Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Shimen Ruskin

Born in 1907 in Vilna, Polish Lithuania. 

His parents were small shopkeepers. They gave him a cheder education and also sent him to a Russian pro-gymnasium. However, due to the German Occupation, he had to stop his studies.

Through his father, a great lover of the theatre, R. became extremely interested in the theatre. His first time on stage was as “the boy” in  “The Sister” on a Peretz commemorating evening with a sketch of “Hazamir” [“the Nightingale”]. Next he appeared in children’s roles with Abraham Morevsky and later with Ester Rukhl Kaminska.

In 1921, R. and his family left for America, where he graduated from public school, and in 1923-24 he joined the studio of the Yiddish theatre company. In 1924, R. appeared at the Bronx Unzer Theatre, then at the same theatre with Rudolph Schildkraut.

During the 1926-27 season  R. appeared with the young actors group in Maurice Schwartz’s Yiddish Art Theatre. 

In 1927-28 he was engaged as an actor and stage manager in Chicago’s Logan Square Theatre (manager: Misha German). Next he acted a season with Max Gabel, in 1930 with Nellie Casman at the Clinton Street Theatre, in 1931-32 in Boston (manager: Herschel Zuckerberg with guest appearances by Michalesko and Clara Young.


R. participated in Osip Dymov’s production of “Shtot neshugeyim (The Town Lunatics)" and “Salt and Pepper”, and in 1953 he joined the “Tsu-Lech-Es” group. The same year he joined the English section of the W.P.A Theatre where he excelled in the role of “Kaplan” in “Chalk Dust” and as “the messenger boy” in  Kataev’s "The Path of Flowers”. From there he moved to the English theatre where he participated in Arthur Kober’s  “Having Wonderful Time” (together with Garfield, Katherine Locke, Sheldon Leonard and Cornel Wilde), appeared with the star Phil Baker on an English radio broadcast, and was brought to Hollywood by R.K.O., as the only stage actor to participate in the film by the same name (with Ginger Rogers and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), and then returned to New York to act in this play.

R. had  bigger and smaller roles in fifty-five films in English with the stars: Lamarr, Gable, Bogart, Boyer, Colbert, Dick Powell and Cary Grant and drew attention especially as “Shimen” in Polonsky ’s  “Body and Soul” and in “Dark Passage” (with Humphrey Bogart).

R. participated in about ten English plays, especially with the “Actors Laboratory”, z”a in the plays “All You Need is One Good Break” ( in which he also played in New York), Chekhov’s “The Bear” ( with Morris Carnovsky), “Brooklyn USA”,  “Café Crown” (role: “the waiter”), “Th' Bilostred Onkl" (with Anne Rivar).

R. also appeared many times on television as well as two pictures with Robert Driscoll and Ludwig Donart.

Due to politics, R. was  blacklisted for a few years in the entertainment industry and dedicated more of his time to the Yiddish theatre, performing with the “Folksbiene”  in Gordin’s  “God, Man and Devil”,  on the radio in Sholem Aleichem’s “Tevye the Milkman”, and with Benjamin Zemach in “The World of Mendele Mokher Sforim”.

In Hollywood, R. Headed put together a drama school for professional actors.  

Sh. and M.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 2279.

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