The Museum of

       the yiddish world


Recollections of an Usher
as told by Jack Rosner
to Leah Jordan Bisel


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 Wilson.

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 back.

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 Mickey Goodman.

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” newspaper.

 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!



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