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
After an episode
that portrayed the material conditions of the
former itinerant trope, S. relates in his
"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?"
poet Z. [Zishe] Weinper portrays the period as
"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
True, he came to the
Yiddish Theatre from his earlier youth as a
child of a Jewish shopkeeper family; he
felt much a boldness within himself to
serve the Yiddish Theatre as he had served his
father in his small shop,
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.
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
"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
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
page 6063) a scenario-holder, a
cake-eater." The candidate was to make his probe
from three various plays, in three various
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
is not enough when one sings the praises with
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."
Weinper touches on the question, [about] when S.
came to his consciousness about his
opportunities as an actor:
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
--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
--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
--It was the first
time that I had begun to have faith that I am
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?
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
"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
(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
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
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
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
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
His success is explained as
"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
"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
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
(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
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
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
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
"...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
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
"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
"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 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
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
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
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
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.)
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)
....., 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
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
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
played by my women's orchestra.
All together it demonstrated that through our union, the
comedy, especially the musical comedy, had received a
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.
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
--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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
(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
"...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
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,
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
and the Colonel," which he however had to reject because
they wanted him to free himself from the Second Avenue
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
About S.'s playing in
"Senior Shlumiel," Dr. L. Zhitnitsky writes:
"In terms of content is the
operetta as a nutritional nut
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
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
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
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,
"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
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
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 FIFTH SEASON"
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
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"
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
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
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..."
"THE FLOWERING PEACH"
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
"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
"...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
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
John Gassner writes in his
book, "Oyf di sheydvegn" (in the translation of Alex
"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
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
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
"THE LAW AND MR. SIMON"
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.
"THE 49TH COUSIN"
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]
"...The Yiddish theatre is
(end of pg.
6095, start of pg. 6096)
(end of pg. 6096, start of
from the "New York Times"
"COME BLOW YOUR HORN"
In 1962-1963 S. toured
across America with the play, "Come Blow Your Horn," by
Neil Simon, which was a success.
"SEIDMAN AND SON"
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
"THE ZULU AND THE
On 18 June 1966 S. performed as the "Zayda" in "The Zulu
and the Zayda."
Walter Kerr writes [in the
translation of Alex Robin]:
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):
of pg. 6098, start of pg.
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
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+)
E. and Sh. E. from Jacob Tickman and Harry
"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.
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.
[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.
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.
Zhitnitsky -- Menasha skulnik, "Prese," 27
Sh. R. -- A
leykhte-faarveylndike komedye in "ekselsior,"
oyfgefirt fun menasha skulnik, "Idishe
tsaytung," Buenos Aires, 20 October 1929.
-- Menasha skulniks ern-ovnt in "ekselsior,"
"Idishe tsaytung," Buenos Aires, 25 October
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.
-- "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.
-- "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
Notitsn un bamerkungen, "Di prese," Buenos
Aires, 8 June 1934.