Lives in the Yiddish Theatre
Volume 8



Peter Graf


G. was born in 1873 in Lemberg, Eastern Galicia, to well-to-do, pious parents. He learned in a cheder and in school, where as a mezzo-soprano, he became the "star" of the singing class. The teacher of the children, who also was the conductor of the Lemberg synagogue, took him into the synagogue choir, but G.'s religious father did not permit it, that his one son should sing in a synagogue where young boys sang together with young girls.

Later G., through the same chorus director, who had worked with the city cantor, Aaron Sholom Sherman, who was charmed so by his voice, that he took him into his chorus -- with the consent of his G.'s father -- with a contract that he may for the first three years for the sum of seventy-four ranish.

With the cantor, G. learned music theory, and with him he sang until he had advanced to mezzo-soprano.

During that span of that time, G. attended the Polish and Yiddish theatres, and he decided to become a Yiddish actor.

The conductor of Yakov Ber Gimpel's troupe, Eskreyz, had him soon rise up as a chorus singer, and the theatre director of the troupe then, Yosef Veynshtok, had begun to give him small roles.

G. used to have a nature to not only be in small roles, but in all the roles of the plays, and that played an important role in his career.

When the main actor of the theatre, Yosef Vaynshtok, suddenly disappeared from the theatre, G. had on the initiative of the conductor Eskreyz, the opportunity of performing in the title role of the operetta "Shlomo HaMelekh (King Solomon)", and immediately drew a great deal of attention to himself.

Later, when Goldfaden came to Lemberg to perform his "Latkhmud", G. acted as "Akhitufl". Later, Adler came to Lemberg and took to the popular actors of the troupe, and thus the local theatre was abided to support only G.

When in several years ("Professor") Horowitz came around to Lemberg, he assembled a troupe for Romania, also taking in G.

Peter Graf as "Kalman Moshe" in "Der fremder (The Stranger)".  

In 1900 Horowitz took his troupe over to America, and G. performed in a minor role at the Windsor Theatre.

In 1904 G. was engaged by Adler for his Grand Theatre, and acted in the Grand in such plays as "The Path of Evil, or After the Ball" (opened 1 January 1904). Initially in Gordin's repertoire he revealed himself in such a way that Gordin wrote especially for him the role of "Israel Yakov der zeygermakher (Israel Yakov the Clockmaker)" in "Der meturef (The Worthless)" in 1905, and "Kalman Moshe" in "Der fremder (The Stranger), oder, A mensh fun an anderer velt" in 1906.

He had also acted at the Grand in the role of "Shimshon David Zakhary", in Gordin's play "Der emes kraft (The True Power)", which was staged in November 1904. Others in the cast included Jacob P. Adler, David Kessler, Bertha Kalich, Sara Adler, Frances Adler, Y. Greenberg, Fannie Greenberg, Annie Manne and Gustave Schacht. On 2 November 1906 there as also staged at the Grand Theatre Leon Kobrin's "Der groyser id (The Great Jew)", a drama in four acts. G. also acted in the Gordin play "Elisha ben abuyah" in 1906, presumably at the Grand Theatre.

Then G. acted in operas and melodramas with Thomashefsky, later again with Adler, then in Edelstein's theatre, in Irving Place, again in the Grand Theatre.

photo: Peter Graf as Kalman Moshe in Gordin's "Der fremder (The Stranger)", 1906.

During the 1910-11 season, G. acted in the Thalia in "Ben hador" in February 1911. At the same theatre on 13 April 1911 he also acted in "Di naye froy (The New Woman)".

In September 1913 he acted in the Lenox Theatre in Manhattan in the play "The Lost Happiness".

On 21 September 1914 the play "Di vaybershe melkhe (The Women's Kingdom)" was staged at the People's Theatre, in which G. performed. In March 1916 he acted in the production of "Stayl (Style)" in the People's Theatre, and during the 1917-18 season, on 26 September 1917, he acted in the play "Mazel Tov (Good Luck)" at Thomashefsky's National Theatre, which Thomashefsky had written and staged, music by Joseph Rumshinsky.

During the 1918-1919 season, on 17 April 1919, Maurice Schwartz and his famed Yiddish Art Theatre staged Goldfaden's "The Two Kuni Lemels", in which G. played a role.

G. was one of the cast in "Der goylem (The Golem)", which was staged at the 116th Street Theatre in Manhattan on 3 February 1921.

He acted in "Di shif mit tsadikim (The Ship of Saints)" in the Irving Place Theatre, which opened on 20 January 1927; at Gabel's People's Theatre during the 1926-27 season in "Ihr groyser sud (Her Great Secret)" (4 February) and "A froy fun der velt (A Woman of the World)".

G. acted in the Public Theatre In January 1929 in "Der yeshiva bukher (The Yeshiva Boy)", in the Rolland Theatre during the 1928-29 season in "A Bridegroom Wanted" and "Kinder fun der untervelt (Children of the Underworld)".

There was staged on 14 October 1929 "His Wife's Lover" at the Yiddish Folks Theatre, in which G. played a role.

G. acted in the Downtown National Theatre during the 1930-1932 seasons, in such plays as "A Village Wedding", "Russian Love", "A nakht in vald (A Night in the Woods)", "Di gliklikhe nakht (The Lucky Night)", "Victims of Life", "The Great Miracle", and "Rich Paupers".

He acted at the Parkway Theatre in the Bronx, New York, from 1935 until 1937. During the 1935-36 season, he acted in "Di zibete evenyu (On Seventh Avenue)", "In a hoyz fun gloz (In a House of Glass)", "The Girls From Paris", "Sins of Children", "Mayn shtetele belz (My Little Town Belz)",and "Which Woman is Right?". In the 1936-37 season, he acted in "Di falshe tekhter (The False Daughter)", "He and His Wives", "A vayb far yeden (Everybody's Woman)", and "Shver tsu zayn a maydl (Tough to be a Girl)".

During the 1936-37 season, he also acted at the McKinley Square Theatre in the Bronx in "Di falshe tekhter (The False Daughter)", as well as in the play "Zindige mames (Sins of Mothers)", which was staged at the Downtown National Theatre

Over the years, during his long career, he also acted in such plays as "A mentsh zol men zayn! (Be a Man!)", Gordin's "Der vilder mentsh (The Wild Man)", Tolstoy's " Di makht fun finsternish (The Power of Darkness)", "Di vaybershe melukhe (The Women's Kingdom)", "The Reverend's Lady", "Uriel Acosta" and "Vayber".

G. passed away on 20 October 1951 and was brought to his eternal rest in the burial plot of the Yiddish Theatrical Alliance, located in the Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing, Queens, New York.

Sh. E.

  • Uriel Mazik -- Bilder galerye fun unzere idishe shoyshpiler, "Der tog", N. Y, 3 February 1917.

  • Peter Graf -- Moment fun aktyorn-lebn, "Teater-zikhrunuts",  (Editor, Z. Zylbercweig), Vilna, 1928, pp. 59-68.






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 525.

You can also read Peter Graf's original Lexicon biography in its first volume.

Copyright   Museum of Family History.  All rights reserved.