The Museum of
the yiddish world
As for my father, he passed away on my eleventh birthday; he was only thirty-eight years old. I won’t forget that either. He and his brother Harry owned the Rosner Bros. Department store on the east side of Detroit at Gratiot and Culver. They sold hardware and dry goods there. My uncle Harry lived with us. His wife had died during the epidemic that swept the nation during World War I. I tried to help out my family financially whenever I could. I had a paper route and I also earned money being an usher at Littman’s Theater. My mother worked too on Warren, selling chickens in a poultry market.
We lived in a Jewish neighborhood; we had more fun. In the neighborhood there were all kinds of stores. There was the Chic Dress Shop, C.F. Smith’s Grocery Store, Boesky’s Deli on 12th and Hazelwood, and of course the Cream of Michigan, a restaurant where everyone went to. Boesky’s was known for their banana cream pie. Johnny, the owner, was a swell guy. The way the streets went from 12th Street was: Lee Place, Blaine, Gladstone, and then Hazelwood. Some of the Purple Gang hung out at a poolroom on Blaine. I had a friend Yudi who was a member the Purple Gang.
There was a bookie named Sherman on Philadelphia and 12th. I remember making a bet for a Madam. She used to call me “Jockey”. I gave her the 1933 Kentucky Derby winner and she gave me fifty dollars after she won. That was a lot of money in those days. I gave it to my mother. She asked if I had stolen the money. I told her the truth.
When I was a teenager I went to Hutchins Intermediate School. We’d get out at two o’clock. One day I came home and I couldn’t get into the house because the door was locked. I rang the bell and there was no answer. It was a two-story flat and we lived upstairs. I climbed up to our flat and looked in the window. There was my mother tied up on a chair!! I broke the window and went in to help her. “What happened?” I asked. Two boys had taken her mink coat and tried to get her wedding ring off her finger, but it wouldn’t come off. I went to my friend Yudi and he told the Purple Gang what had happened. They found out who it was. My mother confronted the mother of the boys, but the mother said her boys were good and wouldn’t do anything like that. The boys were sent to jail, but they never did recover the mink coat.
Littman’s Theater was on Seward and 12th Street on the east side of 12th. It was a nice theater. The musicians played in a pit. It had a nice curtain that was pulled by the manager. I got to go backstage. Mr. Littman, the theater manager, was partly blind.
He would have to look
very closely at the tickets to see them. He had steady customers who used
to come to sit in the balcony. There was a whole Friday night
group—twenty-five or so that we knew. The seats in the balcony were much
cheaper than the seats on the main floor. Our head usher Irving would
watch Mr. Littman to know which of the seats were empty. Many of these
people would give Irving, me and the other ushers a fifty-cent piece and
we’d move them to the main floor. Mr. Littman could never understand why
the main floor was filling up! We were happy to get these fifty-cent
pieces. We knew the regulars who would come, such as Morrie Wasserman and
In later years, Goldie Young was the president of the City of Hope. She made “Hello Dolly” Jewish and put on the play for this charity group.
Some of the actors I saw perform at Littman’s Theater were Aaron Lebedeff, Leo Fuchs, Jack Bernardi, Menashe Skulnik, Molly Picon and Diana Goldberg. Diana was married to the manager. I thought Aaron Lebedeff was the best. He wasn’t so European. Skulnik played “Pinya.” I loved the play and the part he played in it. We used to have a performance every Friday night and two performances on Sunday--a matinee and one show in the evening.
I learned a lot of Yiddish from these shows. We didn’t speak it at home because my parents wanted to become Americanized.
The Yiddish Hour radio program on Sundays with Weinberg was good. It advertised the Yiddish Theater. The program was live and not recorded. Some of the stars that performed at Littman’s Theater appeared on the show too. They sang Yiddish songs, but they also sang some in English too.
About 1930 I moved from
12th Street to Dexter and didn’t go back to the theater
much. But I did see the previews of the shows in “The Forward”
In 1939 I went to the World’s Fair in New York with a cousin of mine. I came back with an engagement ring and the love of my life, Norma Fisher, said “Yes.” We were married on the top floor of the Macabees Building in Detroit. The family cooked chickens and Cantor Mogil sang. All my friends were in the wedding party. Norma and I were married for fifty-two years!