Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Solomon Kustin

Born on 10 May 1878 in Grodno, Russian Poland. His father was a clock maker. K. learned in a cheder, then completed four classes in Grodno's institute with Subotnik. As a youth he sang in a choral school with Cantor Sirota. Due to his great interest in singing, he toured with cantors, traveling about with Cantor Boyarsky in concerts, and he lost his desire for studying.

He used to think day and night behind the curtains of the city Russian theatre until he understudied with a wandering mess and soon thereafter began to play with amateurs.

He served four years with the Russian army, where he had sung himself into the title of "under-officer" in the musical command. He returned in 1902, became a member in the Zionist "Zrubbl" association, and put together for them a group of amateurs with whom he played "Eliezer" in Goldfaden's "Bar Kochba" benefiting those who suffered from the pogrom in Homel. Later he went to Lodz and became a "voyager (sp) [traveler-seller] for Heintzl Kunitzer, and in order to avoid retiring into the military as a reservist during the Russian-Japanese War, he fled in 1903 to America, wandered around across the province and joined the trope where Kessler, Tornberg, Mane, Louie Hyman, Leyzer Goldstein were performing, and he debuted as "Nisl Shreyer" in Solotorefsky's "Yeshiva bukher." Not knowing how to become a member of the Yiddish actors' union, he went back to Europe in 1905, played in Czernowitz, Lemberg and other Galician cities


and Romania, until he came to Russia; he acted previously in Vilna with the troupe of Guzik and Tsuker, and later in Libawa with Sharavner and Strassfogel, and in 1907 in Homel with Sabsey. In 1908 went on a tour across Russia with Julius Adler's troupe in Gordin repertoire.

In 1909 he married Sonia Kompaneyets. He put together a troupe with Bernstein and played in Berlin (Brunenstrasse in Hamburg), tried without success; played in the German province (Stettin) and traveled with his wife to London, England, where they played in the Pavilion Theatre with Dinah Feinman, M. D. Waxman and Jacob Spivakovsky.

In 1910 he arrived with his wife and Dinah Feinman in New York and became a member of the actors' union local 5, and he began to play sketches with singing in the vaudeville houses. The possibility of productions, besides Yom Kippur, part-time, up to twelve times a day. After playing vaudeville -- in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Boston and Philadelphia, but because of acting and strike troubles, he traveled in 1913 to Poland, where with his wife he began to act in Warsaw's Elizeum Theatre with Kompaneyets. From there, K. went to Lodz, where he directed once for the first time, in Europe, the tip "Yiddish vaudeville," earlier in the Urania Theatre, then in movie houses in ballet, and later wit Hershl Yedvab across the entirety of Poland, and from there across Ukraine and Russia.

With the outbreak of the first World War, he was in the army for two weeks, but soon he was liberated and became a theatre director under the German might, acted on the front in Pinsk for German soldiers and officers, then was sent from the Germans, to near Siedlce, where he played in Leshna with Michalesko, in the Venice Theatre, then together with Kompaneyets in Lodz's "Grand Theatre," later at the "Folks" Theatre in Vilna, where he put on, under the name "Krumer Shpigl," political programs, said to play propaganda productions for the Bolsheviks, who had taken Vilna, and smuggled himself out with the troupe, until they arrived in Suwalki (which was under German rule) and played there, in Grodno and Bialystok and again in Warsaw, made it through the pogrom from the Hallerists near Ivangrod, risked being taken into the military and fled in 1920 to America, was blocked in Paris, where he played in the theatre in Lancri. Due to the uniting of the actors' union local 1 and local 5, he lost his membership in the union and could, due to him not holding any proper position on the Yiddish stage, he received, however, privileges from the Actors' Union and played in the Liberty and Hopkinson theatres, then in the province, and in the end in the federal state theatre project.

In his last years K. was ill and could no longer perform, and on 16 August 1949 he passed away in Kings County Hospital in New York and was brought to his eternal rest in the Workmen's Circle Cemetery.

K. was married to the actress Sonia Kompaneyets. Zalmen Zylbercweig characterized his passing as such:

"He was an exceptional comic, even though he had acted the light punishment of a vaudeville character; he was very serious in his roles. He had a beautiful tenor voice, which also gave him the opportunity to play other roles from other genres, especially rezinyorn.

In Poland his vaudeville house for a certain time bore a political character, although he alone used to play the specific American laugh sketches, some condensed plays. He had in the troupe, however, several actors, such as Pesach'ke Burstein, Hershl Yedvab, who had through satire and parody given the theatre an actual character.

In America, since 1921, K. served on every front in Yiddish theatre. He was an actor, regisseur, prompter, stage director, play-and role-rewriter, and even bazorgt shlikhutn. For a certain time he also used to provide for the Yiddish theatres in Europe the American-Yiddish repertoire, which he used to rewrite and send to them.

One of the successful vaudeville [shows] was Max Gabel's one-acter, "Dray minut toyt," which was staged through his play, and it was so popular in Europe that when it was published without K.'s knowledge in 1926 in Warsaw, it was published as his: 'adapted by the artist Kustin.'

He was very proud in his krubhshaft (a brother-in-law) of Yiddish writer and editor, the holy Yeshaya Uger, with whom he maintained a correspondence over many years, passing on to him all the information about Yiddish literature and theatre life in America.

Despite his illness, he exceptionally served faithfully the Federal Yiddish Theatre and his passing over to his colleagues was amazing."

Sh. E.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 3, page 2230.

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