Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Louis Schnitzer


Born on 1 July 1886 in Mogielnica, Poland. His parents were owners of a lace workshop, and due to this was called "Shmukler," and-- according to Louie Markowitz who details in the book "Dray mogelnitser"-- due to a family history, also "Treasure." Later he traveled around the Polish province and sold clocks and play instruments, then went over to Warsaw, and from there immigrated to America.

S. learned in cheders, and while in his youth worked with his father in his workshop. From his early youth he manifested, together with his other brothers and sister, a desire to sing and for theatre acting.

S. arrived in America together with his entire family, which for the first time worked in a lace factory, then with decorations for women's clothing. Later he opened a small factory where he prepared women's vulaln and shaln for women. Afterwards the firm, "Max Schnitzer and Sons," was founded, in which virtually the entire family worked together.

At the same time S. attended night school, learned English, and his expressed desire for the theatre, and he thus became an active member of the Progressive Dramatic Club, under the auspices of Joel Entin. Here he came to know member Henrietta Shapiro, who had acted in the main roles in the staged one-acters. He married her, and during the 1919-20 season he opened with her the first Yiddish art theatre in America (Madison Square


Garden on 27th Street and Lexington Avenue.) For the theatre S. engaged for his theatre the Yiddish regisseur Emanuel Reicher, and a season later the Jewish-German actor Rudolph Schildkraut. [for details about the theatre, see "New Yiddish Theatre."]

As S. had personally told Zalmen Zylbercweig, he studied singing and strove to become an actor. By himself he financed his theatre in two years' time and spent a lot of money.

The partnership in the theatre, and the accusation against S. and his wife, and S.'s answer has taken up much space in the "Forward" in the months of June-July 1920.

Several years later, after the Schnitzer family arrived in America, she went into motion pictures (cinema) business, and was the first to open a large, modern cinema theatre in Brooklyn. "Due to the growth of movie theatres-- writes Louie Markowitz-- where Louie had to use more time and energy, and due to other reasons he had to abandon the art theatre and return to his family to help in managing the art theatre.

The well-known actor Celia Adler characterizes him as such:

"Under the name 'Literary Dramatic Club,' there had existed and played for several years an amateur group. Its two leading players were Jechiel Goldsmith and Henrietta Schapiro. Also among the members of this club there was a young man, Louis Schnitzer. He had no thespian aspirations. He was an ambitious and successful businessman. ... He had a natural desire for better and lovelier theatre and an innate respect for intelligence and education. As a young man, he was strongly smitten with the beautiful and shining Henrietta Schapiro. He succeeded in time in having her become Mrs. Schnitzer, thanks to his financial strength that towered above that of all the other young men in the club. It's understandable that he would try very hard to fructify her ambition to become a star performer in the Yiddish theatre. Her two biggest virtues were her beautiful face and magnificent figure. Evidently, these were by themselves insufficient to attain a high place in the existing Yiddish theatre, even though Schnitzer didn't spare effort and money. Indeed he did finance Jacob Ben Ami's production of three I.L. Peretz's one-acters in the Neighborhood Playhouse on Grand Street. ... Henrietta Schnitzer had, of course, played the main roles in the three one-acters. In that time Louie Miller had ....begun to issue a new Yiddish daily morning newspaper, "Der firer," ... [he] had in his newspaper given only a great place for that performance and highly praised Henrietta Schnitzer. ..This also had given her husband Louis Schnitzer the first push to begin thinking seriously about creating his own theatre.

Maurice Schwartz's successful beginning at the Irving Place Theatre ripened the thought in Schnitzer's mind to invest in a new attempt at a better theatre, where his wife would have the opportunity to fulfill her dream, to make a leap to the very top of the Yiddish theatre. He put his plan before Jacob Ben Ami with the main accent, understandably, on better theatre. Schnitzer showed very quickly that he was serious about shouldering the financial responsibility of such a theatre. He surprised us with the good news that he had succeeded in getting the Garden Theatre, that the theatre was not completely unknown, and was new for the Yiddish theatre world. In the theatre in 1916... there was staged [Pinski's] "Gavri and the Women.' Louis Schnitzer then had financial help for that undertaking. ... Found very often that the seriousness, the force and the honest development of a concept fascinated and ibergeveltikt those who had begun it. This had then happened to Schnitzer. He was so bahersht of the serious extent and artistic atmosphere that he virtually forgot the personal interest that had originally led him to plan the theatre. ...He had so forgotten how that the central tribal power [?] that had come upon him to become a metsenat for better Yiddish theatre was his wife's ambition, although he was by nature headstrong. However, inside he was a reserved power in his life, which broke his stubbornness and the gravity  with which he became bahersht of us.

Celia Adler cites a review by Ab. Cahan about S.'s wife's playing her first role, and afterwards recalls other behind-the-curtains histories, which may have, according to her opinion, derfirt dertsu, that S. had withdrawn from financing the theatre.

B. Gorin, the historian of the Yiddish theatre, about the undertaking of this theatre:

"The new theatre had suffered immediately from his great fame. In only a short time [the regisseur] Reicher came forth from there, and they began to make compromises. The young director Schnitzer, who at the end of the season went away to Germany brought over Rudolph Schildkraut for the coming season. The latter remembered the Yiddish theatre as he was [in Yiddish theatre] ten years back, and he arrived with a lot of repertoire of foreign melodramas... and although its performances were of a high quality, the theatre suffered such a set-back that it could not regain its footing. ... In the theatre they took in Leonid Snegoff and Esther Orzhevskaya ... and the new theatre with every week got worse and worse, and several weeks before the end of the season, the company took over the theatre, and they hardly slept until the end of Passover."

Zalmen Zylbercweig maintains that regardless of the personal ambitions of S., he deserves a prominent place in the history of Yiddish theatre in America, as one of the first who had tried, by [his] works, to realize the dream of a better Yiddish theatre-goer and theatre melaman, to lay the foundation for a "literary," or as it was later referred to, "artistic" Yiddish theatre in America, which had ended all derfirt to the yearlong existence of the "Jewish Art Theatre."

On 18 August 1954 S. passed away at his daughters in Long Island, and he was brought to his eternal rest on the grounds of the Mogielnica society in Richmond, Staten Island.

At the funeral the eulogist was Jacob Ben Ami, who had delivered that due to S.'s stubbornness and opfervilikeyt, there was laid the foundation for a better Yiddish theatre.

Sh. E. and Sh. E. from Louie Markowitz.

  • B. Gorin-- "History of Yiddish Theatre," Vol. II, p. 245.

  • Louie Markowitz-- "Dray mogelnitzer," New York, 1950.

  • Celia Adler-- "Tsile adler dertseylt," New York, 1959, pp. 450, 463, 504-09, 516-17, 526.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 4, page 3050.

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