Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


William Rolland
(Velvl Chaskin)


Born on 24 July 1885 in Vitebsk, White Russia. His parents were merchants of clothing. He learned in cheders and later privately. At the age of fourteen he became an employee in a manufacturing business, where he worked for around five years. Being an active member of the "Bund," R. during the first of May was arrested and  put under police supervision. And because of this, he fled to America, where he dealt with delivering newspapers to subscribers, and then he was a life-insurance agent.

Out of love for the stage, he joined Joel Entin's "Progressive Dramatic Club," where he used to perform as a declamator.

In 1906 he returned to Russia and there was very active, that Dr. Zhitlavsky should chose him as a Duma deputy. In order to create a means monetarily for the elections, he arranged several productions, and R. performed then as "Moshe Magid" in Pinski's "Family Zvi," under Sh. Anski's direction. Soon thereafter, he turned back to America, and there he married the actress Pauline Hoffman (see the "Lexicon," pp. 584-5). And through this he became excited about Yiddish theatre, but his first connection with professional Yiddish theatre began initially in 1916, when he was a cashier for Max Gabel in the "Lipzin" Theatre, where he worked until 1920. In 1921 he was "lessee" of the "Liberty" Theatre, where he engaged Clara Young to play. In 1922 he was manager in Gabel's "[Mount] Morris" Theatre. In 1923 he again went to Russia and brought to America with his partner Boris Thomashefsky, the "Vilna Troupe."

About this Alexander Asro, a member of the Vilna Troupe writes:

 " ... Not in a barrel hat, nor with a great artistic volume as had his partner, he met the Vilna Troupe. Meeting the ship, there stood before us a young man with a very intelligent appearance, in elegant, non-screaming clothing, with a charming, wide laugh, a loving smile, and still with a tender voice, saying 'Welcome, friends, Vilner. I am happy to see you.'

This friendly reception of this noble man destroyed our nervousness and Mr. Rolland satisfied us at the Hotel Larage, which he had prepared for us on the same street, on Broadway, He also rented the 'Nora Bayes' Theatre for the Vilna Troupe. As a father cares for his children, thus, our dear Rolland was concerned about all the conveniences.

For us ... He has not been in his theatre for days, only for our rehearsals. He loved to look and follow with great interest  our work preparation.

In our historic night, when the first production of our 'Vilna Troupe' in New York (Dybbuk), our brother Rolland was with us behind the stage, kept us, not let us anybody disturb us, God forbid, and after the final curtain, when the walls of the theatre were shaking from the loud applause, our friend Roland was a happy man, a touch of joy and success. Running into myself and (his wife) Alomis' wardrobe, grabbed our hands and pressed them hard, He wanted to say something, but could not ... So big, bursting tears stood in his radiant black-blue eyes."

[Ed. note: Two pages of the Rolland biography are missing from YIVO's galleys of Volume 7 of the "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre.," but below is the remaining part of his biography.]

... Stars had ceased to draw a crowd to the box office, He reconnected himself with some more of the arts. When Schwartz took over the Jolson Theatre, Rolland sent a proposal to Maurice Schwartz about a partnership. Schwartz liked the plan to return to Second Avenue, where there was still the center for Jewish life. They were engaged. Schwartz would continue to be the director for everything, star and stage director, and William Rolland became the general manager.

... In a special program, which was given in honor of the premiere of Aaron Zeitlin's "Esterke," with whom Schwartz had opened his twenty-first season of the "Yiddish Art Theatre," in the former "Public" Theatre, there was published  an article by William Rolland with the title "Mayn kholem realizirt (My Dream Realized)." He wrote: "For years I had hoped to be in business with the Yiddish Art Theatre, and with its director Maurice Schwartz. For years I had planned to participate in the great work of the 'Yiddish Art Theatre,' because I have always felt that the 'Yiddish Art Theatre' is a cultural institution in our lives in America, and I have wanted indeed to contribute something with my work. Now my dream is realized.

"This was truly Roland's dream, because even in the operettas under his direction, he indeed brought in more refinement, more artistic, and generally better theatre. Unfortunately he did not succeed, because the stars had other tastes and sense. To lease a theatre he had to have the great theatre name of stars, and he had to know the great theatrical names of the stars, and he had to bow to their high or very low cultural or theatrical conditions."

Chaim Ehrenreich characterizes him this way:

"William Rolland died Friday morning in a hospital in Dallas, Texas, far from the Yiddish theatre world in New York, from the world that he surrendered to over the tens of years of his life, as one of the recognized and respected, beloved Yiddish theatre managers. ... Actors and colleagues, and also writers have loved him. ... He was a watchman, and an honorable man. His attitude possessed value, importance, not only to his fellow men, only to myself. His greatest virtue was his physical and moral cleanliness. ... from all the Jewish impresarios, William Rolland was the most festively dressed and the most celebratory ... They was devoted to him. ... He not only took from the theatre. He also carried on. He enriched the Jewish Brownsville with a new Yiddish theatre building that for years carried his name ("Rolland Theatre"). For that he, together with Thomashefsky, brought over the famous Vilna Troupe, which registered a colorful chapter in the history of the Yiddish theatre. When Clara Young was young and popular with the New York audience, Rolland with her opened the "Liberty" Theatre in Brownsville and made that dense Jewish area as a center for Yiddish theatre.

... William Rolland was a good and honest business leader."


  • B.Y. Goldstein -- Unzere yidishe teater-farvalter, "Tog," N.Y., 4 December 1925.

  • A. Frumkin -- Shlekht, shlekht, un -- er boyt gor a naye groys teater, "Morning Journal," N.Y., 16 December 1927.

  • H. Ehrenreich -- Di plener fun dem nayem yidishn teater in bronzvil, "Forward," N.Y., 28 August 1928.

  • Jacob Kirschenbaum -- Dos "naye roland teater" in bronzvil un zayne plener, "Morning Journal, N.Y., 11 September 1928.

  • "Teater zhurnal" gevidmet dem "roland' teater, -- New York, 1928.

  • Chaim Ehrenreich -- Der farshtorbener teater-menedzer viliam roland, "Forward," N.Y., 21 January 1960.

  • Alexander Asro -- Tsu di shloshim fun a noentn, "Forward," N.Y., 12 February 1960.

  • Menasha Skulnik -- Menasha skulnik dertseylt, "Forward," N.Y., 11 August 1963.

  • Sholom Secunda -- Sholom sekunda dertseylt, "Forward," N.Y., 17 May 1970.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 7, page 6195.

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