I first visited Littman’s Theater in Detroit
in 1928 when I was just twelve years old. I got a job as an usher there. I
remember that the head of the ushers was named Irving. I don’t know his
last name. I also remember working with a Mickey Goodman. At the time I
lived with my family on Pingree and 12th Street toward Woodrow
I lived next to a shochet who was next to Virginia Park. I used to help
Mr. Margolis, the shochet, by plucking the feathers on the chickens. I
would come home scratching myself, so eventually my mother forbid me to go
My mother was born in Poland. Her entire family was killed during the war.
I remember the time one Friday night that a letter came telling us of the
terrible news. I was the one who had to break it to my mother that her
mother, her uncle Sidney and three of her sisters were gone. I’ll never
forget how she screamed upon hearing the news.
As for my father, he
passed away on my eleventh birthday; he was only thirty-eight years old. I
won’t forget that either. He and his brother Harry owned the Rosner Bros.
Department store on the east side of Detroit at Gratiot and Culver. They
sold hardware and dry goods there. My uncle Harry lived with us. His wife had
died during the epidemic that swept the nation during World War I. I tried
to help out my family financially whenever I could. I had a paper route
and I also earned money being an usher at Littman’s Theater. My mother
worked too on Warren, selling chickens in a poultry market.
We lived in a Jewish
neighborhood; we had more fun. In the neighborhood there were all kinds of
stores. There was the Chic Dress Shop, C.F. Smith’s Grocery Store,
Boesky’s Deli on 12th and Hazelwood, and of course the Cream of
Michigan, a restaurant where everyone went to. Boesky’s was known for
their banana cream pie. Johnny, the owner, was a swell guy. The way the
streets went from 12th Street was: Lee Place, Blaine,
Gladstone, and then Hazelwood. Some of the Purple Gang hung out at a
poolroom on Blaine. I had a friend Yudi who was a member the Purple Gang.
There was a bookie
named Sherman on Philadelphia and 12th. I remember making a bet for a
Madam. She used to call me “Jockey”. I gave her the 1933 Kentucky Derby
winner and she gave me fifty dollars after she won. That was a lot of
money in those days. I gave it to my mother. She asked if I had stolen the
money. I told her the truth.
When I was a teenager I
went to Hutchins Intermediate School. We’d get out at two o’clock. One day
I came home and I couldn’t get into the house because the door was locked.
I rang the bell and there was no answer. It was a two-story flat and we
lived upstairs. I climbed up to our flat and looked in the window. There
was my mother tied up on a chair!! I broke the window and went in to help
her. “What happened?” I asked. Two boys had taken her mink coat and tried
to get her wedding ring off her finger, but it wouldn’t come off. I went
to my friend Yudi and he told the Purple Gang what had happened. They
found out who it was. My mother confronted the mother of the boys, but the
mother said her boys were good and wouldn’t do anything like that. The
boys were sent to jail, but they never did recover the mink coat.
Littman’s Theater was
on Seward and 12th Street on the east side of 12th.
It was a nice theater. The musicians played in a pit. It had a nice
curtain that was pulled by the manager. I got to go backstage. Mr.
Littman, the theater manager, was partly blind.
He would have to look
very closely at the tickets to see them. He had steady customers who used
to come to sit in the balcony. There was a whole Friday night
group—twenty-five or so that we knew. The seats in the balcony were much
cheaper than the seats on the main floor. Our head usher Irving would
watch Mr. Littman to know which of the seats were empty. Many of these
people would give Irving, me and the other ushers a fifty-cent piece and
we’d move them to the main floor. Mr. Littman could never understand why
the main floor was filling up! We were happy to get these fifty-cent
pieces. We knew the regulars who would come, such as Morrie Wasserman and
I knew many of the girls in the chorus. There was Ida Diamond, Edith
Cohen, Goldie Young, Freda Dubin, Mildred Rutzky Madven and Mary Hoffman
Jordan. There were usually four or five of them on stage at one time; the
stage wasn’t that big. Sometimes the chorus girls would get bit parts.
Mary got incorporated into plays little by little. Sometimes she would
play a maid. I knew her the minute she walked into this apartment building
even though I hadn’t seen her in sixty years. I loved her little face. How
can you forget such a wonderful person? Her husband, Harry Jordan, was a
handsome man. He played main parts.
In later years, Goldie
Young was the president of the City of Hope. She made “Hello Dolly” Jewish
and put on the play for this charity group.
Some of the actors I
saw perform at Littman’s Theater were Aaron Lebedeff, Leo Fuchs, Jack
Bernardi, Menashe Skulnik, Molly Picon and Diana Goldberg. Diana was
married to the manager. I thought Aaron Lebedeff was the best. He wasn’t
so European. Skulnik played “Pinya.” I loved the play and the part he
played in it. We used to have a performance every Friday night and two
performances on Sunday--a matinee and one show in the evening.
I learned a lot of
Yiddish from these shows. We didn’t speak it at home because my parents
wanted to become Americanized.
The Yiddish Hour radio
program on Sundays with Weinberg was good. It advertised the Yiddish
Theater. The program was live and not recorded. Some of the stars that
performed at Littman’s Theater appeared on the show too. They sang Yiddish
songs, but they also sang some in English too.
About 1930 I moved from
12th Street to Dexter and didn’t go back to the theater
much. But I did see the previews of the shows in “The Forward”
In 1934 I went to work at Sam’s. It was there I saw the girl who I
was going to marry. She was on roller skates, and I told my mother “I’m
going to marry that girl.” I took her dancing under the stars. On 8 Mile
Road and Gratiot there was a place called Eastwood Gardens. We danced
under the stars. Rudy Vallee and Tommy Dorsey played there. On the other
side of town was Westwood. It was on 7 Mile Road and Grand River. Again,
we danced under the stars to music, this time by Woody Herman. We also
dance at Walled Lake.
In 1939 I went to the
World’s Fair in New York with a cousin of mine. I came back with an
engagement ring and the love of my life, Norma Fisher, said “Yes.” We were
married on the top floor of the Macabees Building in Detroit. The family
cooked chickens and Cantor Mogil sang. All my friends were in the wedding
party. Norma and I were married for fifty-two years!