Shortly thereafter when
Jacob Spivakovsky arrived in Odessa, he received
permission to put on a "musical-literary evening," and
put on with K., Goldfaden's "4 portseleyene teler," "Di
dray toybe" and "Dos bintl holtz." Then Sonia
Michelson-Oberlander (later Jacob P. Adler's first wife)
received permission to play official theatre and put on,
with K., Goldfaden's "Breindele kozak," "Shmendrik" and
"Koprizne tokhter" (here K. took onto the stage as an
understudy, the future famous actor Jacob P. Adler.)
About K.'s first performance
on the Yiddish stage there is recalled, vi an ed raih,
B. Weinstein, in his future memoirs, where he portrayed
a Shabes tsu-nakht in a wine cellar on the fish
street of Odessa in 1877:
"Not far from us stood
such a type of wooden platform for the singer and
actors. Thereby there were a pair of Yiddish klezmer and
they had tsugeripet. It had taken a long time and
the comedy began. On the balemer-platform there
were three to four Jews, youngsters. Previously they had
sung two and at time and later solo. They sang mostly
Yiddish folk songs, which were already popular with the
public. The audience gave out strong claps and shouts:
'Bravo! One more time!' The singers had not gefoylt
and continued to sing. Suddenly there were two of those
singers presenting themselves up on the stage-- one as a
butcher with a large beard, and the second, an entirely
young man, as his assistant. They began performing the
comedy. During those times acts had the younger singer
strongly oysgenumen with his songs and couplets.
The audience at our mishmash had said about the singer
that they knew him: He is a clown-maker. For the entire
time I am standing at the platform and had looked at the
young singer. I knew he was jealous. When he stopped
singing, the older singer presented a plate to him, with
which he tread between the mishmash, and each had with
pleasure threw coins onto the plate."
Further, Weinstein recalls
that years later the first Yiddish theatre troupe came
to Odessa under the direction of Rosenberg, and:
"Here suddenly arrives one
of the younger singers who I have heard sing, 'Mekhl dem
vaysn' in a wine cellar. 'Here this is Katzman-- ruft
zikh emitser op-- he plays this today, the role of 'Shmendrik.'
This evening, seated with my friend in the balcony, we
had with all our effort applauded Katzman, who had acted
exceptionally as 'Shmendrik' in Goldfaden's play with
the same name. Following afterwards they played a
one-acter, which at the time they used to call
'vaudeville,' in which the younger actor Katzman had
deeply oysgenumen with his couplets and folk
songs, virtually the same, which I had for the first
time heard him sing in a wine cellars."
In 1879 Avraham Goldfaden
arrived in Odessa with his troupe, and here K. was taken
into the troupe (brought in with the future well-known
comic Abraham Fishkind.) K. acted but soon joined
Naftali Goldfaden's troupe, with whom he played in the
province in "Shmendrik." He went over to Moshe Finkel's
trope, returned to Odessa and again was taken in by
Avraham Goldfaden's troupe in the Mariinsky Theatre and
later across the province. Returning to Odessa, K.
joined Gradner's troupe, and then into the troupe of
Krug, who toured across the Crimea. There the troupe was
taken in by a Caucasian baron, and three times a week
played in Yiddish. K. and Gradner also played important
roles in the plays, which were performed in Russian.
Both also translated the Russian play, "Dos tseshterte
Again returning to Odessa, K
joined the Shomer-Sheikowitz troupe and put on his play,
"Der lebediker toyter," or, "A klap far a klap" [Sh.
wrote that the play was staged in Odessa by Goldfaden),
also Sheikowitz's play "Der blutiker idie" and traveled
with the Shomer-Sheikowitz troupe across the province.
Due to military conscription he managed a bakeley
store. Later at first, being free from military service,
and due to the ban on Yiddish theatre, together with
Aaron Schrage, Gorodetzky and his sister from Schwartz-Kvartet,
they wandered in 1885 to London, England, where they
encountered acting in clubs two Yiddish troupes under
the auspices of Adler and Gradner, and they joined them
in another club. In 1886 K went over to Gradner in a
troupe, later to Smith, but, due to the fire, which had
cost nineteen lives, the productions were interrupted.
K. decided in general to withdraw from theatre, but a
little later he organized the remaining actors (the
others had sailed to America), and renewed the
productions in a Princess Street club. Business was very
good, and Gradner came to the troupe with his wife,
along with Goldschmidt, Max Rosenthal, Bernstein,
Nadolsky and his wife. Here K. dramatized Dinezon's "Der
During the Paris Exposition
in 1889, Smith took the troupe over to Paris and then
returned to London, but a little later was forbidden
from playing in the Princess Street club. K joined
Goldfaden's troupe in Paris. Not having any income from
acting, he returned to London, where he opened a
photographic studio, acting only from time to time in
In 1893 the actor Kurazh
came to London to hire Yiddish actors for American
Yiddish theatre, and K., together with his wife and six
children, traveled to America to Adler in a theatre on
the Bowery. Not being able to earn enough to make a
living from acting, K. opened a photographic studio,
where he worked by day and played in the theatre in the
K. soon excelled as a
character actor in the role of "Feivl khaldik" in
Gordin's "The Russian Jew," as "Rabbi" in Gordin's "The
Brothers Lurie," "Chaim Yekl" in Gordin's "Der shvartser
yid." For the second season Adler intended to engage
him, but as K. writes in his autobiography, Gordin told
Adler that he would give him plays if he would not
engage him. After acting the second season with Adler,
K. went to play in London with Sigmund and Dina Feinman
in the Standard Theatre. From London K traveled in1896,
with several actors (among them Saul and Esther
Wallerstein), to his brother Sam Dayan to play Yiddish
theatre in South Africa. The first production, "Chaim in
America," was given by K. in a circus building. After
acting for a year in Johannesburg, K. traveled back in
the middle of the theatre season to new York, where he
however could not receive any position, so he performed
once as "Khaldik" in "The Russian Jew" and received the
warm compliments of Mogulesco (who was the first to act
in the role.) K. became engaged to play in the Windsor
Theatre, but before the season began, he again traveled
to South Africa with the idea to stay there., because
they begin to build a theatre for him. Meantime he
played with the actor Wallerstein and his wife, Charles
Nathanson and his wife et al, but due to the noise about
the war, he returned again to New York. Not being able
to find a place in a theatre, he again opened a
The historian of Yiddish
theatre, B. Gorin, writes about this important chapter
in the history of Yiddish theatre in Africa:
"The first actor who came to
Johannesburg was Yankel Rosenfeld from Goldfaden's
Romanian school, and he brought together dilettantes and
acted with them. Later there came from London to America
the actors Sam Dayan, Greenberg, and in 1896 Yankel
Katzman came thither, together with (Saul) Wallerstein
and his bride Esther. They gerungen a circus and
began to play three or four times a week. The first
piece that he had staged was 'Chaim in America,' and the
circus was adopted. Several months later Moshe Zilberman
arrived, who already in that time entirely was pushed
out of the Yiddish theatre in America, together with the
Mandeltorts, and he took the circus. Katzman joined the
small Royal Theatre, and the began a competition between
them. Both companies didn't do good business, and in
several weeks they united, with everyone then acting in
the Royal Theatre.
They played partly
Goldfaden's, but more the American repertoire, and after
a season the company went away to other cities, and when
the summer had ended the company turned back to Johannesburg.
Already there was (Charles) Nathanson with his wife.
They had come from London, where they had acted for
a season with success. With all their effort, until that
time, they had played in Johannesburg, and the Nathansons were the important ones there, and a part of
the previous company, as well as the younger actor
Gustave Schacht had joined them. The public now had more
interest in the theatre, but soon the Boer War
broke out, which had displaced all the arriving actors."
According to K.'s account in
his autobiography, the union had excluded the members
whose acting in theatre was only a part of their
livelihood, and in that way he was not called to any
meetings and did not know about a strike that went on in
the People's Theatre, where he became engaged and
[subsequently] declared to be a strike-breaker by the
According to other kveln,
there then broke out a strike of the union actors
against Thomashefsky-Edelstein's "People's Theatre," and
Thomashefsky, together with his partners-actors (Bessie
Thomashefsky, Adler and wife, Paulina Edelstein) and
several non-union actors, among them K., stayed to play
in the struggle against all the unions, but finally the
Initially only great efforts
were permitted, and K. had his audition and became taken
into the union as a member.
On 10 April 1903 K. was the
first to play the role of "Alter Zlates" in Rakowe's
"The Beggar" in the Thalia Theatre, and after Tornberg's
departure from the Yiddish stage, he began to act in the
roles in Gordin's plays, and he was especially
successful as "Motye Streichl" in "The Orphan."
In 1906 when Harrison Grey
Fiske engaged Berta Kalich to play Gordin's "Kreutzer
Sonata" in English, Katzman became engaged through him
to play the role of "Ephrim fidler," and got very good
reviews by the English press.
From 1908 to 1914 K. played
with Keni Lipzin.
In November 1915 he played
in "Mother Zalb and Son" in English vaudeville, until
1917 [1916, ed.] when Max Gabel engaged him to
take part in his offering of his play, "Clear
In 1918 [1917-ed.] he
was with Adler in the Grand Theatre.
In 1919 he was again with
Max Gabel, and in 1920 with Schildkraut (Sam Schorr and
In 1921 he was with Berta
Kalich in the Irving Place Theatre.
In 1924 he again played in
English with Berta Kalich.
In 1925 he participated with
Thomashefsky in English in the sketch, "The Green
In 1927 he played in English
with Edward G. Robinson, in the role of "Yankel" in "Kibitzer."
K. wrote three English
one-acters, which were never staged.
K.'s wife, Sarah Dayan,
played on the Yiddish stage. K.'s son is an English
On 7 July 1932 K. passed
away in New York.
Boaz Young characterized him
"Katzman, who had a naively
innocent exterior, received the role of the 'green
Jewish peddler' with the strange name, Chaldik, in
Gordin's play, 'The Russian Jew in America,' which they
had staged in every season in Adler's theatre on the
Bowery, and Katzman, as well as the play, had great
Katzman then turned into a
first-class character comic. Years later when K. played
with Edward G. Robinson in the English play, 'Kibitzer,'
an English newspaper wrote that the Jews had known no
great talent like they had in him."
B. Weinstein writes:
"Katzman at that time used
to play the same roles in Gordin's plays, which also
were played by Sigmund Mogulesco and Mr. Tornberg.
Katzman played with Berta Kalich, with David Kessler,
with Madame Lipzin, with M. Moskowitz and with all the
others of the Yiddish stars of that time and would
strongly excel. The critics of every newspaper used to
constantly praise him.
When Madame Kalich moved
away from the Yiddish stage and they had to stop staging
Gordin's plays so often, Katzman found it very difficult
to receive an engagement in the Yiddish theatre. Katzman
also was an older man when he began to act in the
English tongue. His good talent there also had good
ongezen, although his English was not fulkum.
...I remember how he was a few years back playing with
great success in the role of 'Yankel' in 'Kibitzer,'
which the well-known Jewish-English actor Edward G.
Robinson had staged on the English stage in New York.
Jacob Katzman... many times
complained to us that he could not find any engagement
in the Yiddish theatre. They did not act well anymore--
or as he used to say it-- realistic plays. In shund
[trash] plays Katzman never used to exclude them. Jacob
Katzman was a very friendly person and lovely human
being, a true colleague. He was much loved by everyone
who were close to him."
B. Gorin-- "History
of Yiddish Theatre," Vol. 1, pp. 205-6, 209, 212,
234; Vol. 2, pp. 49, 126, 151, 197.
B. Weinstein-- Di
erste yorn fun yidishn teater in odes ["Archiv far
der geshichte fun yidishn teater un drame"],
Vilna-New York, 1930, pp. 243-44.
yidisher shoyshpiler katzman, geshtorben,
"Forverts," N.Y., 9 July 1932.
Farshtorbener aktor yakov katzman-- zayne ershte
yoren oyf der bine, dort, 12 July 1932.
Boaz Young-- "Mayn
lebn in teater," New York, 1950, p. 86.
"Album of the Yiddish Theatre," N.Y., 1937, pp. 28,