Lives in the Yiddish Theatre
Volume 8

MORE SHORT BIOGRAPHIES CREATED FOR A NEW ONLINE VOLUME
OF ZALMEN ZYLBERCWEIG'S " LEXICON OF THE yIDDISH THEATRE"
 

Charlotte Goldstein
 

Born on 7 August 1912 in New York, New York. Her father Jacob Goldstein was a Yiddish actor. Her maternal grandparents, Charles and Anna Shapiro, were also Yiddish actors. Thus, G. is the third generation of Yiddish actors in her family.

G. attended elementary school in Manhattan at P.S. 63, and then high school, from which she graduated. She had no formal training for the Yiddish theatre. As she tells it, "In those years, when I became a Yiddish actress, at age sixteen, you didn't train for it formally. You either 'had it' or you didn't -- some more, some less, and that was it!"

In her memoirs, G. recalls that one of her fondest memories of growing up is of Saturday afternoons, when her mother would take her with her to the theatre, where she was permitted to watch the show. She states that "my favorite theatre in the entire world was the one in Chicago and my favorite seat in that theatre was first row center, smack in the middle, directly in front of the orchestra pit. For in that theatre the actors' dressing rooms were located well below the level of the stage, sort of in a basement that jutted out and came up behind the orchestra pit, and from my favorite seat--that's why it was my favorite--if you concentrated hard enough and breathed in deeply enough you could catch a whiff

 


Charlotte Goldstein.

of the actors' greasepaint. What bliss!" She also fantasized then that during one of those days where she was attending a show, there would be a child actress would fall ill, at least ill enough so they would not be able to go on. Looking for a replacement, she would go on in their place.


Jacob Goldstein.

 

As G.'s high school graduation grew nearer, she expressed to her father that, rather than attend college, she felt in her heart a great desire for the stage, and that an acting career was her destiny. She convinced her father to let her act in one performance on the stage, as a test. If she could show that she was talented, then she would continue on the stage; if not she would go to college. Her father reluctantly agreed. He then arranged with the actors Lucy and Mischa Gehrman, the stars at the time of the Folks Theatre on Second Avenue with whom he was performing at the time in the play "Stepmothers", to allow her to play the role of Jenny for a single performance.

On the night of her performance, her father couldn't bear to watch her from the audience, so he remained in his own dressing room backstage, overcome with emotion. Soon, a fellow actor came pounding on his door, saying "Come out Jake, come out and watch her. She's sensational! She's great! You'll be so proud.

Subsequently, at the age of sixteen, G. received from the Gehrmans the role of the daughter in the play "Di eybige mame (The Eternal Mother), a play in three acts" by Harry Kalmanowitz.

photo: Jacob Goldstein, Yiddish actor and father of Charlotte Goldstein.

The Gehrmans were planning a cross-country tour with this play, which had opened on 19 October 1928 at the Folks Theatre and had been very successful for them that season. The role had been originated by Julia Adler, the daughter of Jacob P. Adler, but she was going to have a baby and had to drop out of the cast. As G. states in her autobiography, "that's when I officially became an actress".

Since that time G. has acted in dozens of Yiddish plays, mostly as one of the stars in Maurice Schwartz's famed Yiddish Art Theatre. In G.'s own words, to act with the Yiddish Art Theatre was "a badge of honor to be worn with pride".

During the 1932-33 season in New York City, she debuted with the Yiddish Art Theatre as "Malkele" in I. J. Singer's "Yoshe Kalb", a "drama of Jewish life in America". She then acted with the troupe as "Sylvia Kaplan" in Sholem Asch's "Chayim Lederer". Both plays were staged at the Folks Theatre on 2nd Avenue. She then was cast as "Mary" in Asch's "Motke the Thief", and "Magda", a peasant girl in "Revolt", a dramatic poem in three acts with a prologue and five scenes, which was staged at the Yiddish Art Theatre, now at 189 2nd Avenue (and 12th Street).

In the 1933-34 season, she acted with the troupe in such plays as Zeitlin's "Wise Men of Chelm", and as Irene in Feuchtwanger's "Josephus", both at the aforementioned theatre.

In New York, G. was introduced to singer, concert artist and actor Menasha Oppenheim, with whom she soon married.

Circa 1939 G. was accepted as a member into the Hebrew Actors Union in America.

During the 1939-40 season, she performed in "The Vow" at the National Theatre.

Around this period of time, G. was also on the radio. In her memoirs, she states that she "continued in theatre and with my radio work -- television as we know it was far in the future. I was very active in radio. I participated in many programs, including a continuing soap opera in which I was the star, so every morning promptly at nine o'clock, I was at the radio station WEVD for that day's broadcast. Immediately afterwards, it was off to rehearsals at the theatre."

In 1940-41, she acted in Jacob Gordin's "Mirele Efros" and Abraham Blum's musical romance "Sunrise".


Charlotte Goldstein in "Shylock and his Daughter".

 

In 1943, she was in Kobrin's drama in three acts "Riverside Drive", as well as "Detective Story" at the Parkway Theatre in Brooklyn, New York with Jacob Ben-Ami.

She later returned to the Yiddish Art Theatre, and during the span of time between 1943 and 1950 acted in many plays with Schwartz's troupe, which for the 1943-44 season staged their productions at a theatre at 152 W. 54th Street (and 7th Avenue), formerly known as the Adelphi Theatre. In October 1943, she acted as the daughter "Rebecca" in "The Family Carnovsky".

On 29 March 1945 she acted in a limited engagement at the Parkway Theatre in Brooklyn in Ressler's comedy-drama, "Three Generations".

The Yiddish Art Theatre then changed theatres for the 1945-46 season, to one on 2nd Avenue at 4th Street (formerly the Public Theatre), where G. performed in the roles of "Sheindele" in I. L. Peretz's "Three Gifts", and "Sulamith", in Lenz and Nilioff's "Dr. Herzl" (staged 20 December 1945).

photo: Charlotte Goldstein, as Shylock's daughter Jessica, in "Shylock and his Daughter".

During the 1946-47 season, she acted in a revival of Sholem Aleichem's "Wandering Stars" in the role of "Zlatke", and also she acted in David Licht's dramatization of Zalman Shneour's novel "Song of the Dnieper" (October 1946). In 1947-48 she was Shylock's daughter "Jessica" in "Shylock and his Daughter" (September 1947), and in 1948-49 she played the role of "Tzirl" in Hirshbein's "An Abandoned Nook", as well as "Zamira" in Gilner's "The Voice of Israel" (October 1948). In 1949-50 G. took the role of "Bettie" in a revival of Sholem Aleichem's comedy "Hard to be a Jew", and also was "Esther" in his folk comedy "Yosele, the Nightingale" (October 1949).

During her acting career, G. also acted with various troupes across the United States, e.g. she performed in the plays "The Bridegroom Regrets" and "Johnny Belinda" at the Shubert Theatre in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

G. also acted in a few Yiddish films, though she states that there are just a very few Yiddish films that were fine, and that the majority of them were amateurishly produced, and many are "trashy".

Her film credits include "Eternal Fools" [1930, as the "daughter"], The Power of Life [1938, as "Leah Rabinowitz"], and "Three Daughters" [1949].

In 1951, G. withdrew from acting, after having met her future husband, Fred Chafran, whom she had known for a number of years.

However, at least on one more occasion she acted once again, for three nights, beginning on 14 May 1954 at the Parkway Theatre in Brooklyn, in the Louis Freiman comedy-drama, "Two Sisters", which was presented by the Hebrew Actors Union, in its "campaign to create employment for its members". Acting along with the G., were her good friend Esta Salzman, Max and Rose Bozyk, Muni Serebrov, Toby Stevens and Gustave Berger.

After Fred's passing in 1980, G. relocated to Southern California and soon found herself lured back into the theatre. During this phase of her acting career, she performed in English.

G. states in her letter to this editor that, "In this once in a lifetime experience of a play [that was] so powerful -- Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" -- and in  a lifetime's role of Linda! Can you imagine my joy to read a review that said: "From the very beginning, Charlotte Chafran grabs you by the heart strings and never let's you go!"

Later she acted in a production of  "The Gin Game" as "Fonsia", which was her next favorite play and role to Linda in "....Salesman". G. recalls what was written in a review of the production: "If Charlotte Chafran and Stuart Blaine could take a play so closely associated with Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn and make it so entirely their own, what a tribute it is to their talent as masters of their craft". G. won a "best actress" award for her performance in this production.

In 2008, G. self-published her autobiography, "Memories are Forever: A Memoir of a Life in Theatre and in Love". Noted actor of stage, films and television, Nehemiah Persoff, reflects on G.'s acting and her career, after having read her book:

"What remains with an actor in memory long after the play is done, is that special rapport enjoyed with a fellow actor sharing the stage. How inspired had been the interplay exchanged between them in their scenes.

Charlotte Chafran in the role of Linda, my wife in "Death of a Salesman", left an indelible mark on me. Her performance was so deeply moving, the love and devotion expressed for her beloved husband, her Willie, so compelling, her Linda became the measure for every devoted wife and concerned mother.

This did not come as a surprise, for I knew that Charlotte's life had been rooted in the theatre, the Yiddish theatre, she came from a family of Yiddish actors, and since she herself later became a prominent member of Maurice Schwartz's Yiddish Art Theatre, I had expected nothing less from her.

In this book of memories she takes us on a journey through her childhood, into her year at the Art Theatre, her two marriages, and finally, her love affair with writer, producer, sculptor Sidney Harmon.

I read the book in one sitting. Chances are, if you are at all interested in the theatre and touched by romance, you too, will not be able to put this book down".

------

Charlotte passed away peacefully at the age of 103 on October 30, 2015 and was interred next to her husband Fred Chafran at Knollwood Park Cemetery in Glendale, Queens, New York.
 


Sh. E.

  • Charlotte Goldstein -- "Memories are Forever: A Memoir of a Life in Theatre and in Love", South Carolina, 2008.


 

 

 

 


 

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Part of the new,  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre", Volume 8, by Steven Lasky.
Biographical information and photographs courtesy of Charlotte Goldstein.
 

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