Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Sam Adler


Born circa 1868 in Zvenigorodke, Poltava Gubernia, Ukraine. About his youth, nothing is known. Also it isn't known if the name Adler was his real one, or only a pseudonym. Being by nature a closed person, and he never spoke about his past or family situation. A. wasn't close friends with anyone, [and] it was rare when there was any correspondence. The only thing that he was socially connected with in the world was his appurtenance to cheerfulness [?]. His close friend was a turtle, which he had raised and almost always had with him.

In the eighth decade of the nineteenth century, A. toured across the small towns of Galicia under the concession of Wolgeschaffen, with the actors Shmuel Lukatsher, Meyerovitsh and his wife, Liza Einhorn et al.

Around 1888 we find him already in New York, where he founded together with Leibush Gold, M. Nakhamkus, a certain Schwartz and Kurazh an actors' union, which however soon fell apart, also due to what was taken in by the patrons of the troupes.

In 1900 A. returned to Russia and joined the Odessa troupe of Spivakovski and Fiszon. His arrival was an important event for Yiddish theatre in Russia, because he brought with him the newest repertoire from America, and also a modern place for staged plays.

In 1901 he directed in Kiev in Goldfaden's "The Sacrifice of Isaac," in such a rich, theatrical manner, that in this one instance he elevated the fallen prestige of this Yiddish theatre.

During that time A. also led a thorough reform regarding the fees of the Yiddish theatre. Until then there existed in Russia the so-called markn- (border) troupes, a system that gave the agent of the troupe an easy opportunity to exploit the actors. A. was the first to engage a troupe on a particular hire.

In 1903 A. guest-starred for a year's time with Moshe Schorr in the Galician province, where he directed the newly brought repertoire ("Isha ra'ah," "Ezra, the Eternal Jew," "Kol Nidre," "Kurkh's Treasures"), and went from there again out to Russia. In 1905 A. partnered with Spivakovski in the direction over a Yiddish troupe in Odessa, and there was a contract signed between them and Sholem Aleichem, that their theatre should become transformed into a "Yiddish literary art theatre," that would stage the dramatic works of Sholem Aleichem and plays from other authors over whom Sholem Aleichem had control and determined that they were worthy to perform. The plan was not achieved because the competitors had ... the power, that the newly planned theatre was considered a revolutionary trend, and the government profoundly stifled the enterprise.

In 1905, together with Vaysfeld at the Nowy Theatre in Warsaw, then played for the first time with Meerson Schiller's "Robbers" in Yiddish.

In 1907 A. had a great theatrical success with his staging of Goldfaden's "Lakhmud" in Kiev, and in 1909 he transformed in Yekaterinoslav his revived staging of "Shulamis" in an immense spectacle, directing on the stage, in the scene of eulh-degel-zayn, until a hundred sympathies(?), raising in that city the prestige of Yiddish theatre, which was very fallen there due to the management of previous Yiddish theatre directors.

In terms of solidness and principles, the company of "Sam Adler from America" was the reliable and fartroyungsvertste. There had not been any city in the Jewish Pale of Settlement in Russia, wherein it did not reach his permanent well-organized operetta-and-drama troupe. It also was for a long time the only one in Russia, which had access to plays mkhuts ltkhum -- in Petersburg and Kiev-- where A., from all strata of the local Jewish population they were very warmly received.

Actors considered it an honor to be engaged in the troupe of Sam Adler, and for the young actors the acting by the troupe was at a high level. A. was the first to arouse to the Yiddish stage the intelligent forces, and they were encouraged about Yiddish theatre. Among his students one finds: Jacob Ben-Ami, Lazar Freed, Esther Neroslavska, Samuel Goldinburg, Wolf Zylbercweig, Greenspan, Avraham Teitelbaum et al.

A. always gave [his] attention, that the member of his troupe should perform in each city, tactfully and responsibly, and keep up their social standing, but even more straightforward was his stage discipline. The rehearsals and the productions were conducted most forcefully. The following were not allowed: not coming prepared, not being punctual, dirty language, vulgarity, and innuendos had always been put aside. The language and the acting--even from the cheap plays--had to be clean. 

Sh. also put aside the business side of Yiddish theatre on festere isudut, leading tours according to an previously determined plan, and even at the government office [gained] that respect, that they are not confused when he changed the company of his troupe from "German troupe" to "Yiddish-German troupe."

By himself the comic of the troupe, A. never allowed cheap exaggerations, and had not sooner played a role as ibergeshpilt.

A. had been known to write a little Yiddish, or Yiddish with Latin characters, but A. possessed a native intelligence, always wanting things nice and beautiful on the stage.

In the last pre-war years, A. lost a lot of money in his undertakings, his undertaking spirit becoming weak. He no longer appeared to organize troupes in the same way as before. His most important actions were to travel across the world; A. used to move around across small cities with small troupes, which however were not in his heart, and by playing with these troupes A. began to lose his former popularity.

When A. returned to America, through the influence of Ben-Ami, he joined Schnitzer's Garden Theatre, where he worked with in small, ascending roles.

The Yiddish [Hebrew] Actors' Union helped him materially, but due to his inherently quiet character, he pulled himself back into the shadows, until in 1922 when he returned to Europe, played in Kovno, suddenly became hoarse, performing in December 1922 in Lodz in Kobrin's "The Power of the Dollar" ("Karl Marx," or, "The Enemies"), but he had to, according to the information from the doctors, immediately traveled to Vienna to be operated on.

Here he still had the opportunity to participate in a small role  in the film, "Yizkor," played with Schwartz's troupe, and also had several small roles in film with the same film society.

A. lived in Vienna single and lived in a small room on a faraway street, somewhere behind "Prater Shtern." Nit-torndik to speak, he used to spend the entire day sitting in a coffee house stiff and cold as a statue, often confused and burnt out.

The untershtitsungen, which he had received from his students in America, were swallowed up in caves [heyl-mitlen]. In the summer of 1925, when his health condition was getting worse, and he simply hungered, he finally allowed a public discussion in the press about his condition. However the discussion brought only petty results.

For the death throes he received a shipyard to America, wherein he had, however, not wanted to travel to as an invalid, and so on 26 November 1925 he passed away in Vienna. The Viennese Jewish cultural community had for that reason given free of charge a burial plot and linens.

M.E. from Moshe Schorr and Lazar Freed.

  • B. Gorin -- "History of Yiddish Theatre," Vol. II, pp. 60, 142, 192.

  • Dos "sholem aleichems bukh," New York, 1926, p. 64.

  • Avraham Teitelbaum -- Teatralishkeyt bay goldfadenen, "Goldfaden-bukh," New York, 1926, pp. 17-8.

  • Avraham Teitelbaum --"Teatralia," Warsaw, 1929, pp. 24-33.

  • Michael Weichert -- "Theatre and Drama," Vilna, 1926, Vol. I, p. 59.

  • Noah Prilutski -- "Yiddish Theatre," Bialystok, 1921, Vol. I, p. 39.

  • Sh. Y. Dorfszon -- Necrology, "Morning Journal," New York, 25 Dec. 1925.

  • Sh. Y. Dorfszon -- In khl'she tchrichim, "Moment," Warsaw, 8 Dec. 1925.

  • Avraham Teitelbaum -- Der suf fun a yidishen teater-direktor, "tog," New York, 15 Jan. 1926.

  • Dos teater oyf krulevska -- "Theatre Times," Warsaw, 5, 1928.

  • E. Tenenholtz -- The Yiddish Theatre in Siberia, "Di varhayt," 7 January 1917.

  • M. Miodovnik -- My Theatre Memories," "Shtern," Minsk, 4, 1926, p. 36.






Home       |       Site Map       |      Exhibitions      |      About the Museum       |       Education      |      Contact Us       |       Links

Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 1, page 30.

Copyright   Museum of Family History.  All rights reserved.