The Remarkable Zalmen Zylbercweig
and his Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre

 

interview with Shirley Fair, Stepdaughter of Zalmen Zylbercweig
14 April 2012. Conducted by Steven Lasky.

 

L: Interviewer: Steven Lasky; F: Interviewee: Shirley Zuckerberg Fair. Transcribed by Steven Lasky.

  1. My name is Shirley Zuckerberg. I was born (in) 1930 in Baltimore, Maryland. (0:09)

  2. F: My parents, Celia and Leon Zuckerberg, were two magnificent actors that came to the United States from Argentina, and the only way they could stay in this country is (if) they had an American-born child. So I was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1930. However, the government, they did not want give them permission to stay here indefinitely; they only gave them a work permit. So they traveled all through the United States. And (in) 1933 or so, we went to Cuba, and then after that we had to go to Mexico City, where they had a tremendous Jewish community, and they (were) anxious to see Yiddish theatre. Unfortunately, my Dad, who was gorgeous and very, very talented, caught pneumonia on the stage, and he passed away in 1935 at the age of thirty-five. I was five-years old at the time, so naturally we stayed in Mexico. (1:10)

  3. L: So, Shirley, you said you were five-years old at the time your father had passed away. F: That's right. L: Do you remember the day that you found out? F: I found out when I was probably, uh, six years old, or maybe not quite six years old, that my father had passed away. L: ....Do you remember the day you found.... No. I remember being extremely upset. Very, very upset. I remember that very clearly. L: Who told you? F: My mother. My mother. For a while she didn't tell me where he was, what happened to him. I kept asking about him till she finally told me. L: After you found out....between then and the time your mother married Aba, what transpired? F: Well, we stayed in Mexico. Mother continued with her theatrical performances. She brought a lot of people over from the United States to act with her. She had also a little store that was ladies' beautiful hats, gloves and purses, because she wanted to bring over her relatives from Poland, and the only way she could do that was to show the government that she had steady income. So in 1936, I believe it was, when I was six years old, by the end of 1936 she was able to save her oldest sister, Genya, and her daughter, Manyala, and brought them over to Mexico. L: Mom opened the shop before or after your father passed away? F: No, it was during....I guess it was during that time, that period between 1935 and '36, she had to open the store because my father had passed away. L: Okay, so I know your parents were in Mexico, but they were also...didn't you tell me that they started a Yiddish theatre in Uruguay? F: Urugu....No that's when they were youn....that's before. That's in the 19....; that's before, in the late 1920s, mainly in Argentina. That's where they met, in Argentina, in the 1928, I believe, or in 1927, something like that... L: Do you know how they met? F: They met in the theatre. My father was an actor in a company with a company, the Morris Brown company, and my mother was in another company, and, uh, they met that way, and they fell in love and they got married and joined the Morris Brown theatre company. L: So they weren't acting together when they met? F: No, no, they weren't. She was with one company, and my Dad was with another company. L: So were they introduced? F: I don't know if they were introduced. I think that my father had...had heard that there was a lovely young woman who was (3:00) a soubrettin, they used to call it, I guess he saw her, that she had a beautiful voice, and that's how...Either he went to see her, or to see her performance, and that's how they met. L: So they got married in Argentina? F: Yes. L: So after Argentina, did they go to Uruguay, or where did they go after...? F: They went all over South America. They went to Chile. They went, I think, to, uh, several countries (and) several states. And then after that they came to the United States. In '29, they came to the United States, and they had a contract here. I have the original contract where they paid them one hundred dollars for the two of them, for a week. (3:49)

  4. L: Being five years old, you never remember seeing your parents acting in any...? F: No, I remember my mother, but not my father, no. L: So you remember your mother acting in Mexico? F: Oh, sure. L: When you left Mexico, how old were you? F: Seventeen years old. I was educated in Mexico. L: So you spent about ten or eleven years after your father passed away in Mexico. F: Yes....actually twelve years. L: When Mom was acting in Mexico, was she acting mostly as a soubrette, or... F: No, she had.... she had roles....she had soubrette, she was also a very fine dramatic actress. L: Did she have a contract? Did she work for one....with one company? F: I think she was...no, she was b...uh, she was the general manager of that company, you know, wherever they could do a little theatre, she did. L: When Mom...when Dad was alive, you were part of the Morris Brown troupe, but when Dad passed away...F: She continued playing with Morris Brown, and Bertha Brown, and the Gelbers, and she brought a lot of people from the United States. She brought Abe Lax and his wife, and the Dorfs, and I don't remember other people. But these I remember vividly, because they used to come to our home, and they stay...I was able to spend time with them. But the others, I don't remember their names. L: By the time...after Dad passed away, you're saying (that) the Morris Brown troupe stayed in Mexico for twelve years...F: Well, I don....They stayed. They were still there when we left. L: So they really made a home over there then. F: Oh yeah, oh yeah. L: So basically Mom just pretty much acted with that troupe wherever, and (in) whatever kind of performance, and in whatever theatre they were acting in. F: Uh-huh, uh-huh. Right, right. L: So would Mom have been able to make a living as a Yiddish actress, or did she really need that store? F: No, we needed the store because she was supporting my aunt and my cousin, and uh, she needed to have this steady income. As an actress, or actor, they didn't have steady income. That was a problem with them not being able to stay in the United States. L: So what happened to your aunt and your cousin? F: They stayed there. I still have second cousins there. L: Okay, so are your cousins still alive, or...? F: Oh yeah. Not my first cousins. Her children are still alive. L: Oh, so the two people who came, that your mother brought over, they're deceased. F: Yes. L: But your cousin's children are alive there? F: Are still there, yes. L: ...They're still there? F: Oh yeah. They come over here, I am in constant touch with one of my cousins, yes. L: When you were living in Mexico with your mother, were you living in an apartment, or in a house? F: No, we had an apartment. People....people in Mexico, they're not wealthy enough to own homes. Most people had apartments. L: Do you remember the address of your apartment? F: Yes, I do. We had two apartments...When my aunt came in 1936, the address was Calle de Tacuba no. 74. L: And that's where you were living when you're father was still alive? F: No. L: So when your father passed away, you had to get a different place? L: Yes, I don't remember--I don't remember where, what that was. L: And that was until about when? F: When? When we li... L: When you changed apar....F: Like in between '35 and '36, before my mother brought over....? L: You don't know obviously, when your parents were both together, but the address you just gave me was the one you were living in before your aunt and your cousin came over. F: We got that apartment so that my mother could bring over her sister and her niece because we needed more room. So that...that apartment was....we got that apartment so that we could go there, and have the family join us. L: Right, so you don't remember the address of when it was just you and Mom? F: No. L: What else do you remember about your father? (4:10) L: The one thing I remember is that he...I do remember the little things, like he once got a little doggie for me. I remember him bringing it to me and putting him...the little doggie on my lap. I also remember when he was in the hospital, that a maid took me to visit him. L: When he was in the hospital with pneumonia. F: With pneumonia. But then, after he passed away, I was, uh, put into a boarding school. I was in a boarding school, what...that's where I was. Now talking ....it comes back to me. I was in a boarding school for one year before my mother brought her sister and niece over. And I was in a school that was a French school. French boarding school. L: Do you remember the name of it? F: I think it was...uh, I'm not sure. L: So you were in boarding school because Mom had to work? F: That's right. Uh-huh. L: And then once, once the rest of your family came over, they could watch you. F: That was...the end of the boarding school, uh-huh. L: So you learned to play piano? F: Yes. L: So you learned to play piano when and where? F: When my mother started giving me private lessons, when I was about six years old. And I had let...I have to get a drink of water....(5:31)

  5. F: And so I started taking piano lessons when I was about six-and-a-half. Mother got me a wonderful piano, an upright. And my teacher was Francisco Ochoa. O-c-h-o-a. He was a fine pianist, and he was a pianist for the symphony orchestra in Mexico who was conducted by Carlos Chávez. That was the name of the conductor. Carlos Chávez. L: Before the...because you never had a piano. F: No. L: So you never had musical training before that. There were never musical instruments necessarily in your apartment. F: No. But I had.... My mother always sang. We had radio going on all the time. So I grew up all my life with music. L: What kind of music did your Mom like listening to? F: Well, we used to go to the opera. I was introduced to the opera in Bellas Artes. Every time we had....I saw Helen Traubel singing "Valkyrie". I saw in person, now I was a little girl, maybe eight years old. We saw Madame...we saw the "Valkyrie" with Helen Traubel in that....what was the name of that tenor? A Swedish tenor. I was introduced to opera. We saw "Madame Butterfly", saw "La Traviata", a bunch of operas, always went to the season of the opera. And of course the concerts, because my piano teacher was the principal pianist with the orchestra, with the Philharmonic. L: Tell me how the piano lessons came about. Did you ask to learn? Did Mom ask you if you wanted to learn....? L: No, no, my mother...my mother felt that I had to have an instrument in my life, got the piano, and she said you're going to learn to play the piano. And... I'm very gifted. I had a fantastic ear, and whatever my mother wanted to...she would sing a song, I was able to go to the piano and play it for her. Even to this day, I do that. L: So it was always the piano. There was never a choice... F: And she.... to ballet. Mother introduced me to wonderful ballet lessons. I don't remember my teacher's name. I was excellent in Spanish dancing, learned to play, uh, the castanets. To this day, I can still play castanets. I have a wonderful collection of them. And so I have all my pictures of all the beautiful dances that I used to do as a growing-up child. L: So Mom didn't have a lot of money, but she wanted you to be a .... F: Yeah. Always the very best -- the best education, the best music instructions, ballet, and private Yiddish school that I went to. L: Do you remember the name of the school? F: Yes. Colegio Israelita de México. L: Do you remember your teachers? F: I had in high school...I had, I don't....elementary school that I went to....I have to go back. In elementary school, I went to public school. And that I also remember the name. Licenciado Miguel Aguirre. L: From age five to about nine, you were in this school? F: No....to about.... no, more than nine. To about ten-and-a-half, because at eleven, I already went to high school. L: High school, what's public high school. F: No, that was a Jewish high school....L: So at ten-and-a-half, that's when you first started a Jewish school. F: About eleven. L: About eleven. F: Eleven....1941, yeah. L: And (for) how many years did you study in the Jewish school? F: ....We graduated in 1945....L: So it was about four years....F: Yes....L:....in a Jewish high school. F: Right. L: What constituted a Jewish high school? F: Jewish children. L: But not....did you learn in English or in Spanish? F:....it was just for Jewish children, but all the....all the subjects were taught in Spanish. We took English as a foreign language. We took Yiddish. We had to learn how to read and write in Yiddish, and learn to converse in Yiddish, and in Hebrew. Hebrew was never my....quite my, yeah, my language. L: But you had to learn to speak, also in Yiddish and in Hebrew. F: Oh, yes. L: Uh, how did you speak to your mother when you were (at) home? In what language? F: With mother, I think we spoke, uh, actually we spoke Spanish, and she would speak to me in Yiddish. L: You would speak to her in Spanish, and she would answer you in Yiddish. F: Uh-huh. L: But, in other words, when you were just having a casual conversation, that's the way it was? F: That's the way it was. L: Why didn't she speak in Spanish, and why didn't you....F: She also spoke Spanish fluently. She had a, you know, she had a little store, and she spoke Spanish fluently. L: So, why did she speak to you in Yiddish? F: (She) wanted me to know....know the language. L: Right. And why didn't she want you to speak to her in Yiddish? F: Well, I guess I did, but I remember more than anything the conversations were that way. I might have spoken to her in Yiddish too. (5:05)

  6. F: After that, I went to a school for girls. It was called the Maddox Academy. It was like a commercial school to learn typing and shorthand, and mostly English. L: You graduated high school when? F: 1945. L: And you were how old then? F: Fifteen. L: Okay, so between fifteen, and you went to went to Maddox school when you were about fifteen or sixteen...F: Fifteen, uh-huh. The school year always started at the beginning of the year, February. L: And then you went to Maddox for how long? F: Two years. Then I move to the Sta....I moved to L....to New York. L: Okay, uhm, did you ever play piano, uh, for Mom in the theatre, or was it always at home? F: No, I did play....as a matter-of-fact, when she married Aba, I was able....they had me play as a guest at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, couple of their shows called "benefits", I played. L: In other words, during the benefits, you were just scheduled to play a piece on the piano. F: Yes. L: Not as part of any production, or.... F: No, no, no, no. L: And you weren't playing for Mom singing. You were just playing "straight piano". F: Just straight piano, just something, either Chopin, or a Beethoven, or a Mozart, something like that. I don't remember exactly what I played, but I did. L: And that was a benefit for....for what? F: For the Yiddish Radio Advertising, for the presentations when my mother....when they had, uh, performances. L: In other words, at the Wilshire Theatre, there were.... F: Wilshire Ebell. L: Wishire Ebell. Were these benefit performances? F: Some of them were benefit performances. Some of them, you know, were performances. L: Okay, in another words it wasn't just necessarily to benefit that radio program. F: No. (1:47)

  7. L: Now let's talk about Aba, who is Zalmen Zylbercweig. I guess....was Zalme his nickname? F: You know, I don't know. There was always confusion in there. The one.... what I know is that he had an "n" at the end, and some of them didn't, so....I only.... L: To me, Zalmen is a regular name, but Zalme is more of an affectionate name, without the "n" at the end... F: I don't know. I always knew it with an "n" at the end. L: Well, that's what it was, but sometimes you call somebody by.... just like you could say "Shirl". F: Uh-huh. Yes, I know. It could be. L: So that's the only thing I could think of, really. I'm sure formally it would be somethi.... it would be Zalmen. (0:38)

  8. L: Tell me the circumstances of how your mother and her second husband, Zalmen Zylbercweig, met. Did they meet by chance? Were they introduced? When was it.... F: It was a wonderful meeting. My mother and I had gone to a lecture, and who was the guest speaker? Mr. Zalmen Zylbercweig from the United States. And that's how they met. He came to us, and he said to my mother, these words. He says, "Mrs. Zuckerberg, I met you and your late husband when I was collecting information for my Lexicon. My mother was pregnant with me when they (first) met, and I guess it had to be in 1929, and Aba was collecting information for his Lexicon. He met both my parents. And he told my mother that he was very sorry to hear that my father had passed away, and he fell in love with my mother, there and then! (0:59). L: This was in 1929. F: 19...yeah, now I'm talking when we.... You asked me how we met him. L: Right, right. So he fell in love with her then, and then didn't marry her until 1940 something. F: They met in 1945. As I.... as I just said, he was a guest speaker to do the lecture. We met him in 1945. L: Aba first met your parents in 1929.... F: That's when he met both my parents, and he wrote about both of them in the Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre. L: And then, after that, as far as you know, they had no contact with each other.... F: No, not at all, not at all. Then coming back to 1945, he told my mother he was very sorry that.... to hear that my father had passed away. But, right there and then, he fell in love with my mother, and started courting her. L: So they were both living in Mexico City at the time. F: He was not living in Mexico City. He had come to Mexico as a guest speaker from the United States. L: Okay, so they had met in 1929, I guess, so he could get information for the Lexicon.... F: Yeah. L: And then, in 1945, he happened to be at Mexico, and that's where Mom went to the lecture. F: Exactly. L: Tell me what you remember about the initial time after, after this. Did they.... did he see her right away? How did he.... F: He saw her, he started courting her, he sent her flowers. (2:28) He also talked to me, and he also wanted me to take him to the cemetery where my father was buried. I have pictures of him at the cemetery by my father's matzeve. And then he went back to New York and started writing to her. He started writing to her, and a couple of years went by, and he, uh, he proposed to her and she said "yes", and of course I.... I was (chuckle).... I told her, absolutely we got to..... she's got to get married and we'll all leave Mexico and I got to come back to my country where I was born. Oh, by the way, something important that you should indicate there, that while I was growing up those twelve or thirteen years in Mexico, my....  I had to be registered with the American Consulate. Every two years or so, they.... I used to have to stay with me an I. D. card, that I was Shirley I. Zuckerberg, an American citizen living in Mexico, as a minor with my mother. L: At the talk in Mexico. He went back to the United States.... F: To New York, uh-huh. L: To New York, and she was still in Mexico. F: Right. L: So he courted her from a distance. F: Right. L: And so did he come to.... did he come to Mexico a number of times to visit her, or.... F: No, no, no, he just..... (3:49) no, he said that the next time he would come, they would get married. And that's exactly what happened. He came back in January of 1947, and they were married January the 7th of 1947. L: And they met about when? F: They met in 1945. L: He proposed to her on.... by the phone, or....? F: Yeah, he said the next time I see you, I'm.... we're going to get married, and the next time I come to Mexico, we're getting married. And that's what happened. (4:17)

  9. L: What's your earliest recollection of besides him coming in 1929 to gather information in Mexico? How did he feel about creating the Lexicon? F: First of all, I adored him. When I met him, I thought to my mother, I said to my mother that this man is wonderful. I...I....I encouraged my mother to marry him, and my dream was to come back to the United States 'cause I didn't want to stay in Mexico. And I had to be back by the time I was eighteen. So I came in 1947. I arrived in Grand Central Station by myself. First I came by myself, and then my mother followed me, because we had to transfer a lot of stuff from the store to somebody that was going to buy the store. So I came first in 1947, and I arrived at Grand Central Station on April the fourth of 1947. L: You got.... you got to Grand Central Station how? F: By train. I traveled four, five, I think it was.... five nights and four days by train. L: And then Mom came how much later? F: Mother came in, I think in May, in May of 1947. L: So where did your parents get married? F: In Mexico.... I told you, January the 7th of 1947 they were married. L: Okay, so in other words, Aba came over to Mexico.... F: Yeah. L: .... And they had a ceremony there, and then he came back first, or he stayed there with Mom until she sold the store? F: No, he didn't stay. He had to come back. He had his.... he was the editor of the newspaper, of the Amerikaner (Jewish American -- ed.), so he had to come back.... L: What newspaper? F: Der amerikaner. L: And that was a Yiddish newspaper? F: Yeah. L: So he came.... in other words, they got married and he came back, then you followed.... F: He had to look for a place for us to live. L: Okay, then he came back, and you came after that somewhat. And then Mom came after you did. F: That's right. L: Okay. Uhm, do you remember the wedding in Mexico? F: It was just, I think, the American Consulate came up. It was in my auntie's house. The American Consulate came in, and I think, I think there might have been a rabbi, I'm not...I think there was, but I don't remember the nam.... the rabbi's name. L: So it was in your aunt's house. F: At my aunt's house. It was just a.... L: Was that the aunt that your mother brought over? F: Yes. L: So, in other words, your aunt.... your aunt came over with.... with her daughter? F: With her daughter, yeah. L: And, so in other words, they never lived with you. They.... they.... F: They lived with us.... sure they did..... they lived with us when we first.... I told you (about) that big apartment. We had to.... mother had to get a bigger apartment with two bedrooms. That was in 1936. At this apartment, my mother was married to Aba, also when my auntie was, more or less, independent. and uh, that's where mother was married. L: So your.... your..... your aunt and your cousin had nothing to do with the Yiddish theatre. F: Oh no, no. L: Okay, so you were all in New York City. So what happened in New York City in 1947? You settled in, and then Aba was still working for the newspaper.... F: Yes. L: And you were going, still in school, or were you working? F: I worked. No, I went to Brooklyn College, and I went to.... and I went to.... what was it? Oh, I forget the name, but it was a.... a business school that I went to.... L: In New York City, okay. F: In Brooklyn. L: In Brooklyn. F: In Brooklyn, but I went to Brooklyn College and this, and this other school. L: Okay. F: Then I had.... and then I had.... I got myself a wonderful job, and I worked for Sorority Frocks as a, uh, receptionist. I worked for Sorority Frocks. L: Ferrari Frocks? F: Sorority.... L: Sorority Frocks. Okay. F: Yes, Sorority. L: So you went to business school. Did you get a degree? F: Yes, yes. I was an excellent secretary, bookkeeper.... L: What was your degree in? F: In Business. L: It was just a B. A. in Business? F: Uh-huh, uh-huh. L: And that was the last schooling you did, or did you do more schooling? F: That was it, yeah. I had to make a living, yeah. L: Right. And so you all lived, all three of you, lived in Manhattan.... F: We lived.... We lived in New.... we lived in Brooklyn. L: In Brooklyn. Do you remember your address? F: I think it was 1357 East 12th Street, in Brooklyn. L: And why.... why did you live in Brooklyn? F: It was a duplex. I think that's where my folks found a place. L: So when Dad (Aba) worked, he had to commute into Manhattan? F: Yes, so did I. Yeah, and so did my mother, because my mother started writing a column for the newspaper, and she interviewed all these magnificent actors and actresses. Mostly women. She inte.... she had a column every -- I think it was either -- probably every -- I don't know if it was weekly, probably monthly. She had interviews with Stella Adler, and Celia Adler, and Molly Picon. And the other gal in the....  the other girl that had the.... the other woman that had a program on television. I forget her name. But all these very gifted women.... L: And this was for the same newspaper your father was working for? F: Yes, yes. (5:40) My mother was a very gifted person. She had a wonderful way of speaking and writing and was just great. L: So she really enjoyed doing all of this. F: Oh yeah. L: Did she do it because she had to do it to make money, or because she liked to do it? F: I guess both, yeah. L: So, how long did she do that for? F: She did that, eh, for the couple of years that we were in New York. L: Okay, so you were in New York for maybe two years.... F: A couple of years, uh-huh. L: And... and.... what about the radio program? F: Well, the radio program started because, I guess somebody....approached Aba to come to L. A., and both of my parents came over here from New York, and that this person -- I don't remember his name -- told him, you know, that they had an opportunity with the Yid.... to have this radio program, and they decided to do it, and bing, bing, bing, we gave up the... we gave up the apartment, the duplex apartment in Brooklyn, and we moved over here. L: How did you feel about moving out of New York to Los Angeles? F: I was not really happy, because I had a... I had a wonderful life in New York. I loved New York. I loved all the excitement. I had a fellow that I used to go out with. I don't know if you could call him a boyfriend. but you know... we were good friends. I used to go out with him, and I made friends in.... in.... in school, and I had a nice little job, and I thought "Oh, boy...". L: So your father was not on the radio in New York. F: On the radio in New York, no, they never had a radio program in New York. L: Ok, so somebody -- you don't remember his name -- had them come over, basically because of the radio program.... F: Yes, mother had been the guest, you know, of Seymour Rexsite, and in... in.... in his program in New York. And, with his wife Miriam Kressyn. So they knew more or less how the radio business worked, because they had been invited.... L: How did your mother feel moving out of New York? F: She didn't mind because the weather was better here, you know.... L: She didn't like cold weather? F: She didn't mind it, but uh, she adjusted to things very well. L:: She didn't write for a newspaper when she moved to Los Angeles? F: I don't think so. L: How did Aba feel about moving out of New York? F: I guess he was pretty okay with it. L: Did Aba when he was living in New York, did he have a lot of friends? F: Oh yeah. I met a lot of people. I met, uh.... He was very friendly with Maurice Schwartz. He was very friendly with Rumshinsky, the composer. He was very friendly with the other composer Secunda. (8:30) We used to go to the theatre on Second Avenue, and all the actors there, my God! As a matter-of-fact, what was his name? Lebedeyev, Lebedeyev (Aron Lebedeff -- ed.). He was crazy about me. He thought I was gorgeous (chuckle). I was a very pretty girl. So we.... we met a lot of interesting .... I met a lot of interesting people, and he was friendly with a lot of these people. L: So did your father, for lack of a better word, "hang out" at.... at certain cafes where Yiddish actors used to go, and.... F: Oh yeah, on Second Avenue.... the ladies there.... I remember going many times to have coffee with.... with them, and met a lot of people. It was wonderful. I went to Molly Picon's home. She had a home in.... by the Hudson River. And I remember she had a cabinet with all the dolls.... of all the dolls, of all the roles that she used to play. They were these little.... they were these little dolls where she collected. It was a beautiful home.  L: Dolls representing her characters.... F: Yes, representing the characters that she played. L: She had people make up dolls for her.... F: Oh, I guess so, yeah. But I met her in her home. (9:42)

  10. F: And everything that's very interesting. One time we had gone to Maurice Schwartz's home. It was a very special evening, because that's the evening that he introduced his two adopted children. He had adopted a boy and a girl that were sister and brother, from France. And they made a big .... he and his wife, I guess Mrs..... Mrs. Schwartz, had a big party to introduce their adopted children to everybody. I was there with my parents. L: And Maurice Schwartz, obviously lived in Manhattan. Did he live on the Lower East Side? F: I don't remember. That I don't remember. But I remember going to their home. And when we moved out here to California, my parents also had a lot of people coming to their home. My mother used to entertain a lot. L: Do remember any....(0:45) Do you have any other anecdotes? F: I told you about the Yiddish, about the Second Avenue Theatre, with the actors I told you about. Molly Picon's home, I told you about Schwartz's special evening when he adopted the two children.... L: Did you like going to Yiddish plays? You didn't really understand it that well. F: Oh, I understand it perfectly. L: How often did you go to a Yiddish play in New York? F: Whenever Aba said, "Let's go", and I would go with them. Oh yeah, I understand the language perfectly. L: So when they went to see a show, you.... they generally invited you. F: Mostly, yeah. Most of the time. Or if they had something else to do after, if I didn't want to be a nuisance, you know. L: How often did they go to the Yiddish theatre? F: Quite often, especially if some of their friends, some of Aba's friends, uh, were acting. L: Did they have any particular actors or actresses they liked the best? F: I think one of their favorites must have been Maurice Schwartz, with his dramatic plays. And of course, Lebedeyev, they liked Lebe....Aba liked Lebedeyev a lot. L: How about Mom? F: I think, you know, she.... I guess, I guess so. L: So, your father, I suppose he liked more of the.... not the shund. He liked the dramatic, the high.... not the high-brow, but the better quality Yiddish shows. F: Uh-huh, yeah. L: Did he have.... how did he feel about Yiddish theatre? F: He loved it. This is what he.... that's what he.... that's what he loved. L: Was he critical of certain types of Yiddish theatre, or....? F: I don't remember that. L: You don't remember that.... Anything else about life in New York? F: No, I guess that's it. L: Oh, yeah. The question I have is this. So whoever the person was who invited your parents to come to Los Angeles to do the radio program.... In other words, you went straight to Los Angeles, you didn't come back to New York. You just moved there, and that was it. F: Yeah. When they decided to come out, they moved over here bag and baggage, and that was it. L: So, obviously they didn't buy a house right away. You lived in an apartment. F: When we first came out from New York, we lived in Santa Monica for a few months, at the Kensington Hotel. L: Why in Santa Monica? F: I don't know. I don't know. I don't know why in Santa Monica. L: So you just paid.... Aba just paid the rent, and that was it. F: Well, that's where.... that's where, you know.... Maybe somebody told him come to Santa Monica. He didn't know from borscht. L: Right, right. F: You know. L: So, in other words, Mom wasn't acting at that time. F: No. L: When did she first start acting.... Did she act at all when she was in New York? F: No, not in New York. L: But eventually in Los Angeles. F: Yes. L: Not right away. So the guy wanted them to do the radio program, yet the studio was built in the back of your house in Fairfax. But you went from Santa Monica where? Did you go to the house then.... F: From Santa Monica, from the Kensington Hotel, then they bought a beautiful home in L. A., in the Fairfax area. The address was 825 South Orange Grove Avenue. L: And that was the house they lived in until.... F: That's what the house they lived in. That's where I got married. We had a garden wedding. L: You got married in what year? F: In 1951. L: Okay, so, in other words, the only time you were outside of your home was for a few months, and then they bought the home. F: Right. L: So.... F: And then they sold that home and moved to (6517 -ed.) Drexel Avenue. L: What year? L: That had to be, let's see, when Ron was born, so that had to be around 1955. They moved to that home where they had the studio in the back. L: Between the time they moved out of Santa Monica to the first home, and the time you got the second home, obviously they had no recording studio. So the radio program started in '49, so... F: They used to go to.... they used to go to the radio station, and one radio station was in Santa Monica; it was KOWL. And maybe that's why, I don't know, maybe that's why we lived over there for a while. L: So initially, it was only being broadcast on one radio station. F: Yes. L: And it was being broadcast out of KOWL, and at some point, whatever point that was, and that was in 1949? F: Yes. L: And at some point.... and then you moved to your home.... and you built a recording studio. Then at some point you started to record out of the studio. Do you remember the year of the first recording out of the studio, in your second home? F: You know, KOWL was owned by Gene Autry, and he sold it, and then at that time my folks changed to go to another station, KALI. That was probably in the fifties sometime. I don't remember the year. L: So all those recordings I have are from the second home, from the recording studio, obviously, not from that..... F: Yeah, yeah. L: So whoever brought them over, would.... could they have been from KOWL? F: I don't know. L: Oh, so, in other words, once you moved into that second home, how did it come about where Aba decided to build a studio in the back of the house? F: It was easier for them to do it, instead of traveling. He never learned how to drive. (5:44). My mother learned how to drive, and she drove him around, and the.... maybe that's why.... you know, maybe they were more comfortable. Why not? L: Whoever brought them over, he was here already, so whenever he got his next radio program with his next station, that wasn't.... that had nothing to do with the first person who brought him over. F: No. After.... after that person.... I think that that was short-lived, and they had, you know, that was it. L: But the first radio program, with KOWL, was a Yiddish radio hour. F: Oh, yeah. L: And the second radio.... the radio program when he moved to Fairfax, the second home, that was his own.... How did.... Did he finance that, or.... Who built the studio? Did he have to pay the expenses of the program, did he make any money from it, etc.? F: No, they had.... they had sponsors. They had sponsors. They had several sponsors. They had Great Western Savings and Loan Association, the bank, and then they had Braverman Brothers, who were a big, big appliance store, and after that they got other sponsors. L: Who paid for the recording studio? F: I guess they did. L: So basically Aba didn't drive, so it was easier just to do it from there. So it took him however many months to build a recording studio, and at some point they had lined up the sponsors.... F: Yeah. L: .... and they the station, and they started broadcasting. F: Yeah. L: How did your mother feel about being part of a radio program? F: She loved it. She was wonderful. She was a really pretty woman. She was eleven years younger than Aba. And she was just stunning, and like I say, very intelligent. She spoke seven languages (7:15) and wrote... and wrote them, not only speaking, and she was wonderful. L: So who was the brains, or who was the "pusher" for the radio program? F: I think both of them. L: So they were both pretty enthused about getting the word out, the Yiddish word out. Was it the Yiddish language, or was in the Yiddish theatre, was it cultural, wha.... F: It was a cultural thing. It was every.... all that that you just said -- the language, the theatre, the culture. There was a big.... there is a big, uh, club.... What is that club called? Uhm, The Yiddish.... the Yidishn Culture Club on Third Street, where Mother was invited many times to do a reading of her poetry, or Aba would give a lecture. Everything was just involved with yidishkeyt. L: So I guess back then, there was no way of knowing how many people they had listening to them (on their radio program -- ed.) F: Oh, they had quite a few..... L: How far out did the.... could people hear the radio program? What was the range. F: In the city of Los Angeles. It went quite a ways. I would say that they had a.... listeners, maybe 50,000 or more. Absolutely. They.... Everybody knew about the Yiddish radio program, the Yidishe shtunde. L: They say the "Yiddish Radio Hour", but it wasn't always an hour. It sometimes was a half-hour, most of the.... F: Later on.... later on, I guess, uh, when things changed a little bit, they went to half-an-hour. L: Didn't they have a half-hour during the weekdays and maybe an hour on the weekend? F: They had a....uh.... I think they had an hour on the weekend. Yeah. L: So who got the people for the program. How did they decide what to put on the radio program? Do you know anything about that? F: Well, I.... no, I don't know anything about that. I guess they had the.... you know.... they had different guests, as you can tell from the. uh, programs that I sent you. (9:10) Everybody that came from anywhere always called the Zylbercweigs. L: So, when they were in Los Angeles. F: Yes, Los Angeles. L: So I guess that was good publicity for them. F: Yeah, absolutely. So whoever came.... all the actors that came, they knew they had to get my parents and, uhm, oh, absolutely. L: Were there rehearsals, or.... F: What, for the.... for the.... L: Radio program. F: No, I don't think so. No. L: So it seems to me that they could have recorded certain events, whether it be at a day school, or at a banquet, or whatever, and then he'd put on a segment from that on his radio program. So maybe he spliced in different segments, because Ab.... most of the programming, most of the people he had on his program, did they come to the studio? F: No. L: Or was it mostly.... F: They came. No, no, they came to the house, they came into the studio, absolutely, yes. It was a very busy life. Very busy. L: So did he ever have any regrets? He liked doing it much.... F: No, no, no, no. No regrets, no regrets. L: So obviously he did this at the same time as he was working on the Lexicon. F: Sure. (10:16)

  11. L: Did Aba ever talk about the Lexicon, or was it just something he did on his own, and didn't really bring it to the family? F: No, we were always, both Ben (her husband --ed.) and I always knew about his doings. He traveled a lot, you know, a lot of the..... later on, as the years went by. He went to Mexico alone, many times to have his Lexicon printed there, and my mother took care of business here. Like I said, she was very smart and she knew exactly what to do with the programs, and how to tape, and how to do all that to get on the air. S: So maybe your father prerecorded.... (0:34) Some of the programs were prerecorded, and then Mother would get, uh, guests for the program. L: It seems that most of the expense, Aba had to go.... Aba had to use a lot of his own money to travel, and to.... F: Oh yeah, to do the Lexicon out of his own pocket. He didn't need any money. It was a work of love. S: It was a work of love, right. And you don't remember any anecdotal information about the Lexicon and your father? Did your father ever talk about the Lexicon that you remember, or any incident ever come up, or... F: No, no. L: Who sold the books? Did people.... I notice that there's a lot about subscriptions. People paid anywhere from so many groschen to so many tens of dollars....Did they.... I don't know what a subscription.... Did they....?  F: I don't know either. I really don't know either, eh, I don't know how, but I....you know.... the people.... the people, the listeners knew that he had all these books, and I guess he, uh, he sold them, advertised it, on the program that he had, the Lexicon number. They were for sale, or so many books had been printed, and whoever want.... you know.... L: Did he have books at home that he.... would he send out books from home once he got paid, or would someone else take care of that? F: I don't.... I don't remember that. I don't know. L: Did your mother... didn't have anything to do with the Lexicon, except for the business part of it? F: Uh-huh, uh-huh. L: Do you remember when.... when Aba passed away? (2:07) It was what, 1972? F: Yeah, oh God, yeah (sigh). L: So he was already working on the seventh (volume), and did he get to the point where he was finished and it was just in the editing form, ready to be published, or did he have more to do, or.... F: I don't know. L: You don't re.... F: I don't really know. L: Was Aba sick for a long time? F: Ah, he had cancer. L: What kind of cancer? F: He had, uh, uh, let me see what the word is.....uhm.... L: Not prostate. F: No, no, no, no no, it was in the stomach. What is it, what is it? L: .... cancer of the stomach is fine. F: Yeah. Yep. L: And between the time he was diagnosed, and the time he passed away.... F: They operated on him, he got double jaundice. They operated on him, and they sewed him up right away. They told us that it wouldn't be more than a few months. And that's what happened. L: And you mean, the time they diagnosed him, between then and the operation, how long was that? F: I don't know. I ... maybe.... maybe.... he started complaining that he had this.... stomach was bothering him. L: So it wasn't a long illness. F: No, no, it was not farshlept, no. L: What can you tell me about what Aba, about what he loved about Yiddish? I mean, did he like to listen to music, or was he.... how was his life .... in what way did he express his Yiddishness? F: (3:35) He had a wonderful sense of humor. You know, my husband Ben.... Ben was an opera singer, and every time they would come (over), they would spend Sundays together. He loved my children, and uh, he used to play with the children, and we used to have barbecues every Sunday. Ben would barbecue. And every time we would put on, let's say.... He used to love, by the way, Jan Peerce and.... and.....Richard Tucker. So he..... he used to love both of them. So we used to listen to.... we had quite a collection of operas here. L: But he never had them over to the house, or.... F: No, no. I don't recall that, no. L: When you spoke around the house, did you speak in Yiddish, or in English, or.... F: Oh, in English, because Ben doesn't understand Yiddish . L: Who didn't? F: Ben. Ben does not understand Yiddish. L: Right. F: So they used to speak in English, of course. L: But when it was just you and Aba and Mom. F: Oh, he would speak Yiddish to me, and I, yeah.... I would answer him in Yiddish, or in English, whatever . S: So, in other words, how.... I mean..... Aba would speak in English also to you, or in Yiddish.... F: He would speak in English, but mainly when Ben was around it was always in English. We used to have the most magnificent conversations about politics, and my husband is very bright. L: What did Aba feel about pol.... politically? L: Well, in those days, you mean, you know, in those days, who, who, who, he was.... he was a Democrat. They used to discuss politics, and I can't go back that many years to di.... F: Aba was a Democrat. F: I think, yeah. L: And Ben? F: Who wasn't in those days? L: Right. F: Even now. L: Yeah. F: I mean, you had to be a Democrat, after all, you know. L: Did they talk about Israel, and the fight for independence, and.... F: Yes, yes, I recall that. But I ca.... you know, you know.... L: It's hard to remember a lot of this stuff. We're just asking questions here, so.... F: You know, I was a busy lady with two little children. But anyway it was.... he had (5:36) a terrific sense of humor. And like I say, he always tried to imitate the singers... the singers.... these two (chuckle).... He was a funny guy. L: Aba.... H: I loved him, I loved him. Yeah, yeah. L: Who did Aba try to imitate? F: Richard Tucker (chuckle). L: He tried to sing opera? F: Yeah, yeah. L: Could Aba sing? F: No, no. He didn't. He couldn't even carry a tune.... L: Did he tell jokes? F: ....but he thought he could. He thought he could. L: Did he tell jokes? F: Yes. He, he was wonderful. L: Jokes in English or in Yiddish? Mostly Yiddish, right? F: We spoke in both languages. We spoke in both languages. He used to make fun of my accent. I remember that. In Yiddish. He used to make fun of my accent. L: What did he say? F: He used to say that I looked like a Russian. He said, "Di ost an accent ven di redst yidish". He didn't....he didn't.... but he enjoyed talking to me. L: So what would you say was Aba's most endearing traits? His sense of humor? F: Yes. (6:36) He was so intelligent, so wonderful. And like I say, he.... he loved my children.... but he would come home. He would come over to visit with five or six newspapers under his.... un... you know, holding him, holding the newspapers, folded newspapers.... L: English or Yiddish? F: Oh, always Yiddish newspapers. Every newspaper.... L: Did he always read the Forward? F: Oh yeah, yeah. L: What else did he like to read? F: Well, I don't know of all the Jewish newspapers, you know,  that he.... that he read. But we got rid.... we got rid of hundreds and hundreds of newspapers from their home when.... when he passed away. L: You threw them... you threw it out. F: Oh, my God. Well some.... a lot of the stuff was sent to Israel, if you know.... L: Uh-huh. F: That he wanted.... that's what he wanted (sigh). L: Wow.... F: Yeah. L: That's interesting. F: He.... he.... he was wonderful. You know, I was fortunate enough, he was in my life longer than my birth father. L: Uh-huh. F: My.... they were married twenty-five years. L: Where's.... where's Aba buried? F: Here. L: Here where? F: Mount Sinai. L: Mount Sinai? Is there more than one Mount Sinai here, or just one? F: The one.... the one.... yes there is. As a matter-of-fact, the new one is in Simi Valley. Not that one. Where.... The one over here. I don't know what they.... I don't know what they..... L: So Mom and Dad are buried in adjoining plots? F: Yes. L: And are they in a society plot, or are they just in a private.... F: No, it's a.... just a regular thing. L: How often do you go to the cemetery? F: I go very often. I go very often. Yeah, with the freeway it's five.... it's right by the park, by Griffith Park.... L: Uh-huh. F: ....that Mount Sinai. (8:27)
     

 


 


 


 

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