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"

 

Anna (Annie) Shapiro
as written by granddaughter Charlotte Goldstein Chafran
as told to and edited by Steven Lasky

 

 

"Annie" was born around 1876 in a small town bordering Grodno, which at the time was considered to be part of Poland-Lithuania.

Her mother was soon left a widow with four young daughters, to raise them by herself, without any visible means of support. And so to survive she was obliged to send her girls off to nearby Grodno, to live in the home of her wealthy relative who had agreed to take the girls in. In exchange for their "keep", they would be expected to work and serve, and to take on all the most menial tasks that would be required to run a smooth and efficient household.

At age thirteen, Anna and her mother somehow made it to America, where she immediately began to work, first in a cigar factory, and then in one of the so-called "sweatshops", so common in that area and so aptly named, where she toiled during endless laborious hours, never seeing the light of day, and that's when the young actor Charles Shapiro came into her life.

Anna Kaufman was beautiful, an enchanting young girl, scarcely more than a child when they met. She captured his heart at first glance. From that moment on, his one though became how was he, a mere actor (in an era when "actors" were all looked down on with disdain), might go about winning her mother's consent for them to marry, so that he could "rescue" her from her life of drudgery and take care of her for the rest of their days.

For actors then were certainly not looked upon as a suitable choice for a mother to allow her beautiful, young daughter to take as a husband. And so he decided that it would best further his cause if at least for the present he abandoned his recently launched career as an actor and temporarily change his profession. Of all things he became a house painter. Soon they were married, with Anna still not quite being sixteen years old.

And so Charlie painted houses and took on odd jobs, and even took in boarders, i.e. anything to help them make a living, for by now they had a baby girl to think about. So from time to time he accepted an occasional role in a play that was being presented at the popular "Labor Lyceum". In 1900, Elias Glickman, the familiar theatre manager of the successful Glickman Theatre in Chicago -- who had for some time had been hearing quite glowing reports about this "Charles Shapiro", who aside from his reputed skills as an actor was also known to possess a rich, melodious, baritone singing voice.

So, intrigued, Glickman invited him to come to Chicago for the upcoming season, to join his company and perform there. Of course, Charles Shapiro accepted joyfully and at long last he was once again "home" -- back in his magical world of theatre.

From there, Charlie concentrated is efforts on channeling Anna's interest in theatre more keenly, hoping it would bring forth a more personal involvement on a more direct level, onto her husband's newly resurrected career that now had encompassed his life. That is when they discovered much to their surprise and utter delight that she herself possessed an innate, though still dormant, potential for becoming not only "an" actress, but a very adequate one at that.

Soon she was participating in the chorus and not too much later after this at her husband's side, gaining recognition along with the admiration of audiences, wherever she appeared. Some time later she earned admission into the newly formed Hebrew Actors Union, which was quite an accomplishment, for this was the ultimate validation.

The Shapiros stayed on in Chicago, for three more seasons with Glickman, and then for another year, also in Chicago at the "Lewis Theatre". For three months beyond that, they performed with the celebrated Boris Thomashefsky. Anna, all the while, was holding her own as an actress of merit while Charles' career skyrocketed with phenomenal success. He even received the highest esteem of the two giants of Yiddish theatre of that generation, i.e. David Kessler (who continued to sing his praises), and the legendary Jacob P. Adler, who absolutely refused to undertake a project without Charles Shapiro as part of his company.

So, life went by pleasantly enough, until 1908 when Charles suddenly took ill. It started with a thyroid problem, and quickly escalated to a complete disaster. He took to his bed for an entire year, and in 1909 he lost his battle with the disease. He closed his eyes on 30 June 1909, passing on at the early age of forty-four.

By 1911, their daughter, Sadie, by now a young lady, met and married the actor Jacob Goldstein. She soon gave birth to a daughter, Charlotte (named in memory of Sadie's father Charles). Sadie now had a daughter of her own to cherish and nurture and see grow, along with a life of her own to pursue and build, and so although still close, Anna went on from there, alone, concentrating her efforts mainly on the "circuit", known as the "road" (in Yiddish, it was "oyf der provints"), i.e. Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore, Philadelphia, etc., a series of cities, each season in a different city, until 1920-1, which saw her in New York at the old "Madison Square Garden Theatre", with the actress Henrietta Schnitzer. When Schnitzer attempted to launch her "new Jewish theatre", it failed. Ana then performed in Brooklyn with the fine artists, Samuel Goldenburg and Celia Adler, the stars. And when the famous Vilna Troupe came to America, she performed that season wit them at the Lipzin Theatre, which stood in the Bowery in New York City. But normally it would be "on the road", where she mainly performed. For it was here, as she so often contended with strong conviction, that the ongoing battle was mainly being fought to keep Yiddish theatre and the Yiddish language alive. It was here that the "road actors" struggled on a daily basis to forge a lasting connection with its audiences and most often succeeding.

So it was here that Anna chose to excel, by now in mother roles, appearing in the melodramas of Horowitz and Zolotarevsky, Lateiner and Kobrin, which were all the rage at the time. When the new idol, Jacob Gordin, came onto the scene, ushering in a new era of realistic drama, copying life that "took over" the audiences, it was his classic "Mirele Efros" (the ultimate mother role), that became her favorite role to perform (as such told by her daughter Sadie so many years ago in an interview she gave to the journalist Jacob Kirschenbaum). He writes that "she became known as the "Cleveland Mirele Efros most favored", and in that same interview, Kirschenbaum goes on to lament: "Today, alas, Anna Shapiro is a forgotten actress, for the years fly by so fast, leaving in their wake only their memories of the days gone by". And so, Anna lived her last years in "memories", that is, when she wasn't warming at the artistic fires of her granddaughter now all grown up, who had followed in the tradition of her heritage and became a Yiddish actress -- by now a prominent member of the very prestigious "Yiddish Art Theatre" of Maurice Schwartz, performing and traveling the world with him and his troupe in leading roles in the 1930s, 40s and 50s -- Charlotte Goldstein.

Anna Shapiro passed on peacefully on December 28, 1955.


Sh. E. from her granddaughter Charlotte Goldstein Chafran.


 

 

 

 


 

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Part of the new,  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre", Volume 8, by Steven Lasky.
You may also read Anna's original Lexicon biogaphy in its Volume 6.

 

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