of the actors'
greasepaint. What bliss!" She also fantasized then that
during one of those days where she was attending a show,
there would be a child actress would fall ill, at least
ill enough so they would not be able to go on. Looking
for a replacement, she would go on in their place.
As G.'s high school
graduation grew nearer, she expressed to her
father that, rather than attend college, she
felt in her heart a great desire for the
stage, and that an acting career was her destiny. She
convinced her father to let her act in one performance
on the stage,
as a test. If she could show that she was talented, then
she would continue on the stage; if not she would go to
college. Her father reluctantly agreed. He then arranged
with the actors
Mischa Gehrman, the stars at
the time of the Folks Theatre on Second Avenue with whom
he was performing at the time in the play "Stepmothers",
to allow her to play the role of Jenny for a single
On the night of her
performance, her father couldn't bear to watch her from
the audience, so he remained in his own dressing room
backstage, overcome with emotion. Soon, a fellow actor
came pounding on his door, saying "Come out Jake, come
out and watch her. She's sensational! She's great!
You'll be so proud.
Subsequently, at the age of
sixteen, G. received from the Gehrmans the role of the
daughter in the play "Di eybige mame (The Eternal
Mother), a play in three acts" by Harry Kalmanowitz.
Goldstein, Yiddish actor and father of
The Gehrmans were planning a cross-country tour with this
play, which had opened on 19 October 1928 at the Folks
Theatre and had been very successful for them that
season. The role had been originated by
Julia Adler, the
daughter of Jacob P. Adler, but she was going to have a
baby and had to drop out of the cast. As G. states in
her autobiography, "that's when I officially became an
Since that time G. has acted
in dozens of Yiddish plays, mostly as one of the stars
Maurice Schwartz's famed Yiddish Art Theatre. In G.'s
own words, to act with the Yiddish Art Theatre was "a
badge of honor to be worn with pride".
During the 1932-33 season in
New York City, she debuted with the Yiddish Art Theatre
as "Malkele" in I. J. Singer's "Yoshe Kalb", a "drama of
Jewish life in America". She then acted with the troupe
as "Sylvia Kaplan" in
Sholem Asch's "Chayim Lederer".
Both plays were staged at the Folks Theatre on 2nd
Avenue. She then was cast as "Mary" in Asch's "Motke the
Thief", and "Magda", a peasant girl in "Revolt", a
dramatic poem in three acts with a prologue and five
scenes, which was staged at the Yiddish Art Theatre, now
at 189 2nd Avenue (and 12th Street).
In the 1933-34 season, she acted with
the troupe in such plays as Zeitlin's "Wise Men of Chelm",
and as Irene in Feuchtwanger's "Josephus", both at the
In New York, G. was
introduced to singer, concert artist and actor Menasha
Oppenheim, with whom she soon married.
Circa 1939 G. was accepted
as a member into the Hebrew Actors Union in America.
During the 1939-40 season,
she performed in "The Vow" at the National Theatre.
Around this period of time,
G. was also on the radio. In her memoirs, she states
that she "continued in theatre and with my radio work --
television as we know it was far in the future. I was
very active in radio. I participated in many programs,
including a continuing soap opera in which I was the
star, so every morning promptly at nine o'clock, I was
at the radio station WEVD for that day's broadcast.
Immediately afterwards, it was off to rehearsals at the
1940-41, she acted in Jacob Gordin's "Mirele Efros" and
Abraham Blum's musical romance "Sunrise".
1943, she was in Kobrin's drama in three acts "Riverside Drive", as well as
"Detective Story" at the Parkway Theatre in Brooklyn, New
She later returned to the
Yiddish Art Theatre, and during the span of time between
1943 and 1950 acted in many plays with Schwartz's troupe,
which for the 1943-44 season staged their productions at
a theatre at 152 W. 54th Street (and 7th Avenue),
formerly known as the Adelphi Theatre. In October 1943, she acted as the daughter
"Rebecca" in "The
On 29 March 1945 she acted
in a limited engagement at the Parkway Theatre in
Brooklyn in Ressler's comedy-drama, "Three Generations".
The Yiddish Art Theatre then
changed theatres for the 1945-46 season, to one on 2nd
Avenue at 4th Street (formerly the Public Theatre),
where G. performed in
the roles of "Sheindele" in I. L. Peretz's "Three Gifts",
and "Sulamith", in Lenz and Nilioff's "Dr. Herzl"
(staged 20 December 1945).
Goldstein, as Shylock's daughter Jessica, in "Shylock
and his Daughter".
During the 1946-47 season, she acted in a
revival of Sholem Aleichem's "Wandering Stars" in the
role of "Zlatke", and also she acted in
dramatization of Zalman Shneour's novel "Song of the Dnieper"
(October 1946). In 1947-48
she was Shylock's daughter "Jessica" in "Shylock and his
Daughter" (September 1947), and in 1948-49 she played the role of "Tzirl"
Hirshbein's "An Abandoned Nook", as well as "Zamira" in Gilner's
"The Voice of Israel" (October 1948). In 1949-50 G. took the role of
"Bettie" in a revival of Sholem Aleichem's comedy "Hard
to be a Jew", and also was "Esther" in his folk comedy "Yosele, the
Nightingale" (October 1949).
During her acting
career, G. also acted with
various troupes across the United States, e.g. she
performed in the plays "The Bridegroom Regrets" and
"Johnny Belinda" at the Shubert Theatre in
G. also acted in a few
Yiddish films, though she states that there are just
a very few Yiddish films that were fine, and that
the majority of them were amateurishly produced, and
many are "trashy".
Her film credits include
"Eternal Fools" [1930, as the "daughter"], The Power
of Life [1938, as "Leah Rabinowitz"], and "Three
In 1951, G. withdrew
from acting, after having met her future husband,
Fred Chafran, whom she had known for a number of
However, at least on one
more occasion she acted once again, for three
nights, beginning on 14 May 1954 at the Parkway
Theatre in Brooklyn, in the Louis Freiman
comedy-drama, "Two Sisters", which was presented by
the Hebrew Actors Union, in its "campaign to create
employment for its members". Acting along with the
G., were her good friend
Muni Serebrov, Toby Stevens and
After Fred's passing in 1980, G. relocated to
Southern California and soon found herself lured
back into the theatre. During this phase of her
acting career, she performed in English.
G. states in her letter
to this editor that, "In this once in a lifetime
experience of a play [that was] so powerful --
Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" -- and in
a lifetime's role of Linda! Can you imagine my joy
to read a review that said: "From the very
beginning, Charlotte Chafran grabs you by the heart
strings and never let's you go!"
Later she acted in a
production of "The Gin Game" as "Fonsia",
which was her next favorite play and role to Linda
in "....Salesman". G. recalls what was written in a
review of the production: "If Charlotte Chafran and
Stuart Blaine could take a play so closely
associated with Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn and
make it so entirely their own, what a tribute it is
to their talent as masters of their craft". G. won a
"best actress" award for her performance in this
In 2008, G.
self-published her autobiography, "Memories are
Forever: A Memoir of a Life in Theatre and in Love".
Noted actor of stage, films and television, Nehemiah
Persoff, reflects on G.'s acting and her career,
after having read her book:
"What remains with an
actor in memory long after the play is done, is that
special rapport enjoyed with a fellow actor sharing
the stage. How inspired had been the interplay
exchanged between them in their scenes.
Charlotte Chafran in the
role of Linda, my wife in "Death of a Salesman",
left an indelible mark on me. Her performance was so
deeply moving, the love and devotion expressed for
her beloved husband, her Willie, so compelling, her
Linda became the measure for every devoted wife and
This did not come as a
surprise, for I knew that Charlotte's life had been
rooted in the theatre, the Yiddish theatre, she came
from a family of Yiddish actors, and since she
herself later became a prominent member of Maurice
Schwartz's Yiddish Art Theatre, I had expected
nothing less from her.
In this book of memories
she takes us on a journey through her childhood,
into her year at the Art Theatre, her two marriages,
and finally, her love affair with writer, producer,
sculptor Sidney Harmon.
I read the book in one
sitting. Chances are, if you are at all interested
in the theatre and touched by romance, you too, will
not be able to put this book down".
Charlotte passed away
peacefully at the age of 103 on October 30, 2015 and
was interred next to her husband Fred Chafran at
Knollwood Park Cemetery in Glendale, Queens, New