"That I am aheymgekumen
for the first theatre production, which I had ever seen
in my life, I was a newborn. I felt in me something that
I had never felt before. Something had spoke to my
heart. I dealt with it as if it was a dream. For us at
home we became sad, for my father I bore an anger why he
laughed at the Yiddish actors, and day and night I used
to think about my sister Clara in our house. There I
thought about the actors when I had seen them in
When the troupe left
Baltimore and Thomashefsky remained by himself in the
city, there became a more frequent entrance of T.'s
brother (shvager), releasing in T. a desire to become a
T.'s first performance was
as "the bride" in Pinkhas Thomashefsky's play,
"Rothschild Biography," which Boris Thomashefsky staged
with a dramatic club that he had founded in Baltimore.
T. describes her first
performance: "On the stage stood 'Rothschild,'
Thomashefsky, who sang a sad song, and the audience
applauded so strongly that he had to sing the same song
more than once. Rothschild's mother Poret goes around in
rags. They both speak and 'the bride' should enter by
herself. That means, however... I stand behind the
curtain because I will go onto the stage and cannot,
just like someone here had coveted. I listen as
Thomashefsky says: 'Where is by beloved bride, for she
has not entered?' I stand but still cannot move from my
place. Somehow his last words were very strange to me.
Bay prube I never heard that he should say this
(I didn't know then that one could say an 'ad lib.'),
and I stood. Suddenly I hear him cry out: "Ah, mother,
behold, here comes my bride, I have to akegnloyfn'
-- and he came down from the stage, grabbed me by the
hand and led me into the scene.
"The stage was lit with
candles, but we who were in the light became dark and
could not be seen. I remain standing like a wooden
Indian at a cigar store and lost the language. I stand
and sweat, he goes to us and says: 'So, my dear bride,
have you nothing to say? Say, shem dikh nist!' As
if by witchcraft, speech came to me. I mitamol
began to speak."
Several weeks later T.
performed as "the pioneer," and then she (together with
Thomashefsky and her sister Rachel) performed with
couplets in Shlegel's Hall in Baltimore. Thomashefsky
now became a member of the household in her home, and T.
received permission from him to travel to Boston,
where she performed in Boston Music Hall in the title
role of "Shulamis" (together with Boris Thomashefsky,
Marienstras, the older Shenkman, Zanvil Shenkman and
Morris Weissman.) Soon thereafter Thomashefsky brought a
group of well-known actors from New York, together with
Avraham Golfaden and staged, "The Two (Both) Kuni Lemels,"
with T. as "Libele." Then T. played the role of "Reuben"
in Karp's offering of Gutzkow's "Uriel Akosta,"
and soon she traveled to Philadelphia to Thomashefsky,
who staged in a dramatic hall (Gaskill Street) his
father's play, "Yankele yungatsh," with T. in the role
of "Yankele's wife." So that there shouldn't have to
return to her parents from whose auspices she wanted to
be free of, T. married Boris Thomashefsky, and since
then performed on the stage under the name of Bessie
Thomashefsky. Going over to the local Thalia Theatre, T.
acted in the role of "Yehudis" in "Uriel akosta."
About the state of the
material in the Yiddish theatre at the time, T. recalls
in her memoirs:
"We had rejoiced very much
over the great moralistic success, for there was no
money to cause us to rejoice. We were aroys "Iven"
[a loss and a spirit], therefore Mr. Best [?] had also
given us permission to play in the Thalia Theatre, and
it was for us a great joy, when we were going home, to
become a bit of a krigerei between old porl.
My mother-in-law wrote: '"Akosta" wants him. "The
Spanish Inquisition" had yet brought in a dollar, there
was after all [something] to eat." And the eldest had
written: "Children, we have acted first-class, this time
we are not deserving, but we have made a name, a great
Due to bad business the
troupe had to play across the province. Here T. had the
opportunity to again move with her family, already as a
professional actress and married woman. Soon however the
troupe returned to Philadelphia, where T. performed at
first only with the song, "Heyse bobkelekh," then as
"Mirele" in Goldfaden's "Bobe yakhne." After playing for
a short time in the Thalia Theatre, and then returning
to the dramatic hall, the troupe separated (due to th
concurrence of a second Yiddish troupe), and T. together
with her husband and her sister Rachel, went to Boston,
where they performed in a concert, and in a production
in Chelsea and returned back to Philadelphia, where they
played for a short time. Afterwards they played for a
short time in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Meikes Port [sp],
again in Philadelphia, later in Chicago (where T. played
"Oysa [sp]" in "Akhashveyresh"), then in New York's
Poole's Theatre, and traveled again to Chicago, where T.
had the opportunity to play for the firs time together
In 1890-91 T. and her
husband became engaged to New York's Roumanian Opera
House, where they also played the season of 1891-2, and
here T. performed for the first time in a Gordin role
("Mania" in Gordin's "The Pogrom in Russia"), under the
direction of the author. For the seasons of 1892-94 T.
played with her husband (as a co-partner) in the Thalia
Theatre, and on 15 September 1894 T. performed as "Sara
Devora" in the premiere of Gordin's "The Litvak Lurie
Brothers," then they went over to the Windsor Theatre,
where T. had a great success as "Yitzkhok" in
Goldfaden's "The Sacrifice of Isaac."
In the 1897-99 seasons T.
played with her husband in the Windsor Theatre. Here T.
had the opportunity to play "Spinoza" with Morrison in
his "Akosta" production, "Mina's daughter" in Kobrin's
"Mina," and as "Pinye" in Gordin's "Devorah'le
From 1899 to 1901 T. played
in the People's Theatre, where Boris Thomashefsky was a
partner with Edelstein, and here she created "Beinushl"
in Solotorefsky's, "The Yeshiva Student."
In 1901 T. with her husband
visited Europe and performed only once in Berlin's
Returning to America, T.
continued to play in the People's Theatre and
represented Mogulesko (due to his illness) in his
successful role as "Feitl pavolye" in Shomer's "The
Immigrants." Switching over to the repertoire of "The
Green Girl," "The Green Student," "The Green Children,"
"The Green Wife," T. began to take a top position in the
On 25 December 1907 T.
played the role of "Felikus" in Goldfaden's last play,
"Ben Ami," and then performed as "Khana" in Dymow's
"Hear O Israel (Shma Yisroel)," with which she attracted
the attention of the critics.
"Some of the critics
wrote"-- T. recalls in her memoirs-- "I may toss away my
soubrette roles and only play dramatic roles, so strong
am I in the role "Hear O Israel," but the play itself
did not have a great success."
On 3 September 1908 T.
performed in the People's Theatre in the title role of
Oscar Wilde's "Salome."
After acting in Gordin's
last play, "Dementia amerikana," and as "Lina" in
Avraham Shomer's "Eykele mazik (with Schildkraut), she
separated from her husband Boris Thomashefsky and went
away for a short time to Europe.
T. returned to join (on
February 19, 1913), together with Sara Adler and Rudolph
Schildkraut, in Brooklyn's Novelty Theatre, but soon she
remained by herself as the "star" and performed there on
31 December 1912 in Rakov's "Khantshe in amerika"
(music--Joseph Rumshinsky), which she made very popular.
From here she went across
the province, then performed on 11 January 1914 in her
repertoire in the newly opened Prospect Theatre in New
York (Bronx), then in other theatres in New York and
performed (during the 1914-15 season) together
with Jacob P. Adler, where she debuted in the role of
"Fanny Untrey" in Rakov's "The Kingdom of Women" (music
by J. Rumshinsky.)
For the 1915-16 season she
took over the management of the People's Theatre and
performed here on 3 September 1915 as "Eva" in
Solotorefsky's " The Price of Love," on 4 November 1915
as "The Yeshiva Student," on 4 February 1916 in the main
role of Moshe Richter's "Suspicion," and on 14 April
1916 as "Haike" in N. Rakov's "Forbidden Fruit."
Also during the 1916-17
season T. remained the manager of the same theatre,
which was now called, "Bessie Thomashefsky's People's
Theatre." Here she performed on 15 September 1916 as, "Ende"
in Libin's "The Big Question," on 28 September as "Emma"
in Libin's "The Two Mothers," and on 9 February
1917 as "Suzi bren" by Solotorefsky (music-- Louis
During the 1917-18 season T.
opened her theatre (31 August 1917) with Moshe Richter's
"The Two Mothers-in-Law." On 23 November 1917 she
performed as "Minke the Servant" in Leon Kobrin's
comedy, "The Doctor's Wife," which she played later
under the name, "Minke the Servant Girl." On 20 December
1917 she participated in Libin's play, "The Modern
Woman," and on 21 February 1918 she performed as "Sadie
Flaum" by M. Goldberg (music-- Louis Friedsell.)
For the 1918-19 season T.
opened her theatre (30 August 1918) with Moshe Richter's
"A Wife's Duty." Several days later she removed her name
from the theatre, which she soon left to once again
guest-star across the American province. On 15 April
1919 she guest-starred with Boris Thomashefsky in the
National Theatre with Moshe Richter's comedy, "How Men
Love," on 16 May 1919 she performed here as "Moshe
Flaster" in M. Goldberg's comedy, "The Merry Prisoner"
(music- J. Rumshinsky), and on 29 May 1919 in Liliput's
translation of Ostrovsky's "Dikarka" (The Wild) under
the direction of Osip Dymow.
On 3 April 1920 T. began to
act in the People's Theatre in Mark Arnstein's play,
"Before the Wedding" (music-- Louis Friedsell.)
For the 1920-21 season she
acted in the People's Theatre, where she began on 2
September 1920 with Rakov's "The Door to Happiness," and
on 22 September 1920 she acted as "Jennie Runs For
Mayor, a musical comedy in four acts by Z. Kornblith,
music by Joseph Brody," which played week-long with
In May 1921 T. guest-starred
together with Samuel Rosenstein across the local
theatres of New York (Lyric, Liberty) and then traveled
across the province (October 1921-- in San Francisco.)
On 17 February 1922 she
guest-starred in Kessler's Theatre in Israel Rosenberg's
comedy, "Berele the Tramp" (music-- Sholom Secunda), on
13 April 1922 in "Dos bintl briv" by Israel Rosenberg
(music-- J. Rumshinsky), on 24 November 1922 in the
People's Theatre as "Lady Khaya Tsipe, a novelty comedy
in four acts by Osip Dymow," on 15 December 1922 in
Kalmanowitz's comedy, "Women's Secrets," and after a
short break, during which she guest-starred across the
province, she performed again in the same theatre on 30
March 1923 in Richter's "The Imported Wife."
In the Summer and Fall of
1923 T. played in Yiddish vaudeville houses in New York.
On 26 October 1923 she guest-starred in her repertoire
in the Amphion Theatre, on 4 January 1924 in the
Hopkinson Theatre, then in the McKinley Square Theatre,
and in May 1924 she traveled to London, where she
guest-starred in their Yiddish theatre
In October 1924 T. returned
to America, and in January 1925 she guest-starred in
Toronto. On 9 March 1925 sh began to perform in
vaudeville in the McKinley Theatre in a sketch from the
play, "The Green Student," on 27 March 1925 she played
in vaudeville in the Grand Theatre. On 9 April 1925 she
performed in the Lyric Theatre in L. Freiman's comedy, "Tsirl
mirl from Galicia," and then again in vaudeville in
On 16 April 1926 she
guest-starred in the Amphion Theatre in Kalmanowitz's
play, "Women, Guard Your Home."
In the 1926-27 season T. was
engaged in Kessler's Second Avenue Theatre, where she
played for several months, and in April 1927 she
performed in English vaudeville in the Apollo Theatre.
On 13 March 1928 T.
performed in English in the sketch "An Actor's Wife" in
the Clinton Theatre, and then with the same play in
In April 1929 she
guest-starred in Baltimore, December 1929 in Yiddish
vaudeville in the Yiddish vaudeville in the McKinley
Square Theatre, and since then she performed the same on
T. recalls in her memoirs
the actor Elihu Tenenholtz, who she worked and published
with in "Di varhayt," which later was published in her
memoirs in a special book: "My Life’s History: The Joys
and Tribulations of a Yiddish Star Actress, by Bessie
Thomashefsky, depicted by her alone and delivered by E.
Tenenholtz. Published by the Varhayt Publishing Company
[New York] 1916 [304 pp., 16°].
T.'s son, Harry, acts on the
"History of Yiddish Theatre," Vol. 2.
Thomashefsky-- "My Life's History," New York,
Thomashefsky [memoirs]-- "Forward," N.Y., 2 9
January, 26 March, 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 April, 7,
14, 21, 28 May, 4, 18, 25 June, 2, 16 July, 26
November, 10, 17, 24 December, 1916, 18, 25
March, 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 April, 13 May, 3 June,
7, 14, 21, 28 October, 11, 25 November, 2
B. Borukhov-- In
der gezelshaft fun bikher, "Di varhayt," N.Y.,
18 February 1917.
Yanovsky]-- Bikher, "Fraye arbeter shtime,"
N.Y., 25 August 1917.
[Alter Epstein]-- Bilder-geleree fun unzere
yidishe shoyshpiler, "Der tog," N.Y., 30 March,
6 April 1918.
Mrs. thomashefsky in a naye-alte role,
"Forward," N.Y., 23 April 1920.
Geshprekhen mit interasante mentshen, "Forward,"
N.Y., 20 November 1920.
Leon Kobrin-- "Erinerungen
fun a yidishen dramaturg," N.Y., Vol. 2.