Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Gustav Schacht


Born on 15 April 1876 in Riga, Lettland [Latvia.] He was descended from R' Yisroel Salanter and from the famous Russian-Jewish family Mandelshtam. His father was a businessman. He learned in a cheder and then in a real school. His first impulse to the theatre came through his mother's cousin Isaak Aleksandrovich Oleshvesky, a theatre director from Kharkov, who had heard him declare during a visit to Riga and wanted to take him with him to educate him as an actor.

Due to economic needs, S.'s father immigrated to America, and in 1890 S. also was brought over. Here le learned in a night school, also a little privately for himself and was a street merchant. Soon thereafter he became a co-founder of a dramatic club called the "Minsk Hand and Hand Dramatic and Benevolent Association," where he played the title role for a play, "Der oremer lerer" by a non-professional writer, and the main role in Feinman's "Der get," as well in a dramatization of the novel, "Di geheymnise fun rusishn kayzerlekhn hoyf," then he went over to the "Goldfaden Dramatic Club," where he played "Joffe" in Gordin's "Yiddish King Lear," and later was a student in the dramatic school under Jacob Gordin's management.

Adopting a decision to becoming an English actor, S. decided to immigrate to England. He went on foot from New York to Philadelphia, and from there he traveled for nineteen days on a fruit ship to England. There, not having the means to live, he

spent his time in London's Mission House, where he struggled without eating and learned English at the same time.

Then he fought, on his own initiative, for a post in a department store of the philanthropist Williams, where he was initially an address writer and packer and then a German correspondent.

Operbetndik a year on the stand and attending during that time the English theatre, S. became known to the actor Joseph Goldschmidt, who put together a young troupe of young actors, and he was included in the playing, under the name of "Feingold," half-a-week in vaudeville in English, and the other half-week in plays in Yiddish, but after a short time he went over to the Yiddish troupe of Jenny Kaiser, where he debuted as "Max Philipson" in Feinman's "Dos foters kale."

Hearing that in South Africa there was being created a Yiddish theatre troupe, S. went there, and in January 1897 he joined the troupe (Jacob Katzman, Sarah Dayan, Esther and Sol Wallerstein, Annie Kaplansky et al.), and he played for two years in Johannesburg with the troupe (to which there later came Mandeltort and his wife, Moshe Zilberman et al.) Then he traveled in the mdbrius of South Africa to search for gold (mining), and after metern zikh there several months with a freed prisoner of England, he fled barely with his life back to Johannesburg, where he became an auctioneer for a rich Irish [?]auctioneer Richard Corey [?], with whom he materially assisted [?] He also later founded the first Yiddish newspaper in South Africa "Di afrikaner idishe gazzeten," with S. as the publisher, and Isaac Berman as editor. However, due to the outbreak of the war between England and the Boars, he left it all and fled to New York, where he arrived on 5 November 1899.

Here he tried joining Adler's Theatre, but without success, and he became in several weeks an insurance agent. In time he was established in the Yiddish Actors' Union, which took him in as a member, but the actors of the three former Yiddish theatres in New York (Thalia, Windsor and People's), ignored the unengaged actors in New York and the provincial actors. S. in his great desire to play Yiddish theatre, therefore accepted an offer for an Adler's production in order to play with him, but the actors then formed a union strike, and along with other striking-breaking actors, was thrown out with them after the victory by the strikers. S. traveled with his strike-breaking colleagues to Philadelphia, where they ended the season in the Arch Street Theatre, under the direction of Ivan Abramson. For a long time S. endeavored in vain to join the union, declaring that he was willing to pay a penalty for his strike-breaking, and at first through the intervention of researcher-judge Jerome and Dr. David Blaustein, earlier of the Educational Alliance, he was taken in as a member of the Union in 1922. Shortly thereafter he became engaged in the newly opened Grand Theatre (Karp, Lateiner, Bernstein and Friedsell -- managers), but he felt a curse concerning getting roles.

In 1904-05 S. became engaged in the Grand Theatre with Adler, and here in November 1904 he was the first to create the role of "Khayutin" in Gordin's "The True Power."

Sara Adler reports it quite differently in her memoirs, about S.'s arrival in the professional Yiddish theatre:

"... Gordin and other writers and actors used to with, p. 2221 (much more to translate....)

However, when S. caught himself --- further recalls Sara Adler -- that we were striking in the theatre, he says that despite his playing, his is applying to the union and should be taken in as a member. Receiving a refusal, he applied with a complaint to the district attorney at the time, General [procurer] Jerome, and thanks to his intervention, he became a member in the union. The strike, meanwhile, was won and S. was taken into the troupe and receive the role of "Khayutin" to play in "The True Power," and about his acting and the impression he made, Sara Adler recalls further:

"So great was Schacht's success in the relatively small role....that Ab. Cahan, the editor of the "Forward," had in his review about the play spoken more about Schacht than about all the stars together. Cahan had then written about Schacht more than about Adler, Kessler and all the others, who were appearing for the first time in the piece. And not only Cahan had in the young actor identified an important talent; also Israel Zangwill, who then was a guest in New York, he came to see and could not oploybn of Schacht's acting. Zangwill then invited Schacht to travel with him to London and there perform on the English stage."

And Sara Adler further recalls what had occurred in the theatre when S. had played in the role of "Khayutin:":

"Fruitlessly, Kessler [who played the main role in "Dr. Goldenweiser"] had attempted several times to begin. No one had not heard him. The audience was crazy with enthusiasm. Several times in the middle of an act they had to bring Schacht out onto the stage and Kessler's monologue did not show any success. The curtain came down on a non-performed act, that such a thing had never happened in a Yiddish theatre."

S.'s success had led to a conflict between Kessler and Adler. Earlier Kessler had played "Dr. Goldenweiser," and Adler the role of "Pompion," and they had zikh gebitn with the roles, but when Adler had taken over the role of "Dr. Goldenweiser," Sara Adler recalls the history once again:

"In one act... [p. 2222]....,more to translate...."

The history, as Sara Adler recalls, had farendikt dermit vos Adler's "patriots" had when a production created a scuffle in a theatre, we didn't complete the production, and Adler had taken by S. the role and given it to the actor Ginsburg. S. thus questioned this by calling Adler out in the press, that he should compare him in other roles. From then on there was an antagonism between Adler and S.

In 1905-06 S. played in the Windsor Theatre.

In 1906-07 he was in the Thalia Theatre with Kessler, Moshkovich and Lipzin.

From 1907-11 he played part-time with Adler, part-time with Lipzin, and was the first to embody (in 1907) the role of "Melech Natan Torbe" in Jacob Gordin's "On the Mountains."

In the summer of 1911 he was brought to London, whre he participated as "Khayutin" in Adler's local production of "The True Power."

In 1911-12 he played with Keni Lipzin in the Lipzin Theatre.

In 1912-13 he played opportunistically in the productions and participated on 25 December 1942 in Thomashevsky's Royal Theatre in Anschel Schorr's "Dos zisl meydl.'

In 1913-14 he was in the Dewey Theatre (14th Street) with Adler.

In that time S. dedicated himself to the studying of the tendencies of Shakespeare's "Shylock" and studied through virtually every Shylock commentator in English and in German and worked out his own interpretation, which portrayed "Shylock" as a highly filosemitish work, in antithesis to the most of the time generally accepted opinions. Lo the studies and the idea to perform "Shylock" in his exchange had S.'s withdrawal from the stage, and in 1914 he went over into business. He technically developed an invention for a certain Lifshitz, but due to the coming world war, S. was not able to receive the necessary German technical materials and lost due to the invention over two years' time, within which he acted, but from time to time.

In 1917-18 he acted in Adler's Grand Theatre, where he had, on 9 November 1917 was the first to embody the role of "Father Michail" in Ossip Dymow's "The World in Flames," and since March 1918 he doubled for Adler in Dymow's "Slave of the People."

In 1918-19 he acted in Kessler's Second Avenue Theatre.

In 1919-20 he acted in the Yiddish Art Theatre (under the direction of Maurice Schwartz), and here he was the first to actuate in the role of the "priest" in Sholem Aleichem's "Tevye the Milkman," "The Dance Teacher," in Lengiel's "The Dancer," "Satin" in Gorki's "Oyfn opgrunt," and "Mazik" in Fishl Bimko's "Thieves."

In 1920-21 he played in Schnitzer's "New Yiddish Theatre" in the role of the "lover" in "Silent Forces" by Jan Eker (sp), and "the philanthropist" in Avraham Shomer's "The Reformed Convict" (together with Rudolph Schildkraut).

In 1921-22 he was in the Lipzin Theatre with Jennie Valiere, and here staged on 23 November 1921 Jacob Faller's "The Everlasting Tangle" and Zolotarefsky's "Every Woman's Desire [?] (playing the role of "Chazan.")

In 1923-24 he opened under his direction " Gustav Schacht's Amphion Theatre," where on 11 September 1923 he sttaged Avraham Blum's "Kol Yakov," and then Z. Kornblit's "Tserishene neshomes" (according to a motive from Guy de Maupassant), but after eight weeks he closed the theatre with a large deficit, and S. then toured the province with the guest-starring troupe of the Yiddish Art Theatre.

In 1925-26 he Sh. played with Ludwig Satz and Max Rosenthal in the Irving Place Theatre, and then he traveled away to Hollywood, where he continued for five years to study the "Shylock" complex. Here S. played the "head of the eygeyner," in John Barrymore's first sound film, "General Crack," and then small roles in other sound films, together with Emil Jennings, Pola Negri et al.

Returning to New York for the 1932-33 season, he became engaged in the Yiddish Art Theatre and was the first to play the role of "Shachna Dein" in Schwartz's offering of I. J. Singer's "Yoshe Kalb," and he made a strong impression for the shaping of the character.

On 9 December 1936 S. performed in the Folks Theatre as "Solomon" in a combination-production of Gordin's "Mirele Efros" (with four women playing "Mirele": Anna Appel, Berta Gerstin, Dora Weissman and Bina Abramowitz), a benefit for the "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre."

In 1936 S. joined the Jewish State Theatre (W. P. A.) and played "the cleric" in Yehuda Bleich's production of Sinclair Lewis' "Do kon es nit geshen," and the role of "Jacob" in Jacob Mestel's offering of Clifford Odet's "Awake and Sing."

This was actually the last great role that S. had played, and he had with it been mentioned again by the critic in his wonderful creations.

About his playing the role of "Jacob," D. Kaplan writes:

"The old Jacob played by Gustav Schacht with delicate ability and ideal feeling and creates very much a sympathetic design, but the help did not remove the impression of Jacob's unnaturalness and tsugetshepeter relationship with the entire environment of the play."

Warm about his playing, N. Buchwald writes:

"Gustav Schact creates a tragedy, a pathetic figure of the ...more to translate....

Also William Edlin wad deeply pleased by S.'s playing:

"Thus....more to translate....

Very thrilled with the embodiment of the role, Leon Kobrin says:

"...Gustave Schacht saw many roles, in which they had portrayed and manifested true talent, but I have never seen him act better as in the role of the old Jacob. At times, many years back, Schacht made a big appearance in a role of a Yiddish teacher, an idealist, a bel khoylem [Khayutim] in Gordin's "True Power." ....In the role of the old Jacob even more excellence, that I have seen for that teacher, the dreamer, who was before the time ages thirty years, and nevertheless remains warm, the kind idealist of a time."

On 8 October (on Kol Nidre) 1943, S. passed away in New York.

S. was the brother-in-law of Zionist leader Louis Lipsky.

S.'s daughter is married to Charles Adler, son of Jacob P. Adler and Jennie Keiser.

B. Botwinik characterizes him as such:

"...Although Schacht was a.... more to translate."


  • B. Gorin -- "History of Yiddish Theatre," Vol. II, p. 198.

  • [--] -- Kurtse biografie fun beliebte kinstler, "Di idishe bine," N. Y., 25 March 1910.

  • [--] -- Endlikh iz er gevorn a idisher aktior, "Forward," N. Y., 23 October 1912.

  • Uriel Mazik -- [Alter Epstein] -- Bilder-galeree fun unzere idishe shoishpieler, "Der tog," N. Y., 13 October 1917.

  • A. Buckstein -- In teater, "Freaye arbayter shtime," N. Y., 27 March 1920.

  • William Edlin -- "Vakh-oyf un zing" khun kliford odets in royal's teater, "Der tog," N. Y., 25 Dec. 1938.

  • D. Kaplan -- "Eveik end sing" -- itst geshpilt oyf idish, "Forward," N. HY., 30 Dec. 1938.

  • N. Buchwald -- "Vakh oyf un zing" in idish, "Morgn frayhayt," N. Y., 30 December 1938.

  • Leon Kobrin -- Odets dermont oyf gordin mit zayn "vakh oyf un zing," "Der tog," N. Y., 17 February 1939.

  • Sara Adler -- Di lebens-geshikhte fun sara adler, "Forward," N. Y., L.aroysgabe 21, 23, 24 March, 4, 6, 8, 11, 13 and 14 April 1939.

  • Jacob Mestel -- "Undzer teater," N. Y., 1943, p. 166.

  • B. Botwinik -- Gustav shacht un yitzhak feld, "Forward," L. A., 15 October 1943.






Home       |       Site Map       |      Exhibitions      |      About the Museum       |       Education      |      Contact Us       |       Links

Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 3, page 2219.

Copyright   Museum of Family History.  All rights reserved.