russia, where the treaty ending hostilities between Germany and Russia would be signed three years later. She’d been in America for a decade. The marriage was to last, despite enormous pressures on it, over forty-six years, ended only by Schwartz’s death in 1960. About their courtship, little is known, though if Morris was true to form, it must have been a rocky one, the suitor a man of strong, often ungovernable emotions. They’d met during Morris’s apprenticeship at the Second Avenue Theatre. She may have been an incipient actress originally, but becoming and remaining Mrs. Schwartz, appealed more to her than a career in the limelight. They were, like so many other couples, young, poor and wildly in love. Together, they shared the same dream of success and fame.

                       On the surface, everything seemed rosy at the Second Avenue Theatre, but inches below, a veritable cauldron of intrigue as convoluted as a Balkan political plot was eroding the playhouse and the man whose name was part of the title. Though David Kessler happened to be divorced, with a young daughter to raise, he’d met and fallen in love with Rachel Wilner, a recently divorced woman, mother of five and proprietor of Wilner’s Full Dress Parlor, a highly regarded ladies shop on the Lower East Side. After a tempestuous courtship, they married. At once, David opened his magnanimous arms and embraced Rachel’s children, especially her two sons, Max and Harry, installing them at the Thalia, Max as manager, Harry in the box office.

                       As with most family-operated businesses, there were plenty of problems besides those engendered by the normal routine of commerce. Morris did his best to remain aloof from the constant bickering between David and Max. Instead, pupil and teacher jousted on the higher plane of theatre: the plays selected, the shund Kessler presented to pay the bills, and the basic acting techniques that marked their differences. “I brought books to Kessler to demonstrate that it’s not the actor’s role to cry on stage, but to make the audience weep. I would give examples from Shakespeare [. . .] but Kessler was not convinced. He claimed that talented actors do not depend on books to teach them how to act”  (Schwartz 18 Nov. 1941).

                         Easily ignited, especially after a run-in with Rachel’s sons, Kessler would strike out blindly, embarrass his protégé during rehearsals over interpretation, use of body motions, inflection of voice. The exchange would end in Kessler blowing up, becoming furious, then lighting a cigar before executing an about-face and stalking off somewhere to puff away and decompress in isolation. Leaving Schwartz to carry on as best he could, feelings battered, faith shaken, muttering to himself and wondering how much longer would he be able to tolerate the giant who was being hewn down little by little each day. In seething anger, Schwartz silently swore, “I’ll be looking for green pastures”  (Schwartz 18 Nov. 1941).

                        Yet there were times he and Kessler got along splendidly. And hadn’t David Kessler been his greatest champion in an hour of extreme need? Gratitude however can be the most fleeting of emotions, and the truth was Schwartz had been experiencing growing pains as an artist, and as a young husband with higher ambitions.

                           Joseph Edelstein prided himself on knowing what was happening in every Yiddish theatre in New York. He was one of those clever non-acting theatre owners who’d made several fortunes by giving the Yiddish public what it wanted, which was cheap, lugubrious melodrama. Concerned only with the bottom line “he was no expert in acting, but was an excellent businessman. His definition of the theatre was a comparison with a grocery store. When a customer came in to buy bagels, cheese, herring or sour milk, he had to be treated nicely. The same should apply to the theatre”  (Schwartz 18 Nov. 1941).

                        Out of desperation to escape Kessler’s often stifling orbit, Morris secretly agreed to meet Joe Edelstein at the Actors Club for lunch. Right off, the very direct Edelstein offered to feature him at the People’s, one of Edelstein’s properties, in better plays, as well as the troupe’s manager. Joe had pushed all of Schwartz’s buttons, dazzling him. He’d be onstage at the legendary People’s, which still had a reputation for grandeur. The salary proposed was $120 a week, far more than Kessler was paying him. Persuaded, overwhelmed actually, Morris signed on the dotted line. He knew full well however that he’d have to eventually face those advocates—led by Cahan—for better theatre, who would be gunning for him should Edelstein fail to live up to his promises. But Joe was a man of his word, a rara avis among his fellow owners.

                        At his first rehearsal next season of Libin’s The Angry Mother-in-law, Morris realized he’d made a horrible mistake. The play was worse than terrible, and at the first reading with full cast, he asked himself why he’d left Kessler. A strong sense of shame overcame him and he’d give anything to undo the damage, to return to the Second Avenue. Alone with Anna, his new bride, he admitted his recklessness. He’d been an overreaching fool who’d made an unwise career move. From the very start, she’d tried reasoning with him when he told her of his intention to sign with Edelstein. She’d cautioned that shifting to the People’s would prove to be a step backwards. His future and the future of Yiddish Theatre, his kind of Yiddish Theatre, resided on Second Avenue.

                        This was a pattern to be repeated throughout Schwartz’s career: Anna the prudent businessperson offering sound advice, Morris the impractical hothead, never fully considering the hazards, the end results. It is said with much accuracy that Schwartz would never have been able to remain afloat financially without Anna. She took full charge of the checkbook and the province of dimes and dollars. Inspiration was his forte, not practicality. He would never have soared so high if Anna didn’t provide the ballast to anchor him to earth.

                        To everyone’s surprise except Edelstein’s, the play and Schwartz scored big. After the piece’s full run however, the obligation to Joe considered met, Morris asked for and received a release from his contract. Not long after, Morris was summoned to Kessler’s dressing room. A warm embrace from the master—and a question: when would Morris be ready to work again? So Schwartz returned to the fold, doing loads of shund, but also performing in the quality plays he loved. For the 1915-1916 season, he was allowed to coordinate a benefit evening for himself.

                        Actors’ benefits were a vital part of a Yiddish performer’s income. They were labeled ‘honor nights,’ which was less ignoble-sounding than charity. When an actor signed contract at the beginning of the season, there would always be a clause entitling him such an evening and from half to all the receipts. “Ambitious actors would do it because on that evening they would appear in roles they wanted to play but couldn’t otherwise because of their status in the theatre. For others, it was simply a matter of making the few hundred dollars they needed so badly”  (Adler 125). With Schwartz, it was never the money but always the chance to do good theatre and shine at it. For his first benefit, he chose Ibsen’s Ghosts, assigning the plum role of Oswald to himself.

                        Schwartz reported that the benefit was an unqualified success despite a prediction of failure from David Kessler. When Morris had arranged the evening and told his boss what play he’d chosen, Kessler warned him in his usual caustic manner against presenting such radically far out material, especially from a non-Jewish, humorless playwright. Not a song, nor a dance, nor a single laugh in the entire script. Benefits, Kessler reminded him, were for filling the theatre using accepted crowd-pleasers in order to maximize the receipts, even if the play was    ancient and shopworn. But as he’d done in the past, and during his entire career, Schwartz defied the obvious, the traditional, the accepted wisdom of his elders, and went with his own internal soundings.

                        The morning after the benefit, Kessler greeted him with an off-putting comment “So, you took the audience with drums and trumpets. From now on you’ll have to keep them on a high plateau. You’ve poisoned them with literature. They won’t accept less”  (Schwartz 18 Nov. 1941). In one of his blackest and bitterest moods, perhaps weary of trying to enlighten an audience that only wanted to be entertained, Kessler had revealed his contempt for them. Of course there was no way for Schwartz to know that many years later he too would become as depleted and disheartened as Kessler, though he’d never grow disillusioned with the idea of mounting great theatre, never surrender to cynicism about the Yiddish playgoer’s lack of intelligence or his desire to be honestly moved, even if that special audience would slowly melt away.

                       The more enmeshed in these benefit evenings he became, the more Morris loved the involvement. He was able to use the many skills required in cherrypicking the cast, holding meetings to discuss interpretation of the main theme and the individual characters, the production details, the lighting, choice of music and the myriad of secondary people to deal with. Then the next level of rehearsing with his actors and actresses. He found that he actually relished the initial chaos then bringing order out of it, something akin to what God did in creating His world, but longer and with more confusion. He could only admire how the lesser deities such as Adler, Thomashevsky and his own Kessler would do it over and over again, season after season. It was after one of these ambitious projects that Morris knew he’d be leaving Kessler again, and this time permanently. Kessler was rapidly falling apart, and with him, the theatre he’d built. He was becoming more and more indifferent, giving mechanical performances on stage. By 1917, the sad, embattled titan was relying to a great extent on inferior material, much to Schwartz’s disgust. “I have to escape a theatre that permits such mediocre plays, an offense to an actor, an artist. I have to save myself”  (Schwartz 22 Nov. 1941).

                         In defense of David Kessler, the man was suffering enormously with family problems that seemed to have no solution. He became bogged down in a long and acrimonious lawsuit with Max Wilner and lost his beloved playhouse, which bore more than merely his name. Banished from the premises, Kessler became a journeyman actor, rootless after decades of being practically an institution.

                         While negotiations had been going on to have Kessler ousted—he’d refused to sign the documents, insisting that his name must be first removed from the theatre everywhere it appeared—Morris stepped into the vacuum created by the turmoil. He directed a few plays with himself in the starring role. The news in the cafes on the Bowery and along Second Avenue (probably spread by Wilner) heralded the rise of the youthful successor and of the revamped theatre.

                        With Kessler’s departure a done deal, Morris met with him to say he’d be leaving too, in a show of solidarity. Perhaps this was merely a token gesture, an attempt to make up for deserting Kessler a couple of years before. Deeply touched, Kessler could only respond with abject silence, his eyes becoming pools of tears. If the beau geste was indeed made, the fact remains that after Kessler had been aced out of his own house, Morris did not leave in his wake. Wilner, now in full command, asked Morris to take over Kessler’s favorite roles. According to Schwartz, he refused flat out, but was ordered to by Hershel Zuckerberg, the genial but dictatorial head of the Hebrew Actors Union. The Second Avenue couldn’t survive a second hole in its troupe, Zuckerberg was said to have told him. Dozens would be thrown out of work.

                        And so Morris stayed, for reasons known only to himself, ambition surely high on the list. A marriage of convenience, he called it though Celia Adler detected the realpolitik in the arrangement. “In a word, Wilner saw Schwartz as his winning lottery ticket for the future of his business in the Yiddish Theatre. No sooner had he thrown Kessler out of his theatre than did he make Schwartz his right hand. He allowed him to be the director at the Second Avenue Theatre until the end of the season”  (426).

                       The year Kessler was booted from his tiny kingdom, Czar Nicholas was evicted from a much vaster one. On March 5th, 1917, the Russian Revolution began with rioting and strikes over food shortages and the nation’s continued participation in the war. Jews the world over rejoiced at the prospect of the hated Romanovs losing their thrones. The Great War had been in progress for three horrific years, and finally on April 6th, America entered the fray. By June, the first divisions of the AEF landed in France, commanded by General John J. Pershing, whose nickname was ‘Blackjack’ because he’d once led a regiment of Negro soldiers. Before this bloody year was over, in September, Kerensky would proclaim Russia a republic, only to be overthrown two months later by Lenin and his Bolsheviks.

                        The world was changing precipitously and forever.

Chapter Nine: “The Theatre Must Be a Sort of Sacred Place.”

                         “Everything is in a tumult over the great bomb that the young actor Morris Schwartz threw at the Yiddish Theatre. We mean about Schwartz becoming a director and securing a lease on the German Irving Place Theatre on 14th Street,” wrote A Theatre Patriote (a pen name) in the Forward. ”Many old theatrical producers have been going around trying to secure a theatre and then suddenly, just like that, a young actor gets a theatre”  (15 Feb. 1918).

                        It was by no means ‘just like that,’ capturing a playhouse in an expanding market with a limited number of sites (eight regular theatres and two presenting a mix of vaudeville and motion pictures) in Manhattan and Brooklyn, all of them set to open for the 1918-1919 season.

                        Toward the close of 1917, Schwartz told his boss, the surviving member of the Kessler/Wilner partnership, that it would be his final season at the Second Avenue. He was through playing trash and planned to open his own shop dedicated to the classics. Max expressed his regret at losing the very excellent young man who’d done quite nicely as temporary director and general all round actor. Nailing down the Irving Place Theatre would be an impossibility, Wilner told his brash employee, houses being so scarce, and this particular one owned by a Gentile. But the more Wilner considered losing Schwartz—who would certainly siphon off his best players to the bargain, perhaps even open up within walking distance of the theatre wrested from Kessler—the more interesting the move became. Wilner wondered how the loss might be turned into a gain.

                        “He asked me how much money I had. I replied about $2000 of my own and another $2000 I could borrow. Wilner said get your share and I’ll invest from $10,000 to $12,000. We’ll become partners” (Schwartz 26 Nov. 1941). Whether Wilner actually believed this overly aggressive hustler would actually obtain a lease on the Irving Place is moot. The point was, Schwartz believed it and went about the serious business of getting one, as if he believed that wanting something and getting it were parts of the same continuum.

                        In his free, restless hours, Morris had often dropped in to observe the German plays at the Irving Place Theatre and got to know Rudolph Christians, its producer. He knew that hard times had fallen on the playhouse because of the wartime anti-German sentiment sweeping the nation, despite twenty-seven successful years in operation. Morris had also met Dr. Max Winder, its business manager, who’d listened to Schwartz’s plan and suggested he go to the building’s owner and make an offer. The theatre was in a deep financial hole, losing money steadily. The owner, General Sessions Court Judge Thomas Crain was not interested in a deal however. He was willing to tough out the war now that the American doughboys were there to clean up the mess. With peace and the anti-German prejudice subsiding, things would be back to normal in short order. Morris made his pitch regardless, presenting letters of recommendation from Christians and Winder.

                       Perhaps Schwartz’s brass and elan changed the Judge’s mind. More likely it was the sea of red ink the Irving Place Theatre was drowning in. A month later, Crain sent Morris a proposal offering a ten-year lease at a fair rent, an eleven-year renewal option, and a request for $5000 as security deposit. “I ran to Wilner like a crazy one, and he told me to get my $4000. I brought him the money, then his lawyer took over. Like an inexperienced actor, I kept signing papers”  (Schwartz 26 Nov. 1941). Later, Morris was to discover that the contract he so willingly signed without benefit of his own attorney loaded the deck in Wilner’s favor. Naively, he believed that Wilner would give him carte blanche to create an Art Theatre, one with choice actors and worthy plays.

                        Much too soon, the lack of marketplace acumen and the absence of an attorney was to cost Schwartz dearly. Anna was not involved in the contract signing and therefore could not voice an objection to its one-sidedness. It is doubtful, had she expressed a negative opinion, if Morris would have listened. He was totally hypnotized by the thought of having his own troupe like Kessler and Jacob Adler, except his would be better, truer to his own ideals. He’d avoid the pitfalls of playing down to the public with shund. The fine points and small print in the contract were of minor importance by comparison.

                        In February, the Theatre Patriote of the Forward, noting Schwartz’s fantastic coup, expressed a measure of mistrust about what Morris would do with the Irving Place, having seen other fiery young reformers come and go over the years. “Any day, he’ll outline his plans. Our young actors and actresses, Schwartz will snap up [. . .]. Then we’ll see if they go into the new temple and play new things, or if they will fall back on the old theatrical tricks”  (15 Feb. 1918).

                        The ink barely dry on the contract, Morris began a high-powered campaign to generate interest in his dream come to fruition. A manifesto of sorts appeared simultaneously on March 2nd in both the Day (the second most influential Yiddish paper in New York) and in the Forward, under the provocative title: “Can New York Support a Better Yiddish Theatre?”  It began provocatively: “For the last few years there’s been a lot of talk about plans to open a people’s theatre [. . .] where one could stage better plays. In that time, I’ve been carrying around in me this plan to put together a company that will be devoted to performing superior literary works that will bring honor to the Yiddish Theatre”  (Day 2 March 1918).

                       After a long, rambling discourse on theatre economics and other problems in operating a theatre in the current business climate, he formally announced that he’d secured the Irving Place Theatre. That stated, Schwartz went on to outline his own agenda for successful, quality theatre based on smaller operating costs in a smaller playhouse. It included a grandiose program of not only superior artist and superior play, but the installing of a subscription so that a foundation of involved  audience members would be in place as a source of funds. “This theatre must be a sort of sacred place, governed by a festive and artistic spirit”  (Day 2 Mar. 1918).

                        This was quite a tall order for Yiddish Theatre, where historically shund had been king since its inception. But as Sandrow has pointed out, Schwartz’s chimeric tenets had been promulgated before by the Vilna Troupe and the Moscow Yiddish State Art Theatre. (261). With such worthy goals expressed  in typical Schwartz exuberance, it’s no wonder that he made of himself a huge target to the Yiddish press and its hardcore readership of ideologues and cynics. Idealists, especially the outspoken, flamboyant kind, are a newspaperman’s red flag, the more to deflate after reality erodes their bright and shiny principles and sends them crashing to earth. And so, after the March Manifesto, the knowing men of the Yiddish Fourth Estate sharpened their pens and waited.

                        On that subject, and perhaps as a response to Schwartz’s pronouncements, a columnist wryly diagnosed: “Literature in the Yiddish Theatre is like a dangerously ill patient in a hospital [. . .]. You tiptoe around the patient so that he doesn’t die. You’re afraid to utter a single word. You’re very quiet and slow so the patient, God forbid, won’t catch a cold. An earnest dramatic work lives a sick life on stage”  (Forward 8 Mar. 1918).

                        Nevertheless, Schwartz began constructing his troupe with, of all people, Celia Adler, who since their days together in Philadelphia, had become an amazingly skilled actress. Schwartz knew that if he could win her services, others of equal abilities would soon follow, not like a Judas goat, but as a guiding light toward better theatre. Celia was working at the former Kessler theatre, but like Schwartz, she was dissatisfied with the material being foisted on the actors and the public. Schwartz knew instinctively that she would jump at the chance to work strictly literary pieces; she would be the crown jewel in the Irving Place collection. “He bewitched me with the beautiful colors he used to depict his fantasy theatre. He wanted me for his leading lady. He needed me to help him. [. . . ] He promised me that I would be advertised together with him, that nobody would get as large a billing as the two of us”  (430).

                        Soon after Celia came onboard, he spoke to her about bringing Bertha Gersten into the fold. A twenty-four year-old sensuous beauty, she’d already attained stardom at Boris Thomashevsky’s National Theatre when Morris approached her. Gersten told him that she wanted a guarantee of leading lady before she’d consider leaving Boris. Betwixt and between, wanting Gersten as his romantic lead, Morris went back to Celia, who had that position already locked in by contract. Humble and contrite, Schwartz begged Celia to reconsider their agreement. She relented and gave in. It was, after all, a rare and wonderful journey they were embarking on, and, truth be told, Bertha’s demand was not unreasonable. Schwartz then applied his considerable powers of persuasion to effect a compromise. Celia and Bertha would be billed as co-leading ladies along with Morris, a kind of ménage à trois they all could live with.

                       With two quality players safely accounted for, Schwartz went back once more to Celia for a third. “He wanted Ludwig Satz [. . . ] and only I could convince him. Satz had recently been hailed by the public and the press for his performances with Jacob Adler at the Grand Street Theatre. He felt very loyal to Adler, who’d given him his first chance to shine”  (Adler 432). Satz had been a great comedic actor for many years and lately a smash in Dymov’s The World in Flames. He was also married to Celia’s younger sister Lillie, and she appealed to Satz as a relative with his best interests at heart, even if it meant he should leave her father’s employ.

                        Satz continued to resist, but the onslaught of Celia, Lillie and their mother Dinah Feinman hammered away about his sacred duty to become an integral part of this historic project. In the end, Satz caved in and became the third pillar in Schwartz’s temple of better theatre. For her part, Celia felt no sense of betrayal in taking Ludwig away from her father, her faith in Schwartz that strong.

                        Anna Appel was also hired and remained for ten years. A relative unknown, she’d also worked for The Eagle, and before him, Max Gabel. After leaving Schwartz, she would oscillate between Yiddish and English-language theatre. Jacob Ben-Ami was among the last players engaged for the 1918-1919 season, and the most troublesome. As it worked out, because of this problem, Schwartz won his enduring high place in Yiddish Theatre. Ben-Ami  was a rara avis in his chosen profession, an intellectual, an ideologue with a well-defined philosophy on theatre, not an actor like Schwartz who’d learned his craft on- and backstage. Like so many Yiddish actors before him, Ben-Ami had left home in his teens to join a traveling company, performing in Odessa, Vilna and London. He emigrated to America in 1913. A handsome, dark-haired, noble-featured man, with the air and manners of a university professor, Ben-Ami came to New York City in 1915 to work for the Lewisohn sisters at The Neighborhood Playhouse. He was recruited for seventy-five dollars a week by Schwartz, but only if he could perform a literary play of his choice. “He was adamant about this point. Schwartz was afraid it might have a negative effect on the theatre. The plan was to perform a literary play every Wednesday. Ben-Ami called it Literary Wednesday. Schwartz countered that because he would lose money on the deal every week, Ben-Ami must also agree to take five dollars off his salary”  (Adler 434).

                        This statement is of course in direct opposition to Schwartz’s stated and published principles. It would on the surface indicate that despite the flowery rhetoric about theatre being a holy place, where literature would be worshipped, Schwartz was doing business as usual the old way, as Kessler had run his playhouse and disgusted Morris to the point where he simply had to get out.

                        Most likely, the truth will never be known. Celia Adler had her axe to grind with Schwartz for both obvious and unstated reasons, and Ben-Ami had his troubles with the supremely pragmatic Morris, who practiced as well a different kind of idealism. Schwartz claimed that he’d been completely boxed in by Wilner, that the choice of plays was taken out of his hands, regardless of what he’d proclaimed in the Forward and the Day. Wilner, who would rather read a healthy profit-and-loss statement than a beautiful piece of playwriting, had in effect clipped his partner’s wings. Schwartz’s wonderful impulses, at least initially, had to be put on hold, perhaps until he’d gotten a firmer grip at the Irving Place. If and when Ben-Ami had traded a five-dollar cut in pay for the assurance of Literary Wednesdays, it had to have been after Morris read the fine print in his contract with Max and had to swallow the humiliation.

                       Making the best of a bad situation, Schwartz abandoned himself to the new season. As did Celia. She sincerely believed that if Morris kept his word, they would indeed begin a second Golden Age of Yiddish Theatre, just as her father and Gordin had been responsible for the first. “I sensed the same feeling coming from every member of the company when we all went onstage for the first time. In everyone’s eyes, in their shining faces, you could see the joyous anticipation”  (Adler 433).

                        To a great degree, the season of 1918 was the best of times to introduce something extraordinary. War-generated money was flowing freely, filtering through every layer and division of American society, even trickling to Second Avenue. Moreover, Yiddish Theatre was mired in mediocrity and trash, ready to be rescued and overhauled.

                        By early August, nothing theatrically newsworthy had happened, except that Boris Thomashevsky would open the National with some cheap melodrama, and that the high and mighty Mr. Schwartz, after much fanfare, would set Yiddish Theatre on fire at the Irving Place Theatre (which he all but stole from the Germans with space at such a premium). Things were falling into place by mid-August, only two weeks from the official opening of the new season. Joe Schoengold would be playing the Liberty Theatre in Brooklyn. Jacob Adler at the Second Avenue would be doing Zolatarevsky’s The Governor. Max Gabel was to premier his knock-off version of the Broadway hit Common Clay. At the Lenox in Harlem was Willie Siegel’s new musical comedy Orphans of the World would be the curtain-raiser at the Lyric in Brooklyn. Not to be left behind, Kessler would attempt A Woman’s Duty at the People’s.

                        The real guessing game that turbulent preseason was what Morris Schwartz would do to live up to his advanced billing. A delicious rumor circulated that even before the start of the season, there was trouble in Paradise. Celia and Satz, it was said, was feuding with the boy wonder and were considering leaving, going out on their own. The details of the supposed dispute were never aired by Celia or Morris. Maybe the troupe was in rebellion over the first selection, that it was hardly the way to kick off the Second Golden Age.Or just maybe the rumor was one of those trifles newspaper people regularly send out to liven a dull news day. Nothing came of it however, although internal dissension did rock the brave band of brothers and sisters later on, nearly sinking the entire enterprise.

                         Much has been written about the first production by this greatly anticipated company, some of it contradictory, some of it maliciously slanted to make Schwartz the heavy, most of it simply untrue. The logical starting place for answers is the advertisement appearing in the Forward on August 15th. “Morris Schwartz opens his Irving Place Theatre with David Pinski’s new drama that will be an honor for the Jewish people. Look for the coming announcements. Groups, lodges, societies, unions, Workmen’s Circle branches—if you want a moral and financial success, buy your benefit tickets at the Irving Place Theatre.”

                        The name of the Pinski piece was not given, reflecting perhaps an uncertainty in choice, but not direction. He was clearly trying to fulfill his promise of quality theatre. Wilner hadn’t as yet lowered the beam on him over the season’s opener. Schwartz indicated that the starter he’d selected was not a Pinski work, but Peretz Hirshbein’s The Blacksmith’s Daughters. In terms of artistry, the two playwrights were on the same high level, among the finest Yiddish dramatists ever, though Hirshbein’s works were seldom produced, while Pinski enjoyed relatively greater success. Set in an Eastern European shtetl, The Blacksmith’s Daughters “is a picture that needs neither plot nor climax. Its joy lies in its refreshingly ecstatic naturalism, its delightful characterizations, human point of view, charming episodes [and] snatches of folk and religious song”  (Lifson 100).

                       It appears that Schwartz was honoring his commitment, whether it was Hirshbein or Pinski served up that opening night. But then Max Wilner stepped in, exerted his authority, demanding instead a standard drama or operetta to jumpstart the season. Stella Wilner, Max’s wife and an astute businessperson, agreed with her husband, stating as gospel that if they bombed the first time at bat, all was lost. Between Max and Stella only, this vital decision was made.

                       Morris was mortified. He responded with a loud and long objection. Wilner suggested that the two men talk it over like gentlemen and took Schwartz for a ride through Central Park, far from the hectic, demanding pace of the theatre, in the serenity of this Manhattan oasis.

                        Max Wilner began with a short lecture. “A theatre piece is like a machine with a small screw and a large screw. In The Blacksmith’s Daughters, the big screw, the climax, is missing. We have to choose a play with a climax”  (Schwartz  29 Nov. 1941). The production with all its screws in place selected by the Wilners was Libin’s Man and His Shadow, which was far below the standards originally set in the manifesto. Morris knew of the work and told Max, in the spirit of harmony, that he’d do the play for the second or third offering. Max refused the compromise, reminding Morris about the clause in their contract giving Wilner the final say in the matter.

                        What was Schwartz to do? Call the whole thing off? Give Celia Adler and the others their notices? Walk away from all his dreams and hard work, not to mention the $4000, half of which wasn’t even his?

                          The play itself was serviceable as standard melodrama. It concerns a musician with a wife and child, and the younger woman he falls hopelessly in love with. Not the most original of premises, the subject of many a woeful letter to the Forward’s ‘Bintel Brief ‘ column. Torn between passion and obligation, the musician falls asleep one night and dreams that the lovers unite. In due time, he grows old. But the younger woman he’s forsaken wife and child for leaves him. He suffers, becomes sick and stumbles toward the grave. Then he wakens, rethinks his dalliance, and returns to home and hearth. The moral is all too obvious: family responsibility before personal happiness.

                       Schwartz assigned himself the part of the musician. Celia was his wife, Bertha Gersten played the young girl and Satz took the role of a comic waiter. Despite the lesser material and his vows to the public, Schwartz thoroughly enjoyed working with his carefully chosen crew.

                       Man and His Shadow received disappointing reviews. the Forward’s drama critic, Hillel Rogoff, whom Morris had met in Cahan’s office the day that unusual audition had taken place, ignored the play entirely even if commenting favorably on the actors, the director and the sets. Alter Epstein of the Day, who wrote under the pseudonym of Uriel Mazik, singled out Morris for special abuse: “He was too stiff, too formal, and superficial”  (28 Sept 1918). Another keen observer of the Yiddish Theatre scene indicated that the play failed because with so much melodrama opening that season, there was little purpose in hiking over to see yet another one.  (Zohn 140).

                         Their knives sharpened, the Yiddish press slashed and cut at this parvenu who’d promised much and delivered little. Schwartz had gulled them, was the opinion of those parched and weary wanderers in the arid desert of shund. Never mind why Morris hadn’t been able to deliver the goods. From this first misstep, the Yiddish purists would view anything Schwartz did and said with skepticism and a readiness to find fault.

                        Man and His Shadow ran for about a month, mainly due to the curiosity of those attracted to the advanced publicity and caustic press. Schwartz knew at once that he had a flop on his hands. His many adversaries at the Café Royale (the in place for theatre people and buffs) were overjoyed, predicting a quick death for the Irving Place Theatre. Max invited his junior partner to dinner the day after the opening, and over steak and potatoes, dished out a few words of consolation. “Don’t take it too hard. A play is a blind object; nobody can predict its success or failure—not the author, not the actors. We won’t give up. Get ready to do another one”  (Schwartz 29 Nov. 1941).

                        Without recriminations about the past, Schwartz asserted himself, demanding the right to determine the plays from now on. Could he do any worse than the Wilners had? Max consented but cautioned Morris to hold down the costs. Schwartz recorded this moment of concession as the true start of the Yiddish Art Theatre, though he didn’t call it that, not until sometime later. As if to memorialize the occasion, Schwartz assumed a more befitting identity. From that day forward he listed himself as Maurice Schwartz, the way Abram of the Bible was transformed into Abraham, after his covenant with God.

                       At about the same time, even more profound events were taking place in the world at large. The war was at last lurching toward its bloody conclusion in the trenches of France. In July, in the tiny Ural Mountains village of Ekaterinburg, the local branch of Lenin’s proletarian dictatorship executed Czar Nicholas and his entire family. And while Man and His Shadow was in rehearsal, the scourge of influenza was mercifully abating, after having killed over 20 million worldwide, more than double those lost in the war to end all wars. But to the Yiddish Theatre devotee, the opening of the new season obliterated every other concern, large and small.

Chapter Ten: “Our Policy: The Best Plays and Players.”

                         For the next five productions, Schwartz appeared to be stumbling around in the dark, rudderless and without a clear idea where he was heading. He boasted the finest aggregate of performers on the current Yiddish stage, perhaps on any Yiddish stage ever. He wanted the best plays for them. The season would run for nine months and his Irving Place company wouldn’t last much longer if he kept producing box office flops.

                        On September 25th, he gave Anna Appel a ‘benefit evening,’ permitting the worthy actress to demonstrate her abilities in Mrs. Warren’s Profession, a doubly daring bit of bravado on Schwartz’s part: introducing the clever George Bernard Shaw to the Yiddish Theatre patron, offering a most unusual view of prostitution. When first presented on the Broadway stage in 1905, the work was shut down after an avalanche of protest.

                        The very next evening, Schwartz put on Baylke the Marionette by Berl Botwinick, who edited the “Theatre News” column of the Forward from 1914 to 1922, then later its entire theatre page. The play had been a smash in 1913 at the Royal Theatre on the Bowery, starring Malvina Lobel and featuring Schwartz. But it drew few favorable notices from the Yiddish press as the second offering at the Irving Place.

                        A week later, the sure-fire Gordin/Adler hit Sappho was played, again without enticing the critics or the audience. Floundering, it seemed, and probably straining the tenuous relationship between himself and Wilner, Maurice presented Uriel Acosta by the Christian German playwright Karl Gutzkov. Written in 1846 by a member of the very liberal Young Germany clique, the work concerns the vicious religious intolerance by the authorities against a 17th Century marano. The piece soon found its way to the very core of Yiddish Theatre literature. But a tepid response was generated by this powerful yet overused workhorse. Next came Schiller’s The Robbers, played with great verve and brilliance by the game troupe, but with little reciprocal interest by the public.

                        The circumstances surrounding the next play, A Secluded Nook, Schwartz’s first huge triumph at the Irving Place, is crusted over in controversy and conflicting claims as to who was responsible. Maurice’s version, vague at best, is the first considered, as he is the subject of this study. “I notified Jehiel Goldschmidt that our next play would be The Blacksmith’s Daughters (the piece Wilner had scotched back in August), but he suggested A Secluded Nook by Peretz Hirshbein. [. . .] My decision to do it was clear. If Wilner won’t agree then our partnership is ended”  (Schwartz  29 Nov. 1918).

                       But in all truth, Schwartz himself had serious doubts about the entire magnificent enterprise he’d undertaken, especially after the early handful of failures. Attendance had declined sharply and he wasn’t sure if the public would understand so delicate a play as A Secluded Nook. The play that opened on Wednesday evening, October 16th, had as its locale, the home of a Jewish gravedigger in a tiny Lithuanian shtetl. Life is hard for the gravedigger, his wife, and his beautiful young daughter. Also living in town is a prosperous miller, his wife and son. The two youngsters fall in love though their fathers hate each other, in true Romeo and Juliet fashion. The love affair is complicated by a second but wealthy suitor. The gravedigger, with pretensions of getting rich, will accept the second suitor, but only if he agrees to finance his new father-in-law in building another, unnecessary, mill in town owned by the gravedigger. This serves only to intensify the feud between fathers, and they engage in mortal combat, nearly destroying one another and their families. There is however a final happy resolution to the conflict.

                       The opening was attended by a minimal group of about 200, mostly hard- core devotees and friends of Hirshbein. After the final curtain fell, the audience buzzed with excitement. “The effect was so powerful that no one rushed to leave the theatre [. . .] . The actors were called out on stage one at a time, with loud ‘bravos.’ I received special recognition as an actor and as the director. I got to say a few words of thanks to the audience and to praise the actors”  (Schwartz 3 Dec. 1941).

                        That the play was introduced on a Wednesday evening, when little-known works were inauspiciously presented, demonstrated how poorly Schwartz considered its chances. As much as he may have loved the Hirshbein opus, he wasn’t about to risk another gutting disappointment by scheduling it during the prime- time weekend. In truth, he was probably fulfilling his obligation to Jacob Ben-Ami: the concession to devote Wednesday evenings to literary works, even if Schwartz’s writings mention not a single word about Ben-Ami’s imput.

                        But quick to capitalize on the surprising success of A Secluded Nook, Maurice stood before the cheering first-nighters and implored them to spread the word throughout the Jewish community. He promised them that to accommodate the expected box office stampede, he’d run the work every weekday evening until further notice. Because of the large demand for seats that materialized, he also ran it on weekends and for the following 14 weeks.

                        The first to greet Maurice in the wings after he left the stage was his partner Max. He seized Schwartz’s hand and began pumping it, effusive with praise. Other admirers were just as congratulatory. It was a happy time for him, basking in the warmth of his first solid hit, even if A Secluded Nook wasn’t a ‘serious’ piece of drama, only popular in the various amateur clubs.

                        Jacob Ben-Ami told the story differently. His recollection was entirely consistent with his original claim that he’d forced Schwartz to grant him every Wednesday evening for works of literature as a condition of employment. But when the moment arrive to honor the clause by presenting A Secluded Nook, Schwartz balked. “A literary book cannot (or should not) be presented on stage” is how Ben-Ami quoted Maurice in a conversation he had with David Lifson.  (334). Of course, later on Schwartz often adapted novels by Asch, I.J.Singer and others for the Yiddish Art Theatre. Said Ben-Ami, “Schwartz reneged on an agreement with me [. . .] and I threatened to leave. Then he agreed [but] after hearing an act that ended without a spectacular curtain speech or situation, he declared that Hirshbein was a playwright for amateurs”  (Lifson 335).

                        Celia Adler, whose love/hate relationship with Maurice spanned most of her professional life, backed Ben-Ami’s take. She stated that Schwartz dragged his feet during the play’s preparation, and had to be coaxed into joining the cast. “Old seats salvaged from the Second Avenue Theatre were used. Schwartz refused to pay the $30 needed to repaint the sets, as he doubted they’d take in thirty dollars at the box office. Ben-Ami did the painting”  (Adler 443).

                        But to Jacob Ben-Ami’s credit, he had to admit that “at the time Schwartz hired me, no one else in Yiddish Theatre would dare to agree to my demand for at least one night a week to do a literary piece”  (Lifson 361).

                         The critics were unanimous in their praise. They adored the work and quickly dubbed it the beginning of the long-desired Second Golden Age, regardless of whether Schwartz alone was the originator, after months of coming up empty, or had to be dragged backwards into the new era by Jacob Ben-Ami. One critic, Joel Antin, declared A Secluded Nook to be “the noblest for which the public and artists have aspired”  (17 Nov. 1918).

                        However, Schwartz would not continue to win favor with them after presenting strictly high-class Yiddish fare. He’d sworn to follow his own dictates, stated it boldly (if not rashly) in that splashy manifesto, though with the welcomed outpouring of hosannas from the Yiddish press and the rush at the box office, he could well stand up to Max Wilner. Armed as never before, he plunged with dazzling speed into twenty-seven more plays, thrilled to his marrow with each new undertaking. On October 18th, alternating with A Secluded Nook, he offered The Haunted House by Nakum Meir Shaykevitz, who wrote under the pen name Shomer, and was also a political activist, translator and a screenwriter of Yiddish films. A week later, came Ossip Dymov’s The Awakening of a People, a box office lightweight, though Rogoff deemed the play “worthy to be seen by all intelligent people”  (12 Nov. 1918).

                       On the final two days of October in that seminal, exciting opening season, the company presented first Ibsen’s Ghosts, then Gordin’s The Kreutzer Sonata, based on Tolstoy’s 1889 novella of the same name, a cautionary tale about the effects of jealousy on a marriage. A week after the Great War ended on November 11, 1918, another Ibsen classic, A Doll’s House (retitled Nora) was presented for the first time on the Yiddish stage. Contrary to the often-repeated statement by critics and fellow-actors that Schwartz set aside the best roles for himself, the part of Helmer went to Boris Rosenthal. Bertha Gersten took the title role. The two other main characters were acted by Anna Appel and Jacob Ben-Ami. Maurice limited himself to directing. On the playbill for that production, the theatre-goer could see, in full face, a likeness of the thirty-year-old Maurice Schwartz’s intense and thoughtful expression. Irving Howe described him as “having the dark, fleshy features and soulful eyes of the mythical Arab potentate”  (22). Even more defining was Maurice’s  theme on the cover: “Our policy-the best plays and players.” He didn’t promise the best Yiddish plays, nor the most literary, nor the most popular.

                        Early in December, moving at a speed that belied his own tenet about giving actors sufficient time to learn and understand their characters, Schwartz dipped once more into the world repertoire with Karl Schoener’s The Devil Woman. The piece, centering on peasant life as a subject for modern drama, depicted a love triangle in which a desperate woman of  lowly birth goads another man into murdering her husband. Three days later, Tolstoy’s long novel Resurrection, reworked by Gordin, was given. Sarah Adler performed wonderfully as Katusha, the lusty peasant girl seduced by a prince in Czarist Russia. On December 11th, the literary set was again impressed, with Love’s Byways, a charming, bucolic piece by Pinski, the dramatist with whom Schwartz had intended to open his theatre.

                        In January, 1919, Maurice treated himself to his first ‘benefit evening,’ one of the privileges of rank. He selected Arthur Schnitzler’s Professor Bernardi. The dramatist, an Austrian Jew and favorite on the world stage, had never before been produced in Yiddish. His play deals with the scandal stirred up by a conflict between a Jewish physician and a Catholic priest. Certainly confusing to a Schwartz-watcher, in the post-war year of directional changes and liberation in all the arts, Maurice’s next five plays, from January 17th to February 21st, were by Yiddish playwrights, each a work of superior quality. None however created a stir at the almighty box office or with the press. It seemed as if  Schwartz was stuck in neutral once more, waiting for lightning to strike a second time.

                        It did, on February 18th, with The Treasure by Pinski, enthralling everyone. It would be the first of this great dramatist’s work to attract mainstream attention and “deserves wider recognition and a place in the history of drama alongside the best of Moliere [. . . ]” declared one theatre historian.  (Lifson 86). The plot begins with a rumor that some poor gravedigger in a Russian shtetl has discovered a large vein of gold in the local cemetery. The entire town is then transformed into a madhouse, with villagers of all means and status, desecrating the cemetery with pick and shovel, though no gold is ever found. It is a darkly humorous even if pessimistic view of the human race, as well as a study in greed.

                         Even greater kudos were tendered by the critics and the playgoers a few days later on February 21st with the staging of The Blacksmith’s Daughters, the piece Maurice intended to open the season with, but was talked out of by Max Wilner, who found it missing ‘the big screw.’

                          As in many pivotal incidences in Schwartz’s history, there is his account and that of others. Esther Hirshbein, in an interview with David Lifson, related that while  A Secluded Nook was been hailed in Manhattan, she and Peretz were on their honeymoon in Canada. Despite a frantic telegram from Maurice to return ASAP to New York to discuss future plays, the suddenly hot playwright was in no particular hurry, matters of the heart taking priority over everything else. When the Hirshbeins returned, so Esther claimed, they came unannounced to the Irving Place Theatre and viewed A Secluded Nook. Delighted—how could they not be?--, Peretz and Esther  went backstage to congratulate the players. Schwartz took them to his office and spoke grandiloquently to Peretz: “How do you like the success I made for you?”  Without waiting for a reply, he said, “I want the sole rights to all your written and future plays.”

                       Nonplussed, Hirshbein refused out-of-hand. “If a man borrows a pail to fetch water, does it mean he has all future rights to the pail?”

                       A few days later, narrowing his objectives, Schwartz asked the couple to his office and locked the door behind them. For the next three hours, he badgered the Hirshbeins ceaselessly for the rights to The Blacksmith’s Daughters, but was refused again, for reasons Mrs. Hirshbein never stated, even though Maurice had proven himself a wonderful interpreter of the play.  (Lifson 344). In Cleveland, on his way to the West Coast, Peretz learned that his refusal notwithstanding, Schwartz had put The Blacksmith’s Daughters into production.

                       Hirshbein immediately phoned friends in New York to halt Maurice’s illegal actions, only to be told that if rehearsals were called off, the actors and everyone involved would be thrown out of work. A kind and considerate man, Hirshbein backed off and let Schwartz have his way. The latter told a different though not conflicting story. At the Irving Place, the returning pair was invited by Maurice to view A Secluded Nook, and the play was presented in their honor, a truly festive happening. “My admiration for Hirshbein was such that I wanted to present his plays for the entire season. My troupe had second thoughts about another play of his, but I was so impressed with his talented style that without asking anyone, I decided to do The Blacksmith’s Daughters. [. . .] I had a strong yen to get drunk on Hirshbein’s charm. I wanted to take a walk in his flowering garden”  (Schwartz 6 Dec. 1941).

                        It is understandable though not condoned that given Schwartz’s total immersion in his work, he might harass even a pair of newlyweds. Even more comprehensible is that fire in his soul pushing Maurice to cross the line and present Hirshbein with a fait accompli , rather than waste precious time trying to wear him down and win him over. In the hurly-burly, gray morality of Yiddish Theatre, much worse had happened before, and his ethical lapse—if true—was a relatively minor one.

                        The Blacksmith’s Daughters did very well, confirming the critics general consensus that indeed something extraordinary had sprung to life at the Irving Place Theatre. In the play, set in a bucolic Jewish town in the Pale, there’s a romantic mix-up between two young sisters and their simple-minded swains. Celia Adler and Bertha Gersten played the sisters to a fine turn, while Elihu Tenenholtz and Maurice were the suitors. The blacksmith’s role went to reliable Boris Rosenthal.

                        With typical recalcitrance, Schwartz completed the balance of the season with an assortment of works from the world repertoire, and a few superior Yiddish plays. He followed Hirshbein with Leonid Andreyev’s Believe Your Wife, introducing the bitter, sardonic anti-Bolshevik Russian to the Yiddish audience. Schwartz would display Andreyev in three other stunning pieces of first-class theatre, each concerning the multiple cruelties of modern existence.

                       In early April, Schwartz held his second ‘benefit evening’ with Oscar Wilde’s The Ideal Husband, treating his fans to the much-maligned but brilliant Irish man of letters, who was scandalizing the entire British Empire with his antics. For Celia’s ‘evening,’ Maurice directed her in Suderman’s four act German comedy The Battle of the Butterflies, first produced in 1894. For his ‘night,’ Ben-Ami went far afield, selecting Samson and Delilah by Danish dramatist Sven Lange. This was no Biblical epic, but a modern love story with a theatrical background. The play also provided the springboard for Ben-Ami’s American stage debut in 1920, at the Greenwich Village Theatre. The production also introduced two newcomers, Sam Jaffe and Edward G. Robinson in supporting roles.

                        In the spring of 1919, two of Schwartz’s favorite  playwrights were presented—Stanislaw Przybyszewski with The Truth and Leo Tolstoy with The Power of Darkness, based on an actual case about a series of crimes in a peasant household. On May 1st, Schwartz made perhaps his boldest effort, Strindberg’s The Father, the starkly bitter, anti-feminist treatise that oddly enough was staged for the first time in England, in Yiddish, at the Pavilion Theatre in Whitechapel. The year was 1911. In like turn, Schwartz introduced the play in America eight years later.

                        Among the Yiddish pieces Schwartz worked into his crowded schedule to end off the season were Pinski’s Gabri and His Wives and Isaac Sheftel. The very last number was Sholem Aleichem’s, People,Maurice’s first excursion into the works of Yiddish Literature’s most beloved figure. Over the years, Sholem Aleichem would become one of Schwartz’s prime playwrights, returning again and again to capture his greatest moments in Yiddish Theatre.

                       The first season of the Irving Place Theatre was over by June 1st, the most remarkable season in the medium’s entire history. Schwartz had managed to produce, direct and act in about 30 plays over 39 weeks. Thirty collections of sets and scenery and costumes. Thirty casts to assemble and whip into shape. Thirty problems of lighting, and a large number of scores to wrest from composers. Some performances, the actors’ special ‘evenings’ ran by design for only a single show. As far as the sumptuous banquet presented to the public, precisely half came from the better Yiddish dramatists. The other half was a smattering of the world’s best plays. Maurice had acquainted his patrons with artists they’d never heard of before. He’d expanded their limited horizons, trying to remove the shtetl-oriented Jew from his self-imposed cultural isolation, so that he might experience and appreciate the untasted riches around him.

                        Celia Adler, one of his severest critics, who never missed the chance to berate him for what he didn’t accomplish, had to admit that most of the cast had satisfied their professional yearnings that season “through the fine literary plays that each of them chose for their benefit performance.[. . .] Most actors on the American stage live their entire lives and never perform more than seven roles like these”  ((490-491).

                        Yet in spite of her gratitude towards Schwartz, relations between them were rapidly deteriorating. Often, they wouldn’t speak to one another for days. The reason (or reasons) pointed to Ludwig Satz’s position in the billing hierarchy , that he was never placed on a par with Gersten or Schwartz, who’d promised each a place at the top, disregarding the law of physics that states the impossibility of two objects occupying  the same place at the same time. The fragile egos of many of the players were crushed, as very quickly it was apparent that Schwartz was going to continue the hated star system. Tensions mounted and found release in an attempted putsch by certain members of the troupe.  They approached Max Wilner with a proposal to dump Schwartz for the next season and draw up a new contract with them. But no matter the ongoing problems with his maverick junior partner, Wilner refused them. He was not enticed by the prospect of having five partners instead of one.

                        It doesn’t require many clues to identify the cabalists, as the following season saw the birth of the competing Jewish Art Theatre, composed of Celia Adler, Jacob Ben-Ami, Anna Appel, and Jehiel Goldschmidt. The fifth likely conspirator, Ludwig Satz, left to pursue other ventures. With the bulk of his players gone, no one would dare predict the Irving Place Theatre’s future, except Schwartz, who never doubted it. The pessimists would only scoff at Schwartz, the Icarus who’d flown too high, too fast, on the hot air of his own making. They would be dead wrong about Schwartz’s return for the 1919-1920 season, as they would be wrong so often about his survival each year over the next three decades.                 

Chapter Eleven: “Mr. Schwartz, You Are Killing Me.”

                       “I send you, through my friend Jacob Saperstein, a play which I have composed  from several works written by me twenty years ago,” wrote Sholem Aleichem to Jacob Adler. “You will find only a simple Jew, the father of five daughters, an honest, clean, wholesome and greatly suffering character who, with all his misfortunes, will make the public laugh from beginning to end”  (Rosenfeld 322-323).

                        Of course, the playwright was describing his Teyve the Milkman, offering it to Adler around the turn of the century. But The Eagle declined the gift, as it had no romantic part for him. The play with which Maurice Schwartz opened the 1919-1920 season at the Irving Place Theatre was the one Adler had refused. With Sholem Aleichem dead for three years, Schwartz bought the production rights from his widow. A condition imposed by her was that Isaac Dov Berkowitz, married to her daughter, work on the stage adaptation. Berkowitz, a highly regarded writer in his own right, had come to New York with the Sholem Aleichems, remaining there until 1928, then settling in Palestine.

                        The play worked on by Berkowitz and Schwartz, opened to superb reviews in the Yiddish press on August 29th, and enchanted packed houses for 16 straight weeks. Schwartz felt redeemed, his artistic yearnings justified. He’d survived the profound loss of Jacob Ben-Ami, idol of the intellectuals, and the other less-worshipped defectors. And for once in many months, Max and Stella weren’t on his back with their prating lectures about money—the lack of it, the loss of it, the absolute need to show a profit. More important to Schwartz, “Mrs. Sholem Aleichem was very happy. She’d been afraid that Tevye, Sholem Aleichem’s favorite work, wouldn’t make a glorious impression. [When it did] she exclaimed, ‘Thank you so much. You’ve removed a stone from my heart, from my family’s hearts’ ”  (Schwartz 10 Dec. 1941).

                         More gratifying still, she’d granted Maurice permission to produce her late husband’s other works. He didn’t have to lock her in his office and badger her for hours, as he was accused of doing with the Hirshbeins. The play also provided the debut vehicle for a 23-year-old comic actor Schwartz had been observing for some time. His name was Muni Weisenfreund and had been in Yiddish Theatre since birth, part of a family of vaudeville performers in Chicago.

                        Early in 1919, Weisenfreund came to New York to work for Joe Edelstein, who’d wrested the Second Avenue Theatre from Wilner. Edelstein was cleverly dispensing trashy musicals on the main floor where once David Kessler had shaken the rafters, and better plays in a more intimate setting upstairs at the Roof Garden. The kid had been hired to work in shund, singing, dancing and playing the fiddle. Muni was unhappy with his vapid roles, and in the fall he returned to Philadelphia. But to both their good fortunes, Schwartz happened to sorely need a comic to replace Ludwig Satz, who’d been snapped up by none other than Joe Edelstein, and for more money. This was how the game was played in Yiddish Theatre by everyone, to overcome its vicissitudes, a give and take by actors, composers, playwrights and theatre owners. In the taking mode, Maurice dispatched his friend Leon Berger to bring Weisenfreund back to New York.

                         Berger met the young man (later to be known to all the world as Paul Muni) and found him to be overly modest and self-effacing for a Yiddish actor. Muni couldn’t believe that the vaunted proponent of literary theatre on Irving Place was interested in him. If indeed it was true and not some nasty hoax; he had to hear it from Mr. Schwartz himself. “Weisenfreund came to see me. He looked [. . . ] like a shy Yeshiva boy, frightened and helpless. I told him I wanted him to take over Satz’s roles”  (Schwartz. 10 Dec. 1941). Muni was even more astounded when Schwartz promised him dramatic parts as well. He managed two rather ingenuous questions: where had Schwartz heard of him?, and was he really serious? Maurice assured the youngster (he was older than Muni by eight years) that he wasn’t joshing, offering him forty dollars a week for the first year. He buttressed the deal with the prediction that in the right hands, playing the right roles, Muni would become a great star, exactly as Kessler had promised his own frightened and insecure protégé.

                        Weisenfreund’s response startled Maurice, who’d assumed that every actor, good and bad, was driven by healthy ambition, and considered himself star material. “I’m honored by your offer, but I’m not ready for competition. I’d be willing to play the minor roles—if you’ll offer them to me”  (Schwartz 10 Dec. 1941). Over his 20 years in Yiddish Theatre, Schwartz had met all kinds of characters and oddballs, but never one as inscrutable as Weisenfreund. He’d been ready to cast Muni in a major role in Tevye, but had to settle for casting him as Zazulye, the village scribe, hardly more than a walk-on role. Muni had but a few lines, but took hours to get into makeup and costume, an even greater stickler for detail than Schwartz himself. The transformation to Zazulye had been amazing, and Maurice must have recalled how he’d disguised himself so artfully as an old man in The Twentieth Century that his own father couldn’t recognize him.

                         In Paul Muni’s biography by Jerome Lawrence, the other side of the story is told. The terrified young actor had been reading reports in the Yiddish press—probably planted there by Schwartz—of Maurice boasting about his new find, the quite adequate replacement for Satz. A future acting genius, was the prediction. “The word for ‘genius’ in Yiddish leaped out of the newsprint at Muni, and it frightened him. He rushed to confront Schwartz in person. ‘Mr. Schwartz,’ blurted Muni. ‘You’re killing me. What do you mean telling the newspapers that I’ll be a sensation in New York? What happens if I’m not? They’ll toss me back to Milwaukee, or the dung heap in Philadelphia. Please, I want only small parts’ “ (74-75).

                         Before many years would elapse, the two consummate actors would have a falling out over principles and actions, precisely as Schwartz and Kessler had gone head to head. Starting with the conflict that emerged with Ben-Ami, a pattern had been established of disputes between Schwartz and the unknowns he hired, who, under his aegis, would grow to outstanding performers. They were bound to clash, as—according to his detractors—there could be only one sun in his solar system. They’d part with bruised feelings on either side, only to reunite a season or two later, mutual respect intact, when Schwartz needed that particular persona for a play. His ego was not so monumental and blinding that he couldn’t suppress it for the greater good of better theatre.

                       The bountiful revenues generated by Teyve the Milkman carried the Irving Place Theatre for a goodly part of the 1919-1920 season, which was otherwise graced by only a handful of commercial successes. Though his parts at first were minimal, Weisenfreund made the most of them, delicious cameos that quickly gained him a loyal and vociferous following, like the patriotten of the generation before. To a lesser degree, the other replacements filled the void left by the extraordinary quintet who’d deserted him. At first, Schwartz must have been decimated by these losses. A weaker, less tenacious producer might have chucked the entire concept of quality theatre and taken the sure and easy path to solvency with shund. As Boris Thomashevsky  was still doing at his National Theatre on Second and Houston. As Kessler had done, though it killed first his soul then the rest of him. But Maurice had slaved too hard, too long in the service of his ideals. He’d been battered his entire existence by fortune’s cruelty and mankind’s treachery and each time came up tougher and stronger, his goals fixed even if now and then rerouted. And if the past had always been a constant attempt to keep his head above water, the future would prove no different, except the stakes would be higher, the defeats more bitter, but the rewards sweeter.

                        The latest threat to his goals was the Jewish Art Theatre. Long before he’d made his exit from the Irving Place, Jacob Ben-Ami must have been negotiating with Louis Schnitzer, a wealthy business he’d met at the Progressive Dramatic Club, the most prestigious amateur group in the City. Schnitzer’s wife Henrietta was a member, hell-bent on learning the actor’s trade. Abe Cahan would describe her as having a good figure but little talent. Schnitzer negotiated a lease for the Garden Theatre in Madison Square Garden, which was owned by Tex Rickard, the boxing promoter best known for arranging the Dempsey-Carpentier bout. Louis would also handle business matters, while Ben-Ami gathered the cast. Besides the three other former Irving Place players, he hired Lazar Freed (who was unavailable to Schwartz the season before and Celia’s husband of short duration), Gershon Rubin from the Progressive Dramatic Club, Bima Abramowitz (steady as the Rock of Gibraltar in her type-casting as a mother), Joe Schoengold, and a half dozen like-minded, better theatre advocates. Along with Schnitzer’s money came, came Schnitzer’s wife, who would be as great a thorn in Ben-Ami’s side as Ben-Ami had been in Schwartz’s.

                         In a spirit of magnanimity , Maurice sent the Jewish Art Theatre a congratulatory telegram. “I also recommended theatre patrons to go there. No matter what, another good theatre is an asset [. . .]”  (Schwartz 6 Dec. 1941). Such generosity toward so able a competitor must be taken with a mountain of salt, given the jungle-like conditions of Yiddish Theatre and the intensity of Schwartz. He’d probably fumed at how both the Yiddish and the mainstream press treated the arrival of the Jewish Art Theatre on the scene, as if it were the Second Coming, instead of merely the second art theatre in as many years. Schwartz’s chief tormentors, the Yiddish drama critics, never really trusted Maurice, most likely because of his schizoid blend of high art and personal ego, how he’d attempted a marriage between superior repertory theatre and the star system, with himself the topmost star.

                        To those critics far removed from the nitty-gritty of making a profit, Schwartz had certainly paved the way, had given a few daring plays, but hadn’t gone far enough. What Schwartz knew instinctively, they would never learn: that American Jews, like all Americans, needed heroes—leaders in politics, sports and industry. For the theatre, this translated into superstars. Audiences of all cultural backgrounds went to theatre usually because a star, some magnetic personality, had drawn them there. By war’s end, America was the center of the capitalist world, and what was capitalism without its outstanding strivers who fought their way to the top and reaped the benefits? And so, the press stood on the dock and cheered as the Jewish Art Theatre, captained by a committee of idealists, set sail on the roiling ocean of Yiddish Theatre. Ostensibly, Maurice wished them well, but knew better.

                       Of the handful of plays presented for its maiden voyage by the Jewish Art Theatre, the large majority were by Peretz Hirshbein, David Pinski, Sholem Asch and Sholem Aleichem. The balance included works by Tolstoy, Sven Lange and Gerhart Hauptman. It is interesting to note that The New York Times discovered Ben-Ami’s company before it noticed the Irving Place Theatre, though the latter had been functioning for a full year, pumping out fine play after fine play at the unheard of rate of about one a week. On November 17, 1919, the Times’s critic favorably  reviewed the Jewish Art Theatre’s production of The Dumb Messiah by Pinski, finding it hard to believe that "an art of the theatre so robust, so sensational, so veteran and mellowed [. . .] should have to find its expression in what is, after all, off the beaten track”  (Block).Not until April of the following year is mention made of Schwartz’s theatre, only a seven-line note tacked on to a much longer, more positive review of the Jewish Art Theatre’s The Mute, about the days after the abortive 1905 revolution in Russia.

                           The profits from Tevye allowed Schwartz to produce The Dancer by Melchior Lengyl, the clever and funny Hungarian, who went on to write Ninotchka for Greta Garbo. The English-speaking version of The Dancer had been presented a few months earlier at the Sam Harris Theatre on Broadway and received mixed reviews. The Schwartz essay faired poorly, but was great fun to do, to experiment with.

                        In November, with Tevye continuing to do immensely profitable business on weekends, Schwartz filled the weekdays with two Gordin standards, God, Man and Devil and The Truth. On Christmas Day, he played Gorki’s classic The Lower Depths (retitled Night Lodging), translated into Yiddish by Mark Schweid, another fine replacement at the Irving Place. “Our audiences were Yiddish theatre-goers, but we were also honored with the English-speaking press [. . .] The actors of my troupe played extremely well”  (Schwartz 13 Dec. 1941).

                        The new year opened with Leon Kobrin’s After the Wedding. It was Schwartz’s first attempt at a Kobrin piece, though he’d done the colorful playwright’s first work Yankel Boila for Kessler. Kobrin was one of those accidental Yiddish playwrights without formal training, having held a variety of jobs prior. Arriving in America in 1892, in his twenties, he tried farming in Pennsylvania, factory work in New Jersey, even slaving in a laundry,until Yankel Boila and Other Tales was published. His play The East Side Ghetto was the first true portrait of American tenement life. Later in January, the Irving Place did The White Flower, an easily-forgettable musical, noteworthy only because Abe Cahan refused to see it, furious over Schwartz’s apparent move into shund.

                        Before his next well-received production, Schwartz would suffer a string of flops—a few by Gordin, a play by Theodore Herzl (The New Ghetto), one of a dozen or so penned by the father of Zionism before finding his true vocation, and The Son of Two Nations, by Mark Arnstein, the Polish writer, who would perish in the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising. On April 2nd, Maurice made yet another excursion into musicals with an adaptation of Sigmund Romberg’s Maytime, reborn as Once in May, In it, Weisenfreund played the part of a womanizer who, by the last act, is over 100 years old and still chasing young girls. Evidently, there was a Yiddish audience for this sort of lighthearted material, as Schwartz presented Zaza, the Sardeau comedy. Decades before, it had been translated into English for David Belasco, and into Yiddish by Zolatarevsky for Kessler at his Thalia Theatre.

                         One of the final presentations of the season, on April 8th, was Thieves by Fishel Bimko, a dramatist heretofore unknown in America. At the age of 15, he’d been sent to Siberia for revolutionary activity. First a prompter, he wrote over 20 plays with strong, earthy characters, some of them criminals. Thieves was first produced by the Vilna Troupe in 1919, then by Schwartz, who fashioned it into another badly-needed hit for the Irving Place.

                         Overall, the actor/director/producer wasn’t disappointed with his second season, even though the few operettas presented weren’t up to his own original standards. But if he was content in general with his accomplishments, the Wilners were not, “I groaned heavily under the yoke of [. . .] having Max Wilner as a partner and his wife the bookkeeper. She had authorization over the finances and demanded that the flops be taken immediately off the boards. Max had little sympathy for my artistic feelings and would disappear, leaving me with Mrs. Wilner [. . .]”  (Schwartz 13 Dec. 1941).

                        As if his running war with the Wilners wasn’t heartache enough, David Kessler died suddenly on May 15th. After Tevye the Milkman had opened the previous August to rave reviews and the certainty of a long run, Maurice contacted his former mentor and begged him to come see the play. Despite Kessler’s understandable anger over the Wilner/Schwartz partnership, Maurice knew that his former employer held no grudges and was proud of his attempt to raise the level of Yiddish Theatre. Like a son anxious to please his father, Maurice yearned for Kessler to come as his special guest. “I sent numerous invitations [. . .], but he never came. He was still carrying a grudge against my partner and refused to face him ever again. Whenever he mentioned my name in front of other, he wished me well professionally, but not financially. I wrote his wife Rachel, but to no avail”  (Schwartz 13 Dec. 1941).

                         Was Kessler’s fate to be his as well, wondered Maurice? He began questioning his entire relationship with Max. Would Wilner soon evict him from the Irving Place if principles stood in the way of making money?

                         With the long season at last over, Schwartz and company were anxious to quit the City and go on tour. They did the well-worn Yiddish Theatre circuit, as far west as Chicago, as northerly as Montreal. The natives were waiting for them, eager to see whatever Maurice would present to them, starved for first-rate productions. Tevye the Milkman was far and away their favorite. Audiences would form long lines at box offices . Patrons would often delay vacations until after they’d seen the Irving Place players. If Schwartz had often been disheartened by poor attendance during the regular season, he was restored by the enthusiasm of the crowds coming to empathize over the Job-like woes of lovable Tevye. For the entire troupe, spirits were lifted, batteries recharged.

                         Late in the summer of 1920, Schwartz returned to New York, rejuvenated by the large, appreciative audiences in city after city during the two whirlwind months. He was more than ever dedicated to continue along the same path he’d begun, improving as he went, always learning. There were so many plays he wanted to do, playwrights to be introduced, techniques to be explored, new things to try. He’d hardly scratched the surface of what he was capable of, and what those in the know had declared unworkable. It all now seemed within his grasp. Inevitable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  Chapter Thirteen: Beginning Over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 Chapter Fifteen: Innocents Abroad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Sixteen: “A Season of Major Accomplishments.”

                        The week-long sea voyage home on the Acquitania was a blessing, the chance to sort out his emotions, to encapsulate how he felt about Dagny and bury those forbidden feelings in a far corner of his heart, then move on from the impossible, to what must be done for the coming fall—always the new season to face, to organize, and ultimately conquer. It never ended, the constant cycle, but in this case, the many problems would be a godsend. Maurice had lost a kind of innocence with the Austrian actress, but more pressing was the financial losses he’d sustained on his European tour. The $42,000 (including the $10,000 from the Democratic National Committee) was gone, not to mention the $2500 loan from the London benefactor. And he owed back wages to some of the company from when he'd been penniless in Paris. The animosity he alone had generated with his players in London was probably the largest deficit, and impossible to wipe out.

                        He could use a certain winner with which to initiate the 1924-1925 season, one requiring little preparation. Schwartz opened a month later with The Dybbuk. Included in the cast were Ben Zvi Baratov, who’d proven himself in New York during the European tour, and Muni Weisenfreund, though there’d been so much friction and bitterness between them in England. Muni must have been floored to receive an offer for the season, but along with the contract came three new scripts with especially fascinating roles for him, parts he’d never played before and which would surely stretch his abilities. Unhesitatingly, Muni accepted.

                       Maurice had calculated correctly: The Dybbuk did very well and he was able to return the $2500 borrowed in England, and dig into the pile of debts before him like a mountain of paper.

                        It wasn’t until the last day of September, a full month into the season, that Schwartz presented his first play. Moshke Chasser (Morris the Pig) by I.D. Berkowitz, was adapted by the author from his own short story of 1903. Berkowitz had sworn never to write again for the Yiddish Theatre after the drubbing he received with Landsleit three seasons before But hope springs eternal, especially in the theatre, and there they were, Isaac Dov and Maurice, posing a familiar theme: the depiction of a Russian pogrom. Though the players gathered glowing notices, the play was the deadest of ducks. Three weeks later, on October 1st, Maurice followed with a winning comedy about the theatre, When Will He Die? By Chone Gottesfeld, who not only wrote plays, but was a humorous sketch writer for the Forward.

                        The piece starred Muni in the role of Schnell, a rapid-fire, fast-talking, wise-cracking publicity man, quite common in both Yiddish and English-language theatre. The plot revolves around the antics of Schnell, who attempts to revive a failing play by pretending its author (Schwartz) suddenly dies. The premise here is that dead authors command more attention and interest than live ones. Schnell convinces the writer to play dead, resulting in such funny scenes as a funeral, where the corpse sits up in his coffin and comment on the eulogy.

                        Gottesfeld’s employer, the Forward, led by Abe Cahan, lauded the play, helping to make it a success, but a week later, during a repertory performance of The Big Lottery, the union called a strike, and Schwartz had to close the theatre. “In the presence of a capacity audience [. . .] he announced that his entire cast had forsaken him and had sided with the Hebrew Actors Union in a controversy over back pay due several members of his last year’s cast. It is said that he owes them in aggregate the sum of $6000”  (Jewish Theatrical News 1 Nov. 1924). 

                        Here was his Paris problem coming back to haunt him, part of the ocean of debt he’d been addressing since returning home. And succeeding, until he ran afoul of the union. Not long after, the money was paid and the lights went on once more at the Garden Theatre. The victory was pyrrhic, as “the Yiddish community felt that actors were behaving as immorally as if firemen or schoolteachers or doctors would go on strike. The bread of life was being taken out of their mouths”  (Lawrence 102).

                       The next important production opened on November 24th, an eerie, uncharacteristic play by Hirshbein called The Devil Knows What. Maurice loved the piece and lavished much attention on it. He threw his best performers into the effort, including his trio of the finest Yiddish actresses extant: Anna Appel, Bima Abramowitz and Bertha Gersten. Maurice played Wolf, a strong, handsome, simple-minded woodsman. Muni was given the part of The Mysterious One, a saintly hermit. For this bit of offbeat theatre, Maurice used the loveable bohemian, Yosl Cutler, and his equally quaint pal, Zuny Moud, to design the costumes. Alexander Chertov did the scenery, and a bright, young composer, Sholem Secunda (of ‘Bei Mir Bistu Sheyn’ fame) wrote the music, which was a perfect match to the play’s mysticism.

                         Schwartz also employed a peculiar form of naturalism to express the work’s ethereal quality. Instead of relying solely on Chertov’s scenic illusions, he had an actual lake constructed and utilized on stage. In the next scene, real trees replaced the lake. The play was an overwhelming disaster, the audience terribly confused by its too original originality. It was excessively sophisticated for them, and not what they expected from the pastoral, nostalgic Hirshbein. The Devil Knows What languished for two weeks then expired. The loss, including construction costs for the lake and the trees, ran about $10,000.

                          Shrugging off the perhaps unwise piece, Schwartz moved along to Wolves, a complete change of direction. Romain Rolland, a French historical novelist and essayist, was specifically influenced by the Dreyfus Affair, that once tore France apart. Though Wolves was a definitely a political play, Schwartz didn’t mind the didactic in this case. He believed that, in addition to being fine drama, the work had the effect of making his audience think, of stirring them from its indifference. Designated by some the most unusual play in the Art Theatre’s long history, Wolves opened on December 4, 1924, with an all-male cast. The play’s setting is the French Revolution, and concerns the age-old question of whether a man’s ultimate duty is to country or conscience. The plot is woven around the false accusation of treason against a French officer in the service of Prussia. With flimsy evidence, d’Oryon is condemned to death by a jury of generals.

                       Reported the New York Times: “As has come to be expected at the Yiddish Art Theatre, the acting is excellent, and at times inspired [. . .] Maurice Swartz (sic) and Muni Weisenfreund wear the trappings of the Rolland philosophy without ever becoming the mere parrots of his lines”  (13 Dec. 1924). The play ran for months on weekends only. A comedy filled the weekday slot, In Every House, by B. Gorin, whose real name was Isaac Goido, a staff member at the Jewish Morning Journal.

                        Schwartz’s last big production of the ‘24-’25 season, on March 11th, running until the middle of May, was Goldfaden’s The Witch (Koldunye). It was the first Yiddish play introduced in America, in 1882, and played in Turn Hall, on E. 4th Street. The operetta, written in 1877 and updated by Maurice, had a cast of over 50, including the extras. The story line is a fairy tale about Mirele, whose wicked stepmother enlists a witch to frighten the girl into leaving home, but is foiled by a wandering peddler. Once again, Cutler and Moud provided the costumes, employing as well a technique never before seen on the Yiddish stage. Both men were expert puppeteers, and for the marketplace scene they created a fantastic puppet show. Later, the pair would team up with Jack Twerkov, a painter who would achieve world fame, to form Modjacot (based on their names), presenting adult and children’s marionette entertainment, consisting of clever satires and savage, socialist-oriented skits.

                        All in all, it was, as Zohn described it, “a season of major accomplishments and one of the most fruitful seasons at the Yiddish Art Theatre”  (177).

                        A severe disappointment for Schwartz was the failure of his movie version of Yiskor. It opened in spring at the Loews Premier in Brownsville, Brooklyn, not far from Singer Hall, his first professional playhouse. The critics were almost gleefully sadistic in their reviews.

                        The 1924-1925 season at the Garden may have been bountiful, but it was to be the Art Theatre’s final season there, not from an inability to pay the rent, but because the entire complex housing the theatre was to be torn down to make way for the new headquarters of New York Life Insurance Company. Its demise didn’t signal the end of the Art Theatre, but provided the impetus for a more permanent home. Schwartz was again on the move, and just when he’d established his troupe as a necessity to many Yiddish Theatre devotees and had achieved a small degree of stability.

                        With the wrecker’s ball on the near horizon, Schwartz had to start scrounging for other quarters. Offers came in from the Bowery, from Second Avenue and from Broadway, and other less desirable locations. Schwartz bided his time, considering his options. He had something permanent in mind, profoundly tired of wandering from place to place, tracing a small diaspora within a larger one. It was high time to plant roots. No longer could he tote a theatre and all its equipment around, as he had on his European tour, never mind the excess wear and tear on his crew.

                           Maurice made the necessary inquiries and learned that the cost of constructing the kind of theatre he needed would be a staggering $1,000,000. He had only $1600 in the company account, hardly sufficient for a row of seats, much less an entire playhouse. Nevertheless, he forged ahead, absent the funds, but rich in friends and admirers.

                        Hannah and Louis Jaffe were two of those admirers, Mrs. Jaffe an inveterate Art Theatre patron, Mr. Jaffe, a highly successful attorney, who would become an advisor to the American Jewish Congress and a founder of the Hebrew Free Loan Society of Bensonhurst. The two men met at the Café Royale for an exploratory chat. At once, Maurice laid his cards on the table. “You have to be the Jew who’s destined to build an art theatre in America. It’ll be a profitable enterprise. You erect the building and give me a 21-year lease, and I’ll pay you $75,000 a year in rent, with a $75,000 security deposit to boot”  (Schwartz  8 Apr. 1942). As a show of good faith, Schwartz promised a down payment  of $15,000, never once considering from where it might come. Louis Jaffe listened politely, then asked for a day to think it over.

                        Immediately after, Maurice , with great trepidation, took himself to the State Bank on Fifth Avenue and 30th Street, and asked for the manager, a man he’d never met before. The Yiddish Art Theatre had a spotless record at the bank, not a single bounced check. The manager, a decent enough fellow, knew Schwartz by reputation only, being Gentile and never having seen him perform. Flat out, Maurice delineated his plans for an Art Theatre, using all the narrative skills at his command, concluding with a request for $15,000, to be repaid in 90 days. Schwartz was handed an application form and filled it out. The paperwork done, the manager excused himself, returning minutes later with a bank check for the requested sum. Nervous, sweating profusely, Schwartz relieved his tension by expressing hope that the check wouldn’t bounce. The banker laughed heartily.

                        Before the sun set that day, Schwartz was out scouring for a site. He found the ideal location at the southwest corner of Second Avenue and 12th Street, directly across from the Café Royale. Jaffe disagreed. He wanted the playhouse smack in the middle of Broadway’s theatre district, to show the Gentile world that indeed the Jews had an art theatre. Schwartz rejected the idea. The Art Theatre would be on Broadway alright, Yiddish Broadway, downtown. The arguments flew back and forth, but Maurice stood his ground, and before too long, Jaffe gave in. Soon after, he bought the property.

                        All that stood in the way of beginning construction was approval by St. Marks Hospital. A block from the proposed structure, the small, private hospital had legitimate concerns that construction noises and the rumble of cement trucks might disturb its patients. The hospital board consisted in part of German Jews, who were not kindly disposed towards Yiddish Theatre, whose performers and audience were Polish and Russian Jews, lesser members of the faith .

                        Schwartz fretted and lost sleep over the seemingly Gordian knot, but was saved by a friend, an event and a fortuitous happening. All three combined in the person of Chaim Weitzmann, whom Maurice had met briefly in England, but happened to be presently in Manhattan. Invited to the Garden Theatre, Weitzmann stood after a performance and gushingly praised the achievements of the Art Theatre, remarking that “a good Yiddish play is as important as a charitable institution”  (Schwartz 18 Apr. 1942).

                        After the show, Schwartz told Weitzmann of his problem with the hospital. The remarkable chemist and future first president of the State of Israel, didn't know anyone on the hospital board, but he was friendly with Lewis Marshall. He wrote out a letter of introduction  and a request for his assistance. A brilliant Constitutional lawyer, Marshall had served as a member of the American Jewish delegation to the Versailles Peace Conference, responsible for its resolution concerning Jewish rights in Eastern Europe.

                         Maurice took himself and the letter to Marshall’s office on Wall Street, without much hope of succeeding. When he was admitted to the attorney’s inner office, he handed Marshall the letter. He read it slowly and seriously. After a few seconds, he called the hospital’s attorney. One lawyer to another, Marshall played hardball, demanding the hospital drop its opposition to the construction or else. ‘Or else’ would be a halt to the flow of charitable funds to St. Marks. It seemed that Louis Marshall’s law firm administered the monies. Needless to say, Schwartz left the office with an assurance that construction could proceed unimpeded.

                        The matter taken care of, Maurice turned his attention to dealing with present matters: the problem of where they would be for the 1925-1926 season, while a dream was being realized on the corner of Second Avenue and 12th Street. In 1925, Lee and J.J. Shubert were the two most powerful men in American Theatre. In Manhattan alone, they controlled 24 playhouses, including the Winter Garden, the Jolson, the Booth and the Nora Bayes, on 44th Street, west of Broadway. Without too much dickering, Lee Shubert (possessor of a frozen face and narrow, reptilian eyes) rented Schwartz the Nora Bayes for the following season, in the very heart of the English-language theatre district.

                        The next season’s location arranged, Maurice directed himself to the $60,000 balance he’d promised Louis Jaffe, and the $15,000 loan from the State Bank. Fate provided Schwartz with another angel, in the person of Morris Lipshitz, who adored Yiddish Theatre and had been a Schwartz fan for years. Lipshitz, a furniture manufacturer, came up with a large but unstated sum of money, part of which Maurice used to pay off the bank. While there, he applied for a second $15,000 and got it. The second loan was easier to obtain than the first, seeing he now had a track record. Schwartz regretted not asking for more.

                        The preliminaries with Jaffe over, a rapport cemented, Maurice got down to particulars. He asked for a sweeping stage area to show his actors and material to best advantage. “My intent was professional, his commercial. I had to compromise, because he intended to build a few stores for added income. Instead, we decided to build two smaller stages that could be raised or lowered when we had to change sets. Jaffe promised to do it and I gave him $35,000 toward the security money”  (Schwartz 22 Apr. 1942). As yet, no actual contract had been signed (and wouldn’t be until early in 1926). All Maurice had was a verbal agreement, a receipt for the money he’d already paid, and a letter of intent from Jaffe.

                        A few days later, there was a phone call to Maurice from his attorney. Charles Groll’s voice trembled with excitement. He had a piece of great news and could Maurice come at once to his office? Together, they went to Jaffe’s office nearby, and on the way, Groll told him that Louis had asked to have his letter of intent returned. He was willing to pay a $40,000 bonus for it, as some powerful real estate organization wanted the property. Jaffe claimed that another theatre could be rented for a lot less than the $75,000 Maurice had offered. If necessary, he’d construct a Yiddish Art Theatre on Broadway, at a better location than tired old Second Avenue.

                          Without a second’s hesitation, Schwartz refused to give up the letter, not even for $100,000. He had his heart set on Second and 12th. The two attorneys began working on Maurice to change his mind, deluging him with nothing but sound reasons to take the money and run. “The way Shylock demanded his pound of flesh, I insisted that Jaffe keep his word and build my theatre”  (Schwartz 25 Apr. 1942).

                        Schwartz and his attorney left Jaffe’s office, Groll expressing his disgust, as they walked along the busy street. “You’re out of your mind. You’ll be buried in an unpaid shroud for your stubbornness, like lots of other Jewish actors”  (Schwartz 25 Apr. 1942). After Maurice repeated his refusal to cash in on the letter of intent, Groll shook his head, grumbled and hailed a cab.

                        At home, Schwartz poured out his heart to Anna and his parents. He simply couldn’t sell his soul, his vision, for money. He’d rather strive on as he’d had for years. Rose sided with him, but Isaac—a practical businessman—sided with the lawyers. With $40,000, his son could build a magnificent theatre in Palestine and become a better Jew. To Maurice, his understanding wife sounded the absolutely correct note: to raise an Art Theatre on Second Avenue, amongst his brethren, was worth more than any amount of money.


Chapter Seventeen: “I Have My Memories.”

                        “The season at the Nora Bayes Theatre on Broadway was not a successful one. The actors’ minds were already on the new theatre. They had the mental attitude of people who live in a temporary apartment or a hotel. Everything was done in a hurry”  (Schwartz 24 April 1942). And yet a season was mounted, albeit a short one, with fewer plays than ever, no more than ten, commencing on September 17th and ending early in April. King Saul was the season starter, a Biblical epic in four acts and a prologue that tried to provide some understanding of the tortured relationship between a king growing old and paranoid, and his youthful antagonist, David, the shepherd boy turned warrior.

                        Schwartz was paying the Shuberts $35,000 for the year at the Bayes, which was ample reason to try and uphold the Art Theatre’s tradition of stunning opening plays. Maurice chose a piece by one of the most important writers of the day, the German-Jewish Paul Heyse, who’d won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1910. Maurice played the aging, embittered Saul, with Lazar Freed as his son Jonathan, and another newcomer, Bella Bellarina, as David’s bethrothed. Perhaps as a reward for translating the piece, Mark Schweid, another first-timer, was awarded the role of David. The Times limited its tepid praise to 28 lines.

                         Gone forever from the Art Theatre, was Muni Weisenfreund. He’d had enough of Schwartz (and probably visa versa), and went to work instead for Max Gabel at the People’s Theatre, playing shund once more. A few years later he made the leap to Broadway, then to Hollywood, never to return to Second Avenue.

                         On October 19th, Schwartz put on Shakespeare and Company, garnering even less space in the Times, a mere ten lines without any critical comment. Based loosely on a Harry Kalmanowitz work, it was a romp about a silk manufacturer who writes a play for his actress-wife, co-starring her ex-lover. Listed in the playbill as the adapter is a M. Charnoff. Who is M. Charnoff? was the question of the day, as no one had ever heard of him. In reality, Schwartz was the man of mystery, trying his hand at adapting, a skill he would subsequently often practice, as quality plays by newcomers to the profession dwindled and their need increased.

                        The main effort that month went into a comedy about Jews in early 20th Century Russia, The Man Who Lived on Air (Der Luftmensch), written by Simeon Yushkewitz. The author, a physician in Russia, came to America in 1921. Encouraged by Maxim Gorki to practice writing instead of medicine, he went to work for the Day. His plays illuminated the conditions of Jewish life under the Czar. Luftmensch concerns the particular hardships of Elias Gold, who is prevented by ukase from entering the professions, and must earn his living as best he can, in various shady ventures, gathering his wealth virtually from the air.

                        For this piece, Schwartz was content merely in the lead role, leaving the directorial duties to Snegoff. The meaty play generated little excitement with neither critics nor patrons. Perhaps they all-too-easily compared it to Hard to Be a Jew, which had the same underlying motif. Sholem Asch’s A String of Pearls opened Monday evening, December 7th, with matinees scheduled for Saturdays and Sundays. A stark tragedy, the play deals with a prosperous Jewish family in some unnamed Eastern European village torn asunder by war. Though Asch was a respected Yiddish playwright, and twice before showcased by Schwartz (The Dead Man and Motke the Thief), the play went absolutely nowhere.

                       Toward the month’s end, on December 24th, Maurice ventured far outside both Yiddish and mainstream literature with The Circle of Chalk, by a little-known German historical novelist and translator of Oriental poetry. Alfred Henscke, under the pen name Klabund, created Der Kreidekreis in 1925, from a Chinese folktale about a poor girl who undergoes persecution and suffering, finally becoming the wife of a benevolent emperor. In 1948, Bertoldt Brecht used the Klabund translation to fashion his The Caucasian Chalk Circle, shifting the play’s emphasis to a King Solomon parable about two women in dispute over a baby.

                       Kicking off the new year, Schwartz presented The Dybbuk. Whenever the company needed a financial boost, or had run out of new material, he would dig into his repertoire of sparkling diamonds, of sure money-generators. The effort was generally well-received, especially by Alexander Woolcott, the fabled critic: “The Yiddish Art Theatre production of The Dybbuk is alive to the tingling dramatic value of this extraordinary play”  (6 Jan. 1926).

                       The Art Theatre also dug out Rags in March, with Maurice and Ben Zvi Baratov alternating the role of the son who sides with the strikers in his father’s factory. Among the downtrodden laborers, was Baruch Lumet (father of movie director Sidney Lumet), and Michael Rosenberg, up the ladder from being only an extra in Schwartz’s school for performers.

                        The sparseness of Schwartz’s 1925-1926 menu was partially compensated for by the Art Company’s involvement in filming Broken Hearts in Manhattan. Undeterred by the thudding failure of the movie Yiskor just months before, Maurice somehow got Louis Jaffe to back him in the project. The Jaffe Art Film Corporation was formed, and Schwartz dredged up the creaky old Libin work that had breathed life back into Jacob Adler’s sagging career in 1903. Ironically, Solomon Libin’s Man and His Shadow had opened the first season at the Irving Place Theatre, and once again the great innovator had to take an artistic step back, to rely on the tried-and-true middle ground of Libin’s plays to launch his American film career. Uncertain, treading his way gingerly in a relatively strange medium, he hoped to expand his audience while limiting the risks. Perhaps with Jaffe’s money at stake in the film company and in the Art Theatre under construction, Maurice decided to behave responsibly and with overcaution.

                       Schwartz steeped himself in the film’s direction, in the Bronx and on the Lower East Side, under the most hectic conditions. On Hester Street, there would be hundreds of mostly children showing up each day, causing havoc with the actors. “Their shrieking voices summoned ever new reinforcements from windows, doorways, cellars and stores. It became a surging tide of yelling, howling marchers, who pulled the cameraman by the coattails, walked before his feet, jerked at his machine”  (New York Times 11 Oct. 1925).

                       In Broken Hearts, was a medley of Art Theatre regulars, including Schwartz, Appel, Snegoff and Julius Adler. Also selected by Maurice, was Charles Nathanson (with whom he’d clashed in Philadelphia), and Henrietta Schnitzer, the imperious wife of the financial backer of Ben-Ami’s rebel group in 1919. The screen adaptation was written by Schwartz, with the aid of Frances Taylor Patterson, the very first instructor in cinema at Columbia University. As he’d done in Vienna, Maurice filmed during the day and performed evenings at the Nora Bayes.

                       What Louis Jaffe had hoped to achieve by constructing a playhouse on Second Avenue, was also his goal in moviemaking. “This is the first evidence of our program to elevate Jewish Art on the screen. To present Jewish life as it is in America now, avoiding, and thereby counteracting, gross exaggeration, is the primary aim of the Jaffe Art Film Corporation”  (Jewish Theatrical News 9 Feb. 1926).

                        Good intentions aside, the Libin film was closer to shund than art, the type of treacly mush Schwartz had tried to free himself from when he’d left David Kessler. Maurice further doctored the script by increasing his own part, and by providing a happy ending. The Times commended Schwartz’s sincerity in directing, but faulted his inexperience. “He dwells far too long on most of the scenes, and frequently gives a variety of ‘shots’ of situations that are hardly worth more than a flash”  (Hall 3 Mar. 1926). The Jewish Theatrical News was less kind: “He bears that painstaking poise which is Maurice Schwartz. Yet, for all that, he is listless, a trifle stunned, a wee bit too careful”  (2 Mar. 1926). Re-edited in 1932, the movie was released as The Unfortunate Bride, with Yiddish and English intertitles, music, and portions in the newfangled device of sound.

                        Engrossing as movie making had been for Schwartz that winter, he had more on his plate to keep him busy. He’d formed a new entity, Anboard Theatre Corporation (combining the first letters of Anna and Bordofsky), to deal with the fast-rising edifice on Second Avenue, soon to be a place as much as a concept. A series of contracts were drawn up and inked between December, 1925 and August, 1926. In one, Anboard and the Louis N. Jaffe Art Theatre Corporation agreed—within 38 pages containing many handwritten additions, corrections and deletions—to the leasing of the structure to be known thereafter as the Yiddish Art Theatre. The specifications were spelled out as to the stage, the dressing rooms, balconies, loges, etcetera, as per the blueprints of Harrison G. Wiseman, architect supreme, who’d also designed the William Fox Studios on 52nd Street, and many Loews movie houses.

                        Approximately 1240 seats were to be installed, subject to construction exigencies. Provision was made for a stage consisting of two platforms with the latest electrical and mechanical devices. Also a counterweight system, sufficient lighting, fire-proof curtains, and dressing rooms furnished with metal dressing tables, proper mirrors, and running water in each dressing room.

                         That tumultuous April was marred by the death during Passover week of Jacob Adler, at the age of 71. His funeral on the 2nd drew over 50,000, flooding the streets of the Lower East Side, and closing its stores and shops for two hours. Services were conducted on the stage of the Second Avenue Theatre. Half a million mourners, it was estimated, had viewed the body lying in state. Many, who’d come to pay their last respects, followed the cortege on foot, over the Williamsburg Bridge to Mount Carmel Cemetery in Brooklyn.

                       Four months later, on August 4th, Anboard signed a document with Maurice’s brother-in-law Meyer Golub and two partners, leasing them the coatroom and refreshment concessions for the new theatre. Their combined rent would be $4500 a year. Also negotiated was a security deposit by Golub and his associates of $15,000. The money was used by Schwartz as part of what he owed Jaffe. Five days hence, Anboard and Maurice entered into a service contract. His salary was fixed at $600 a week for the entire 36 weeks of the Yiddish Theatre season, with a rider permitting him one midweek benefit evening, the proceeds of which would be entirely his. Schwartz also stipulated for himself “the exclusive right and authority to select and designate the plays that shall be produced at the said theatre; to have the sole and exclusive charge of producing such plays [. . .]”   (Contract  9 Aug. 1926).

                        Evidently, Schwartz had learned how to run a theatre with authority, and wasn’t about to cede the least control to such as a Max Wilner, or anyone else who might seek to hamper him in any way. Whatever might happen to Anboard, whomever might gain control, he would still be master of what was produced.

                         The cornerstone-laying ceremony on May 24th, was a major event in the City. The guest of honor was Mrs. Sholem Aleichem. Attending also were Joseph Barondess, the labor leader who’d helped start the Hebrew Actors Union decades earlier; Alexander Gelman, the Assistant District Attorney for Kings County; Dr. Nathan Krass of Temple Emanuel, and the drama critics from the Yiddish newspapers. Among the dignitaries sending congratulations were Governor Alfred E. Smith, Mayor James J. Walker, Chaim Bialik, the dean of Yiddish poets, and Henry Meeker, board president of St. Mark’s Hospital, the man who’d strenuously objected to the theatre’s construction.

                        What might have crossed the minds of many of the celebrants was the passing of Adler, and one of his last letters to the Forward, printed on January 24, 1925. “I have my memories of the Yiddish stage, memories I must set down so that [. . .] the world may know how we built, out of the dark realities of Jewish life, with our blood, with our nerves, with the tears of our sleepless nights, the theatre that stands today as a testament to our people”  (Rosenfeld 350).

                         Perhaps those gathered at the grand occasion were concerned for the future of the kind of theatre Adler stood for, and Schwartz was trying to perpetuate, wondering too if Maurice and Jaffe, in an era of Yiddish’s increasing decline as a language, as a culture, had erected a monument to the past, instead of a vibrant, living palace of art. As patriotten the generation before had watched the construction of the Grand Street Theatre, so their sons observed the rise of the Art Theatre. This time, Maurice was more than a bystander, working closely with Wiseman and Jaffe. Often, changes had to be made to please Louis or Schwartz, or to conform to City building codes. Costs rose above the original estimates by over $100,000. Louis Jaffe didn’t mind, while Schwartz couldn’t help but sweat out the numbers.

                        Maurice’s old concerns, it seemed, hadn’t been assuaged by all the metal and stone and concrete, by the magnificent trappings of the Art Theatre’s new home. While the externals would change from year to year, playhouse to playhouse, his internal geography and the verities of trying to uplift the public while remaining solvent, would remain constant and imposing.
 

Chapter Eighteen: “We Made a Mistake in Our Extravaganza.”

                        “The greatest day of the Yiddish Art Theatre, the ultimate of a lifelong dream, has arrived. The Yiddish Art Theatre has a permanent home,” wrote Maurice in the program for Goldfaden’s The Tenth Commandment, the operetta with which he’d chosen to initiate the virgin playhouse, despite how miserably everything concerning its construction was going. And was still going on, as opening night neared. They would never be ready for a September premiere. All summer, the bricklayers were trundling their wheelbarrows across the half-completed stage. Carpenters were sawing and hammering. Plumbers laid pipe and soldered joints. This, while Boris Aronson was creating his most unusual sets, and Michel Fokine, the ballet master responsible for the Ballet Russe dance company, was rehearsing his dancers, and Lazar Weiner, the orchestra conductor, tried putting his musicians through their paces.

                       It was complete confusion and as disorganized as Maurice, the strict disciplinarian and control freak, had ever known. His patience, his very sanity, began eroding, as August dissolved into September, September into October. A full quarter of the season was gone, and the doors to the Art Theatre remained sealed shut. What saved him from going berserk was the calming influence of Leon Hoffman, who’d voluntarily accepted the unenviable role of unpaid overseer for the Art Theatre. Technically, the Forward writer was listed as publicity manager, but he would station himself at Schwartz’s side during the Babel-like rehearsals, and guide him through the tempestuous waters, offering sage opinions and dispensing sound advice, but mostly intoning the dulcet assurances that everything would come out very fine.

                        The chimerical date of November 17th was at last chosen to open the Art Theatre. So much remained unfinished, and that fact pressed heavily on Schwartz’s chest and shoulders. A near-breaking point came during the first week of November, as he biliously observed the ghastly choreography of carpenters and dancers on the same stage. Seized by an attack of uncertainty and despair, he craved to shut down the entire operation, or at least postpone it until the following month. What was another few lost weeks compared to what he was enduring? His brother Martin and Hoffman (his faithful Sancho Panza) cautioned against so rash an action, reminding him that they’d already sunk $20,000 into The Tenth Commandment, the costliest production until then in Yiddish Theatre history, and its greatest blunder, should Maurice decide to fold, or even delay, the already delayed opening.

                        “We made a mistake in our extravaganza,” believed the embattled producer. “The first play should have been small, modest, not one that depended on large crowds at the box office. New York Jews actually wanted to see [. . .] the new theatre rather than an extraordinary play”  (Schwartz 2 May 1942). But to present The Tenth Commandment under such impossible conditions, was an invitation to fiscal ruination. Not to however, would have been far worse, even fatal. The unions and other organizations had booked long in advance a large portion of the theatre, and at heavily discounted prices. Granted a full house, there was little chance of clearing a profit on the piece. Even so, the Art Theatre dared not disappoint the benefit managers, who were constantly shopping around, not for the best plays, but the cheapest. He dared not give them additional reason to go elsewhere.

                        Competition that year appeared on all fronts. Molly Picon was a smash in Molly Dolly. On Broadway, Gertrude Lawrence and Victor Moore were starring in Gershwin’s Oh, Kay, and Mae West simpered and strutted in Sex, for which she spent ten days in jail. One former Yiddish Theatre pioneer, Bertha Kalich, was appearing in English in Magda, while Muni made the transition to the mainstream We Americans. Closer to home, competition also was felt from the Habima Theatre, touching down on U.S. soil in 1926, on a tour arranged by impresario Sol Hurok. Trumpeted by English-language and Yiddish dailies alike, the non-commercial, Hebrew-speaking troupe catered to a select few, only the most literate Jews. Though Habima attracted but a tiny audience, it was Schwartz’s constituency the troupe stole from.

                        A more serious threat arose from the Irving Place’s art theatre group formed by the unlikely union of Jacob Ben-Ami and Max Wilner. The former, in an attempt to carry on the art movement he’d initiated with Schwartz in the same location eight years earlier, combined forces with Maurice’s ex-partner, enlisting many of those once dedicated to the Yiddish Art Theatre, among them Goldschmidt, Snegoff and Vinogradoff. Though their efforts were well-received, Ben-Ami and Wilner soon quarreled over policy—as had Max and Maurice—and the unwieldy union broke apart. Ben-Ami would then play for Eva LeGallienne’s Civic Repertory Theatre on 14th Street, where his abilities found a wider audience.

                        The Tenth Commandment had been written by Goldfaden in the waning years of the 19th Century, when he was directing theatre in Lemberg, Poland. The musical farce concerns two business associates who fall under Satan’s sway, and lust after each other’s wife. After a series of Devil-inspired disasters—including death, the descent into Hell, then redemption—the two couples regroup as before they violated the commandment in question, and happily spend the rest of their lives together.

                       The cast Schwartz had gathered for this daring tour de force, revamped by Maurice, was enormous, over 70 players, some taking three and four roles. Celia Adler, having signed on for another year, inhabited Fruma, the pious wife of Peretz, a rich and devout Chassid, who is nevertheless smitten with his partner’s wife. Playing Peretz was an interesting new performer Maurice had imported from Romania. Months before, Celia and Molly Picon had touted to him the virtues of a highly talented couple, Joseph Buloff and Luba Kadison, currently the toasts of Bucharest. They were appearing in Buloff’s retooling of The Singer of His Sorrows, by Ossip Dymov.

                        Ever on the alert for fresh faces to spark up the Art Theatre, Schwartz had initiated correspondence with Buloff early in the summer of 1926. At first Buloff was hesitant about leaving Romania to go work for the Yiddish Art Theatre and its charismatic head. Joe Buloff and Luba Kadison were members of the justly famous Vilna Troupe. Some of its players had already come to America—Luba’s parents among them—after anti-Semitism had reared its ugly head in Eastern Europe. Schwartz and Buloff were from two diametrically opposite theatrical backgrounds. Joe was formed in the classics, while Maurice rose from the rough-and-tumble school of practical theatre, with no fixed artistic point of view, except the sine qua non of good theatre. In Satamar, in what was then called Transylvania, Buloff at last received a contract from Schwartz with the terms he wanted, and soon after, he and Luba departed for America.

                       Opening night for the newly-headquartered Art Theatre, November 17, 1926, was especially vivid to Brooks Atkinson (who then was J. Brooks Atkinson and at the start of his tenure at the New York Times Drama desk). He mulled about outside the theatre, observing the crush of ticket holders jostling one another, and edging toward the entrance.  “With three policemen at the doors, who seemed to enjoy the spectacle, and a police lieutenant who obviously enjoyed it less, the audience began to squeeze through the doors [. . .]. In the meantime, many of the dignitaries of the town cooled their heels outside or squeezed their stiff shirts in the mob”  (28 Nov. 1926).

                        When Maurice approached the theatre and glimpsed the same bedlam, his eyes welled up in tears. Anna and Martin by his side tried to comfort him, as Leon Hoffman had during the polyphonic rehearsal days of actors’ voices pitted against the irregular beats of hammers and the crescendos of saws. But all the well-meaning soothing couldn’t help Maurice. “There’s a well-known theatre adage that a poor last rehearsal is followed by an excellent premiere. I didn’t believe it. My experience indicated that an excellent rehearsal means an excellent premiere. We were standing in front of an unfinished building. Even the lobby was incomplete, not to mention the box office. It was going to be a disaster, I kept shouting”  (Schwartz 13 May 1942).

                        Inside the theatre, Schwartz recognized many of the invited guests, men and women of prominence in the City, in the nation: Otto Kahn, the Wall Street banker; Daniel Frohman, the Broadway producer; respected writers Fanny Hurst and Edna Ferber; Mrs. Sholem Aleichem; Adolph Ochs, editor of the New York Times; Yiddish playwright Ossip Dymov.

                        Only a miracle would save him.

                        No such miracle was forthcoming. The play that was so clever, so futuristic, so right during the badly-compromised rehearsals, turned out to be a jumbled mess at its first performance. Sets had been improperly placed. Lines were garbled. The singers were out of synch with the orchestra. Moreover, the play began after 9 PM and didn’t end until two the next morning. Long before, the critics had left in order to file their reviews for the morning editions. Along with them, the audience had begun trickling out around midnight, leaving only a tiny band of diehards at the conclusion, more out of loyalty than from an appreciation of the play. True to their calling, the patriotten applauded wildly.

                        Keeping up appearances, Schwartz thanked them for coming, then made a quick exit to face Louis Jaffe, who was the only person in the house in a festive mood. He’d attained his goal; he’d created a theatre which, when completed, would be a Jewish palace. A few hours later, they were poring over the morning papers. The first cut was delivered by the Times: “Like the theatre, the performance is not thoroughly finished. Mr. Schwartz has embellished it with marches, chants, dances, tableaux, comic bits, pieces of buffoonery, and several elaborate settings [. . .]. The performance, in its unfinished state, is rather too long for continuous enjoyment”  (Atkinson 4 Nov. 1928).

                      Abe Cahan’s reaction was far worse. He delivered a fulminous and probably fatal broadside in a lengthy and rambling Forward review that began with kudos about Maurice’s past contributions to Yiddish Theatre. “He is growing and is talented and has artistic skills [. . .] Unfortunately, I have to say that the directing of such a play is the biggest mistake in his most interesting and colorful theatre career”  (19 Nov. 1926). As counterweight to the mostly negative reviews, the one by John Mason Brown acted like a balm to the despondent Schwartz, such bursts of exuberance as “it has vast energy and a blatant, exciting kind of underscoring” and “its writhing devils under the green lights, its trapdoors, its constant use of actors rushing over many perilous levels [. . .] give it that vivid, deep-dyed theatricality which is missing in our quiet, everyday theatre of parlors and kitchens”  (Feb. 1927).

                        The Tenth Commandment swiftly became a cancer to Schwartz and he ended the agony after a five-week run, acknowledging that critics had been under no obligation to consider his many problems in producing the piece. He understood in his brain that every play must be judged according to its merits. Emotionally however, his ego told him differently. Had they only known, they would have been kinder, because he was after all Maurice Schwartz, the hero and shining knight (in his eyes) of quality Yiddish Theatre. But heroes are rarely survivors, and surviving was what Maurice did best. The Goldfaden mess over, he decided to shun further expeditions into the unknown and the untried for a while, and return to the more familiar works of the past. He had rent to pay and salaries to dole out, responsibilities to more than himself.

                        Mendle Spivack by Yuskewitz was just such a more practical attempt at good, but not great, theatre that also paid the bills. On December 23rd, Schwartz premiered the work with himself in the title role, and Luba Kadison debuting in her first appearance on the Yiddish stage in America, along with Buloff in his second. It was an instant hit.

                        The hero is a poor hospital watchman in Odessa, who, after 11 years of marriage to Hannahle, has a first child. But seven days later, the baby dies. This extreme tearjerker had circumstances quite familiar to a large part of its audience, especially the terrible poverty they’d escaped by coming to America. The play did splendidly, where a truly expansive piece of imaginative theatre had failed.

                        On February 10th of the next year, Maurice trotted Rags out of his stable of certain winners, and on March 3rd, he presented his fourth Sholem Asch piece, Reverend Doctor Silver, a serious drama. This is a thoughtful work about redemption and forgiveness, set in a Midwestern American city, the first Art Theatre work with so unusual a locale. Dr. Silver is married to Clara, and can’t believe that she, a rabbi’s wife, is carrying on with Rubinstein, her music teacher. The plot is strongly reminiscent of  The Kreutzer Sonata , but where Tolstoy’s jealous husband kills his unfaithful wife, Dr. Silver assumes full responsibility for the affair and forgives Clara, who then runs off with her lover anyway. A year later, the adulterous wife returns, having been abandoned. Silver takes her back, but loses his congregation because of it. She can’t deal with their disapproval and commits suicide.

                        This American-based play and others to follow, were attempts by Schwartz to capture second- and third-generation Jews who had no emotional ties to the Old World and its history, culture and traditions. Made pragmatic by these realities, Maurice was well aware that he had to move forward while, at the same time, preserving the best of the past.

                        Next, Schwartz tried a shimmering piece with the Russian Revolution as background. Her Crime was written by Moissaye Joseph Olgin, known more for his politics than as a playwright. Editor of the Morning Freiheit, the Yiddish Communist daily, which he founded in 1918, Russian-born Olgin received a doctorate degree from Columbia University in 1918. About the piece: the year is 1919, and the Reds are slowly gaining the upper hand, though the Whites still control the southern portion of Russia. On the perilous border between them, encounters spin out in many forms—intrigue, betrayal, subversion and vengeance, adding spice to a love story not usually associated with fiction, Communist style.

                         In March, Schwartz gave Joe Buloff the chance to demonstrate his directorial talent in The Singer of His Sorrow, the play that had enthralled the Romanians. For this work, Maurice took a backseat, though he did change the title to The Hired Bridegroom to attract an audience more interested in weddings than grief. It was after all a very lyrical fantasy about a fiddler who loves a servant girl. She, on the other hand, loves a card-playing wastrel. The fiddler wins a fortune in a lottery, but deliberately loses it at cards to the wastrel, so that the latter can afford to marry the girl. After reconsidering this noble but outlandish gesture, the fiddler goes mad.

                         When Buloff presented it in Bucharest, the reigning monarch King Carol and his mistress Magda Lupescu (the daughter of a Jewish pharmacist) had loved the work. The piece  evoked no such feelings in New York. “Unfortunately, very few people were interested [. . .] so Buloff’s play ended up a colossal, material failure. The deficit amounted to $15,000, its income the lowest for the entire season”  (Schwartz 3 Feb. 1945).

                           Another Dymov work, Human Dust, was given at the end of  March, a drama in three acts and eleven scenes. Sets were by Boris Aronson and the music by Vladimir Heifitz, a cousin of the more famous Jascha. Buloff and Kadison had supporting parts to the leads played by Celia and Maurice. The setting was the current Manhattan milieu and caught the raw abrasiveness of the Roaring Twenties, its fundamental meanness. The story concerned a roue named Teddy, who impregnates Betty, a young naïve working girl, then leaves her. After the abortion, she meets Joe, who adores her. He’s the conductor on the train she takes to work every day. They marry, then Teddy returns to blackmail Betty over her indiscretion. She shoots him dead. This is Schwartz again, using American-born Jews as characters, giving them American names, placing them in American scenarios. They could have easily passed for Gentiles.

                         And so the season ended, with as many successes as failures, though with little money in the bank, which was almost a given for the Art Theatre. Nevertheless, the company was in a joyous mood, preparing to take flight, become summer birds, off to the invigorating provinces. Compared to what they’d been through during the regular season, this would be like a long vacation.
 

Chapter Nineteen: “I Signed the Contract With a Broken Spirit.”

                       Visiting the usual Yiddish outposts in America and Canada during the summer of 1927, Maurice couldn’t help but love the freedom of the road. He felt liberated from the grinding necessity of producing one enormous hit after another at the Art Theatre. In Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland, and over the border in Montreal and Toronto, expenses were much less, the audiences more receptive, the critics kinder. Besides, he cherrypicked only the certain hits from the Art Theatre’s repertoire, and in those gracious cities, he and his troupe were sumptuously treated, the patrons so very grateful to be visited by theatre royalty. Critics and devotees alike would pack the smaller playhouses and give the cast nightly standing ovations. Later, they would be wined and dined by the local Jewish organizations.

                        Returning to New York in a fine, confident mood, Maurice spent a few restful days at his home in Sea Gate, on Brooklyn’s south shore, firming up the schedule for the coming season. On a delightfully cool August afternoon, two visitors came calling. One was Morris Lipshitz and the other Jacob Rovenger, who’d become the Art Theatre’s General Manager after the end of the almost profitless 1926-1927 season. Lipshitz, who was owed a large fortune by Schwartz, had insisted on installing Rovenger, a hard-nosed, profit-minded, experienced manager. Lipshitz wanted some return on investment in the upcoming year, not an unreasonable request.

                         As one, the money man and the new G.M. demanded that the Art Theatre open the new season with Greenberg’s Daughters, a domestic, American-based drama, aimed at the younger generation. Its author, Jacob Adershlager, was yet another newspaperman turned playwright. A barber originally, he’d free-lanced his experiences to the Forward, then joined its staff, weaving tales about the Jewish poor in Manhattan. Set on the Lower East Side of the ‘20’s, Greenberg’s Daughters depicts the tug of war between shtetl morality and the American ethic. “The play isn’t really trash, but it’s far from Art Theatre standards,” complained Maurice to the two men  (Schwartz 14 Mar.1945). But they insisted and Schwartz was in no position to refuse.

                        Over the summer, as past debts mounted, especially to Lipshitz, who’d grown less an admirer and more a harasser, Maurice’s financial position looked grave. On August 3rd, he’d been forced to give a third mortgage on the house he’d bought for Isaac and Rose. The two encumbrances already on the property were for $7800 and $4000, monies extracted to help finance Maurice’s portion of the new theatre. The third, for $2000, at six percent interest, consisted of eight notes of $250 each, the first payable on October 15th, the others due monthly.

                         Worse than money problems, Schwartz had a more serious matter to be concerned with. His mother’s health was failing: her heart. Seemingly indestructible, the family’s bulwark and North Star, she was beginning to waste away. Her doctor was not optimistic and Maurice fell into a well of despair unlike anything he’d ever experienced before. Like a twig in a raging stream, he let circumstances take him where it will. While Rose hovered between life and death, so did his position at the Art Theatre.

                        His lawyer, Charley Groll, proposed a solution for the financial morass Schwartz had gotten himself into. Maurice would have to surrender the lease for the Art Theatre to a partnership formed by Lipshitz and Roveneger. In turn, the new entity would keep paying Schwartz’s salary of $600 a week. The partnership would also assume the responsibility for the theatre’s other expenses, as well as tear up the IOU given by Maurice to Lipshitz in the amount of $10,000, part of the $15,000 handed over to Louis Jaffe. “I signed the contract with a broken spirit [. . .] I was no longer the owner of the Art Theatre, preserving only my position as director”  (Schwartz 10 Mar. 1945).

                       When the dust finally settled, Schwartz understood that in effect he was in exactly the same untenable position he’d been in with Max Wilner. Though dispirited, he tried to make a go of it with Greenberg’s Daughters. He expected and received scathing notices, the one exception being Abe Cahan’s glowing review in the Forward. Perhaps the playwright’s strong ties to the newspaper had something to do with it.

                       Then in September, during a matinee of the hated piece, before the close of the second act, Maurice halted, immobilized by a terrible premonition about Rose he dare not put into words. “My heart came to a halt. My eyes grew dim. My legs became stiff. I heard a buzzing in my ears. People around me were talking, but I couldn’t make out what they said”  (Schwartz 14 Mar. 1945). Schwartz was led to a chair, where he sat as if in a state of catatonia, until the actors completed the performance without him, improvising. Limp and uncommunicative, he barely noticed Anna Appel, standing in a corner and weeping. He wondered why, and what was the reason he’d suddenly fallen apart? Never before had he done this on stage. The answer, which he knew in his soul, came from Bertha Gersten, who told Maurice to change into street clothes at once, and leave with her. Rose had taken a turn for the worse, and there wasn’t much time.

                       Mechanically, he wiped off his makeup and dressed. Bertha had a taxi waiting and eased him into it. After a maddingly slow ride in the molasses of traffic, they arrived in Sea Gate. The entire family was awash in tears and awaiting him. His older sister took him into their parents’ bedroom, where Rose was lying, her eyes closed forever. “I turned to stone. I didn’t cry. I didn’t faint. I stood there like a statue for a full hour. Then I woke up from my trance and faced the truth: my beloved mother, the most precious person in my life, was no more”  (Schwartz 21 Mar. 1945).

                         Isaac was sitting in a corner by himself, reciting his prayers. Just the week before, he’d returned from Palestine, where he made arrangements to emigrate, he and Rose. Now he’d have to go alone. After the 30-day mourning period, Isaac Schwartz said his farewells to friends and family and left America. His one goal was to be buried in Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives. Etched indelibly in Maurice’s memory, was the final glimpse of his father, standing unobtrusively at the ship’s railing “attempting to avoid special notice. His gray-white beard had become all white in a very short time”  (Schwartz 21 Mar. 1945).

                       Getting back into the swim of theatre as he soon had to, Maurice went far afield with his next production after Greenberg’s Daughters had closed, in spite of Rovenger’s attempts to keep it alive. The replacement was the 17th Century comedy, The Gardener’s Dog, by Spain’s greatest dramatist, Lope de Vega. For Art Theatre aficionados, this was an unsettling piece of programming. True, Schwartz had long ago dedicated himself to the finest in world literature—the third horse of his original troika—but from the poor attendance of past foreign plays, it might have been assumed that he’d refrain from anything but Yiddish material. Schwartz further amazed everyone by selecting as director, Boris Glagolin, of the Mayakovsky Theatre in Moscow, which was founded in 1922 solely for the purpose of presenting Soviet works of propaganda As in the past, Schwartz seemed to doubt his ability to direct the non-Yiddish classics.

                        Apparently, Schwartz was still very much in charge of selecting the Art Theatre’s material. If Rovenger was boss at this point, the de Vega piece would never have been mounted. Maurice loved this play, its madcap tempo, the bubbly plot and scintillating dialogue. He played Theodore, the handsome, young servant of Countess Diana, who falls in love with him. Theodore instead loves a kitchen maid, but in the three merry acts, all problems are eventually resolved. “In order to look fit for the role, I had to jog for weeks over the sands of Sea Gate, and do other types of exercise”  (Schwartz 7 Mar. 1945).

                        Atkinson wasn’t terribly impressed by the tremendous energy expended and the many original stunts Glagolin employed to keep the action moving apace. He labeled the play “a cross between burlesque and gymnasium, with the actors breathlessly swinging across the parallel bars of the comedy, determined to be funny [. . .]. They are a good deal more amused than the audience”  (21 Oct. 1927). 

                         Seething, Abe Cahan all but forbade Schwartz from running the work. The public was no more receptive, and the play bombed badly. The idea of a gardener’s dog (though there was neither gardener nor dog in the script) confused many a potential ticket buyer. And furthermore, so their logic went, how meaningful or interesting can a play be, written by a Spaniard dead over 300 years? Since the audience ultimately rules, closed down the work after less than a week, to end the rapid drain on the theatre’s limited resources. The flop only exacerbated his relationship with Lipshitz and Rovenger.

                           Later in December, on Christmas Eve, Maurice tried On Foreign Soil, by a playwright listed in the Times as Saint Andrea and by David Lifson, the Yiddish Theatre savant, as Areas De Santos, though nothing can be found about either. The piece dealt with the recurring theme in Jewish Literature of trying to assimilate into a hostile Gentile society. Set in Fascist Italy, the story revolves around a wealthy patriarch trying in vain to preserve his Jewishness, yet take part in the general life around him the Times enjoyed the play and its main player. “In the portrayal of this forlorn man of good, Maurice Schwartz brings us his usual fine performance of understanding and restraint”  (24 Dec. 1927).

                        On January 27, 1928, Schwartz again reached outside the Yiddish canon with Alexander Pushkin, by 19th Century Italian playwright Valentino Carrera. Capturing the tumultuous life of the supreme Russian poet, it first premiered in Turin, Italy, in 1865, instantly becoming a popular favorite. Maurice directed and starred in the title role, with actresses Appel, Gersten, Henrietta Schnitzer, and Anna Teitelbaum as the women in Pushkin’s life.

                        In March, the season forever shrinking, he presented the season’s finale, American Chassidim. The play, a scathing satire by Chone Gottesfeld, was also a mean-spirited attack on the ultra-orthodox branch of Judaism. It is difficult to comprehend what Schwartz had in mind, offering a poison pill about the foibles of the Chassidim, as his own father was of that persuasion, Isaac being the holiest, most righteous man Maurice had ever known. The Times had its own reservations about the play. “Surely Mr. Schwartz, with his years of experience in the theatre, should have sufficient acumen to avoid ridiculing religion. In attempting to do so, the author forgot his destination by spoofing a sect sincere in its beliefs”  (17 Mar. 1928).

                         What is interesting about the work, besides its misguided attack on the ultra-orthodox, was the inclusion in the dialogue of many Americanisms. Schwartz, a devout protagonist of Yiddish, had finally acknowledged the erosion of the language he dearly loved and yielded to the harsh realities of Jewish life in America, in order to preserve his audience. He’d already presented The Reverend Doctor Silver and Human Dust, each with both feet planted firmly in Yankee soil. It was only logical that contemporary Yiddish plays reflect the language as currently spoken. Often, when eternal vows of high purpose conflicted with common sense practicality, Schwartz bowed to the latter, making U-turns and taking detours to achieve his ultimate goal.

                         Throughout the fall and winter, Schwartz suffered enormously, mourning the loss of Rose and constantly at odds with Lipshitz and Rovenger. They wanted strictly lighter fare, garnished with song and dance in each production, regardless of appropriateness. Maurice envisioned his reputation crumbling and complained to Guskin—the court of last resort—who couldn’t help. Schwartz had signed away ownership of the Art Theatre. “I’ll leave—the sets, the costumes, every piece of equipment. I’ll lose the $75,000 security,” he told himself, a desperate man  (Schwartz 17 March 1945).

                         And he did. At the start of Passover and before the official close of the Yiddish Theatre season, he walked away from everything tangible in the playhouse. All that he took with him was his makeup kit, a few personal belongings, and a badly mauled soul. He crossed the Avenue, entered the Café Royale, and took a seat by the window, where he could observe at some distance what he’d walked away from. “What was the Art Theatre but brick and mortar? I’d rather play in a place with only four walls than in a fancy building offering trash”  (Schwartz 21 Mar. 1941).

                          That season, perhaps the busiest in Broadway history, there were 268 productions on the Great White Way, each one having siphoned off parts of Schwartz’s audiences. He gazed out at the naked trees shivering in the raw March cold, perhaps considering these facts, sitting in the café, smoking cigarettes, sipping coffee and nursing his injured psyche. As the trees would eventually bloom, so would he. But for the present, oh how it hurt.

Chapter Twenty: “Need Breaks Iron.”

                        If Maurice endured the anguish of once more being without a home to call his own, a base of operations for the Art Theatre, it wasn’t for long. Charley Groll, through his many contacts in the entertainment industry, and with the help of Edwin Relkin, a hyperactive Yiddish Theatre manager, helped obtain a capacious playhouse at 114 E. 14th Street, between Second and Third Avenues. The City Theatre had begun life as a vaudeville and movie house, but also presented live theatre. It was a perfect location, above a number of intersecting subway lines, and boasted the kind of huge stage that Maurice had fought for with Louis Jaffe, but never got. Schwartz let his imagination run riot over what he could do with so enormous a playing field.

                        For a season that was reduced from 40 weeks of a decade earlier to about 35 and often less, Schwartz had much to consider before consenting to the terms of the lease. Hardly more than a pauper after the previous season, at low spiritual tide in March, his resolve returned full blown, even if rich backers like Jaffe and Lifshitz were nowhere in sight.

                        “ ‘Need breaks iron’ is a Jewish proverb. I decided to directly approach theatregoers and appeal for their help. Why not introduce a subscription plan the way it’s done in the Theatre Guild? Why not make sure the Art Theatre has a membership that can become an insurance policy for its existence?”  (Schwartz 24 Mar.1945).

                        That old, undying pipe dream: it had never stopped rattling around in his head like a gerbil on a treadmill since the very inception of the Irving Place Theatre. He’d tried it out then, in a limited way, and again on Second Avenue, but with poor results. Back then, it would have been icing on the cake. Now, in such a changed environment, with so much roiled water under the bridge, public support had become an absolute necessity. Expanding his original concept (which wasn’t original), he placed ads in the Yiddish press, promoting a detailed and imaginative discount plan involving subscription cards in various denominations, from a dollar to $100. The discounts on tickets and other benefits were proportional to the card’s value. The $100 card, for example, entitled its owner to free admission to every premiere.

                        “My appeal brought immediate results. We collected $8000 in the first weeks. Thousands of patrons came to our office on Second Avenue to register. Some sent as much as $100 in cash through the mail”  (Schwartz 24 Mar. 1945). After the numbers had been tallied, Schwartz estimated that more than 11,000 had joined. Listed in the first playbill of the season opener, were 150 honorary members of the Art Theatre, the $100 variety. Among them were the banker Otto Kahn, the playwright H. Leivick, and a host of labor leaders.

                        Maurice signed a ten-year lease, to commence October 1st, 1928 and expire June 30, 1938. The rent would start at $67,500 a year and escalate to $110,000. The landlord, William Fox, the movie mogul, demanded and received a security deposit of $25,000. With a much larger hall to fill, and a vast stage at his command, Schwartz selected Sholem Asch’s Kiddush Hashem to open the City Theatre. Sanctification of the Name, is the play’s rough English translation, and was an expansion by the author of his short story about the Chmielnicki Massacre of 1648, one of the most horrific episodes in Jewish history, with over 100,000 Jews slaughtered.

                        With funds made available through the subscription plan, he went about the happy hell of fleshing out the Asch piece. “I hired a troupe of the best actors. I didn’t spare any expense for sets and costumes. Kiddush Hashem had to be grandiose at any cost”  (Schwartz 28 Mar. 1945). Maurice worked with Asch on the dramatization, and also directed the play. Joseph Achron provided the music, Sam Ostrowsky the sets. Charley Adler (Jacob’s son) choreographed the dances. Available and avid to work with Maurice again, were many former members of the Art Theatre:Goldschmidt, Abramowitz, Baratov, Michael Rosenberg, Lisa Silbert, Lazar Freed, Celia Adler and Anatol Vinogradoff. However, Anna Appel and Bertha Gersten had made other commitments for the ‘28-’29 season, though each returned the following year. More than 60 actors were used in the production, 40 individually listed in the playbill, the rest unheralded: extras who were Cossacks, Polish soldiers, Ukrainian peasants, nobles, children and choir singers. These unsung performers were products of the acting school Schwartz had previously organized.

                        His imagination unbound, Schwartz instilled a technique he took credit for: the revolving stage, though it originated in Japan in the 17th Century, a product of Kabuki Theatre that was brought to Europe in 1896 by the German stage designer Lautenschlager. Schwartz’s device was manipulated electrically and “could be turned left or right; scenes were shifted at lightning speed [. . .]”  (Schwartz 28 Mar. 1945). A stickler for perfection, and goaded by the higher stakes of running the City Theatre, Schwartz went to extremes to make certain that everything was exactly so. He drove the crew unmercifully from early morning to sundown.

                         All Maurice’s uncompromising attention to detail, the hard work and the long hours of drilling his cast, paid off, as Kiddush Hashem opened on September 14th and was a tremendous success. He felt justified in choosing so elaborate a spectacle, in spending so freely. In the introduction to his review, Brooks Atkinson wrote that “most of us are eager to see the artistic integrity of a local Jewish Art Theatre preserved against growing obstacles. The literature  and the acting talent of the Jewish Theatre are rich. Even if we remain ignorant of the language, we can enjoy the ardor and the poetry of their more racially representative productions”  (30 Sept. 1928). About the play itself, Atkinson was less appreciative, finding the work rather flabby, the lighting poor, the makeup sloppy, the direction unfocused. And yet, perhaps more as a commentary on the dearth of worthwhile material Uptown than on the City’s production, The Times critic declared that “nothing on Broadway this season approaches the grandiose conception of Sholem Asch’s epic drama”  (30 Sept. 1928).

                       Originally, Schwartz’s plan was to run a work for six weeks only, in order to provide a full agenda for his subscribers, who were after all the Art Theatre’s engine. But with the start-up costs of mounting Kiddush Hashem so exorbitant, he decided to extend the run an additional three weeks. It was taking in $15,000 each and every week. In late October, while the Asch piece was still thrilling the weekend crowd, Maurice filled in the weeknights with a revival of Rags, absenting himself however from its production. He hired Avrom Morevsky, of the Vilna Troupe to direct and star in the Leivick play. Ten days later, on Thursday, November 1st, Schwartz interrupted Kiddush Hashem to put up  The Great Fortune, the Sholem Aleichem work first offered in 1922, under the title The Big Lottery.

                        One week later, the Asch play still on hold, Maurice produced a piece he’d been rolling over in his mind for ages, Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. The stated reason for its mounting was the Moscow Art Theatre’s thirtieth anniversary. A limited run of two weeks was scheduled. Once again, Schwartz deferred to the Russians on this most Russian of plays, by hiring Leo Bulgakov to direct. Bulgakov had been a Moscow Art Theatre member, but was talked into defecting by Morris Gest, during its 1923-1924 swing through America. After his one-play stint at the Art Theatre, Bulgakov would go on the produce and direct a host of Broadway plays.

                        Next came the creaky, ancient God, Man and Devil despite the warnings of financial failure from the Art Theatres two managers, Leon Hoffman and Joseph Grossman. Maurice reread the Gordin classic and did some heavy tinkering, “eliminating boring monologues, and enhancing the dramatization [. . .]. I decided to create a new format for the interesting play, adding a third act, subdividing it into two parts”  (Schwartz 4 Apr. 1945). To the surprise of everyone but Maurice, the reconstituted play received great notices and made money, running well from late December to the end of February the next year.

                       Not every risk Schwartz took that season paid off. On January 3rd, he sidetracked God, Man and Devil to try Shakespeare’s Othello. A substantial part of the gamble was the Yiddish patron’s distaste for the creator of Shylock, a slur on the Jewish people, if there ever was one. A second hazard lay in bringing back Boris Glagolin, whose The Gardener’s Dog had been such a turkey the season before. Mark Schweid did the translation, Charley Adler the choreography, and Alex Chertov the settings. Giuseppe Verdi’s music was employed. Ben Zvi Baratov played the Moor, while Schwartz took the meatier, more complex role of Iago, which must have been a jolt to those detractors who claimed that Schwartz would only play heroes. Celia Adler was a radiant Desdemona.

                        The Times expressed surprise at Glagolin’s interpretation: “It has been subtly translated back into something much nearer the spirit from which the English tragedy was derived [. . .]. It is Shakespeare with a new tempo, a color which is ultimately foreign to the art of the British islander”  (4 Feb. 1929). A bit too ingenious was Glagolin’s staging. He demanded the use of a real lake onstage and a real gondola in it. Maurice had once before taken his lumps for using an authentic lake during the 1924 fiasco The Devil Knows What. However, Glagolin was most persuasive and got his way. In the role of Rodrigo, Joseph Greenberg (who would become Joseph Green, the Yiddish movie producer) became so unnerved in the gondola, that he came close to capsizing it during a performance. It was little surprise that Othello sank at once, the way Greenberg nearly did, Schwartz immediately beaching the production.

                        On Friday evening, February 15th, Harry Sackler’s Major Noah was attempted. Mordecai Manuel Noah had been a real person, one of the most colorful figures in Jewish-American history. As a visionary (pre-dating Theodore Herzl), Noah strove to establish a colony to be called Ararat, on Grand Island in the Niagara River near Buffalo, New York. The enclave would be a training site and proving ground for Jewish pioneers, who would then settle Palestine as a Jewish state. As history, Major Noah, the person, was fascinating stuff. As theatre, the play proved to be a dud, and two weeks later Maurice moved on to an entirely different and more theatrically rewarding piece. He centered on the 1888 Sholem Aleichem novella Stempenyu, which Schwartz adapted without the assistance of I.D. Berkowitz, who’d left America for good to spend the rest of his life in Palestine.

                        The resulting play, Stempenyu the Fiddler, a warm, romantic comedy about the violin-playing leader of an itinerant band of musicians. During one of his gigs, Stempenyu, married to a shrew, falls in love with a beautiful woman, who is the discontented wife of a rich but dull man. Lazar Freed took the lead role, while Schwartz played second fiddle to the fiddler, as the boring husband. In the production, Maurice used the revolving stage to its utmost, presenting two totally disparate scenes almost simultaneously—an intimate wedding in tandem to a shtetl crowded with celebrants. Maurice’s use of split-second lighting shifts contributed greatly to the revolving stage’s success.

                          Following the play’s heady run, the season ended. As usual, it had been an interesting time in the narrow confines of Yiddish Theatre and in the wider circle of American life. Herbert Hoover had been elected President in November, to complete Republican domination of the 1920’s. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a dynamic though crippled patrician, had been chosen Governor of New York. On February 14, 1929, the day before the opening of Major Noah, seven members of a rival mob were machinegunned to death in a Chicago garage. This event came to be known as ‘The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.’ On a more cultural note, the year 1928 was notable for the publication of four American classics—A Farewell to Arms, Look Homeward Angel, The Sound and the Fury, and Dodsworth. The Pulitzer Prize for drama that year went to Eugene O’Neill for Strange Interlude, produced by the Theatre Guild. Gershwin’s ‘American in Paris’ premiered in Carnegie Hall, and among the films New Yorkers flocked to was The Love Parade, with Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier. Mickey Mouse made his first appearance that seminal year, in Steamboat Willie, and Fanny Brice, in her screen debut in My Man.

                       As an actor and director, Schwartz was quite pleased with his accomplishments that season at the City Theatre. Kiddush Hashem and Stempenyu  had been wonderful bookends for the rest of the mostly forgettable fare. As Zohn has indicated: “Schwartz realized with these [two] productions he had the advantage of reaching wider audiences—the more intelligent as well as the broad masses; the students of the modern stage as well as the followers of the old school. In these compromises, Schwartz was rather successful”  (184).

                        Less laudatory and more critical of Schwartz’s increasing affinity for massive productions, was Celia Adler. To her, Kiddush Hashem proved that “Maurice had finally succumbed to the same easy path taken by all the other Yiddish managers, surrendering to baroque ostentation [. . .]”  (Lifson 358).

                        Artistic satisfaction aside, Schwartz, the producer, was woefully dismayed by the Art Theatre’s lack of a healthy bank balance by the end of April,1929. Its income had been the largest ever, averaging $13,000 a week. Expenses however were greater—an old story for Maurice—and he was forced to break his lease, and walk away from the large and commodious City Theatre, with its fantastic revolving stage and other amenities. He realized too that his $25,000 security deposit would be forfeited.

                        Again theatreless, Maurice wondered where the Art Theatre would be next season, if there would even be a next season. He’d have to face the problem later, but for the present, he had a few lovely months before him. Instead of the usual summer circuit tour, he’d be going to California, where New York Jews had gone in search of a different kind of gold, the kind made in the movie business. The trek across the continent ate up the Art Theatre’s small reserves. Engagements along the way, in Chicago, Omaha, Denver, and a gaggle of other towns, hardly replaced what the transportation charges were.

                         California at last, with San Francisco being the first stop in that mythic place. The troupe of regulars and the few single-season players he’d hauled west, opened with Kiddush Hashem. For Jews once-removed from the Lower East Side, and not that long ago, the audiences were cold and unresponsive. Completely Americanized. Hastily, the Art Theatre moved on to Los Angeles, a city “whose life is regulated by the movies. People run after their own shadows but never catch them”  (Schwartz 14 Apr. 1945). Giving it his best shot, Schwartz opened with Tevye the Milkman, at the Mayan Theatre. In the opening night audience, were the most recognizable movie stars on the planet, not to mention the first-rate film directors, producers, and writers. “Some of them brought along their Gentile wives. The story of Chava’s becoming an apostate was not a pleasant reminder [. . .] Some left the theatre in tears, with a heavy heart”  (Schwartz 14 Apr. 1945).

                       The company trotted out other Art Theatre favorites, all of which the Angelinos enjoyed far better than audiences in San Francisco. The first week in this improved climate, the Art Theatre took in $18,000. The euphoria wasn’t to last. Paul Bern, a producer at MGM, had come to the Mayan a few times, and asked to be introduced to Maurice in his dressing room. The visit resulted in an offer by Bern: a seven-year deal for Schwartz only, $12,000 to begin with, and regular increases to follow. (The same Paul Bern married his protégé Jean Harlow in July, 1932, and was found dead three months later in his own bedroom, under mysterious circumstances.)

                         A California sun, the relaxed, congenial life, the constant aroma of flowers blooming everywhere, but mostly the chance to live an unharried life, worked heavily on Maurice. He imagined a future filled with nothing but acting, without the terrible constraints of New York Theatre sucking the marrow from his bones. Imagined not having to submit to a Max Wilner or a Jacob Rovenger, no more a Reuben Guskin to negotiate with, an Abe Cahan to cringe before, a landlord to face each and every month, no actors to cajole or bully. And yet, for all his machinations, ending up in the red, season after season. It was so very tempting, so flattering to be courted by Hollywood, where the furious conversion to sound had created an insatiable demand for actors with good voices—and at unheard of salaries. How could he not agree to a screen test?

                        But nothing is a secret in a one-industry, paranoid town like Hollywood, and the troupe soon learned of MGM’s wooing of their boss. Schwartz gathered them together, told them that he had no intention of deserting them to become a movie star like Paul Muni. Instead, he’d apply the Hollywood gold to support his true love, to enable the Art theatre to carry on, no matter the losses. The truth may never be known as to his true motives, but for many in the Art Theatre, especially those not promised a contract by Schwartz for the next season, it was obvious that he had sold out for the easy money of emoting before a camera for the American masses, instead of before an audience of fast-vanishing Yiddish patrons. Had the same opportunity been offered to any one of them, would there be the slightest hesitation?

                        At the same time, another misfortune befell Schwartz. His second week in Los Angeles was a poor one because of a heat wave that drove everyone to the beaches. Schwartz was able to pay only half-salaries. Naturally, he’d make good when they were all back in New York. Each had a prepaid, first-class ticket to Manhattan. However, the fire he’d lit unintentionally by taking the screen test, flared up over the cut in pay. One troupe member (never identified) lodged a complaint with the Los Angeles Labor Commissioner. Most likely, the same frightened malcontent placed a call to the LA Times, and its evening edition ran a story and a photo about the contre temps, accusing Maurice of signing for big bucks with MGM, while stiffing his employees.

                         Maurice was mortified. He’d had labor problems like any other Yiddish Theatre manager, but they’d been confined within the microscopic Yiddish Theatre community. In the most serious one, in 1924, after his return from Europe, the public had sided with him. Now, out of his natural element, he was being vilified by the city’s largest newspaper for all the world to see and relish: Jews scraping among themselves, the greatest of all sins.

                           In the morning, Schwartz rushed to Paul Bern’s office to try and undo the damage. The producer had a copy of the Times on his desk. In disgust, but wordlessly, he tapped the paper with a pencil. “Had the office an open grave, I would have jumped in. I was filled with shame. My eyes began to tear, but my lips remained sealed. I stood there paralyzed”  (Schwartz 18 Apr. 1945).

                          Under the circumstances, Los Angeles being a strong labor town, said Bern, it was best to put their movie deal on hold.

                        The formal hearing on the charge was set for 2 PM that afternoon. Schwartz was there early, and one by one his players began arriving, some of them his friends for over 20 years. They offered regrets at what they’d done in the name of union solidarity. They took seats in the rear of the hearing room, so as not to endure Maurice’s piercing glances. A reporter for the Times showed up, increasing his humiliation. With Anna and Martin flanking him, the hearing began before the Los Angeles Commissioner of Labor. The only question on Schwartz’s mind was how would they be able to face him after the ordeal was over?

                         The commissioner asked the actors if they had tickets back to New York. Yes, they replied. He asked then how many weeks’ salary were they paid this year. Martin answered: 43 weeks. ‘Case dismissed,’ was the commissioner’s decision after taking the actors to task for the meaningless charges.

                         Screen test and the renewed prospect of a movie contract notwithstanding, Maurice packed up and left for New York. To which playhouse and what kind of a season, he had no idea. He was willing to let bygones be bygones with his regulars, for the sake of the new season and its challenges. “The theatre and quality acting is for me always the first priority. I’d rather put up with a capricious actor with talent, than a nice actor without”  (Schwartz 21 Apr. 1945).


Chapter Twenty-One: “We Shall Have Many Years Ahead of Us.”

                        When they assembled in New York for the first rehearsal of the 1929-1930 season, the Los Angeles incident had been all but forgotten in the accelerated pace of putting together the opening show. The residual effects of the unpleasantness had taken its toll nevertheless. Maurice had to take phenobarbital to calm his nerves, and digitalis to treat a heart that beat too irregularly, a heart he claimed was emptied of anger towards the troupe that had ganged up against him. At once, he began shopping for a playhouse. He couldn’t go back to the City Theatre. At the end of last season, he’d left on bad terms with William Fox, the landlord. Fortunately, he found a new residence for the Art Theatre at Proctor’s Fifth Avenue Theatre, which wasn’t on Fifth, but on Broadway and 28th Street. The season opener would be Jew Suss, by Lion Feuchtwanger, from his novel written in 1921, but unpublished until 1925 in Germany, where it became an instant bestseller.

                        After settling in at the Fifth Avenue, Maurice renewed his old friendship with Samuel Goldenburg, a superior actor he’d known since the Kessler days. Schwartz could use an actor like Goldenburg; he had Muni’s stage presence, Ben-Ami’s power, and Buloff’s infectious charm. Sam was offered the main role in the piece, which he accepted without hesitation. Schwartz contented himself (though only at first) with the part of Duke Karl Alexander, in this murky drama of an 18th Century German principality. Ambition, lust for power, and byzantine intrigue—evident in Jew and Christian alike—infuse the work. Suss is based on the mercurial Wurttemberg court Jew, Joseph Suss Oppenheimer, who is a riveting character, from opening scene until the finale, when he is led off to his execution.

                        In addition to Goldenburg, Schwartz applied the talents of Mark Schweid, Morris Strassberg, Lazar Freed, and the returning actresses Anna Appel and Berta Gersten. It should be noted that Stella Adler, Celia’s half sister, played her first role for the Art Theatre. She would remain two seasons before moving on.

                       The season opened late, on October 19th, because of a serious labor dispute. Theatre managers were demanding a 30 percent cut in salaries, so that theatre tickets might be made as cheap as the movies. Strikes were threatened by both sides, until a compromise was achieved. The Times mentioned the play’s general unpleasantness, but raved about the presentation. “Mr. Schwartz has again assembled a capable company. He gave two excellent performances last evening, the first in the character of the lascivious duke in whose court the intrigues of the play develop, and secondly, as the director of the production—even, well-timed and well-executed throughout”  (29 Oct. 1929).

                        Justifying Maurice’s faith in the actor, Samuel Goldenburg was singled out in the Times’ unsigned review for his excellent portrayal of the court Jew. But beneath Maurice’s apparent generosity in handing over the plum role to his friend, lurked a darker aspect of the man. Schwartz came to want the part and exercised his right as producer to take it away from Goldenburg, over his heated objections.

                        Another Chone Gottesfeld play was put on to cover the weekdays, opening Tuesday, December 3rd, while Jew Suss ran well on weekends into January. Angels on Earth was a refreshing contrast to the darkly turbulent piece, and opens in a very pleasant but corrupt Hades. Then it shifts to an even more lushly sinful Manhattan, where two of Hell’s resident angels have been assigned to rid it of evil. Instead, the angels, played in broad, campy style by Schwartz and Goldenburg, go into business and become husbands, fathers and millionaires. Commented the Times: “All this on the stage of the Yiddish Art Theatre is the drollest sort of lunacy, emerging in a sort of excited commedia  dell’arte treatment. With the assurance of good vaudevillians, Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Goldenburg play it for all it’s worth [. . .]”  (11 Dec. 1929).

                        No season at the Art Theatre would be complete without a Sholem Aleichem bauble. On January 7, 1930, Wandering Stars was presented. The 1911 novel, on which the play is based, is about the riotous misadventures of a traveling company of Yiddish actors during the primitive Goldfaden days. Schwartz adapted the novel in three acts and 18 scenes, even if ineffectively, according to most critics, one of whom noted the play’s inability “to warm the romantic glow it sought to attain, remaining a succession of insufficiently fused fragments in themselves”  (Times 25 Jan 1930).

                        With Leivick's Chains in February, the Art Theatre redeemed itself, if not to the paying customers, then with the critics: “It is one of the few Yiddish plays of the season in which the English-speaking world can take pleasure,” enthused the Times critic  (23 Feb.1930). The story is centered in a Siberian prison circa 1905. Leivick knew the subject first hand, having spent many years there as a guest of the Czar. Despite the fine play, the exciting acting, the handsome mounting and rave reviews, Chains was a box office cripple.

                        The wind gone out of his sails, Schwartz presented only Ibsen’s Ghosts and Toller’s Bloody Laughter in March, then closed the Fifth Avenue, after a mere 24 weeks. The problem of making ends meet had become so desperate that Maurice had to put his players on part salary. To prevent the union from shutting the Art Theatre earlier that winter, he was forced to sign an agreement with Guskin to permit the partial salaries, but only if Maurice consented to a member of the cast, on the summer tour, collecting the entire proceeds and paying full current salaries from it. The balance (less traveling and advertising expenses) would then be applied to the money owed, until the debt was paid in full. Should the tour for some reason not take place, Schwartz would be personally liable for the obligations, and whatever Maurice might earn , in any capacity, on or off the Yiddish stage, would go directly to Guskin, to boil down  what was still owed.

                       The tour never panned out. On Friday, October 29th of the year before, the Stock Market crashed, resulting in an immediate loss of almost nine billion dollars. All those paper millionaires, who’d gotten that way by buying on 10 percent margin and pyramiding their holdings to dizzying heights, soon became actual paupers after Black Friday. Before long, one-quarter of the American work force was unemployed. Not only did the Art Theatre fall on hard times, the entire industry suffered too, as did every aspect of American life. Declared William Schack: “Yiddish Theatre is in a bad way. Two minor house [. . .] have closed their doors. Maurice Schwartz and his troupe, the chief exponents of the upper levels of the dramatic art in Yiddish, put on only four new plays this season and have already shut up shop”  (Times 30 Mar. 1930).

                        Maurice had closed the Fifth Avenue owing his people a tidy sum. He couldn’t simply wipe the slate clean and start over the next season, as managers in the past would routinely do, before the Hebrew Actors Union came into its own. He probably wouldn’t have even if he could. It was one thing for investors like Lipshitz to lose; such is the nature of capitalist enterprise. But the actors needed every penny to live on, and his people had been with him for years, almost family, even if they hadn’t behaved as such in California. To solve his dilemma, Maurice did something he swore he’d never do again. He girded himself for a return to Broadway. Vaudeville, no less. He would do excerpts from The Merchant of Venice—three snippets only, with Shylock the central figure.

                        Shylock on Broadway: it wasn’t an original concept in Yiddish Theatre. Jacob Adler had given the first performance of The Merchant in his native tongue in 1901, at the People’s, on the Bowery. Two years later, under Arthur Hopkin’s aegis, the Eagle attempted the role Uptown, at the 58th Street Theatre, in Yiddish, while the rest of the cast performed in English.

                         Maurice had struck a deal with the RKO vaudeville chain to play its Keith circuit, including the crown jewel of its collection, the Palace Theatre, which “had always invited the most important artists to perform vaudeville acts—the Barrymores, William Gillette, and even Otis Skinner performed abridged plays [. . .]” explained Schwartz, as if to legitimize his defection once again from Yiddish theatre.  (2 May 1945). To be fair to Maurice, his back was to the wall. He had debts, obligation, and his own expenses to cover. He demanded and received $3500 a week, because his chief rival, Molly Picon, was being paid that amount for working the Loews Theatres. Schwartz calculated his costs for the six actors who’d be working with him,  and the costumes and sets, at $1000 a week. What remained would go to Guskin to honor his contract.

                        April, 1930, was a busy, exciting month for Maurice, beginning on a Wednesday evening, the 12th, at the RKO Franklin in the Bronx. Then on to the Kenmore, on Flatbush and Church Avenues. On Sunday, the 19th, Schwartz played the Palace, giving a 30-minute performance, composed of three parts from The Merchant of Venice—the opening scene, the section where Jessica leaves her home, and, the most dramatic moment of the play, when the wronged Jew demands his pound of flesh. Sharing the bill with him was Horace Heidt and his Californians (an orchestra), radio tenor Peter Higgins, singer/dancer Nina Olivette, and six other acts.

                        The condensed Shylock was a successful tour de force for Maurice. “ My conception of the role was not that Shylock was a bloodthirsty usurer who sharpened the slaughterer’s knife to obtain a pound of meat [. . .] I created a Jewish merchant from that era who bore the yoke of exile upon his shoulders”  (Schwartz 5 May 1945) The English-language press applauded the bravura performance. Wrote the Times: “It is a passionate, furious portrait that he creates, but precise and controlled in diction and held closely to the rhythm of the prose”   (21 Apr. 1930).

                         After the Palace, Schwartz went on to the RKO Coliseum, the 81st Street, and the Albee in Brooklyn. Encouraged by the responses of Jew and Gentile alike, Maurice told his agent to book the act throughout the East and Midwest. The tour was never made. Perhaps the novelty had worn off, doing two and three shows a day of the same slices of The Merchant, with no large casts to ride herd on, and absent the thrills and terrors of constantly opening a new play. Sometime during the spring of 1930, an offer had come from Adolph Meade, an impresario in Buenos Aires, to appear as a guest star on the Yiddish-Argentine stage, a very tempting offer, as many Yiddish-American players had already made the trip and were well-received. “Buenos Aires was portrayed to me as the finest Yiddish Theatre city in the world [. . .].There, Jews go to theatre with love and gratitude. They attend as families, with their children and grandchildren”  (Schwartz 9 May 1945).

                         The statement of course reflected Maurice’s on-and-off disillusionment with his home audiences. Year after year, he’d presented brilliant tapestries, only to have it all go unrewarded and unappreciated. His unrequited love would eat at him as the years passed and the seasons grew less profitable.

                        In Buenos Aires, representatives of both the Jewish and the Argentine press were waiting for him and Anna. The reception was very Latinish in its warmth and effusiveness. Never before, in any of his foreign jaunts, had he experienced such an outpouring of affection. To the Schwartzes, the Argentine capital seemed more Parisian than Los Angeles had been the year before. Except in one crucial area: “In no country in the world did I see so many young people in Yiddish Theatre as in Buenos Aires. Mothers would take their infants into the playhouses [where] they became avid enthusiasts in diapers”  (Schwartz 9 May 1945).

                        Maurice decided to open with Tevye the Milkman. The play had been done to perfection shortly before by Buenos Aires’s own star, Rudolph Zaslowski. It then became Schwartz object to outshine the local hero, as in the old days on the Bowery when Adler, Thomashevsky and Kessler would strive to best there rival in the same role. The people of Argentina may have been warm and inviting, but their playhouses were not. Even the finest Buenos Aires theatre was unheated and dank, and Maurice came down with a monumental cold and a high fever. After a few rehearsals at the Nueva Theatre, he had to take to his bed. A day before the opening, he was still there. But fortune smiled, and he recovered in time for the premiere.

                        “In the Nueva, a great excitement and tumult resounded. I have never before encountered such a holiday mood. This reminded me of the patriotten era in 1901 and 1902, in the galleries, where the noise was like in a steel mill”  (Schwartz 16 May 1945). The first-nighters were quite enthusiastic, and Maurice gave a fine rendition of the hapless milkman. Next morning, the reviews were extraordinary.

                        Schwartz and his company toured the larger cities of Rosario, Cordova  and Santa Fe, to the same over-the-top crowds. Almost perversely, these receptions strengthened his resolve to carry on as before in America, even to dream of an international Art Theatre that would travel the world, visiting even the most remote Jewish enclaves. “If you can find an enthused theatre crowd 6000 miles from New York, it means that Yiddish Theatre still has a future. We have to respect our audience and respect ourselves. We still have many years ahead of us to play Yiddish Theatre”  (Schwartz 19 May 1945).

                       
Chapter Twenty-Two: “He Was a Little Afraid of Buloff.”

                        The season opened inauspiciously on September 24, 1930, the first day of the Jewish New Year, with only three premieres, none of them especially noteworthy. During the first full year of the Great Depression, Yiddish Theatre in general drifted dangerously close to dissolution, its course a swirling uncertainty, with few actors being in the same companies or playhouses as the season before. As yet, the Art Theatre hadn’t made its usual entrance with a production that would set the Jewish world abuzz, and Schwartz’s steady players, left behind while he and a select handful traipsed around South America, were forced to make other arrangements.

                        While the managers scratched and strove to prepare the season, Maurice was winding down his stay overseas, restored to new heights by the reception received wherever he took his troupe. Thus inflated, he sent a message via the Jewish Telegraph Agency, that he wouldn’t be returning to America until and unless some organization or some group, assume financial responsibility for the Art Theatre. He would no longer endure another season in New York consumed by money worries. He was prepared to set up permanently in the more friendly Buenos Aires, and remain the toast of its large and deserving Yiddish audiences and critics.  (Times 17 Aug. 1930).

                        Needless to say, in this worst of times, no one came forth to present Maurice with a proposal. Before long, he knew that he’d overplayed his hand. Waiting for some Prince Charming, he’d already missed out on securing a Manhattan theatre for the season. Equally as vital, he’d not been around to work deals with the organizational benefit managers, who, by now, had become the dog-wagging tail of Yiddish Theatre. Attempting to salvage a portion at least of the coming season, Maurice cabled the manager of the Gibson Theatre in Philadelphia, consenting to terms there for a year’s lease. He’d have to gather up what he could of an acting ensemble, with so many of his regulars otherwise engaged.

                        Except that early in September, the Second Avenue Theatre became available, and after a flurry of transatlantic cables crisscrossing the ocean, a deal was worked out with Joe Edelstein, its current owner. The Art Theatre would be back on Second Avenue after all, at the very playhouse David Kessler had built for himself, and where Maurice had been his apprentice. But the Gibson’s manager wasn’t about to release Schwartz from their contract, and Reuben Guskin had to be called in to mediate the dispute. He informed Maurice that a valid agreement existed and must be honored. This thorny mess was resolved by the union leader, who induced Schwartz to pay $1000 in cash and the full proceeds of an Art Theatre performance to the Gibson, in return for his release from the contract.

                       On September 19th, the Schwartzes and the nucleus taken to South America, set sail for New York and an uncertain future. What he knew for sure, was that a killing schedule lay ahead, with six weeks of intense labor, before he could open with Asch’s The Witch of Castile. To be followed, in no fixed order, by three mainstream classics—Chekhov’s Ivanov, Moliere’s Tartuffe, and Schiller’s The Robbers. And from the Yiddish repertoire—Asch’s Uncle Moses,  Kiddush Hashem, and God, Man and Devil.  This was quite an optimistic agenda for so condensed a season, but hope and energy had blossomed gorgeously in the South American climate. Rumors of an economy in shambles and spiraling downward, seemed to him only the blatherings of spineless Chicken Littles, who’d been scared silly by what had happened on Wall Street.

                       After weeks of non-stop activity, that included marathon rehearsals often lasting ten hours at a clip, The Witch of Castile opened on October 25th. Three of Maurice’s steadies were back with him: Joseph Achron for the music, and Chertov and Ostrowsky for sets and costumes. Among the actors Schwartz managed to corral, was Joe Buloff, in the prime role as a pope. “In hands other than those of Joseph Buloff,” one Times reviewer wrote, “Pope Paul might have been nothing but a figure of papier mache, but Buloff endowed him with a silent strength. Here is an actor whose every gesture and movement is eloquence itself”  (25 Oct. 1930).

                       Of course, Maurice realized that his ‘discovery’ wasn’t long for the Art Theatre, still smarting over the defection of Muni Weisenfreund. That Buloff had grown disenchanted with Maurice is attested to by Joe’s wife, Luba Kadison. “While his respect for Schwartz as a producer, director, and actor was considerable, he felt the strain of a natural rivalry between two leading men. As for Schwartz, I think he was a little afraid of Buloff. He seldom addressed him directly, using me to convey messages. With me, he was invariably polite, and even chivalrous”  (Kadison  67-68).

                       Schwartz conceded that it had been a tactical blunder to open with The Witch of Castile, because of its similarity in theme to Kiddush Hashem, the former being a drama of religious persecution by the Roman clergy, after a young, Jewish woman is rumored to be the reincarnation of the Virgin Mary. Perhaps as well, the doings on stage too closely resembled what was taking place in Germany, orchestrated by the latest Haman. The Witch did poorly, and Maurice’s current partner, Joe Edelstein, was incensed. The crafty theatre manager, who cared nothing about a play’s substance, but only about its effect on the cash register, grew so disgusted with his stubborn partner, that he stopped observing even the smallest amenities between them. To be fair to Edelstein, it must have been exasperating for him to see that the young, brash actor he’d stolen away from David Kessler during the 1914 season, hadn’t gotten any wiser, after two decades in the business.

                       Cutting his losses (he’d certainly become adept at that), Maurice swiftly went to the next item on his menu, Uncle Moses. Results were far better. Opening on Friday evening, November 29th, the play had been adapted from a novel serialized in the Forward, always a sure-fire guarantee of success on the Yiddish stage. Like Leivick’s Rags, the play has a sweatshop setting, but is in fact as much a character study of an older man infatuated with a young woman, as it is a class struggle piece. Though the Times didn’t go overboard in its review, it nevertheless deemed the Asch play “a fairly entertaining rather than a gripping play”  (29 Nov. 1930). The Yiddish press was far more laudatory, and once again the cash flowed into the Art Theatre’s coffers. This was all it took to make Joe Edelstein civil again to Schwartz. He exclaimed: “This is a play with humor. The public laughs, cries and applauds. If you always produced [. . .] these kinds of plays, you’d have lots of gold”  (Schwartz 23 May 1945).

                         As nothing good lasts forever, or even long in Yiddish Theatre, the cordiality between the two men was gone by the first week of December, destroyed by labor problems. Theatre managers and the Hebrew Actors Union got into one of its periodic donnybrooks over wages. The managers, Schwartz included, demanded a 40 percent cut to reflect the horrendous state of the national economy. In the poorest theatrical season in memory, it was patently impossible to cover operating expenses. On December 8th, as the result of an implacable stalemate, all nine Yiddish theatres closed, throwing over 700 men and women out of work, none of them willing or able to accept any reduction in salary.

                        As spokesman for the managers, Maurice told the press: “Present conditions make it necessary for us to cut our prices, and in order to do this, we had to seek a general reduction of wages in all departments of each house. We placed the matter before the various unions and made the situation clear”  (Times 8 Dec. 1930). A compromise was reached after two weeks of intense negotiations and a darkened Second Avenue. Wages were reduced from 10 to 25 percent, but not soon enough to rescue Uncle Moses. Interest built up through word of mouth, and from favorable reviews in the Yiddish press, were insufficient to get the momentum rolling again. The play limped along, finally closing in early January,1931.

                       On the 16th of that month, Maurice opened a play that would be among the most popular in the Art Theatre’s bag of tricks, Kobrin’s Riverside Drive. Many years had elapsed since Schwartz last offered a Kobrin piece. The transitional, post-Gordin playwright was no longer in vogue. The play’s theme had become trite: the intergenerational friction between the immigrant and his American-born offspring. Though the Times was sympathetic to the sociological situation presented, the constant harping on it by Kobrin and his director, Schwartz, weakened the play. Schwartz, the actor, was applauded, “turning in one of the warmest performances he has given in a long time”  (6 Jan. 1931).

                       The Man With Portfolio, which opened on Lincoln’s birthday, February 12th, was the final new play of the shortened season. Less than half the number Maurice had contemplated, while his ship steamed towards America, had actually come to fruition. The work is a drama of the then-contemporary Soviet Union, and had neither song nor dance, but sported a cast of 18 tried and true actors, including the Buloffs --Joe as a coarse blackmailer, Luba playing a fascinating, fast-rising, young apparatchik. The author, Alexei Faiko, was a Soviet writer of semi-expressionist plays, meant to counter the easy sloganism of most Communist tracts. No mere mouthpiece for the party line, he was somehow permitted to present his plays during the worst days of the Stalinist purges, despite an unflattering portrayal of life in the Worker’s Paradise. To the Times, the piece seemed turgid and flawed. “If some of  [Faiko’s] meaning does come through, if the play does command one’s attention despite its bare intellectual development, it is because of the sensitive performance given it by the Schwartz troupe”   (12 Feb. 1931). The Times also reported that a full house, replete with an enthusiastic audience, enjoyed the work.

                        Writing what had the feel of an obituary for Yiddish Theatre that season (one of many that would appear regularly, season after season), William Schack found little of value in Schwartz’s attempts. To him, The Witch of Castile was tedious, Uncle Moses not particularly insightful, and The Man With Portfolio never fully developed. But, if it was any consolation to Schwartz, the journalist wrote: “If there was nothing even approximately great in any of these plays, there is scarcely anything worth mentioning in the 20-odd productions put on at the popular theatres”  (Schack 17 May 1931).

                       On the Broadway stage, the crop was equally as lean. Between the Augusts of 1930 and 1931, 226 productions were mounted, with  an appalling 82 percent failure rate. Of the 188 flops, 70 had expired after less than a month. Talking pictures was responsible for part of the dreadful season in every branch of theatre, growing ever more popular as a cheap fix for the Depression blues. As a direct result, the number of legitimate theatres declined sharply. Vaudeville was also hard hit, its stock and traveling companies rapidly dwindling.

                        The overall economy fared no better. On December 11, 1930, while Yiddish Theatre had closed its doors because of the strike, the Bank of the United States folded, all 60 branches, and its 400,000 depositors lost their savings. That dismal year, 2300 other banks failed. By the following January, as the nation entered its second year of the Great Depression, five million American workers were unemployed, and many others with jobs were working for as little as five cents an hour. Over 20,000 businesses of all kinds had closed their doors forever.

                        In the last quarter of 1930, of special import to Jews everywhere, the British issued its infamous White Paper, halting immigration of Jews to Palestine, and in Germany, the Nazi Party had won 95 seats in the Reichstag. The world indeed was in a sorry state.

  
Chapter Twenty-Three: “An Exit Made More in Sorrow Than Anger.”

                        Twice before, Maurice Schwartz had taken French leave from the Art Theatre, to sample the rewards of Broadway, and twice he’d returned, chastened and repentant, swearing never to depart again. A vow broken, for he spent most of the 1931-1932 season Uptown, alone, performing some of his finest Yiddish triumphs in English. It is unclear what event sparked his decision to quit his beloved niche and the incomparable band of players he’d been blessed with, if indeed there was a single reason. We know that he chafed constantly about the lack of proper support from the Jewish community. And he couldn’t help but notice the shrinkage in the number of theatres available. Also, like many a keen-eyed observer of the Yiddish Theatre scene, he had to wonder “if there is an audience for the more ambitious theatre. The majority of the audiences seen nowadays at these playhouses are composed of naïve members of the older generation, and of children who come for the thrill of footlights and the ice cream. Of youth, there is hardly a trace”   (Schack 17 Jan. 1932).

                        If nothing else, Schwartz was a survivor, a skill learned on the streets of Whitechapel. No wonder then, reading the tea leaves, he signed contract with Lee and J.J. Shubert on June 20, 1931, to form a corporation, Modern Players, Inc., primarily to produce an English-language version of Hard to Be a Jew, but not strictly limited to the Sholem Aleichem play. The decision to leave Second Avenue “was an exit made more in sorrow than anger”  (Schack 30 Dec. 1931).

                        Total capitalization of the new corporation was $10,000, half anted up by the Shuberts, (who were in a bad way because of talking pictures and the Depression), and half contributed by Maurice. Terms of the contract stipulated that the Shuberts would be in charge of all financial arrangements with employees, expenditures, receipts and collections for Hard to Be a Jew, and any other play jointly produced. Only Shubert houses were to be used, thereby preventing Schwartz from returning to Yiddish theatre, should nostalgia seize him. Maurice’s duties were limited to acting and directing, a huge lessening of responsibilities he must have at first found salutary, after carrying the entire weight of production on his shoulders for decades.

                        Immediately and reflexly, the schmoozers at the Café Royale, the crowd that hung around the Hebrew Actors Union building on E.7th Street, the writers at the Yiddish dailies, and patriotten of every persuasion, branded Maurice a traitor, as they’d done in the past, after he’d left for the 48th Street Theatre in 1923 and for vaudeville, seven years later. These perpetual antagonists had conveniently closed their eyes to the realities of current Yiddish Theatre. Molly Picon had fled the scene for an extended tour of Europe. The superior comic actor Ludwig Satz had followed her to France, where he hoped to learn the lingo and debut on the Parisian stage. And Boris Thomashevsky had already committed to Broadway, appearing at the Selwyn in the English-language musical, The Singing Rabbi.

                        Hard to Be  a Jew opened at the Shuberts’ Ambassador Theatre on W.48th Street, on Wednesday, September 23rd, retitled  If I Were You, a change Schwartz claimed was a concession to Lee Shubert, who believed that the original name would sharply curtail the audience. The translation into English, ironically enough, was done by Tamara Berkowitz, Sholem Aleichem’s granddaughter, and whose father had been Schwartz’s adapter of the Yiddish legendary figure for the Art Theatre. Only one of Maurice’s crew came north with him, Judith Abarbanell, with whom he was having an affair, his first known romantic relationship since Dagny Servaes. He would have to deal with a fresh crop of non-Yiddish players, to mold them into shape, despite the lack of a common history he might draw from and rely on.

                         The Art Theatre’s favorite English-language critic, Brooks Atkinson, was there on opening night, but decimated the play in the first sentence of his review: “By all that is holy in our transfiguring art of Broadway, this comedy translated out of the Yiddish of Sholem Aleichem, is childish and transparent, lacking the knockout punch necessary to our enlightened drama”  (23 Sept.1931). If I Were You ran for 10 weeks, first at the Ambassador, then later at the Comedy Theatre, an earlier Shubert property, on 41st Street.

                           In early December, Lee Shubert moved Schwartz a second time, to the 49th Street Theatre, for an English-language production of Bloody Laughter, which had been introduced to America by the Art Theatre in 1924. With Germany reaping the harvest of post-war chaos and disillusionment in the form of Nazism, the play seemed especially timely. Though he trashed Bloody Laughter, Atkinson was more solicitous of Schwartz: “He has strength, eloquence and magnetism. He can fuse the scattered details of a scene into some sort of meaningful form [. . .] When Mr. Schwartz finds a play that suits his temperament and his personality, English-speaking audiences will realize that he has something to give”   (Times 5 Dec. 1931).

                         Maurice’s third collaboration with the Shuberts, the Rolland costume drama Wolves, opened on January 6th, 1932, and for the third time, Atkinson savaged Schwartz’s attempts on Broadway: “It is a turgid play in many respects, written for a departed purpose, and it suffers some turgid theatricals during the first half of the evening [. . .] Mr. Schwartz, as the embittered idealist [however] gives a biting, dignified performance”  (Times 7 Jan. 1932). Theatre Arts Magazine concurred, finding the production histrionic and superficial. “Maurice Schwartz has not yet found the play which on the English-speaking stage would give us his full quality as an actor”  (Mar. 1932).

                        The three commercial disasters in succession, over a 22-week period, marked the end of Maurice Schwartz’s brief partnership with the Shuberts, though not his relationship with them in the future. Who initiated the break up is not indicated, though knowing Lee to be a clear-eyed and ruthless businessman, and not inclined to tarry long with losers, it’s safe to say that most likely Maurice was given the boot. Scrapped were plans to present other Art Theatre favorites in translation. Not one to dwell on flops either, Schwartz was back on Second Avenue by April, at the playhouse Louis Jaffe had lovingly raised for him. It was currently known as the Folks Theatre. Maurice chose a work by Florencio Sanchez, a Uruguayan journalist and playwright, who’d worked in Argentina, where Schwartz had probably learned of him during his recent tour. Sanchez was the most important South American dramatist of the early 20th Century. His final piece, Our Children, written in 1907, was adapted by Schwartz as The New Man. It revolves around Dr. Eduardo Diaz, a liberal, whose eldest daughter Mercedes is unmarried and pregnant. Diaz wants he girl kept at home during the confinement, but Mrs. Diaz orders her to marry or enter a convent. Mercedes sides with her father, and the two go off together, to make a new life.

                        Like pigeons returning to their coops, many of Maurice’s actors came back to him, and in a charitable mood, or more likely, because of the harsh economic realities: Schwartz being the only game in town for their specialized talents. Schack wasn’t ecstatic over the homecoming piece, but Women’s Wear Daily took special –if jaundiced- notice of the welcomers: “The theme of the play was hardly as interesting to the large audience as the return of Maurice Schwartz”  (Allen 24 Apr. 1932).

                        With loads of free time on his hands, Maurice kept busy by filming Uncle Moses, a fairly direct transfer of the previous season’s best number at the Art Theatre. A few open scenes were shot on Delancey Street, the balance at Metropolitan Studios, across the Hudson in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Its two directors were Sidney Goldin, who’d shot Yiskor at the Schonbrunn in Vienna in 1924, and Aubrey Scotto, an authentic movie professional, whose best film, I Was a Convict, was shot in 1939 at Republic Studios and starred Barton MacLane. Schwartz reprised his role for Yiddish Talking Pictures, with secondary parts taken by members of his Art Theatre.

                       The film opened on April 20th, 1932, early in the run of The New Man, in three  New York locations—Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. In general, the Yiddish press approved, and Uncle Moses was a much-needed money earner for Schwartz.

                          On the whole, the 1931-1932  season  had been, like the season before, a frustrating and disappointing one for Maurice. Indeed, his corporate tax return for the year reflected this, showing a loss of over $10,000. As never before, he was fed up with theatre in New York, both Yiddish and mainstream. The load he’d been bearing for so many years, became much too onerous, and he leaped at the chance to flee the City, the United States, as Molly and Satz had, and treat himself and Anna to a holiday--- if going on tour of 15 European cities as a solo act could be considered a vacation. He would be doing monologues, short bites from his best plays, and, for good measure, a few of his own creations: humorous little pieces such as  The Drunken Cantor, Three Politicians, and In the Old Synagogue.

                         Maurice hired the pianist Boris Kogen, and a singer, Viola Philo of the Metropolitan Opera House, to accompany him, at $400 a week each, from May 15th to June 30th. He said his farewells to his Art Theatre contingent and set off for Europe. The overwhelming reaction he found in Paris stunned him: every  evening a sell-out. He was more than elated by the possibility of performing practically solo next year in America, without the awesome responsibility that came with preparing full-scale productions at the Art Theatre. He moved on to Berlin, where he was suddenly immersed in a cold bath of reality. “The Nazi spirit was already the order of the day. Jews were starting to tremble”  (Schwartz 30 May 1945). His manager told him that he’d been unable to rent a theatre, and in the end Schwartz had to settle for a movie house in a seedy section of the city. His audience consisted of Polish and Galician Jews, and Americans living in Germany. “The German Jews refused to come. They were ashamed to see Yiddish actors and refused to mingle with Eastern Jews”  (Schwartz 30 May 1945). Despite being decently received in Berlin, Maurice could taste the poisonous anti-Semitism unleashed by Hitler, the terror increasing daily. Life for the Jews of Berlin had become tentative and perilous, and he was relieved to conclude his concerts, pack his bags and go.

                        As a theatre practitioner, Maurice had always dreamed of visiting Warsaw. The city was justly famous for its Yiddish activities in literature and music, but especially in theatre. The Vilna Troupe’s production of The Dybbuk ran there for over a year. His reception in the Polish capital was large and very noisy, as was most visits by Yiddish-American actors. Sold-out concerts were usually followed by luscious banquets, at which Warsaw’s finest actors spoke. At these shindigs, Maurice met the cream of its native artists: the Kaminska family of actors (much like America’s Adlers), and Avram Morevsky (who’d worked for Maurice in 1924 at the Art Theatre) and Isaac Samberg, the two querulous top dogs of Warsaw theatre, each at the other’s throat, so like the rivalry that had existed among  Kessler, Adler and Thomashevsky. The highlight of Schwartz’s short sojourn in Warsaw was his concert at the immense Circus Theatre. He claimed a packed house of over 4000, which seems on the face of it, more like poetic license than head-counting.

                        Next stop was Vilna, the Jerusalem of Lithuania, where “even the stones speak Yiddish”  (Schwartz 2 June 1945). First off, Schwartz behaved like any other pilgrim to the holiest Yiddish city in Europe. He visited the house of Elijah, the Gaon of Vilna, the supreme scholar of the Polish and Lithuanian rabbinate, and an outspoken foe of Chassidim. Then to the cemetery, where the Gaon was buried, followed by a few hours at the YIVO building, the world center for Jewish research.

                         In the smaller but just as theatre-friendly city of Bialystok, Maurice gave two concerts and was floored by its booming response. In Grodne and Lubin, he performed but a single concert in each city, in theatres as modern as those in Paris or London, and to hordes of sharp-minded, involved theatre lovers. From there, Maurice and his two accompanists journeyed to Romania, where they were slated to give 12 concerts, the first in Kishinev, site of the infamous massacre of its Jews, and the inspiration for Zolatarevsky’s The Twentieth Century. Regardless, the city appealed to him: its broad, clean, lovely streets, the Russian-style architecture of its homes, its theatre-committed populace, who were delighted that a famous Yiddish actor from America had come to perform for them.

                        In Jassy, where Avram Goldfaden had given birth to Yiddish Theatre, Schwartz was graciously appreciated. One evening, he went to the very playhouse where Goldfaden had put on his first productions. A work by American shund playwright William Siegal, The Galician Wedding was in progress. Maurice and Anna entered, sat down on an old wooden bench, and stared out at a twelve-by-twelve stage. The place was no better than a stable; not a single item seemed to have been replaced since Goldfaden’s day, At the final curtain, Maurice left the theatre in a sad state. It wasn’t much of a leap to compare the miserable condition of Yiddish Theatre’s birthplace to American Jews’ neglect of his Art Theatre, compounded by the deplorable fact that Maurice didn’t even have a playhouse to call his own.

                         Soured by Jassy, the Schwartzes left for Bucharest. Anti-Semitism was so potent there that Maurice couldn’t find a theatre to perform in, but had to settle for a garden. Later that evening, at the Grand Hotel, where they were staying, Schwartz was handed a telegram. It was from his friend Louis Gordon in Manhattan, begging Maurice to hurry up and see Israel Joshua Singer in Warsaw, and nail down the rights to his novel Yoshe Kalb. The Forward had serialized the Polish roman, and it was causing a sensation in New York.

                         Schwartz had met Singer before, on the Polish leg of his tour. He knew the writer’s work, and was impressed with his translation of Sabbatai Zvi. During their short encounter, Singer had mentioned his novel and how suited it was for the stage. But Schwartz had done enough plays about the Chassidim. When he received Gordon’s telegram however, he sent Singer a wire stating that he was coming back to Warsaw to discuss Yoshe Kalb. The gloom of the past few days, from seeing Goldfaden’s postage- stamp size theatre and contemplating his own sorry condition, evaporated in an instance. Like an old firedog responding to the alarm, he dashed out and bought a copy of the novel. Skimming through the first dozen pages, he realized it would be the perfect opening vehicle for next season, and a fine challenge for him to tear apart and reassemble as marvelous theatre. And if this wasn’t reason enough, he gleaned a full-bodied role he could sink his teeth into.

                        Before Schwartz stepped off the train in Warsaw, he had the adaptation worked out in his mind. They met in the restaurant of the Hotel Europa. Singer was already there, seated at a table. For hours, the two men chatted about many things, then at last about Yoshe Kalb. Before much longer, they’d come to an agreement, later to be formalized in New York, where Singer would be next month. The novelist expressed a strong yearning to quit Poland forever, which he described as a tinderbox, ready to erupt with centuries of maniacal hatred for its Jews. After his recent experiences in Germany, Poland and Romania, Maurice couldn’t help but agree with him.

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 clichéd 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 wh