Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Max Kletter


Born on 1 May 1901 in Rutinia [according to others in Otinir], near Stanislawow, Galicia. His parents were artisans. His friend, the actor Moshe Tarlowski, writes that K.'s father was one of the best cabinet makers in the town, literally an artist in his profession, who hoped that when his son graduated from the Baron Hirsch school, he would follow in his footsteps, and also become a cabinet maker, but K. became excited about music.  With his saved greitzers [a coin], which he used to get drink money for storing the tissues and sticks of his patrons, customers, he bought a violin, and day and night he played, until his mother broke the violin with a scream: "What, you want to be a musician? Embarrass the family? Let's just go back to Warsaw!"

The first time he saw Yiddish theatre was at Gimpel's in Lemberg, and from this he developed a desire to act. He began to act in a club with amateurs, and in 1921 he crossed over to become a professional for the director Glimer, touring with itinerant troupes across Galicia. In 1927 he came to America, and not having any opportunity to get into professional Yiddish theatre, he sang in nightclubs and in Romanian cabarets. In 1930 he was engaged by Isidore and Anna Hollander for their itinerant troupe under the management of the Yiddish [Hebrew] Actors' Union, and for the first time he had contact with prominent Yiddish actors who had begun to recognize him. K. took to writing his own plays, such as "Mayn shtetele yass" (a comedy-drama, staged in November in 19139 in New York's Parkway Theatre), and in 1940 in Argentina, where he guest-starred together with Gertie Bulman, and there in April 1940 he directed 

his operetta, "The Yiddish Captain." On 28 March 1935 he was taken in as a member of the Yiddish [Hebrew] Actors' Union. K. also participated as "Dave" in the Yiddish film, "Song of Songs," by Anshel Schorr, and wrote many songs for Yiddish plays.

About his operetta, "Mayn shtetele yass (My Little Town Jassy)," B. Levitan writes:

"In 'Shtetele yass,' the new play... in the Parkway Theatre... is a comedy-drama that engages with much warm music ...The drama takes place in a gypsy camp... Understand that there are gypsies, and there is a wide field of gypsy songs with melodies that are both cheerful and filled with a longing. A very strong impression was made with the song, "Mayn heym (My Home)," sung by the young gypsy "Maruta," Max Kletter, who expresses his entire longing for his old home, the town of Yass [Iasi], which he barely remembers from his childhood years, then when he was suddenly torn away from there...

... from light operettas that demand we not be too logical ...however there needs to be a serious attitude ...also the audience should sympathize with the feeling of the hero in the drama general, the play is received quite warmly, and to the audience it looks quite fine."

Sh.F. writes:

"He [Max Kletter], a slender, handsome young man with a tenor voice, who forgets himself in the high tenor with a tinge of expelled Yodre wine and bryndze [cottage cheese made from sheep's milk.] The position of the voice is full of nature ....Romanian or Bessarabian anxiety was demonic [?]. He can sing and has musical culture... with Gertie Bulman -- an ideal operetta pair ..the operetta a composition Max Kletter himself ...the libretto is not guilty of great originality ...'My Little Town Jassy' is filled with 'folk melodies,' 'zhak,' with 'Frunza Verde,' and as they still call it, the 'Wallachian folk songs,' which the Yiddish melodies have made eyes for ...the offering has shown that we need good, original Yiddish operettas, with guest pairs, as well as with the ensemble of the Excelsior Theatre, which has shown that we have the actors for operettas."

About his operetta, "The Yiddish Captain," T. Beilin writes:

"...operetta is a theatrical challah, which can be used to make it look beautiful, tasty and fragrant. Max Kletter tries in his operetta to maintain everything close to the spirit of the Vienna operetta, but with a Jewish character.  ...he participates, everyone in their own genre: the prima donna Gertie Bulman has to play and to sing and seem like a little Viennese summer bird... the female characters again are played by Bella Handfus and Shoshana Berdichevski and created the proper comical duet the play there comes in Shmuel Iris and Y. Handfus ...Kletter possesses the sense of bringing in comical characteristics into the operetta ...the quartet brings out sorts of sweets and comics ...B. Berdichevski is fine in the role of a good Jew ...and Morris Peltz [dergentst dem kapote-teyl] of the operetta  ...Max Kletter sang fine, which he accomplished with taste, with dramatic effect... in general the operetta is a fine matter of theatre playing and a disciplined performance of the guest-stars and ensemble."

When K. could no longer find a secure place for himself on the Yiddish stage in America, he organized his own orchestra, which he conducted and played in on various instruments.

K. was married to the actress Sylvia Feder.

On 7 April 1952 K. passed away in New York and came to his eternal rest on the society plot of the Yiddish Theatrical Alliance.

Zalmen Zylbercweig writes:

"Just as it is was difficult in the first years to come to Yiddish theatre in America and acquire a bit or recognition, he was so popular and beloved on the Yiddish stage in the later years. Mightily vivacious, a gypsy type, full of life, energetic, bold, burning, a beautiful voice, a little passionate, a mixture of the Yiddish prayer leader and the American 'crooner' (Weiner, Krechtser), he 'brought' heart when he sung. he demonstrated a clear diction, and although he was descended from Galicia, his Yiddish was 'assimilated,' not allowing [us] to recognize his origin. he played the lover roles with heart and soul, such that one even had to believe the false Hebrew."

Moshe Tarlowski characterized him this way:

"Even though he never had a music teacher, he nevertheless played instruments. And when the Yiddish theatre began to go up the mountain slopes, the playing of an instrument strongly proved useful. He put together his own orchestra and was a success.

As a human being Kletter was an open book, very sensitive, but very much an intimate friend. Nothing was too difficult when someone needed something done. Kletter had love for the people around him. He could not endure solitude. He possessed such a magical power, to keep his friends around and hold them together."

Sh. E. from Zalmen Zylbercweig and Rose Pivar.

  • Sh.R. -- In'm hign yidishn teater, "Di yidishe tsaytung," Buenos Aires, 12 May 1929.

  • Sh.R. -- Teater-nositsn, dort, 19 May 1929.

  • B. Levitan -- "Mayn shtetl yas" -- a komedye-drame in parkvay teater, "Forward," N.Y., 10 Nov. 1939.

  • Shmuel Roszhanski -- Teater-retsenzies, "Di yidishe tsaytung," Buenos Aires, 7 April 1940.

  • Sh.F. -- Der debut fun maks kleter un goyrti bulman in ekseldior, "Di prese," Buenos Aires, 7 April 1940.

  • T. Beilin -- "Der yidisher kapitan," "Di prese," Buenos Aires, 28 April 1940.

  • Sh.R. -- Teater-retsenzye, "Di yidishe tsaytung" Buenos Aires, 12 May 1940.

  • Moshe Tarlowski -- Maks kleter, "Daily Morning Journal," N.Y., 30 April 1953.






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 6, page 5641.

Copyright Museum of Family History.  All rights reserved.