Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Max Rosenthal

Born at the end of the sixth decade of the nineteenth century in Lodz, Poland. About his lineage, his landsman and kinsman Zalmen Zylbercweig writes:

"Very few of the Yiddish actors heard of in the same category are of the same pedigree as Max Rosenthal. The largest part, or virtually all with few exceptions, originate away from ordinary people, often from "common folk", poor belimlakhus, or completely "rags (lumpn) - proletariat. The former attitude toward Yiddish theatre and actors was that, that every one of a leytisher family, from a dignified family, expanding the theatre profession. Rosenthal is a unique individual. Both from his father's side as from his mother's side, he is descended from relations: Torah and commodities. His father was a pious Jew, a scholar, from Dor Dorot scholars and people of import. From his mother's side he was a close relative of the great Jewish industry in Eastern Europe, to the famous textile industrialist I. K. [Izrael Kalmanowicz] Poznanski, who for a long time was the pride of Jewry in Poland."

Z. maintains that R. was older than he used to indicate, and even older than it was in the necrologies. It should be stated that R. was born around 1865 or 1866.

 As Z. also writes that R.'s family was employed by Poznanski, who had given them a partnership for his textile merchandise, and this family produced a good income, such that:


"Max had the material opportunity to receive a good upbringing. Besides in cheder, he also had learned with private religious tutors and teachers, and when he had begun to untersvaksn, they even sent him a way to a private school, which at that time was an entire event. Gifted with a beautiful voice, the young man Max sang as a choir boy in the "German Synagogue", as they then had called the reform synagogue."

As he got older, he began to think about a purpose, [and] R. became at Poznanski's firm. He was a frequent visitor to the German theatre, and thus he became so interested in the theatre that he became familiar with Yiddish literature. He attended a Yiddish theatre production but was very disappointed due to the content of the play and the manner of the acting, but [after attending] a second Yiddish theatre production, "Uriel Acosta", he already felt more. However in comparison to the same play in the German theatre, he saw an immense tsurikgang and thought about bettering the state of Yiddish theatre. Due to his family reasons, he wasn't however able to do anything in his hometown, so he wandered off to London, England, where he browsed around the local Yiddish theatre. He became a chorister, and in this way he fought individually to act in small roles for the directors of the theatre, Israel Gradner, Avraham Goldfaden's first actor, who made him a member. At first he acted in the role of "Raphael" in Shomer's "Baal teshuva", then he began to receive greater roles. After having acted for a half-year with Gradner, he joined Adler's troupe, and thus he acted for several years in London, and in the English province, as well as in Paris.

R. was very friendly with the actor Max Radkinson [later known as Rudolf Marks], and when they had to quickly stage the play "Don Joseph Abarbanel" in Manchester, R. came to assist, wrote several musical numbers and with Radkinson studied the role of "Officer", which used to be performed by Aneta Gradner, who had left the troupe. As a thanks therefore  to Radkinson, he later translated from memory the English play "The Strovey", under the name "Der seylor [matron] in gefor", or "Der itum in gefar", and then the same from memory, the melodrama "Der zilber kenig (The Silver King)", in which R. performed in the main role, in which he excelled, thus they determined his future fate.

In 1894 their arrived in London the actor Kurazh in order to engage actors for America, and among those whom he had brought, also was R., who performed on 17 August 1894 in Adler's theatre in the play "Der groys inkvizitor (The Great Inquisitor?)", and on 28 August 1894 in "Di rushisher knute, oder, "Der kniaz dolgarukov als shklav, a historical begebenheyt from the pantshizne of Kniaz Shikhovsk, adapted by Max Rosenthal and Jacob Adler."

In the span of a completely short time, R. became popular and beloved as one of the prominent actors on the American Yiddish stage, as well as as a stage director. He acted for many years with Adler, Moshkovitch, Tornberg and Katzman in various troupes in New York. However, since [he was] in New York, [and] not having his own theatre, he could not be a star, so he willingly took up the proposals of the managers in Philadelphia, where he occupied the theatre there, and directed plays there for the first time, which were  performed there first before being played in New York. So he directed in 1897 in Philadelphia Zolotarevski's "Der yidisher hamlet (The Jewish Hamlet)" [later popular as "Der yeshiva bukher"], acting in the principal role of "Avigdor". For an entire range of seasons he acted in New York's "People's Theatre": in the 1901-02 season (together with Bella Gudinsky, Jacob P. Adler and Malvina Lobel), in the title role of Zolotarevski's dramatization of Dumas' "Graf montakristo (Count of Monte Cristo)", and in the title role of Zolotarevski's dramatization and translation of the English novel "Vendetta" by Marie Corelli, under the name of "Fabio romana (The Vendetta)". With these two roles, he wib an [oybn-on] in the American Yiddish Theatre world, and no one could compare to him in these roles. In the 1902-03 season he acted in the "People's Theatre", together with Boris Thomashefsky, in the title role in Zolotarevski''s "Der moderner kin un hbl". In 1904 R. performed as "the green actor" by N. Rakow. During the 1914-15 season, in the same theatre, together with Bessie Thomashefsky, he had the main role in Zolotarevski's "Der prayz fun liebe (The Price of Love)".

In 1916 R. directed in Bessie Thomashefsky's "People's" Theatre "Farboten frukht (Forbidden Fruit)", by N. Rakow.

In 1917 R., playing in Philadelphia's Arch Street Theatre, staged and acted in the main role in Avraham Shomer's "Stayl (Style)" (Di mode), which had its first success when staged in New York by Kessler, who was said to first have performed this play.

On 2 September 1920 R. directed in the "People's Theatre" Rakow's comedy -- "Di tir tsum glik (The Door to Happiness[?])". On 11 March 1921 R. staged there "Di tseshterte khupah", by Rakow and Wolf. On 15 September 1921, in the People's Theatre, R. staged and acted in the principal role in Lateiner's "Der tsadiks mishpakhah". In the same season, in the same theatre, there was staged Zolotarevski's "Der prayz fun a get (The Price of a Divorce [?])", and from the same author, "Darf a froy dertseyln? (Should a Woman Tell?)".

On 12 January 1923 he directed in the same theatre Lateiner's "Sholom Bis".

On 30 November 1923 he performed with his wife in the "Liberty" Theatre in Rakow's "Hits-kop".

1926-27 -- R. acted in the Irving Place Theatre, and under the direction of Jacob Ben-Ami (and Jacob Mestel), he played "Gild" in Leivick's "Shop", and "Muziker" in Yevreinov's "Di shif mit tsadikim (The Ship of Saints)". 1927-28 -- He was co-director and actor in the same theatre, and he directed (with Celia and Stella Adler, with R. in the main role) in Zolotarevski's "Alimony", and on 1 December 1927 (in the same theatre) L. Melach's "Gasn-froyen (Ibergus)". In the 1928-29 season, R. acted in the Yiddish Art Theatre. In 1932 R. acted in the Bronx's "Prospect" Theatre. In his last years, R. was sick, and he passed away on 4 April 1938 in New York, and he arrived at his grave site at Mount Hebron Cemetery (in Flushing, NY -- ed.) at the society plot of the Yiddish Theatrical Alliance.

R.'s wife was the Yiddish actress Sabina Rosenthal (Weinblatt).

Alter Epstein, under the pseudonym "Uriel Mazik" characterized him as such (in 1917):

"... this is the silent actor on our Yiddish stage. You look at him long ago: He moves, he does something, but he remains silent. Seldom is heard from him a word, a cutoff phrase, and this also still, lines he has seized upon, that in any minute you feel it not. His every turn, his every touch, the veytogdiker smile on his lips speaks for him, and speaks highly, deeply, so that often times it catches you that you thrill ride with emotion.

.. Max Rosenthal with his art performs not in any foreign manifestation in our lives. He did not express any foreign, non-Jewish sentiments. He is thus as national and Jewish as was our Jewish grandparents, who had in the greatest sorrow only oysgeziftst "Akh, rbunu shl eulm, tate foter", un mer nit".

Zalmen Zylbercweig writes:

"The truth be said, Rosenthal didn't excel in diction, therefore however he was the only Yiddish dramatic actor in America who felt good in a dress suit. His attitudes have always been elegant, were weighed and measured, appropriate for the roles that he had played, and his face was a fountain of mimicry. Each degree of change in the character that he used to present immediately in his facial quality. His performances of world repertoire, and from original Yiddish melodramas became a shem-divre, that entirely often there were certain plays earlier that were tried out with him [in it] in Philadelphia, and first having been a success for him, they were copied in New York.

Rosenthal's last performance on the stage was in his own testimonial evening in New York, and the tsufal wished that this ceremonial evening after more dershlogn dos dershlogene mood of Rosenthal. Rosenthal, who had a sharp sense for truth and naturalness, driven by the naked reality, that from his erstwhile radiance remained only a small cry, that his distinct fame, which had attracted full houses, became a matter for history; however for today's public the name of Rosenthal is no longer [the same that it was] for the first generations of Jewish immigrant."

The Philadelphian M. Melamed writes:

"In Philadelphia Max Rosenthal was especially well known. Here he had acted many times as a main star in the former Arch Street Theatre, and he also used to often come here for guest productions. Many of us remember him even from the times when he used to appear here in the plays of M. Katz. He particularly excelled in producing the type of human being whom he could embody with both sincerity and sentimentality. He wasn't, as we say 'keyn farshoyn': his long nose had been thrust too much into our sight, but when he acted he had the ability as such to interest the audience, so that it captured our interest, that we forgot what a face Max Rosenthal had... It was understood that he had, as did many actors of his time, gone through good and bad times, but it was only how the matter of one's livelihood is concerned. Vos shoyn, however, through his artistic successes, Rosenthal did not have that to lament. The critics at times did not recognize him as one of the important pillars of the Yiddish stage... With his death the Yiddish stage in America lost an important force that Rosenthal had put forth, and although his death was several years earlier, Rosenthal had however belonged to that group of actors who had shaped the Yiddish theatre here in America."

In the necrology in the "Morning Journal", it was said:

"He had already for a long time not acted, yet he was kown as the romantic in the mellodrama and had created a large number of types in Kobrin's, Libin's, Shomer's, and later in Zolotarevski's plays, his success he had precisely created in translations of secular plays: "Favio romani", "Der zilber kenig (The Silver King)", "Graf monto kristo (Count of Monte Cristo)", and in Hauptmann's "Di veber (The Weaver)", where he played the weaver, who was called to the revolution. ...Rosenthal always was considered as one of the very fine and tender actors of the stage. He sought to beautify the Yiddish stage through great melodramas in which he registered his specific grace, which always affected the audience. In L. Kobrin's "Der blinder musikant (The Blind Musician)", Rosenthal created a type that forever remains in the memory of those who has seen him, just as one cannot forget the "Silver King", "Graf monto kristo" or his "Berele sheygets" in "Lateiner's "Blimele". His roles in Libin's "Der kripl", "tsvey mames" or in Zolotarevski's "Der preyz fun zind", were deeply marked in our memories of theatre lovers. ... He excelled not only as an actor, but also as a regisseur (stage director). He staged several plays, among them where Shomer's "Style". ... From time to time Max Rosenthal appeared in a cafe among his colleagues. He was always considered "majestic", clean and was fine and elegantly dressed. Around the theatre he used to speak only with old acquaintances from that "golden epoch", in which he was one of the important pillars."

M. E.

  • B. Gorin -- "History of Yiddish Theatre", Vol. II, pp. 48, 126, 151.

  • Uriel Mazik -- "Bilder-galerye fun unzere idishe shoyshpiler, "Tog", N. Y., 20 January 1917.

  • Berta Kalich (memoirs) -- "Tog", 23 September 1925.

  • Z. Zylbercweig -- Interesante eytselheyten vegen dem okorsht geshtorbenem rudolf marks, "Forward", N. Y., 8 May 1930 [reprinted in Zylbercweig's "Teater-figurn", Buenos Aires, 1936, pp. 109-117].

  • Zalmen Zylbercweig -- "Album of the Yiddish Theatre", N. Y., 1937, pp. 20, 27, 46, 49, 51, 87, 103, 105, 108, 109.

  • M. Melamed -- Vegen dem ersht farshtorbenem maks rozental, "Di idishe velt", Philadelphia, 8 April 1938.

  • Zalmen Zylbercweig -- "Theatre Mosaic", New York, 1941, pp. 18-24.

  • Celia Adler -- "Tsili adler derteylt", New York, 1959, pp. 72, 144, 267, 616, 655.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 4, page 2485.

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