At the end of the eightieth
year of the twentieth century(?), M. arrived in America
and acted for four seasons in the German Irving Place
Theatre in New York. Boris Thomashefsky, who then was
acting in Philadelphia, noticing in the press releases
that M. was a Jew, endeavored to be introduced to him
and to take him away from New York, but he wasn't
successful. In 1891, according to Thomashefsky, when he
had acted in Phladelphia, M. came to him behind the
curtains. "An entirely ordinary, poor tramp with torn
clothing, brodiage, a vagabond, sorrowful, lame,
twisted, farmers' boots of the cheap sort. His pants
were torn, were a little too short, from the shoes he
looked like an old man. His coat was torn. Through his
sleeves could be seen his naked hand and a plain
farmer's shirt of the cheap short. The buttons were torn
off, but there appeared to be expensive silk underwear.
His face was burnt by the sun, like a true farmer with a
large, blackened face, and a fine tsekampter
According to Thomashefsky,
M. declared to him that the Christian stage performers
had driven him from New York. The stage director has
said to him during a rehearsal: "Herr Morrison, the Jews
speak." M. left the theatre and no longer send for him,
and in several days he read that he was rejected from
the German theatre because the German attendees wanted
to have a German, not any Yiddish theatre. He was too
ashamed to return, and he returned back from Europe. And
out of shame he cashed in [his] acting card and drank
[?] And without any means of earning money he went away
to Chicago. Here he had, through an ad in the newspaper,
zikh fardungen not far from the city, in a form
as a day worker for twelve dollars a month, which he
however did not receive payment.
M. spent three months with
Thomashefsky. Within this time he made up the actors,
and they helped them dress. Many times he helped the
stage workers put together the scenery, and sometimes he
even swept the stage.
Once when M. had complained
to Thomashefsky that it is very boring. Thomashefsky
made a proposal to him that he should begin to act for
him in Yiddish. However -- as Thomashefsky tells it ---
"Morrison became pale, his hands and feet were
trembling, his eyes had shed tears. He made with the
lips like it was torture for him to speak. All of a
sudden he was exhausted and went off to the kitchen
[cook], and we soon hard a horrible roar like a wounded
bear. He was hit in the heart and cried: "I am a Yiddish
actor! I, Moritz Morison! Who should I play? "Dovid
Velvel" as the "Khlutsh," Papus or Tsingetan? Boris, you
have grieved me! Boris, you want my entire career to
break; Moritz Morrison a Yiddish actor! -- and he burst
Several days later M.
apologized, and he declared that he is ready to act in
Yiddish, but shortly thereafter he again withdrew
sufficiently[?] for its strange characters that were
presented in the Yiddish theatre. Through the initiative
of Thomashefsky, M. received the opportunity to perform
once in the German play, "The Two Partners," for theatre
director Halis in Chicago, and both the press and public
took to him warmly.
Soon after the production M.
-- according to Thomashefsky -- again disappeared, and
around 1903 happened again in New York at the Thalia
Theatre: "The beard was not no large as before, the
clothing no longer like a farmer, only a bit torn up,
tsekneytshte, the shoes worn out. It already was
cold and his clothes were summerlike, in a straw hat,
and under his arm he bore a small paper box..."
In the box there were M.'s
used wigs from "Othello," "Hamlet," "Kean" and
"Shylock," and he [then] asked to borrow ten dollars,
which he received on a pawn. Soon thereafter he went off
to a wine cellar, [and] two days later he again received
and stuttered that he wanted to act in Yiddish theatre
If not, there is no other option than to commit suicide.
He wants to play his roles in German, when the other
members of the troupe wanted to play in Yiddish. "I have
-- Thomashefsky tells further -- talked it over with
Finkel, about Morrison's acting, and it remained with us
that we should try one show and see how the world will
take to that show. We were scared that the Jews would be
afraid of the Germans. The test was made. Morrison
performed in "Acosta" with Yiddish actors in a Yiddish
theatre. The public took to him with great excitement.
After each act they applauded him very much, and after
the third act it was very feast-like. They simply broke
into applause. Morrison thanked them with a beautiful
German speech, and mixed in several Yiddish and Hebrew
words. The public was very agitated and screamed,
"Morrison" and applauded. ... And from the production
on, from that day on, Morrison became a Yiddish-German
actor. Simply said, a Yiddish actor who spoke German
About M.'s performances on
the Yiddish stage, B. Gorin writes:
"The effect of the better
drama spread in such a way throughout the entire stage,
and the reputation and material condition of the Yiddish
theatre became such, that the great Yiddish actor who
had played in the nations of Europe had cast an eye on
him. The first of several actors were Moritz Morrison,
an imperial, king-like (?) actor from the Romantic
School. He came to guest-star in the German theatre, and
from there he lost himself in the Yiddish stage, but he
never performed in the classical repertoire. He alone
played in German, and the other actors broke their
tongue in the German roles, and from then on almost
every year came and gave a certain number of
productions. In the last years of his life he entirely
was dependent on Yiddish theatre."
On 12 December 1903 M.
performed in the People's Theatre as "Othello" ("Iago"
-- Boris Thomashefsky, "Desdemona" -- Malvina Lobel); on
1 January 1904 as "Hamlet" ("Ophelia" -- Malvina Lobel).
On 29 January 1904 as "Kean"; on 30 January 1904 as
"Uriel Acosta"; on 11 March 1904 at the Grand Theatre as
"Franz" in Schiller's "Der roybers (The Robbers)"
("Karl" -- Jacob P. Adler, "Amalia" -- Sara Adler), and
on 31 March 1905 in the Grand Theatre (together with
Sara Adler) in "Narciss and Madame De Pompadour" by
[pdf pg. 234] Soon
thereafter M. again went off to Europe where he
guest-starred in various cities. Thomashefsky writes as
such about M.'s production in Karlsbad: "He acted in
'Kean." I was his bit manager. I had to talk to the
cashier and remove the "marks," which came to him. I've
had very few to take, because the loner was a sorrowful
person, but Morrison was honored very much that night.
In the theatre, there sat in the loge area Joseph
Keintz, Director Conrad from New York, and the London
darling Birnbaum tri (?). In the second loge sat the
Prince of Orleans (?), with his family."
Thus for many years M. used
to return to America to guest-star on the Yiddish stage,
and at the start of summer he would return to Germany.
In 1910 M. guest-starred
with Malvina Lobel across the American province, and on
5 March 1911 he again performed in New York in his
earlier repertoire, and also in Shakespeare's "King
In February 1911 he played
again across the American province, and on 5 March 1911
he performed again with Thomashefsky in the People's
Theatre in "The Robbers," again traveling across the
province and playing in March-May 1912 in Kessler's
Second Avenue Theatre in his prior repertoire, and on 1
May 1912 as "King Richard III" by Shakespeare. In
October 1912 he continued to play his repertoire in the
Lipzin Theatre, then for a long time in other New York
theares, and across the province, doing very bad
On 8 January 1915 M.
performed in Thomashefsky's National Theatre in George
Ahnet's (sp) drama, "Libe un shtoltz (Love and Pride?)
(translation by Moshe Schorr), and acted often at the
start of the 1915-6 season in Kessler's Second Avenue
On 23 January 1916 M. acted
in Yiddish in Henryk Ibsen's "Di gayster (The Ghost)"
for Maurice Schwartz's testimonial, and on 3 March 1916
he acted in Lateiner's "A korbon fun libe (A Victim of
Love?)." In November 1916 he again acted in his
repertoire in Bessie Thomashefsky's People's Theatre.
About M.'s last days in
Yiddish theatre, Boris Thomashefsky writes: "He became
sick from grief and had begun to use measures to sustain
himself.... when he became melancholy, and the bitter
sorrow and the elderly had deeply criticized him, the
legs were breaking and the bust had ..... Morrison
quickly caught the fleshl with piln, which
he had built....aruntershlungen one or two, and
ten minutes later Morrison had again been redeemed[?],
his eyes had acquired a brilliant fire. He had aroused
himself in his entire being, and again for several hours
became the former Morrison... On 5 June 1917 he acted in
his last production, "Othello," for me in the theatre. I
was then in Chicago, but they told us that it was a
terrible production. After the third act, Morrison
became broken... He fell, rolling one foot after the
other, but it did not help him. A well-known doctor
stuck him with needles and gave various measures. With
his last effort he ended the last act."
On 28 August 1917 M. passed
away in New York and according to his will -- was
brought to his gravesite next to Sigmund Mogulesko at
Washington Cemetery in New York [Brooklyn.]
Lead Pencil [B. Botwinik]
portrayed M.'s last years on the Yiddish stage: "The
last two to three years of his life he had the former
[stage-] king of Europe, Dora Benefislech [?], acting in
the Yiddish theatres. The last time a friend of the
European princes had barely called on a poor Jew to buy
him a ticket for thirty-five cents for his performance.
The German productions were no longer despised by the
Yiddish audience. Also the Yiddish actor and the Yiddish
actress did not want to play in Morrison's German
repertoire. It was difficult to bring the Yiddish tongue
to German. Every Yiddish actor used to take part
in a Morrison production. This German has already
prepared for the public. In addition, Morrison became
weaker and weaker. His firm-built body was crumpled and
bent. His formerly powerful voice had fallen. Something
broke in his throat and his voice sounded like a beat in
a broken pot."
B. Gorin characterized M. as
an actor and his role on the Yiddish stage: "Moritz
Morrison was a well-known figure and not only in the
theatre circles, where he knew everyone, and everyone
knew him, but also with the outstanding theatre public.
It was enough that he should appear in a Yiddish
theatre as a spectator, and every eye responded from the
stage to him and everyone applauded him. He was a proud
star before he reached the Yiddish stage, proud with his
art, proud with his creation, and proud with his career,
and his Yiddish colleagues gave him a great respect,
like someone named them on a foreign stage. In the same
time they manifested a kind of fear for him, because he
had his caprices. But after that he began to appear on
the Yiddish stage, The more he was used to it and the
more people got used to it, the more respect fell upon
him. ... but under all circumstances he remained the
artist who loved his art and related the stage with the
deepest respect of the priest to his temple. To him it
was a proper job to play. He was included in the show,
What he gave, with love and with life, and he was not
allowed to come out of his role at the break. ... The
entire time that Morrison gave performances on the
Yiddish stage, playing one of the same pieces that he
knew orally, each time it was as he wanted to perform a
new piece. ... Morrison was a romantic actor and had
felt like a fish in water in the classical drama in
which human passion was portrayed in dense colors, when
he wanted to appear in a realistic piece and needed to
portray he passion of an average, modern, human being.
He would lose the soil from under his feet. His heroic
bearing, his harsh voice, his dense intonations, would
absolutely not be prepared for such a role, and an
ordinary, average Jew would come out of an Othello or
Hamlet. ... First of all, in recent years, after seeing
Schildkraut here, as the latter played in the mother
tongue, Morrison had a desire to play in Yiddish for his
brothers. A few years ago, he told me that he could
speak Yiddish just like any other Jew, and that he
thinks of the rightness to play in a Yiddish play using
the pure mother tongue. It is good for him that he did
not execute his plan. ... It was too late for him to
break his tongue in Yiddish. Besides that, as mentioned
above, he would have turned a realistic character into a
romantic spirit. Morrison, until the last day of his
life, remained a stranger on the Yiddish stage. He had
never grown up with her [Yiddish]. With his education,
with his art, with his language. he felt foreign and
remained foreign on the Yiddish stage."
Ab. Cahan characterized him
this way: "He was a German actor, not a Yiddish one, and
as a German he acted for us. ... when Morrison wanted to
learn how to act in plain [simple] Yiddish, he might
have lost seventy-five percent of his popularity with
us. ... After his manners and pronunciation, it was seen
that this is a playwright who went to the cheder of a
teacher of the Berlin and Vienna theatres. This has
already made Morrison quite isolated from all Yiddish
actors. ... he played in the classical manner. He has
declared, but he has declared beautifully ... They loved
to see him in classical scenes, Indeed, in those matters
where one has to declare, where his lovely voice with
his beautiful German language resonated with classical
boldness and solemnity. ... His popularity was a good
thing for our theatre. He was a kind of connection
between it and the greater European stage. it was good
that our theatre visitors used to hear a must-have
pronunciation and see worthy, civilized movements. The
theatre where he used to play was always packed, which
is to say, that he had with our audience a true grace,
and this grace was good."
Boris Thomashefsky writes
about M.'s career: "He struggled with the world arts, he
looked to make sensations, the world should speak of
him, the newspapers should write about him. However, it
didn't help. He was a bad manager and did not know how
to hold the honor of the theatre, which he had so
greatly acquired. He committed a great deal of effort in
his time. In his greatness he jumped too high and then
fell too deep. And the truth is that his coming to
Yiddish theatre had given him the last push. The German
stage didn't want to know more about him, from Europe he
was sacked, and even the small German stages in America:
such as Cincinnati, St. Louis, Milwaukee, even if they
didn't want to leave Morrison because he was too much
In the necrology in "Morning Journal" there was
remarked: "To the Jewish audience he had strongly taken
off as "Kean" and was his greatest call in Yiddish
theatre. His greatest admirers came from Austria
(meaning central Galicia), probably because they had
heard of seen him, when he was in his brilliance on the
German stage, and also because the German language was
more known to them, as were the Jews in other
Reuben Breinin even
addresses M.'s Yiddish erudition:
" ... His (Morrison's)
letter, near by, were filled with quotations from
various classical poets. His German was literary, even too literary, overly artistic, almost like his
acting on the stage, full of dignity, ringing phrases
and the intention to impose, To arouse with his
exuberance. ... On that evening (a Zionist evening in
1898 in Marienbad) I had my first acquaintance with
Morris Morrison. I became as though stunned when this
'leading man,' who by and large had performed in
Christian circles and was currently able to quote many
separate selections of the Mishnah. He was faultless.
Morrison also understood me when I spoke in Hebrew. How
did he come to this? -- I asked him. His answer: "What is
the wonder? At times I am a student of Isaak Hirsh Vays
and lecturer Meir Ish Sholom in Vienna."
Joel Entin writes:
"Some American Jews will
remember him. Although he did not play for the great
people, although his language and his repertoire
destined him to become the pet of the great masses.
However, there was not a single theatre in New York, and
he was not brought to the utmost ecstasy of tragic
genius. Morrison brought the most tragic ecstasy to the
Yiddish stage with full hope. Playing in the German
language, and in non-Yiddish plays, he had thus, with
his short episodes, at times in the middle of the
season, but the joints to the lock (אבער מייסטנטיילס צום
שלוס), made the Yiddish stage much richer. He has, on
the Yiddish stage, with which he had no classical
kinship, brought out European classicism. And to
all, for all the purposes of his own roles, there was
pure pure coalition, imperfect classicism, There was no
corruption of, no shriveled Shakespeare, No cut out and
He gave Yiddishless Schiller, but genuine, true, With
all their gestational grandeur, With all their ideal
beauty, notwithstanding its strangeness, After all, he
added to the Yiddish theatre very seriously and well. He
worked for the good of both the artist and the person,
both on stage and in social traffic."
Jacob Kalich recalls: "He
[M.] has, for example, answered regarding my question of
why he doesn't act in his roles in Yiddish, only German:
"Knowing that he will speak
to Jews in Yiddish, the Jew has no regard for him. ...
Remarkably, such an appearance in this time on the
Yiddish stage, as he was that figure with so many
skilled intellectuals and talents, not a single page has
contributed to our theatrical history, but nothing new,
But no new will or form was created, not looking at what
most of us thought was possible. Therefore, indeed,
because he came to us, not out of love and not in love,
but in suppressing a spiritual program. He seized
himself in the voice of Israel and did not know its
meaning. ... He did not want to speak Yiddish, so as not
to lose the respect, and in the meanwhile lose
B. Gorin --
"History of Yiddish Theatre Vol. II, p. 169.
[Kirschenbaum] -- Morison un malvina lobel, "Der
kanader adler," Montreal, 3 March 1910.
Z. Kornblith --
"Shylock" un vi moris morison ferteytsht ihm "Di
yidishe bine," N. Y., 8 April 1910.
M. D. [Dantsis]
-- Morits morison als "kenig lier," "Di yidishe
bine," N. Y., 15 April 1910.
Kirschenbaum -- Kunst un kinstler, "Di yidishe
velt," Cleveland, 27 June 1915.
Thomashefsky -- "Mayn lebens geshikhte," N. Y.,
1916, pp. 166-170, 244, 260-61.
Ab. Cahan --
Morits morison's role oyf der yidisher bine,
"Forverts," N. Y., 29 August 1917.
Y. Entin --
Morits morison, "Di varhayt," N. Y., 29 August
Jacob P. Adler --
A yidisher kinstler geshtorbn, "Morning
Journal," N. Y., 29 August 1917.
Thomashefsky -- Thomashevsky beshreybt vi
azoy er hot zikh bekent mit morisonen,
"Forverts," N. Y., 30 August 1917.
Y. Z. Shubin -- A
fershtoytener, "Der tog," N. Y., 30 August 1917.
Lead Pencil [B.
Botwinick] -- Morris morrison, "Forverts," N.
Y., 31 August 1917.
Thomashefsky -- Morrison hot amol gemuzt ferlozn
di bine un veren a farmer, dort.
Thomashefsky -- Thomashefsky als morison's
menedzsher, "Forverts," N. Y., 1 September 1917.
Reuben Breinin --
Moris morison, "Yidishe togblat," N. Y., 4
Thomashefsky -- Vi azoy morison iz gevorn a
hushv oyf der yidisher bine, "Forverts," N. Y.,
5 September 1917.
B. Gorin --
Morits morison, "Morning Journal," N. Y., 5
Jacob Kalich --
Moris morison, keniglikher shoyshpiler,
geshtorbn a betler, "Der teater shtern," N. Y.,
1 December 1926.