Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Menasha Skulnik


Menasha was born on May 15, 1892 in Chmielnik, Kielce Gubernia, Poland. His father was a table maker [tishler]. Always seriously [in need] because of a lack of income for seven children, he moved in 1900 to Warsaw, where his mother actually was the provider [for the family] by opening a food store. She had a huge sense of humor and used to sing folk songs.   

In his memoirs S. recalls:

"I've never not had any great ambition, and I've never not had any complaints to the world… The correct date when I was born, I don’t know.  It's wherever it is written, but nobody has seen it, and no one is interested in seeing it. It is not at all important to you. When the immigration official asked us when we came to America through Ellis Island, when I was born. I quickly took out a date of authorization and answered: “May 1892.” Whether it was correct of not. And so it remained… The 15th of May.”

S. notes that after learning in a cheder at the age of seven years:

"I began to read Yiddish newspapers, which I had previously never seen in our house. I began to read story books by Shomer, Tanenbaum, Hermalin. At our house there was never any reading at all. My father was poor and never was able to spend the few kopeks to buy a newspaper. But when I found out that, I wanted to read about the world, and I was not able to escape from it. Every day I used to go to a Yiddish library and would begin to read a foreign writer: Russian, French, English, everything, only

what was translated into Yiddish, such as Tolstoy, Chekhov, Maupassant. I didn't know how much I understood of the literature that I had read, but it had interested me, and it had aroused me to read over and over again. Almost every day I would read a book."

S.'s older brother came home from the military and told [us] about "theatre," singing over to us the songs from "Shulamis" and "Bar Kochba," and in an ibergezaltsener form went over the content of the theatre pieces. He also took S. to a Yiddish theatre, where he heard music for the first time. Then he took him to a Polish theatre, to "Malka Schwartzenkop." S. began to tsinizelis tsurik, where it pleased him to best the clowns, become their errand boy, and he left with them to Brest-Litovsk. His father arrived home and quickly took him away from there.

S. went back into the cheder and learned Gemora from his father. He sang as an "alto" with a cantor. In Warsaw there then existed three Yiddish theatres, and S. let them not by hiding (end of page 6057) at first behind the scenery in order to baytsuvinen the performances, then there he became an errand boy. With other children he took to imitating "theatre," acting for kreplakh. Later he "made theatre" in private homes with "amateurs" (the future actors Yablonski, Shidlover, Silberkasten, Gerstenzang, Weisshof), performing "Kabtsn'zon un Hungerman." When all of the amateurs were touring as a troupe under the management of Misha German, S. put together a troupe of children, with them studying two plays and traveling around with them for a year across the province. After acting in Mezritch with "amateurs', he joined Mishurat's guest-starring troupe, then performed in the troupes of Krause, Sabsey and Genfer.

S. recalls in his memoirs:

..".I schlepped around with an itinerant troupe of actors in Russia. I think we arrived in the city of Dubno …It was during the time of Lent, a religious holiday, during which for three weeks people in Russia did not try to perform any theatre.  …The entire company was staying in an inn. We had two big rooms, one for the men, and one for the women. They brought us two samovars per day, in the morning and at night. They used to bring the samovar to us in the room with hot-boiled water, but we didn’t have any tea, and we didn’t have any sugar, [so] we used to drink “puste” hot water…. We bought chicory for a groschen, and we used to make (in) the hot water the color of tea. (end of page 6058)

We simply suffered from hunger for weeks, even though there was a matzo business in the inn. We entered into a front room, which was filled with matzo. They (the matzos) were lying from the floor to the ceiling, laid out in a row. The matzo had been placed by a locked door, which was in our room. Every evening I used to have a "job," because I was the smallest in the group and had a small, thin hand, and I used to unchain the chain from the door, only open it a little bit, enough so that my small hand could go in, and I gently pulled out enough matzo for the entire company for the following day... Each night I used to make my theft, and the entire company used to eat hot chicory water with dry, chewy matzo for three weeks until they began to act and earn money."

The Skulnik Family
(Menasha behind his father)

In another episode from those wandering years S. recalls:

"Sometimes we were a troupe of actors in a city during winter nights. We all remained seated in a station terminal with our rags. The manager traveled about the city to find a hotel or an inn for us. After several hours he returned with nothing, no one wanted to admit any actors, and one of them even cursed the actors. ...We were all strongly frustrated, and they soon closed the station terminal. ... And here there are small children. ...Suddenly the actor Fachler cried out to the manager: "Give me the address of the hotelkeeper (owner) who has cursed us." He wrapped himself up in false vanses like a merchant, chosen a few pieces of the best luggage, and a second actor brought along two friends as his attendants. The two actors hired a piker, who traveled to the hotel and asked for two rooms, large rooms, whichever are the largest, and that these so-called merchants should be brought hot samovars with side dishes, and they then immediately sent for us in the station terminal. We all came down into the hotel into the two huge rooms. '..When the head of the hotel saw us, his eyes became dark, and he would have thrown us out, but he did not know the imminent Russian law."

After an episode that portrayed the material conditions of the former itinerant trope, S. relates in his memoirs:

"The town was called Lukov. We arrived in the town as a troupe of eighteen people playing theatre, and we performed entered an inn or a simple house. ...They had given us fine rooms. Midday time they had prepared the table, a large, shared table. They had prepared for us the table three times a day, and friends had been encouraged by the fine takhlis. It appears that there weren't any actors in the town previously, because they treated us as true guests. In the meantime we issued large posters, that on the Saturday at night there would be a great production, that we will play, (end of page 6059) "Khinke pinke." ...by Thursday we already had taken in two hundred rubles. From this we put down a deposit on the posters, and the last we gave to the head of the hotel. ...Friday we even added some rubles, but on Saturday there was no money left over... (Saturday to the production) we noticed that the curtain on the stage would be appointed with two zippers to the floor.

The audience in the theatre was already restless. They clapped with their hands, time had already begun, but we didn't have any fifty rubles to pay for the hall, ...In general, we fell on a plan; one of the actors would come out from behind the curtain and make an important "announcement," as the settings were not finished yet on time, that we must save for the production until Tuesday. All the tickets were good for Tuesday night... We were sure that until Tuesday we had enough to pay for everything... On Tuesday we already had our disaster We already saw that the production would not be able to be played because we didn't have fifty rubles to pay to raise the curtain. ...The people who had (bought) tickets, sat in the theatre, and one of our actors sat at the (ticket) table and around him stood a crowd of spectators and watched him, that maybe he shouldn't run away. We then hired a large wagon with two horses, which stood around one hundred and fifty feet from the theatre, in the dark. We already long had checked our rags out of our hotel rooms and everything already was on the wagon. All the actors already were seated in the wagon. We only had to wait on our costumes ...I had the job of getting involved with the public (which had surrounded the cashier) in the theatre, at the box-office table, that he couldn't not run away. ...In the end it was that I had to pierce through the public to the the table and get out the kerosene lamp. In the dark we both had to start running, and the entire public with their tickets in their hands followed us. We both caught up to the wagon, which had moved, and the public had accompanied us with high cries: "Bandits! Zhulikes! Swindler." So, is it a wonder that actors have received a malignant name throughout the world? Was it our fault? Was there no fault of guilt?"

The poet Z. [Zishe] Weinper portrays the period as such:

"Menasha Skulnik has not been received by the general public of the Yiddish Theatre, with the silvery trumpet in their mouths, because he enters through a side door, much more as his fellow players or accompanists, among others, a true performer. Year-round he looked like a simple torchbearer for other faces, for other steps across the stage of Yiddish Theatre. For him it is a long time eyngefalen tsu trachten, that by himself he was intelligent enough, evidence to prove that, who has the value to become aware of others.

True, he came to the Yiddish Theatre from his earlier youth as a child of a Jewish shopkeeper family; he [end of page 6060) felt much a boldness within himself to serve the Yiddish Theatre as he had served his father in his small shop, but the receiving him at the former Yiddish theatre was not only the actor, that one had seen in the young Jewish youth, but due to his beautiful face and even his beautiful soprano voice, which comes out of the Jewish youth. Menasha Skulnik quickly found a place in Yiddish Theatre of Poland due to his beautiful soprano [voice]. He was very useful in the chorus, and because the subject matter of the Theatre was felt very strongly in his heart; he also had searched usefully to create his technique around the stage. He had to create in his technique at sites around the stage. ...The majority of companies with which he worked during these years, were composed of semi- and complete dilettantes. An actor applied for this of that role, and they were employed with whomever they could. The young Menasha Skulnik sometimes was used as a prima donna.

Small as he was, he had a worthwhile weight, and there, and an excellent soprano too, and it was only for him to be dressed in women's clothing, and he was transformed into a complete prima donna. With one word, Menasha Skulnik had begun at the Yiddish theatre as a chorister, as a stage technician, as a prima donna, but without the slightest sign of it, that he puts on today (written [in]1935) in the performing arts."

In order to avoid military service, S. was smuggled across the border to Krakow (Galicia, then a part of Austria-Hungary), where he met a performing troupe that didn't want to take him in, so he went to Vienna and there put together a troupe with three actors, [forming] a quartet, which toured across Austria, Czechoslovakia and performed in beer halls and bars, where they would go around with a plate for their "honorarium."  From there S. traveled in 1913 to America.

In April 1913 S. arrived in New York, where he visited his older brother, who was entirely cold to taking him in. The next morning S. went away to an actors club, but not knowing anyone, and due to his poor dress, he decided not present himself. However, meeting his friend Harry Weissberg with whom he had acted in Yiddish theatre in Europe, he joined through him a Yiddish vaudeville house on Willett Street, where S. became engaged by the director Bernard Elving for twelve dollars a week as an actor and stage director. Here he debuted as "Ayzkl" in Moshe Richter's "Hertsele meyukhes" and acted on Saturdays and Sundays in the sketches, which consisted of "improvisations." In the summertime he traveled to his sister in Albany, where he became a "busboy" (end of page 6061) [assistant waiter] in a hotel, acted with "amateurs" in "Brothers Lurie," and by this acquired a great sum, and traveling back to New York he became engaged by Mike Thomashefsky for his Arch Street Theatre in Philadelphia, where the stage director Max Rosenthal soon rewrote plays and roles for him. Performing in small roles as a gebekhdikher "teacher" in "The Girl of the West," S. came on stage at a certain time in a certain scene when the farmer, a high, ongepakeveter, wanted to kill [?] an orphan, to cry out, "Stop, you shouldn't stand up," which brought out laughter in the theatre, two colleagues looking at the two opposing characters, but that didn't matter to the co-director Anshel Schorr, who maintained that S. had took part in the scene because instead of weeping for the orphan, the audience laughed, and S. didn't receive any more roles to play, and he remained in the troupe as a role-writer, assistant stage director, and very rarely did he play in small roles.

 Indicating in his autobiography that he spent six years in Philadelphia. S. noted:

By this time I had wanted many times to give up the stage. I had constantly thought that I was not born for the stage as an actor. I completely lost my ambition to play theatre. I hadn't seen any future for myself as an actor. I even demanded from Anshel Schorr, when it came time to restructure my contract, that I should be the stage manager [stage director] who should rewrite plays, roles, provide as a gift, only my nose should not appear on the stage. 'I don't want to be an actor'--I told him. The roles that we tried to play, they were not for me. It was 'upside-down; or a policeman, a detective, or an evil millionaire. In English they say the role is "vacant"; in Russian, they call it a "vichadnya" [secondary]-role. So it was really used to call Yiddish. No actor had wanted to play the "vacant" roles because it used to be a humiliation for an actor to do this. I used to do it. But I hadn't felt it, that I am [thereby] an actor. ...Therefore I constantly thought that perhaps I should go to school to learn a profession, or open a small business, but it was not for me. I never have been able to save a little money through the season because from my earnings, I had to send to my wife in Europe money to live on.  ... I had for an entire winter paid bills that were incurred during the summer, and when the season ended, I used to not have a penny."

But a notice came from the Yiddish actors' union, that he should provide a fulfillment of six years [of acting] for the exams, and they should definitely for him perform in three roles, of "R' Akiva," in a scene from "Uriel Acosta," "Motye Streichel" in "Chasia the Orphan, " and "R' Elie" in "God of Vengeance."

But here S. was noticed by the Yiddish actors' union, that after a period of six years he should undergo exams that will consist of performances in three roles: of "R' Akiva" in a scene from "Uriel Acosta"; "Motye Streichel" in "Chasia the Orphan"; and "R' Elie" in "God of Vengeance.

S. had to learn two of the three roles, and he portrayed such an attempt for the Actors' Union:

"When I am on the train (from Philadelphia to New York), I knew the two roles, even for the greatest critic. (end of 6062) About the third role that I had to do, they say this, that I work hard and haven't any time to learn it outright. "What is the difference?" I thought, they will take me one by one. ..That day five people will make probes. I am the last. Each candidate has created three roles. After each probe they vote. The ballot is a secret. Two-thirds are required to vote "Yes," against one-third "No." It's up to the three hundred actors, and for the two hundred and one needed votes, to vote "Yes," that the candidate should be taken in. Understand this, that if no one hadn't received the needed votes (after a great tumult in the hall, S. went on to perform the scene from "Uriel Acosta") ... After a minute, in fact, I was suddenly in a room. Somehow suddenly a great storm of applause broke out, that the walls azsh.

Joseph Rumshinsky portrayed as such this audition:

On that Monday five actors made their probe. Among them was someone who had played theatre and was a "sure thing." He was always at the theatre--a scene director (sending out of the actors into a scene on time); stage manager, publicity manager, [someone who] had often faced a major move, at times acting in unimportant roles, [was someone] who also wrote roles, as h at the time was engaged in Philadelphia Yiddish Theatre [Arch Street Theatre-- ed.], and yet on the same day he had to travel from Philadelphia, having been given permission to do so, so that he would be the first (?) of the five new candidates.

It is not very customary to make a probe for actors, especially after knowing that it is to perhaps be arranged for an older actor to star in, so that he could make a living. When the chairman (the chairman then was the president of the union, Jean Greenfield) announced that the first to make a probe would be the actor from Philadelphia and called out his name, many asked out loud, "Who, what is his name?" As I also had heard the unknown name, they answered us: "Some role-writer, (end of page 6063) a scenario-holder, a cake-eater." The candidate was to make his probe from three various plays, in three various roles.

When the unknown actor demonstrated the role of "Akiva" in "Uriel Acosta," in makeup, his mask of the old patriarch made a great impression, and there became a dead silence. No one had difficulty breathing, and when the unknown role-writer had finished, it was like one presses himself out into theatre language, a thunderstorm had been dropped, and a proposal was made immediately that they should not let him off [from undergoing] the two other probes, over all protestations, because they simply did not have enough of his good acting.

The second probe was "Motye Streichel" from Jacob Gordin's "The Orphan." Here already the locals reverberated with hearty laughter, that the unknown actor had evoked applause from the actors. The applause was as great as it had been previously, and a proposal again was made that they should let him off from the third probe, because he is already with us, so who needs to be tortured?, and again one could hear hilarious protests: "No," because the audience had simply wanted to be amused.

The third probe was "Ali" from Sholem Asch's "God of Vengeance." After the third probe the locals of the Yiddish actors voiced the name of Menasha Skulnik, who had been stumbled upon by the entire profession as a literary actor who belonged in an art theatre. He was very quickly engaged for the next season in Schnitzer's Art Theatre, where Ben-Ami, Schwartz (?), Rudolph Schildkraut and others had played.

With the literary actor Menasha Skulnik having the same effect on Professor Bernardi (Rumshinsky recalls in detail how Bernardi, who was an artist-pianist, had at one time played in a vaudeville house. Playing with him, some things happened, which have evoked laughter from the vaudeville attendees, and from then on he became well-known as an eccentric piano player, and always stayed that way.] Then it happened with our Menasha Skulnik as a character-actor in the drama and melodrama. Even in his part in a classical production, such as "Uriel Acosta," Hirshbein's "[The] Blacksmith's Daughters," Nomberg's "[The] Family," he had in every unique role aroysgesheynt, and the public reacted with every word and on every movement that he had made. However, all of these unique roles did not satisfy him, and he was confused in the..[er hot zikh mtkna geven in di geshtemplte "stars."] His first lead as an independent "star" was in "Getzl Becomes a Groom," where he had drawn the attention of the entire New York theatre public, even though they staged the play at the Hopkinson Theatre. ..Even though Menasha Skulnik at that time already was a big force among the Yiddish theatre public, nevertheless he was not yet recognized as a complete "star." He played with the Germans as a feature actor, that is to say,
(end of page 6064)
as an important member in the company, the name of the hmfursh as a complete "star," did not please him.

As to Rumshinsky's portrayal of S.'s probe, Zalmen Zylbercweig noted:

"Rumshinsky's report is not enough when one sings the praises with bel dbrs alone, with Skulnik's, which discounts the fact that he had done probes for two roles, not three, and that he was the last candidate that day to make a probe, not the first, also not chronologically S.'s theatre activities. However, Rumshinsky's portrayal is very characteristic for the situation, which used to be created during the actors' probes, and the voting, which had been heard during S.'s probe."

Z. Weinper touches on the question, [about] when S. came to his consciousness about his opportunities as an actor:

"When this occurred, when Menasha Skulnik had suddenly discovered himself, what was the method that led him from one success to another?

Ask him [and] he tells you that the method of being a follower. But what else? He was not sure whether his figurines were worthwhile. The fact that he had when-not-when anywhere in a provincial theatre, had success with fartretirn such a helpless figure, had given him little confidence in himself because it was in the province, and from experience he had known that the public across the province is eating off with what it does not get [?]. But suddenly something like this happened within him that had him pretty shaken, and it was that the event, which had him for the first time made him a bit aware of his ability.

--It came across to us like a miracle--Menasha Skulnik now recalls about that event.

And the miracle happened in eighteen nineteen at the examinations, what he considered to be a great collection of actors, in order to become a member in the Actors' Union. In those years there was admitted eight applicants for examinations, and the only one who survived was Menasha Skulnik.

--It was a true slaughter. Seen people were rejected, and only with me a miracle happened.

Menasha Skulnik even now considers that this event was a miracle, but the engagement with which the collected actors had received their figurative sentence nevertheless had an impact, that he should be seriously trained.

--It was the first time that I had begun to have faith that I am something.

Nevertheless, after the great success he had at the examinations in the union, he had even indirectly rejected/turned down an angazshma, that Maurice Schwartz had asked him to join his Art Theatre, having along with some faith in himself, there was also an awful fear in him.

--Who knows whether I'm effective? Perhaps this was just a coincidence? (end of page 6065)

In that year he went away to Boston, to his prior work as a stage technician, where he had feared that for an art theatre, he was still not mature enough for the Art Theatre. Later, within a year, he already had developed courage and became a member in Maurice Schwartz's Art Theatre, but in the course of this the entire season, he was not given any opportunities to appear, and the season went away for him in vain. At first when he had played with Rudolph Schildkraut, he had gained his opportunity, and he drew strong attention from both the public and the press."

S. decided that he cannot destroy the impression that he had made at the probe and spoke up, suggesting to become engaged as an actor in Philadelphia and New York, and he went back to Philadelphia with a decision never to play in New York. From Philadelphia he traveled with his friend Harry Weinberg to Detroit and decided to make a living as a worker. In the span of ten weeks he went through various "dark" jobs in about thirty factories, and then he returned to New York, and for the season of 1918-1919 was engaged as a stage director in the troupe of Dinah Feinman and Jacob Kalich in Boston. However, after several weeks influenza broke out across America, and the theatre had to close. S. was still there, "writing" a play, "The Happy Jews (Di fraylekhe yudelekh)," which was put on for his benefit (without his acting in it), but soon thereafter he destroyed the play.

For the 1919-1920 season S. was engaged to Maurice Schwartz in his "Irving Place Theatre" (later called the "Yiddish Art Theatre"), where he performed in episodic roles, and he performed due to illness for the actor Gustave Schacht at his benefit, in the role of "Avraham Gershoni" in Jacob Gordin's "The Truth," S. had an incident with Schwartz, and as a result thereof he quarreled there and received no more roles to play.

For the 1920-1921 season S. joined the "Garden Theatre" (called "Art Theatre"), under the direction of Louis Schnitzer, who he played together with Rudolph Schildkraut and other famous Yiddish actors. About his playing there, according to S.'s memoirs:

"The only one [in the troupe] whom I am pleasing is Rudolph Schildkraut. Schildkraut had made me a protégé. I used to come to him at his house. He taught me what to do on the stage. Until then I did not like to see myself on stage with my own face. I was able to get a heavy mask on my face, such as a beard, grave wounds, in my hand I labored, holding a stick or a tobacco box, or a handkerchief. Schildkraut gave me all the things that he had thrown out. ..Until Schildkraut I had never in the theatre had courage, or a compliment not given. "This role--he had said--of Fallenberg was played by Reinhardt. But you're getting a better actor such as Fallenberg. You going to be a greater actor. Do not worry, do not miss out, throw away the beard with the wigs. Play yourself, give yourself to the public on the stage. Take each role, and do it upon yourself. An actor, who doesn't have any personality, should (end of page 6066) disguise himself. However, you young, have personality, and it is harmful to do it from under a mask. Give the people ten percent, of the person you play, and ninety percent of yourself."

S. participated in the plays, "Tsuzeyt un tsuspreyt," "Eykele mazik" (for the critique about his playing, see the history of the "New Yiddish Theatre," Lexicon, pp. 6003-6030.)

S. summarizes this season with these words:

"The 1919-1920 season was, in fact, my spring season. By myself I had found and had begun to have faith in myself. We were delighted with serious theatre. We were pleased with the plays of several giant writers, such as Shakespeare, Ibsen, Dymow, Sholem Aleichem, and I had often wondered how the "downtown" theatres, such as the National, People's, Second Avenue, where they play operettas and musical creations, still exist. I was certainly sure that the popular theatres would close in a short time, because the public was civilized, and they didn't want to tolerate that sort of theatre, which they present downtown."

However, in actuality hot zikh duka the "New Yiddish Theatre" closed with its serious repertoire, and the musical and melodramatic Yiddish theatres were packed. Therefore, S. decided mitsugayn with tears and became a comic in this repertoire.

Not receiving any engagements in any one of these theatres, and knowing that he would specialize as a comic, S. received a sense of humor from the actor Jack Benny, Willie Howard, Bert Lahr and Will Rogers. He did not leave any Broadway production. At the time there opened a Yiddish theatre with Boris Thomashefsky, whom directed Avraham Shomer's play, "Hatikvoh." S. became engaged there, but after several productions the theatre closed. S. decided to apply anywhere to work, but he was called by Maurice Schwartz for his "Art Theatre" to perform for the departed Jechiel Goldsmith in the role of "Sender Brinitzer" in Anski's "Dybbuk," but after several days of playing psknt at the Actors' Union, that S. may return to the theatre, and S. begins to play various roles across various Yiddish theatres, performing on one evening in two of three theatres in various plays in certain acts. At the same time he was, together with Berl Bernstein and Elias Rothstein, a partner to play Sundays in the "Prospect" Theatre in the Bronx.

In 1921 S. also participated in the only Hebrew productions, which the "Hebrew Histadrut" had arranged. The plays, which were staged, were "The New Ghetto" by Dr. Herzl, "Uriel Acosta" by Karl Gutzkoff, "The Blacksmith's Daughter" by Peretz Hirshbein, "Trshish" by Itzhak Katzenelson, and "The Family" by H.N. Nomberg. Breinin has written:

"Whoever says it, that there are no Hebrew actors in New York, you should see Menasha Skulnik in "The New Ghetto" by Reinhardt in Berlin, but to me he pleases me much more."

S. became engaged for Toronto (director--Avraham Littman, Isidor Axler and Charlie Pasternak), and he participated (end of page 6067)in the melodrama "An Eye for an Eye," in which he sang a couplet and fell through with both singing and with playing a comic role, copying other comics. However he soon hoped to play "himself," not another, and in the span of a very short time that he was there in Detroit, where they played on Sundays, [he was] the darling of the public.

Boaz Young writes about him in his memoir book:

"The current great earner in Yiddish theatre, Menasha Skulnik, had the erefnungs-play in Toronto, played a "fat role." The main work consisted of singing and dancing with the soubrette, and he is very courageous for the actors and more to the public. The director has wanted to send him away and write to the union, that they should send a second for his position (it is clear that the fate of many talented [people], that they should fail at their first performance on the stage), but soon at the second play in which Menasha Skulnik played a character-comical role, they saw very much a new comic, a new Menasha Skulnik ... I am still big with that, which I am possibly the first to predict a great career in the theatre."

His success is explained as follows

"The real truth is that I have found my way. During the season in Toronto I have played in seventy-two various plays. I thought about what my teacher Rudolph Schildkraut had taught me. I have given the public seventy-five percent of "me," and twenty-five percent to the role that I had played. Naturally, when I had played an old person, I had white hair. If I had played a religious Jew, I would have worn a beard, but I continually saw that the audience should know me. My personality has dominated every role. The well-known populous that I had created this season in Toronto..."

Menasha Skulnik in
"A Faraway Corner"


In the season S. also played in the repertoire of guest-starring Samuel Goldinburg, and in a series of Hirshbein plays. Evidently that in New York there was guest-starring the Moscow Art Theatre, and S. ended the season by traveling to New York to see the troupe act and begged the important powers [bafrayndt zikh mit ire vikhtikste kukhut]. From here S. toured with the "Art Theatre" across the province, playing the role of "Soloveitchik" in Sholem Aleichem's "The Big Winner," and was stiffly received by the theatre attendees in Toronto.

He decided then to partner with his brother-in-law and sister-in-law Misha and Lucy German for the 1924-1925 season in Toronto, as he lived with the terrible disappointment with his partnership, and for the coming season of 1925-1926 he became a partner with Jechiel Goldsmith and Isidore Hollander in Montreal, as they were in the meantime playing a lighter and end-of-the-week literary repertoire.( end of page 6068)

During the 1925-26 season, S. became engaged in Philadelphia's Garden Theatre (under the direction of six bosses: Max and Sabina Rosenthal, Louis and Mina Birnbaum, Sh. Steinberg, Nellie Casman). The season ended with the guest-appearance of Boris Thomashevsky.

During the 1926-27 season, S. was engaged for Chicago (director Elias Glickman), in the Folks Theatre. When he traveled to Detroit, S. was feted with a banquet, which his friend Harry Weinberg had prepared for him as a surprise.

As a star in Chicago Yiddish Theatre, Michal Michalesko engaged S. in the role that S. had [once] received there, it was a little something, but thanks to the good will of Michalesko, there began there the change in S.'s career in America.

According to S. in his memoirs:

"When at the first probe there was heard the reading of the play, I was not so good in the heart. Chicago is a big city. Chicago has... I saw the great actors. The great comics had even played there. They [the audience] were understood. The role of mine which I had to figure out, I did not know what to do, I did not realize that I wasn't happy. A happy Jew who makes himself crazy, a whole without character, a love and a life. A khuzk-role, a human being who goes around with an automobile horn in his hand and holding in one's bubbles. It isn't comical. [The famous Jewish-English comic] Harpo Marx used the tone in vaudeville throughout the year. Why should the audience say that I'm doing Harpo Marx? I have had a talk with Michal Michalesko. He gave me justice, and he had permitted me to rewrite the role, to put a comic dialogue with a situation. ...From there on I began to virtually rewrite every role, which I had played in Chicago. The plays, which Michalesko has acted in, were specially written for him. The secondary roles were very blasé roles, and the comic roles were foolish, sheepish, khuzk-roles, but as the plays were musical, it was the place and time to write comical situations and dialogue. I had taken from my "pnkt."

When I decided to become a comic, i bought a big, thick "lecture" book. I began to make notes of everything in it, which made people laugh. There were written jokes, threads [fedem], shtrikhen, gramen, khchmut, glaych-words. when I used to, for example, see a motion picture (film), and I heard laughter in the theatre, I used to note that this and that wisdom [khchmh] brings laughter. Or when this and situation, and you turn your head and get a look at the striking [batrefndn] man, evoked laughter. If you fall and sit down on the ground, you get up slowly oyf dem kop and give a look here and there, laughter breaks out. ...I had noted each notion, each idea, both when I was in the theatre, as in vaudeville, as when I had read a book in Yiddish or in English. ...In Chicago there is my collection, which was very useful. I used to rewrite and make better each role with leytishe (end of page 6069) prose and comic dialogue.  This my dear [melh] gave me much distress in the later years. The writer, who used to supply librettos for the music comedies, used to write nothing for me. That is used to come to my performance, they used to leave behind five or six last [leydike] pages. Here's here--they use to say--'Menasha will now write something.'

,,,In the province each actor used to have a benefit. These evenings the actor used to play his "successful" role. ...When it used to come to my benefit, I never had any "best role." That said, I had many roles, but a main role ...I didn't have that play.

S. recalls exactly what happened then, as soon as the playwright William Siegel passed through Chicago, which later sent for him for his benefit, which had later sent for him for his "benefit," the melodrama "The Green Bride." S. rewrote, on my way, the main dramatic role, and from the melodrama it became a comedy, and so a musical comedy, "Der groyser fardiner (The Big Shot)" was created. The same thing happened with S.'s other roles in Michalesko's repertoire.

After the season, the director Elias Glickman worked out a plan for playing in Hollywood in the "silent films." A "test" was made (probes), and it was going successfully, but suddenly "talkies" came out (talking films), and nothing came of the entire plan.

For the new season S. joined the "Liberty" Theatre in Brownsville, New York, under the direction of Anshel Schorr. For the benefit there S. readied himself to stage the comedy, "The Big Shot," whose third act he split and left himself to rewrite a third act for the melodrama writer I. Solotorefsky. The play pleased, and the press had said very good things about it.

Dr. A. Mukdoini writes:

"...I saw the actor Menasha Skulnik for the first time, and I owe a debt of gratitude to this talented actor. In the operetta he plays a comical role of a very unlucky person [shlimazl] furrier-cap maker, [and] I must say that I have until today not seen on our stage such a unique comic. He is a very different type. He is comical and umheymlekh. Something a [modne-mrh-shkhurh tseplt zikh in zayn komizs]] sank in his commentary [?]. He starts to laugh, and at the same time depresses your heart... The comedic features are silky, fast, straightforward, and at the same time they are exposed to subtlety and refinement. An unpleasant sight has this furrier-cap maker, they are trembling and incompetent. The furrier-cap maker makes two or three gracious movements. He reaches for something in his hat and leygt avek epes oyf a zayer tshikavn with his hand into his breast pocket, and with these smart, concerted movements, you have an entire oysgefuremte geshtalt. Menasha Skulnik is more than a talented actor. ...With a unique sharpness, and with a great original expressiveness. He should be our welcome guest. (end of page 6070)

For the first time in my life I have seen this type of comic. You begin to laugh, and at the same time you are afraid to cry.

N. Buchwald writes:

"For his evening-of-honor in the Liberty Theatre they had the not-so-well known, but the very good comic Menasha Skulnik selected a custom piece to do [tandet]. ...One of the hundred other pieces... from the Yiddish theatres, it nevertheless was an unbelievable production, because Menasha Skulnik has inspired a miracle to create gold from mud. Skulnik himself, as we say, created a role. He geshnitn and worked, so that you may be look out for a better time. It is of this kind of play, that they are cut, not from blood. ...The thing is called, 'The Big Shot,' and here Skulnik plays the role of a good-hearted human being, an American employee... When you analyze Skulnik's acting, you see that he has studied a lot from the great comic of our time, Charlie Chaplin. He doesn't make like Chaplin, but he has borrowed the "key," the tone of acting. Not in the manner one recognizes from the Chaplin style, but in that spirit, in the ludicrousness that steals the loathing and bakhnt dem yold ... Often times he created grotesque effects and grotesque pieces, exaggerated poses and heuiut.... Skulnik never rejected this pintele human being.... In turn, through actorial means he brings out and stresses the humanness... It is a shame that such an actor should move forward with great troupes and play the dark years knowing that. ...Under a good stage director Menasha Skulnik was a big winner for the Yiddish theatre."

In the summer of 1928 S. toured with a production of Joseph Schoengold, who was to guest-star in Argentina. Here S. continued to revise his play, "The Big Shot," in which he needed to perform. Gaining courage from Schoengold, S. writes to texts the comic roles in the play, and that he should play with him for the ten weeks, guest-starring, which resulted in a very great success.

L. Melakh writes about Argentina:

"...You come to gossip ... The character-actor... Menasha Skulnik. Abraham Reyzen had told me that I should unconditionally go, do not hesitate, not pure art, but Skulnik has evolved. His face is indeed blessed. He plays with every expression, with every face and movement. His eyes speak for him. His voice, his pace and forward movements-- is always with laughter. Not that laughter that evokes a tickle; no, he is blessed with some unique talent. He is filled with humor, with a popular appeal. It knows from him such a humility and sincerity, not looking on the inherent clichés and character of the play, I nevertheless became contented with the entire production ...I have only regretted that some performers "break their tongue" in the cheap melodrama ....I am jealous of what you are going to do, Skulnik, for a piece of time ...He is one of us..."( end of page 6071)

Jacob Botoshansky writes about S.'s debut:

"... The comedy would have been a malicious half-comical story...but for a story it is too crafty, and for a comedy too primitive ...and the talk-- oy, the talk! Not popular, not literary, but nothing good. However ver mir Kalmanowitz and Siegel, that Menasha Skulnik alone is a beautiful, hearty comedy, a comedy with a whine ...and when Meansha Skulnik would not have been a comedy, they would say that he did a good Charlie Chaplin and even kitonen, but would not such hearty laughter and not so seductive... The audience laughed more from the movements, as from the words. Once again it appears that the main comedy was Skulnik. ..He also says couplets--that is to say he sings them. For the sake wit, he makes a circle and comes around as he declaims with music, and he says brishe with brishe nyuansirungen un bastonungen...Incidentally, I don't know how far Menasha Skulnik's popularity goes in North America, but if he will be with a second production not disappointed the hopes of the first [?], that there will take place with him take the same thing that happened with Molly Picon, who is went off to Europe as an unknown performer, and has herself returned to America....world-famous. With Skulnik the same story will happen. He will indeed become a big shot in every detail, an earner of money and triumph. I wish he would look for a better repertoire. The audience should takes whatever, with good things too..."

Returning to America, S. became engaged to his brother-in-law, Misha German, in the "Folks" Theatre in New York, which opened with Libin's play, "New Melodies [Naye nigidim]," which played for some weeks and then produced Harry Kalmanowitz's play, "The Eternal Mother," in which S. played the role of a bokher [student], a "lekish," who receives from a marriage broker a forgotten ole maid. The role had nothing to do with the handling of the play, but it was necessary for her to use some comical "tricks" (kuntsn). Doing this, S. in the role had a great success. In the summer S. performed in English in the vaudeville houses of R.K.O., in a sketch by Samuel Schiffman, which he also had adapted for his character and played him throughout New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia.

In 1930 S. traveled, for the second time, guest-starring in Argentina, together with his wife, Sara (see "Lexicon," pgs. 1539-40), where he again began with his "Big Shot," and then he played in other plays, with which he also toured across the Argentinean province. This journey is very characteristic of the style of playing Yiddish theatre across the Argentinean province. S. describes the production thus:

"The theatre where we had played was newly built. It was a hall with a stage, and all around it were windows. The entire theatre was sold out, and the cowboys, who could not find any places in the theatre, sat on their horses. Their position (shtelung)....end of page 6072  could be seen through the windows. At each window a cowboy stood with a horse. They had all paid for tickets. There we played for an entire week, six shows, and they used to watch the production on their horses through the window.

We had to travel to some towns in a bus, because their weren't any trains to take us there. We remained in the middle of the field. It wasn't any type of a village, only a large part with a building, a stall, "what have we left there?"--I asked., and they answered: "Here it is. Here we play today!." "Who will come here to the theatre?"-- I answer, and the answer is: "You will soon see," and I see as, with their hand they dig a little hole in the earth, insert a stick of dynamite, and out comes a great noise. This was the sign for twenty miles around, that the actors were here, that today we play theatre. ...In the evening the horses begin to arrive, and wagons with entire families. On the horses were seated the young seated men, and in the wagons were seated the wives with the older men. The stall, where we had played in, was packed, but when we finished the production, there was such a huge rain, exactly like it is in the tropical countries. The audience was not able to go home until the rain would pass, they came to us and asked if we would play (right away) another performance, naturally another play. They all paid for a fresh ticket, and we put on another production. ...Chone Gottesfeld's "Parnose (Income)."

S.R. [Shemu'el Rozshanski] writes:

"Menasha Skulnik, the talented character-comic, who had become acquainted with him as part of the Buenos Aires' theatre attendees, debuts today in the evening in the Excelsior Theatre ...Skulnik's actorial power lies in genius. From the first until the last act he doesn't leave his role, which he plays, even when they applaud him and he needs a "bis"; he does not touch far away from the type. Here lies his artistic method, which he needs, even in serious plays ...a great actorial power with which he evokes in the greatest mass comedy, this is in the steps. Skulnik allows me more easily to feel comfortable, almost always, just as they wanted to do something extraordinary, but soon they hit the track, stayed stuck somewhat unconscious, something similar to that of a young man. Skulnik has a special power, his singing, not singing, only saying a song .
..from his
his taking seriously each joke of the Tamimut, and eyngegloybtkeyt the laughter grows out, and the character ...with one word--gesture [zhest], mimicry and words pour out together, and through them create for Menasha Skulnik all of his heroic heroes ...not any great research, but a sensual human, thrilling and tedious in their limitations."

Tsu zayn ernavnt was said in the "Yidishe tsaytung":

"...In Buenos Aires Skulnik had a great number of patriotn [fans] among the the theatre audience. They not only had him. One did not just gladly greet him, but also love, and not in vain. He deserves this. Menasha end of page 6073 Skulnik is a sincere actor. The stage gestures that he creates exist together with a unique character, voices--gutmutik ...humor and more of everything-- popularity ...Skulnik is a master of dribble character features. One sees step by step that it is an artist with a sharpness of temper and talent. A remarkable temperament, which he uses to make his roles more personal, which are realistic, and this stronger realism, humor and comical aspect in which Menasha Skulnik is rich, makes it interesting, entertaining and lovely these types that he creates."

S. returned to America through the efforts of Reuben Guskin, the manager of the Yiddish actors' union, was engaged for Detroit to [Avraham] Littman, for the first time as an "attraction." Thanks to the effort of his friend Harry Weinberg, who arranged an interview for him for English radio, and publicity in the English and Yiddish press, a performance in a big nightclub, the joining in large Yiddish organizations. S. played in Detroit instead from two to four weeks.

For the 1930-1 season S. became engaged in the newly built Rolland Theatre in Brooklyn, New York, where he participated in unpopular comical roles for which he had to write more of the texts, until he performed with Beta Kalich in Abraham Blum's "I Want a Child," in which S. came upon a thought that in his deceitfulness [fartgershe] (Mae Schoenfeld) should always repeat the last word from his replik, and he regrets it with his intonation, evoking strong laughter. This "trick" is later continued as a folksvitz (joke?) by the theatre attendees. S. continued to be engaged by his brother-in-law Misha German for the "Folks" Theatre (1931-23), with the efforts to become announced immediately with him and Lucy German. The season began with Kalmanowitz's play, "Such is Life," and then with his play, "In a Tenement House." The season had not "angerisn," partly due to the repertoire, partly due to the crisis that broke out over the country, and the troupe had to leave the cooperative foundations, and after acting for several weeks across the province, S. was kicked out of the troupe.

Seeing S. play in the Folks Theatre, the writer and radio star Gertrude Berg became interested in him, and she engaged him to participate in her radio program, "The Goldbergs," and since then, the summer of 1932, S. performed there four to five times a week in the span of fifteen years, playing the role of "Uncle David." On the proposal of the actor and theatre director Samuel Lowenfeld, S. put together his own troupe with with he played on the weekends, at sold-out houses, "the Big Shot" in the Lyric Theatre, where he became, for the first time, announced as the star, and he soon thereafter became engaged with his troupe by Oscar Green for his Hopkinson Theatre, where S. played for six weeks to sold-out houses and became through him engaged for the coming season as a partner in the Hopkinson Theatre.(end of pg. 6074, start of pg. 6075)

For the 1932-1933 season S. opened with "Shlumiel" on October 31 in the Hopkinson Theatre, which Israel Rosenberg had dramatized from a novel (H. Kalmanowitz gave it to him as his own play.)

S. writes about it in his memoirs:

"It was a nice one, an ideal, satirical comedy with fine roles for everyone. Yablokoff had sung such fine numbers. Bella Mysell had sung a number that Olshanetsky had specially written for her. Also Yetta Zwerling and the others had had good roles. I was very pleased for the fine troupe of mine. The critics came and wrote: "So, what is this? One swallow doesn't make a summer." That said, they praised me, here there is only one good actor on the stage. This caused me to slow down and I was very angry. This means that I have strove to put together such a fine group of actors, and they play everything so well, and they had fine roles, and they, the critics, do not find the need to be good about them? And how to tell them that it is only here that is one actor on the stage?!"


L. Fogelman writes:

"...The shlumiel is Menasha Skulnik. The audience is in love with him and calls him by his first name, "Menasha." He becomes to our Yiddish audience a kind of Charlie Chaplain, and just as Charlie Chaplain with his hartn papelushl, with his extensive pants, with his big shoes, and with the cane in his hand evoke a warm and happy feeling, so also is our Menasha Skulnik for our audience, who the audience wants to strongly laugh at in the theatre, but at the time when in the comic Charlie Chaplain there is something hidden and inevitably grieving, that looks out from his entire gesture, and from his big, sad eyes, one fills up with Menasha Skulnik only the tormented, foolish shlumiel, who evokes laughter. In truth, Skulnik almost always plays the same type, and with the same actorial resources. How many times have I seen him on the stage, and for me every time there are the same gestures. He does not even grudge a diverse way. He wants that I do not want to ask every single day, because he wants to know, to play every time only the one-and-only role, the role of the shlumiel, but notwithstanding this, the audience maintained themselves in one laugh from his shmendrik shlumiel. Playing together wih Skulnik shouldn't be very convenient for the other actors. he diverts the entire attention to himself, and with his comical gestures that he uses for the other types in the play. Incidentally there already are the plays, which he plays in, so tailored that the other actors have virtually nothing to do on the stage. They only act with him, nothing more..."
(end of pg. 6075. start of pg. 6076).

The two plays, which S. had staged this season with "Getzl Becomes a Bridegroom," a musical comedy by Israel Rosenberg and Isidore Friedman, which played an entire season, then in the Prospect Theatre in the Bronx, and on a tour across the United States and Canada.

For the 1933-34 season, S. opened the Hopkinson Theatre with the operetta, "Yoine Seeks a Bride" by Isidore Friedman. The subject was a free adaptation of Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion," in the manner of "My Fair Lady," and after the season S., with his play, guest-starred in the McKinley Square Theatre in the Bronx to sold-out houses In the season here were also staged Isidore Friedman's "An eydem oyf kest" (music by Benjamin Blank), which later became staged under the name of "The Straw Soldier."

In the summer of 1935 S. went again to Argentina, where he could play in another theatre, for the first time with Ludwig Satz, and there he continued to perform on, first of all with "The Big Shot," and there was staged in the span of fifteen weeks: "Getzel Becomes a Bridegroom," "Ay eydem oyf kest," and "Yoine Seeks a Bride." Then S. guest-starred for three weeks in Montevideo [Uruguay], and gave ten productions in Rio De Janeiro and San Paolo.

In 1935 S bought Israel Rosenberg's dramatization of Isidore Friedman's novel, "A Year Between Life and Death," and looked for a theatre in New York where it it could be staged, but the season then was very bad, and S. wasn't able to obtain a theatre, and he toured for four weeks, guest-starring in Detroit, and for six weeks at the Arch Street Theatre in Philadelphia, and he ended the season with his brother-in-law Misha German in the Parkway Theatre with Friedman's play, "The Straw Soldier" (songs by Isidore Lillian, and music by Medoff.) The success was so great that Lifschitz, the owner of the Folks Theatre (New York, 12th Street), got it ready so he could accept it for the new season, (1936-37), and when Joseph Rumshinsky came to him with the same suggestion, they both became partners and opened the season with Louis Freiman's musical comedy, "Fishl der gerotener."

In this play the words "I like soup," became very popular [I have love for soup], which S. often had used in the play, and year long then joined the audience. The play was produced in New York for thirty-six weeks, daily, and then several weeks across the province.

Hillel Rogoff writes:

"...The role of the adolescent Fishl was played by Menasha Skulnik, and I cannot say that he is getting out of it [er nemt shtark oys]. Skulnik is one of our best comics. He also possesses a special talent of singing comical lyrics. In the play Rumshinsky provides him with two songs, which take the house by storm..."

William Edlin writes:

"...not freely [nit aumzist hot] did Menasha Skulnik create a large audience in Brownsville... He is a people's comic, an artist who uses the entire process to complete and to play comedy. The audience understands him well and qvelt on oyf a gantse (end of pg. 6076, start of pg. 6077) hilchindikn aufn.

....., in "Fishl der gerotener (Lucky Fishel)," he had every opportunity to show the audience on the brighter theatre avenue of New York, from which for a special purpose art has to be cohabitated. I laughed, as everyone knows, very stunned, one can just stop at the theatre without a limit ...the walls shake themselves. Every word brought out from the people's comic's mouth was signal for laughter. This not mean anything precisely, that from Skulnik's mouth there fell out such pearl-like jokes... Many of the words had already a little beard on them. But these are the worst they have to take the correct toll on the audience, appearing on his motives. When Skulnik speaks out a little in his half-witted style, it is unfair that such a talented actor loses so much money (or: Where he speaks to them on his motives, it's a bit disgusting that such talented actors leave so much.)


This is partly his acting ability. In the moment when he plays theatre and shows off some flash from very fine actresses, which S. alone would give greater opportunity to come up with the expression..."

Menasha Skulnik and Joseph Rumshinsky, the new partners in the Yiddish Folks Theatre were a fortunate and clever pair. They have been engaging in publicity with a very friendly, very sophisticated audience ...musical comedy... Aiz do gor un gor nobl. I thought of many earlier operettas. There he had taken the entire operetta style for himself ...However, here he only took for himself a piece... and so many of us won, because his industry is good only in small parties ...in the operetta Menasha Skulnik, the eternal shlim-mazl ... Menasha Skulnik's shlim-mazl is pathetic, he is honest Menasha Skulnik's shlim-mazl, is often tragi-comical ...Menasha Skulnik's Fishl in the operetta is about whom he speaks, is more concentrated and therefore is sharper and significant. His large (end of pg. 6077, start of pg. 6078), silly face, his dark-tempered eyes, his sleepy hilukh, and his unaffected movements with his hands, with this he found the correct theme. In the meantime, Sulnik's Fishl is worn out. And stm Skulnik's shlim-mazl serves a better end..."

Moshe Nadir writes:

"...Our old, well-known "Fishl der gerotener, is a little more or less successful... Menasha Skulnik's "shlumiel", is probably today the "king-ace [kinig-toyz]" of Second Avenue-teshl with worn-out tickets. In "Shlumiel" Skulnik has transformed the Second Avenue operetta from the former cheap vaudeville  to more modern, more precious "new club," "smart" (wise) in appearance, inventive in tricks (ingenuity) ...less moralization ..."Shlumiel" has overridden the last barrier between Broadway and Second Avenue...

Skulnik must count on the flavor of "folksiness" ...Skulnik in his "Shlumiel," as in his "Fishl," has with his appearance mass-sense appears that it addresses....is not inaugurated for the masses of Yiddish theatre goers ...Skulnik gives the most public in process, when the raw gold is mixed with mud and sand ...Skulnik's humor is the non-friendly ...the humor or tomorrow's tomorrow will be tomorrow [?] Menasha Skulnik's compassionate relationship to the unhappy leek with the durkhn-fentster shchnte about his troubles is such a rich miniature of dried clay, that it might cause you to become angry, a protsent, eyes and ears on which a third of the hour offends the spirit.  ...It is like an awesome capability, a simkhas-torah at night, after going too much with the contents and then shooting himself as far as the flesh is concerned, ...is too much [?]

The second season (1937-38) opened with "Senior Yosel" [Senor Hershl?-- ed.], which lasted for several weeks, and then they staged "The Galician Rabbi," by L. Freiman and Sh. Steinberg, where the couplet, "Oy shloymele, oy malkele" became very popular (music by Rumshinsky), which S. sang, and since then it was sung and performed at Jewish "simkhas (joyous events)" across the world. The play was produced the next season, and then across the province, including on a weekend at the Chicago Metropolitan Opera House, which accommodated 5,000 attendees for each performance.

And about S.'s playing in the Folks Theatre, Joseph Rumshinsky writes:

"Not only had the general Yiddish theatre audience picked up our first production in the Folks Theatre in the musical comedy, "Fishl der gerotener," where the "gerotener" was glaykh arumgefaln, and it simply  became "Fishl," which the critics--both the Yiddish and the English--received it with open arms. There was felt a freshness of both the production, as well as of Louis Freiman's light and elegant text, and also from the swing music, which was (end of pg. 6078, start of pg. 6079) played by my women's orchestra. All together it demonstrated that through our union, the comedy, especially the musical comedy, had received a new repair.

And so Menasha Skulnik had increased from day after day. He became the greatest darling of the Yiddish theatre audience. We then went over to a larger theatre, to the Second Avenue Theatre.

For the 1938-39 season, the two partners, S. and Rumshinsky, in the Second Avenue Theatre, they opened with "Yosl and his Wives," by L. Freiman. The audience called itself shvak ap, and they brought the actor and playwright Itzhak Nozyk over from Tel Aviv to perform in his revision. However, nothing became of it and it barely made it through the season Then there was staged the play, "The Happy Village," by I. Friedman and under the direction of I. Rosenberg.

Soon after the season, S. went off to guest-star in Argentina, where he performed in the Excelsior Theatre. S. portrayed along with it, an interesting episode with the actor Abraham Morewski, who at that time also came to guest-star in Argentina.

"Morewski sat in the first loge, which is almost half on the stage. I had a dramatic scene for which the audience in the theatre to plotz with laughter. ...the theatre stormed with laughter and in the middle of my speech, my eye fell upon the loge, and I saw as Mr. Morewski sat with his hand retracting his face, with a finger on his....tsuzamengetsoygenem shtern. There was no smile on his face. He sits as he would be listening to somebody's aptly philosophical referendum. I am angry. He is nevertheless a performer! Meaning he is nevertheless a theatre person!, as he can sit so indifferently and be angry?! What am I playing here--a social-psychological drama? I nevertheless play comedy. ...and here a man such as Morewski sits for me. He sits as if he is Rodin's famous statue, "The Thinker," and he sits virtually on the stage and folds the stars. I speak my role. I am angry. The audience laughs deeply without end, and at times I am angry."

S. went on that the theatre manager should exploit Morewski from the loge, but the theatre manager said, "It's up to you to do that."  S. came over to the production and after the end came to him in the wardrobe room.

"He gave me a hug [Er khapt mikh arum.] He did not listen to me, and kissed, and kissed me without end, and he cried enthusiastically:

--In my entire life I had never seen such wonderful acting from an actor. When I did not know that your name is Menasha Skulnik, I would swear that Koklen stands there before me.. Have you nevertheless ever seen Koklen act? --He asked me.

--No, I said, I know that Koklen was the great French comic. But unfortunately I have never seen him.

And he swore that I am like a twin brother to Koklen, my appearance, my every movement of the shoulder, my attire, everything reminds him of Koklen, and he was sure that I copied the well-known, great French comic.

--No, I assured him, I never saw Koklen, and I never copy anyone, and I recall how angry he had made me in my playing with his analyzing of me. He declared to me again that he was bigger than I was in my comedic situations." end of page 6079, start of page 6080
Stopping himself on the way home, in Rio De Janeiro, S. also performed in a concert, together with the actors Irving Jacobson and Mae Schoenfeld, who also were traveling back from their guest appearance in Argentina.

Here Abe Ellstein became engaged in the theatre as a composer, and with his music there was staged there Isidore Friedman's "The Straw Soldier" (built on "Bravn soldat shveyk"), where in the second act S. had to come up with a parachute, which broke over him. S. became wounded, and he had to be taken to a hospital, where he spent five weeks, and in that span of time his part was taken over by Leo Fuchs. Then the play with S. was staged in Philadelphia, Boston and other cities.

The theatre again was taken over by William Rolland. S. remained there to perform. At the same time he performed for several weeks in the nightclub, "Martinique." About this he writes in his memoirs:

"To us the nightclub was not too much for me, because I was afraid to amuse people who were screaming a little, or a lot. I was afraid to perform for people who were not coming to see me, but they were very well coming for other purposes, and I was not happy. Perhaps when I had to do this to make a living, I would have done it exactly like all the other "entertainers," but I had not needed to. I had the theatre. I was wrapped up in the theatre. I had also played in television, on radio, and in a motion picture, and now a nightclub. But to me the theatre feels the best. In theatre the audience is prepared with prior tickets. They come to the theatre with one purpose--to see a production. I play for sober people, not when the waiter goes around and carries plates with what to eat, or meat with grease. I love my work in theatre. I love to be on a theatre stage for an audience every night of the year. I am accustomed to my entire life, and when I don't hear the laughter and applause of the public, I feel that it's missing somehow, and nevertheless I would rather sit idle than perform in a nightclub."

In the 1939-40 season S played in New York's Public Theatre (under the direction of William Rolland), where he was directed in Anshel Schorr's "With the Rabbis' Might [?]." The season materially was catastrophic, and S. therefore took the offer of Oscar Ostroff in Cleveland to guest-star there for a month's time, and for the coming season (1940-41). S. opened (end of pg. 6080, start of pg. 6081) Ostroff's Douglas Park Theatre in Chicago, with Ostroff's "adaptation of William Siegel's play, "Khayim Shaye Becomes a Father." After playing there for ten weeks, S. played for several weeks in Philadelphia, and in the Bronx's "McKinley Square" Theatre, ending the season again in Chicago's Douglas Park Theatre, and then he toured with with the troupe across the United States and Canada.

About his guest appearances in Cleveland, Yehoshua Itki.....

"Menasha Skulnik has in the last two weeks brought in fresh, new life in the Manhattan theatre. For each production the theatre was overpacked and hilchike bravos had heard zikh gheret nakh yedn farhang. The audience has antuziastish called out nakh amol and nakh amol the star performer Menasha Skulnik, who has played "Getzl Becomes a Bridegroom" and "The Big Shot." Menasha Skulnik is not amused anerkent as a great artist. He farmagt the artistic funk of echtn talent, and the power to excite his audience, who kan zikh zat nit anzetikn with his playing. ...He makes the audience laugh through his tears and weep through his laughter. In the light comedy Menasha Skulnik preaches and acts, as if he plays the great drama, the high tragedy."

About his guest-appearance in Philadelphia's "The Yiddish World" writes:

"...Menasha Skulnik is a true humorist, because his humor shlogt bay aim from a natural source, and it is in his playing nothing nekintslkeyt. Skulnik possesses in himself the rare proportions of a Charlie Chaplin, who when he came onto the stage, you think so he is like this in life. So it goes, so to speak, he had such an understanding, a comical, curious, sympathetic tormented type of person, who they met from time to time in the large, fragrant human herd, which goes around the world.

Skulnik is not a "type." He is natural. He is what you see. He is more form than content. But under this one comic, helpless, ridiculous figure, You often end up the helpless cuddle likeness of the entirely kind man, the comic side of human life in general, the comedy of every tragedy, the foolishness of the "wise men," the powerlessness of the "strong," the ridiculousness of the "serious." In short: The entire tragic-comical opposition, which lies in the nature of that living person on guest earth--each remarkable opposition, which lies among his big "wish," and his small "konen," among its unmistakable wishes and dreams, and its strongly limited burdens and possibilities."

In 1941-2 S. became engaged to Herman Yablokoff's and New York's Second Avenue Theatre, which opened with Yablokoff's adaptation of Isidore Friedman's operetta, "Goldele, the Baker's Daughter," lyrics by Isidore Lillian and Herman Yablokoff, and music by Ilya Trilling), and on the weekend he played in a new adaptation of "Getzl Becomes a Bridegroom)." After playing the two (end of pg. 6081, start of pg. 6082) plays in the span of the entire season, S. guest-starred with the troupe across the larger cities of America, where he played on radio in the role of "Papa Cohen" in "Abie's Irish Rose" by Ann Nichols, initially for seventy-six dollars a week. When he became a big success, he decided to request a raise of fifty dollars a week. The broadcast lasted for several years, until September 1944, to thirty-nine weeks a year.

S. received an offer by Isidore Edelstein to perform together with him in his Second Avenue Theatre, but as it happened, William Rolland took over the theatre and engaged S. as the star and regisseur of the troupe.

S. writes about this in his memoirs.

I do not know what it was, that it should suddenly become a prerequisite to run to see a Yiddish production. I think that all the years in that theatre, the audience consisted of older people. Younger people were rarely seen in the Yiddish theatre, but suddenly there came to me a young audience of "boys and girls," second- and third-generations of American lawyers, doctors, judges, business-layt, and the Broadway theatre profession and many comics and "gag" writers, began to come to the theatre. Those who used to write jokes for radio and nightclubs on the "Avenue" used to come with "paper and pencil," to acquire fresh material for themselves. It was a happy [time] on the Avenue. Second Avenue had risen up. It was packed in the theatre every night. I used to play two musical comedies every year, not because they needed two plays because of business. One play was enough, but we used to sell many benefits and theatre parties, and because of this we even had to put on a new play in January. William Rolland suddenly became overwhelmed. He used to make thousands of dollars profit every week. Our theatre had really lit up. The prominent people of the country used to come to us in the theatre. In fact it was as much a "must" for a guest in New York to go see Radio City, as it was to go see Menasha Skulnik's theatre. The Shubert brothers used to continually come see "the little comedian from Second Avenue" As if it was a hunger, so they had tsugekhapt to the Second Avenue Theatre. If a comic crossed the country, and he wanted to get a laugh from the audience, he used to say, "Who do you think I am, Menasha Skulnik?"

Here a disaster happened. S.'s wife, Sarah, became ill and was taken away to a hospital, and several days later, on June 13, 1943, she passed away.

For the second season, under the direction of Rolland, they hired the composer Sholom Secunda, but from the start of the season (summer of 1944), S. received an offer to perform for a week in the Loew's State Theatre in English vaudeville, in a program of twenty minutes, but due to his success, he remained (end of pg. 6082; start of pg. 6083) there for two weeks, and from there for several years he needed to come up with two or three times a year.[?] During the second season in the Second Avenue Theatre, it had opened very successfully.

S. writes in his memoirs:

"The walls of theatre used to tremble from the laughs and applause of the public. With every day more and more English-language people came to the theatre. Also Broadway producers, managers, theatre agents began to come. The critics of all the American newspapers began to write articles. Such phrases as "Menasha Skulnik is brilliant," "Menasha is the master of comedy." Walter Kerr had employed the phrase: "Toshting, gallant, funny and lovable," ["rirnd, elegant, comical and beloved"]. Robert Sylvester had expressed himself: "Menasha is the funniest man [comical man] who has ever lived. Do not see if his play is a good one." Sidney Harris says: "Menasha Skulnik needs to be in any language or translation. As a big clown, he is every man, and he lives in everyone of us. The play may be flat, but the star is "a delight," Whitney Bolton says in summary: "Menasha Skulnik warms up like the sun in spring."

...there was a letter for me from Eric Bentley ..a dramatic professor at Columbia University. He is one of the great American showmen. He has written ten books about the theatre. He writes: "I have tried to make it my job to try to say what actors are doing on the stage. but when I see them, I lack the words. What you, Menasha, do on the stage, should make you happy because you were born do to it. You did not live in the world in vain. ...I'm jealous of you." Others have constantly written, "Why doesn't he come to Broadway? What's wrong? He can speak in Turkish and we will understand him."

This was at a time when Yiddish writers had not treated me well because I had acted in plays by Siegel, Freiman, Kalmanowitz, Freiman. They used to torture me, why I didn't perform in plays by Ibsen, Tolstoy or Pinski, Sholem Asch, I.L. Peretz, Hirshbein and Sholem Aleichem. Didn't I want to be seen acting in plays by such authors? The worst thing for an actor is to play Ibsen, Peretz, Asch and Hirshbein, or Sholem Aleichem. With such composers the actor struggles to have success. The play works for itself. But what did I do, was able to do, that my public did not want me to receive plays of Ibsen and Pinski? My public came to the theatre with the expectation to be amused through musical comedy, and Ibsen with Pinski hadn't written any musical comedies. The public had expected to hear a comic sing songs and hear happy music. I myself would have been the perfect person to play these supreme composers."

S. received on the New Year a large bonus by Edelstein, and he decided not to take any offers from Broadway, and he continued to stay in Yiddish theatre. (end of pg. 6083, start of pg. 6084)

Ab. Cahan writes:

"...Menasha Skulnik ... took a place with the simplicity of his play, he is simply wonderful, without a wee bit of fabrication. In this context the main effect of his acting, and the main secret of his colossal magic. ...this said, he plays himself. He also amuses and by himself, and nevertheless, in truth, he takes the entirety seriously, that is the impression he makes. And to do so, in addition it requires a special blessing from nature. This gives him such a spiritual grace, which contains the true key to his bright and honestly deserved success. He says: Skulnik is now the same. He stands for only one type--a naive, amusing living thing, an idiot. But how does this come from this "always the same" idiot, is never the case for the audience? The answer is that, for him, he is always authentic, without a spit of consciousness of fabrication, always filled with the primal grace of sedentary simplicity and warmth ...with the special grace, which describes his toyes and tenor."

About "The Wise Fool," L. Fogelman writes:

"...Menasha Skulnik plays here, as he always has, the role of a tmevatn, foolish man, who almost always appears as the sage in the play. His humor consists mostly of reeled-off jokes and the singing of naive vaudeville couplets. He does it, as always, with success, but, dukht me, also with the same offering, because he is lighter, offering his true acting talent for the price of the cheap laugh, and often even for a price of a vulgar, fat joke. This is a huge, risky way for a performer...

The theatre cracked from laughter, at times there were intervals of laughter, even the jokes and couplets on the stage, and it is no wonder when the beloved comic Menasha Skulnik and his year-long, faithful assistant [aroyshelferin] Yetta Zwerling make jokes, sing couplets and go into a dance together, one must truly be an unpopular farchmureter mrh not to laugh, or at least to grin. They both can even divert the madness even from the saddest faces.

On the stage there turns around a figure of a silly tempn shlumiel with a wild men's hat in his hand, with a jacket that hangs on his shoulders in an awkward fashion, with a pair of pants that look as odd on his two legs, which are not in place. ..that the figure of the shlumiel evokes the entire laughter in the theatre... and the shlumiel is Menasha Skulnik. The audience is visible in him ...he has become to our Jewish audience a kind of Charlie Chaplin ...Skulnik continually plays in his truth the same type, and with the same acting measures. How many times I have seen him on the stage, for me every time there was the same figure. He does not even grudge a diverse way. He does not even want to (end of pg. 6084, start of pg. 6085) hide [farshteln.] He wants to see act every time only the one-sided role, the role of the shlumiel. However notwithstanding this, he always keeps the audience in one constant laugh as a shlumiel.

A look on this comic figure is enough for Skulnik, who came up in the stage with his unique dancing gengele, with his tmevater mine of a shlumiel in his exaggerated suit of clothes, which constantly lies on him in an uncomfortable way, you can immediately stop smiling, which sounds like something like a blechernes sound, go the theatre of Judaism [mit a blechernem klang, geyt der teater khodoros.]"

In the middle of the Yiddish theatre season S. received an offer from the Theatre Guild to play the role of "Jakobowsky" in "Franz Werfel's "Jakobowsky and the Colonel," which he however had to reject because they wanted him to free himself from the Second Avenue Theatre.

In 1949 S. decided to withdraw from Yiddish theatre. For several months he did not do anything and went on a "cruise" with his wife, Anna (Teitelbaum), and stopped in Buenos Aires, where he gave ten performances of "The Big Shot," to sell-out houses, at very high prices.

About S.'s playing in Argentina, much was written about it, such as that which was written by Shemu'el Rozshanski after his arrival:

"Menasha Skulnik has become a known thing to the Buenos Aires theatre public ...his vernacular [ernavnt] has appeared well. Not looking at the various rufndike undertakings, which occurred on the same evening, it is to his production that a riotous audience comes. ...the play ..."Parnose (Income)" ...by Chone Gottesfeld... staged by Skulnik ...made a weak impression. The scenes were too long ...Menasha Skulnik played a broken hero, not any comic, but a tragic [person] who is a comic in his clumsiness. The loss, however, also lies in his gait, in his hand, even ...in his manner of immediately making his hat. However he also sharply broke out in his eternal struggle, through it sharply led his inner struggle by lifting up and shuffling to quickly shaking his head off [?]. In general, it is a model of Skulnik's role... however, it should be said that Skulnik has this is what happened precisely in "Parnose," going into "songs, verses and play-words," which were shouted out with a lot of poetic ambiguity ...such cheap effects do not drive the audience, not for Skulnik..."

S. Beilin writes:

"Menasha came again. Now already for the third time, as a native, as an eygener-tsu-eygene. What haven't they said about him? -- Buster Keaton, the Jewish Charlie Chaplin, and still other comparisons. But one always wants to compare them to Menasha Skulnik himself. And do you know why? Because it is far from the Yiddish theatrical shablon comical aspect, and it shows the naturalness, the true Yiddish comical aspect, at times even with a laughter through tears. Thus you see this (end of pg. 6085, start of pg. 6086) perfect Jew, who is coming with his kaftan, beard and payes, in the great Paris, New York or Buenos Aires, shouted across the streets a wonderful, and sudden, unexpected delay occurs in his mind ...he suddenly remains standing... he looks around on all sides and says to himself: "I have you in my kaftan" ...and even a secret: the Jew is an elderly man, he is our well-known Menakhem Mendl, and he is very young, a little boy, he is indeed our good, well-known Motl Peisi the cantor's boy. It looks good. You'll see both our shlimazels in Menasha Skulnik...".

About S.'s playing in "Yosl the Galician," T. Beilin writes:

"...It is a most accessible operetta, for which they have created a role for Menasha Skulnik ...as in an entirely new genre, Menasha Skulnik shines here. He plays positively in a comedic role and shows that in that genre he stands out, not less than in a tragi-comedy. It is effectively a life to see with what an incredible thing and intelligent way he performs comedy."

About S.'s playing in "Senior Shlumiel," Dr. L. Zhitnitsky writes:

"In terms of content is the operetta as a nutritional nut [oysgehoylte nus]: From above and inferior [Fun oybn sholechts un ineveynik leydik] But Menasha Skulnik himself already launches the content. He has a well-deserved joke for everyone, a half-witted grin and comic movements, and this did not become [?] only without content, but also playing and action. Dosmol dershaynt er shoyshpilerish a baraycherter ...Menasha Skulnik displayed a great property [aygnshaft]. His shining on the stage is enough, that the viewer should smile at him and laugh. But he never becomes mitbroychn. he doesn't become aibertraybn, and every time remains in the story, which is permitted on the stage and in shoyshpil.

Shmuel Rozanski writes:

"For the debut of his fourth time guest-starring in Argentina, Menasha Skulnik brought us something new; not only himself alone, but also a spectacle. In "Senior Shlumiel," Menasha Skulnik does not take all of the applause for himself. He left everything to ...what matters to Menasha Skulnik, he has come down, concentrated, and even more than ever zikh polirt, concentrates, even more than ever before. He says and does only what evokes laughter, and what deserves laughter ...he meydt oys to speak avi speak, because a lot has to be said.... He says only what is in character for him, which he puts forth in his innocence, in his foolish innocence, and in his wisdom innocence. He isn't guilty, the shlumiel was, if he says something foolish, and he isn't guilty when he says something wise.
...an open lung and liver. Clear in his joy, and clear in his sorrow. This is Menasha Skulnik's prototype ...a Yiddish conversation from a Charlie
(end of pg. 6086, start of pg. 6087) Chaplin, and that shameful tragic.... Skulnik's trick back and forth, Skulnik's bending and standing still in the same place, Skulnik's stating of every phrase of words ...Skulnik's hat farhoybn at both fliglen ...all of these things come out so genuinely... that it's all about his inferiority that one laughs and laughs. In the quiet and in the loudness. In the interjection [untertsi], a spectacle and Menasha Skulnik."

From a poll that "Der tog [The Day--newspaper]" had done about the "who is one of the most beloved Yiddish performer," Mrs. Gorstein declared, "I feel that the best is Menasha Skulnik. He plays his roles so artistically, as he would have lived by the truth. He is the best today. I was in a lot of trouble when we saw hi for a couple of hours on the stage." David Dorfman declared, "Menasha Skulnik is an exceptional comic and a good actor. He has demonstrated many talents and abilities as a defective [derfarenem] actor. I maintain that there is no one getter than him to spend a couple of hours with in every tsurus, than to se Menasha Skulnik on the Yiddish stage. I go to see him when I have only the opportunity...."

Sh Zamd writes:

"...Those who saw Menasha Skulnik in Chicago, more than a quarter of a hundred years back, play in Glickman's Palace Theatre (with the Germans and Michalesko), already then had seen in Skulnik the talent-filled comic, who could evoke laughter, even with his adorned appearance. However it then would never have fallen, that after several years later the "adorned comic" would not only occupy the highest step on the Yiddish stage, but that he would become so strongly popular to the non-Jews, and that the non-Jews would rush over to him to get the "magnificent Menasha" for their radio and television, offering him fat contracts.

When Menasha Skulnik should not be the talented comic as he has been for three decades, he should not have such a pure success in Yiddish theatre, and also now too for the non-Jews. ...Comics are here who are "burning a world." Menasha Skulnik has taken on another way and put forth a type of a gekrivdetn shlumiel and shlimazl, who produces clothing, genuine work, and a small cap on his head. As such appears Menasha Skulnik, virtually in every role, as a nonentity, a god-stricken [being.] He should not tell any jokes and not sing. It is enough to be "tsevigter gang," moreover when he gives a look with his big tseshrakene tmevate eyes, he arises in you immediately a pitiful love."

In February 1950 S. began to play in a half-hour television program on NBC, under the name, "The Magnificent Menasha."

About his performance on television, S. recalls:

"I know that went I play Yiddish theatre, the critics and also other writers, accuse me that I speak too much English, that I have forgotten the Yiddish musical comedy. What do you think was in the studio where I (end of pg. 6087, start of pg. 6088) played on TV? All the technicians there took to speaking Yiddish, and nevertheless, no one has attacked nor accused me, that I am for Yiddish on English television."

About his departure from Yiddish theatre and going over to the English stage, S. writes:

"Because my Jewish people have all of their greatness and weaknesses all the years of my acting on the Yiddish and on the English stage, on radio or television, until I predictably was given attention, that No one may hesitate to disassociate my essential Jew. In every one of my contracts for Broadway, every time there is put in a paragraph that from Yom Kippur to Kol Nidre I don't play. The mother tongue is my love [mayn libe un tayer].  ...I have a tongue that's endowed with my mother's milk. Until I had gone onto the Yiddish stage, I had and knew no other language. I haven't gone into any "schools" or gymnasia. I had captured a little of the Russian language on the street. My entire time and energy I have from my early youth that I drew out from the Yiddish theatre and Yiddish literature. ...The first ten or fifteen years of my acting career in Europe, and in America, I had constantly played in dramatic roles. I never thought that from my type in Yiddish theatre, I was going to be a comic on the Yiddish stage. This has all happened by chance. ...My star suddenly took shine, high and wide in the Yiddish theatre... I began to earn more, as the greater stars of the Yiddish theatre sometimes did, such as Adler, Kessler and Thomashefsky. I, Menasha, had until then was the lowest paid in the Yiddish theatre.

When I was poor, and when I was hungry, the Yiddish writer was my friend. They were always good luck for me and would keep me informed about their entire written article, verified with praise. Just when I began to stop starving, the same writer began to cast out pins with spikes in my side. ...It made me mad, because they began to attack my private life. I had, for example, organized a mass demonstration against Hitler, and against his Nazis in 1938... I had worked hard to arrange it. And now, when I used English words in my role as a cloak operator (tailor), such as: table, chair, window, sofa, dinner, refrigerator, that a Yiddish writer had written, that was because of Hitler coming into the world.

"What more the American critic had praised me, everything great was on the Yiddish streets to throw out shmutz on me, and I began to think entirely serious that I should play here where they don't want me. I want to play better here, where they want me, where people were into me."

(end of pg. 6088, start of pg. 6089)


On 19 December 1952 in Philadelphia's Locust Theatre, he performed under the stage direction of Gregory Ratoff, in English in the comedy, "The Fifth Season," by Sylvia Regan, with Skulnik in the main role.


The play on 23 January 1953 was given in New York in the Cort Theatre, where it played 597 times.

S. writes about it:

"In New York the play did not draw any strong praise, but the theatre word had given it a shiver, because they had seen a new age. It was my first appearance on the American [English] stage, and the press and the public had given a laz to me with open arms, and it stopped for two years until I left it due to the "Flowering Peach."

N. Swerdlin writes:

"...Menasha Skulnik himself has over the years seized onto Broadway, in the respect... he is not an only son on the avenue ...one wants to leave ...to me, that I'm going to join the world ...Menasha Skulnik's name, just think, with electrical, lateynishe buchstobn over the mark from the Broadway Cort Theatre, but the world nevertheless did not even accepted it... For the theatre fans, however, we had good news; Menasha Skulnik plays this time in theatre. ...On Second Avenue Skulnik had, for the last years, told jokes, "lifted the house," made for himself a lightweight mamaloshn (native tongue), making rough speeches, but not playing any theatre ...he is a first-class comic when he wants, In the "The Fifth Season", Skulnik's comedy did not go away. ..How long Skulnik will stay on Broadway is difficult to say. We already know this, however, that with his debut he is still entirely far from his "Menasha the Magnificent" ,,However painful the determination is, that the Yiddish actor Skulnik has during the years and years moved easily through the Yiddish audience and filled it with meat. He has regard only for non-Jews. But it does: for them he did well to play the theatre ...let's remember it."

L. Fogelnest writes:

"I am with great interest going to see our Menasha Skulnik on Broadway. Throughout the year we have come out to see him in the Second Avenue Theatre. Throughout the year we have maintained the belief about his talent, and in tadlen his relationship to the play and to the role that he has played ...now we have had to see Skulnik in an English play, and in the English language, and a remarkable thing--the Broadway air, the Broadway stage, and the English language has given us this, which we haven't been able to get with Skulnik on the Yiddish stage. We have finally seen him in a more efficient play, and we have seen Skulnik in his true role as a genuine comic and character actor, without his constant "trimmings" (end of pg. 6089, start of pg. 6090) (confessions), without these commonplace couplets with the undecided words and persistence, without the vaudeville and burlesque mannerisms, and without the cheap theatrical effects, which he used to use on the Yiddish stage. It was surely a shame to see him now, a distinguished and well-known man. It points out that for the "goy (non-Jew)," and for the [linguistically] English Jews, they had a Yiddish performer in much higher regard. And for me, for the entire time, the following thought concerned me: Why is this so important to us?

The play itself is a characteristic comedy about the life of the Jewish dress manufacturers in New York ...The role of the second abandoned partner is played by Menasha Skulnik ...You see Skulnik in his well-known role of a good-natured and good-hearted old bkhur, who is ...very clever and cunning, even though ...he creates the impression of a nobody ...It is Skulnik's constantly loved role in which he has become engaged, that he plays already has nothing, but he lives it ...Skulnik has his own voice, his own tone, with a certain intonation, his own gestures and mimicry, which is ingantsn zayns. You can tell him what he cannot play, because he actually plays constantly by himself."

John Gassner writes in his book, "Theatre on the Divide" (in the translation of Alex Rabin): not look on the

"What does Sylvia Regan's comedy, "Fifth Season," which Broadway would usually be indifferent to that offering, looked up to the masterful stage direction of Gregory Ratoff, and the good ensemble in which Richard Whorf has so excelled as Mr. Goodwin, but the play has had good luck, and thanks to Menasha Skulnik's foolishness, which is known to the Yiddish theatre attendees. It is without doubt that this is the best-selling exultation that New York has put on in many seasons. In the course of many seasons, his mourning and sharpness are such that they may even abandon him in a perplexing situation or crisis. When this smallest actor begins to move his eyebrows to the heavens, and his hand flatters, it is fickle. It will cause him to conquer humility, which is characteristic of it, in which the world is treated as a stepchild, and they have to wait.

The journal "Varhayt (Truth)" has written that the acting is certainly good from Menasha Skulnik, because it is extended with this sentimentality, and also because everywhere his skill comes out and [we are] enjoying it. His brishkayt consists in these occasions when he takes the audience--at times even incidentally by him alone--recognizing his entire body a function or reaction.

His sincerity is from the entirety of the human being. Yes, for the loss of the entire person,

(end of pg. 6090, start of pg. 6091)

play as Professor James Campbell, the Shakespeare expert. For me his suffering evoked the thought that it is maybe here a trust between Skulnik and Shakespeare's clowns. Perhaps our theatre has a better face when we give it to the clowns..."


On 10 November 1954 there was staged in Wilmington the drama "The Flowering Peach" by Clifford Odets. Then the play was staged for a week in Baltimore, for two weeks in Washington D.C., and on 6 December 1954 in Boston, and on 20 December 1954 they began to perform the play in New York at the Belasco Theatre, with S. in the main role of "Noah."

The entire press very warmly received S.'s performance, especially praising the involvement of a popular comic such as S., in such a serious role as "Noah."

In a letter to S. that was published by the well-known English theatre critic Eric Bentley:

"I am still coming to see again the performance of Odets' play. I have made for my profession published views on what actors can do. However, when I see you act, I miss my words.....


Chaim Ehrenreich said that Clifford Odets, the author of "The Flowering Peach," [was asked] why he had chosen S. to play the role of Noah."

(end of pg. 6091, start of pg. 6092)

"...It was also not easy to find an actor to play Noah. At first Odets had in mind Spencer Tracy and Fredric March. Then he was miserable, seeing Menasha Skulnik in "The Fifth Season." Several times he saw Skulnik in the comedy, and in the end the decision was made. "It was a decision on which I had not regretted"-- said Odets. --Why precisely Skulnik? His comicality, if you are well familiar with Skulnik's talent,....

Leon Crystal writes:

"It is indeed an entire phenomenon that good work from literature should become translated and have success in other languages. It is, however, a .....

...When Menasha Skulnik had his first great success on Broadway in the play, "The Fifth Season," by Sylvia Regan, he played a role in which he had very often mentions the audience in the happy scenes, which he alone has created in the plays in which he has performed many times--as a "star comic" on Second Avenue. However, both the American theatre critics, as well as the serious American theatre folk, soon have recognized that Menasha Skulnik is much more than a talented comic, although he isn't any small matter on the stage. They have recognized in him an interesting and versatile stage artist, who can play drama, and even tragedy with the same naturalness, with the same simplicity, but with much more depth, and with no less magic than comedy.

One of the serious American theatre people, who has...

(end of pg, 6092, start of pg. 6093)

John Gassner writes in his book, "Oyf di sheydvegn" (in the translation of Alex Rabin):

"Di bliende pershke," an allegory, is infused with such fears, that it hasn't evoked the impression of something contrived. The great folks-comic Menasha Skulnik has broken down the role of "Noah" so genuinely, that he becomes a living type. A large part of the "Bliender pershke" is staged in 1954-55, thanks to Skulnik's  playing.....

(end of pg. 6093, start of pg. 6094)


On September 26, 1956 S. performed on television in a play, "The Plunge," but his performance was called a pretext, that he didn't feel too good. In an article, "Why Menasha Skulnik Will Not Play Today on TV," according to Herman Quince (sp) (Chaim Ehrenreich), that the real reason why S. didn't perform is because of this, because he had played the role of a Jewish clothing manufacturer whose business is going so badly that he burned down his factory in order to collect the insurance money. S. maintained that the role did not seem to fit the character, and that it was not good to play. The television producer, however, had definitely required that S. should play the role. This was the reason that the garment manufacturers, [clothing factories], which explains the company that sponsored the program, that will declare a boycott against its products. They changed the character to one who owns a doll factory, and the role was played with a non-Jewish actor.


On November 12, 1956, in New Haven [CT], there was staged with S. in the title role of "Uncle Willie," by Julie Berns and Irving Elman, then in Boston and Philadelphia, and on December 20, 1956 in the Golden Theatre in New York, as the play lasted an entire season.


On June 5, 1959, S. performed in Long Island's Westbury Theatre [Westbury Fair?] in the main role of "The Law and Mr. Simon," by Julie Berns. The play continued for fourteen weeks, and then it was played in Atlantic City, Baltimore, Washington, Detroit and Chicago.

In the summer of 1960, S. was engaged by the Cambridge Drama Festival to play in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in "Helen of Troy, or, La Belle Helene," libretto by Phil Hoffman, lyrics by Marshall Bader, music by Offenbach. The play was there for eight weeks with a symphony orchestra, fifty singers and dancers, in an open theatre of five thousand attendees for each production.


On 10 October 1960, through the "Guild," there was staged in Philadelphia's Locust Theatre, the comedy, "The 49th Cousin," by Florence Lowe and Caroline Francke. The play was with S. in the main role and was staged in New York on October 27, 1960.

(end of pg. 6094, start of pg. 6095)

About S.'s acting in "The 49th Cousin," Dr. N. Swerdlin writes:

"Menasha Skulnik is continuing on Broadway  and acting in English. However, this is as they say technical, because actually Skulnik....

R. Segal [I. Bashevis] writes:

"...The Yiddish theatre is going to....

(end of pg. 6095, start of pg. 6096)

(end of pg. 6096, start of pg. 6097)


from the "New York Times"


In 1962-1963 S. toured across America with the play, "Come Blow Your Horn," by Neil Simon, which was a success.


In the summer of 1964 S. toured through Philadelphia, Boston, [New] Jersey and Long Island with the comedy, "Seidman and Son," by Elick Moll, adapted by him from a novel.


In 1965 S. played across many cities of America in "Enter Laughing" by Joseph Stein, adapted from Carl Reiner's novel.


On 18 June 1966 S. performed as the "Zayda" in "The Zulu and the Zayda."

Walter Kerr writes [in the translation of Alex Robin]:

(end of pg. 6097, start of pg. 6098)

Richard Watts Jr. writes (in the translation of Alex Robin):

The stage director Dore Schary writes (in the translation of Alex Robin):

(end of pg. 6098, start of pg. 6099)



In a large polemic about S.'s acting on the Yiddish stage in his avekgayn, B. Shefner's critique evoked about his play, "The Zulu and the Zayda."

(end of page 6099, start of pg. 6100)

To me it was a type of satire. It had....

On that account B. Shefner answered:

"I am sure that for many....

but only the impression of every Yiddish writer and Yiddish theatre, and generally Yiddish cultural people, who sit in on over the last years on a Skulnik production on Second Avenue. The impression that has been created is not only by Skulnik's "Anglitsizmen," which was in such a role barechtikt, but also from the "khtsi Yiddish," "Polovine English," which it has....

(end of pg. 6100; start of pg. 6101)

[Skulnik biography ends on page 6110/pdf pg. 638).
Started at 6057/pdf pg. 612.
So biography is 54 pages long.
Pages completed to date: (6063+, or 7+)

Sh. E. and Sh. E. from Jacob Tickman and Harry Weissberg.

  • "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre," Warsaw, 1934, Volume 2.

  • Dr. A. Mukdoni -- In un arum teater, "Morning Journal," N. Y., 18 November 1927.

  • B. [N. Buchwald] -- M. skulnik, komiker, "Frayhayt," N. Y., 24 February 1928.

  • L. Melakh -- Vegn menasha skulnik, "Prese," Buenos Aires, 25 May 1928.

  • Jacob Botoshansky -- Der debut fun menasha skulnik in teater "ekselsior," "Prese," Buenos Aires, 11 June 1928.

  • H. Zakhak -- Menasha skulnik, der aktyor vos makht lakhen un veyben, "Di idishe tsaytung," Buenos Aires, 11 June 1928.

  • Sh. R. [Rozhansky] -- Tsu menasha skulnik debut in "ekselsior," kharakteristik fun talentfuln kharakter-komiker, "Idishe tsaytung," Buenos Aires, 21 August 1929.

  • Nun Tsadik [N. Tsuker] -- Der debut fun menasha skulnik, "Argentiner tog," Buenos Aires, 23 August 1929.

  • Jacob Botoshansky -- Sara un menasha skulnik in "ekselsior," "Prese," Buenos Aires, 26 August 1929.

  • Sh. R. -- A leykhte komdeye, oyfgefirt fun m. skulnik, "Idishe tsaytung," Buenos Aires, 5 September 1929.

  • Dr. L. Zhitnitsky -- Menasha skulnik, "Prese," 27 September 1929.

  • Sh. R. -- A leykhte-faarveylndike komedye in "ekselsior," oyfgefirt fun menasha skulnik, "Idishe tsaytung," Buenos Aires, 20 October 1929.

  • Shmeul Rozhansky -- Menasha skulniks ern-ovnt in "ekselsior," "Idishe tsaytung," Buenos Aires, 25 October 1929.

  • Sh. R. -- "A sud fun a meydl" fun semuel kohn, oyfgefirt fun menasha skulnik, "Idishe tsaytung," Buenos Aires, 3 November 1929.

  • Sh. R. -- "Di bobe yakhne" oyfgefirt an a rezhiser (fun menasha skulnik), "Idishe tsaytung," Buenos Aires, 25 November 1929.

  • Shmuel Rozhansky -- "Di groyse frage" fun z. libin, oyfgefirt fun menasha skulnik, "Idishe tsayt," Buenos Aires, 9 December 1929.

  • M. G. [Giser] -- "Di groyse frage" (fun z. libin) oyfgefirt durkh m. skulnik, "Argentiner teg," Buenos Aires, 9 December 1929.

  • F. Chaims -- Di gastshpiln fun der ekselsior-trupe mit der batgeylikung fun menasha skulnik, "Rozarier vokhnblat," N' 288, 1929.

  • Chaim Reich [Z. Zylbercweig] -- Shpasige teater mesh'lekh vegen menasha skulnik, "Di idishe velt," Philadelphia, 18 March 1932.

  • S. Regensberg -- Menasha skulnik's oyftrit in "artsh" als "fishl der gerotener," "Di idishe velt," Philadelphia, 28 March 1932.

  • Ezriel Fleishman -- "Mister shlumiel" -- in hopkinson teater, "Tog," N. Y., 7 October 1932.

  • L. Fogelman -- Menasha skulnik in a neyer piese in hopkinson teater, "Forward," N. Y., 21 October 1932.

  • T. Beilin-- Notitsn un bamerkungen, "Di prese," Buenos Aires, 8 June 1934.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 6, page 6057.
You can read an earlier "Lexicon" biography for Menasha Skulnik its its second volume (1934).

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