Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Morris Strassberg



He was born in Lemberg, Galicia, on 11 April 1897. His parents were strictly Orthodox. When he was five years old his father died. He studied in the Lemberg Yeshiva until age thirteen. After seeing the performances of the Broder Singers, he was drawn to the theatre. He spent a lot of time in theatrical circles and began performing in Purim plays with friends and acquaintances. He became friendly with young students and yearned to study secular subjects. He enrolled in a gymnasium and studied dentistry.

In 1917 Strassberg appeared with the local "Jacob Gordin Yiddish Workers Stage". He played character roles in the Gordin repertoire. During the 1918 pogrom the director Gimpel left the theatre, and it was taken over by amateurs with Dr. Anselm Klaynman as literary exponent. Strassberg, as a member of the group, participated in the production of the literary repertoire.

In 1920 Strassberg sailed to visit his sister in America. He was attracted to professional theatre, but was apprehensive about the wide scope of the American Yiddish theatre, so he decided to study dentistry. But he remained a frequent visitor to the Yiddish theatre, particularly the Art Theatre. In August of 1921 Dr. Klaynman and his wife came to America and produced Karl Schoenherr's "Der Weibsteufel" (The She-Devil) with Strassberg as the "man," for the Getsayg[?] campaign.

Strassberg was invited to join the "Art Circle" which was connected to the Yiddish Art Theatre. At first he participated in mass scenes. However, due to the attention of Maurice Schwartz, who had seen him act in " Der Weibsteufel", he began to get small parts and later bigger, more complicated parts as " the third idler", "the sexton", and "the religious court judge" in An-sky's "Dybbuk." There he was seen by American theatre director David Belasco and American actor, David Warfield. They hired an English tutor and gave him the part of "Chos"[?] and "Tubal" in Shakespeare's "Shylock" [The Merchant of Venice].

Strassberg returned to the Yiddish Art Theatre where he played the role of "gravedigger'" in "A Faraway Corner," "the grandfather" in "The Blacksmith's daughter", "Koltun" in "The Great Prize", "the father" in "Motke the Thief",                 " "Nadziratel" in "Seven Who Were Hanged" and "the waiter" in "The Inspector General."

In 1924 Strassberg accompanied the Yiddish Art Theatre to Europe where he performed in the silent film "Yizkor" [Remembrance] by Harry Sackler.  

In 1925 Strassberg joined the Hebrew Actors' Union, again performed in the Yiddish Art Theatre and participated with Maurice Schwartz in the silent film "Broken Hearts" by Z. Libin.

From 1925-1926 Strassberg performed in English, with Edward G. Robinson, in the play, "We Americans" and afterwards with Muni Weisenfreund [Paul Muni] in the same play. In 1927 he performed, in English, in "Welcome Stranger" in the lead role of Isidore Solomon with Mildred Leaf and Charles Eliot and in "Kosher Kitty Kelly" with Mildred Leaf.

He returned to the Yiddish Art Theatre and continued appearing there until 1929. In 1930 he toured with Jacob Ben Ami and appeared in his repertoire, as "the father" in "Green Fields" and "director" in "Samson and Delilah." He stayed over in Los Angeles for a few months and organized a folk theatre with Tenenholtz and Zelaza, where they produced "Income" and "A Faraway Corner." He performed in English in "Spring Song" with Vera Gordon and Jean Arthur. Returning to New York, Strassberg performed in Moshe Richter's Odeon Theatre where he played comic character roles in plays by Gordin, Libin and Richter.

Between 1931-1932 Strassberg performed in Boris Thomashefsky's repertoire at the Brooklyn Lyric Theatre and also appeared with him in the talking film " Bar Mitzvah." Strassberg also produced and played the lead in Leyb Malakh's play, "Leybele tentser" in Philadelphia. During the 1932-1933 season,  Strassberg returned to the Yiddish Art Theatre and played the "Lizhiner Rebbe" in "Yoshe kalb" and later toured with the troupe in Western Europe. At the same time Strassberg tried his hand at sculpture and created a collage of characters from "Yoshe Kalb." (Presented by the artist to YIVO in New York). Later, he sculpted an entire group of Jewish characters. In 1933 Strassberg again performed in English, in "Spring Song" in New York, with Frances Larrimore, Helen Zelinskaya, and Sam Levene.

In 1935 Strassberg joined the Federal Theatre Project, and played the role of "Grandpa", in English, in Peretz Hirshbein's "The Deserted Inn", and in Clifford Odets' "Awake and Sing" with Winston Sherman and Anna Appel. In 1936 Strassberg played the title role, in English, in "Professor Mamlock" by Friedrich Wolf and also played in the film, "Where is My Child?" with Celia Adler.

In 1938 Strassberg again appeared with the Yiddish Art Theatre in "Brothers Ashkenazi", "Three Cities," and in the film "The Cantor's Son" with Moishe Oysher. Later he appeared in the Second Avenue Theatre in the Yiddish version of "The Men in White" (directed by Herman Yablokoff). In 1939 he appeared with Samuel Goldenberg in the National Theatre in "The Man of Tomorrow" and in the Yiddish films, "Tuviya the Milkman" with Maurice Schwartz, and "Overture to Glory" with Moishe Oysher and "The Power of Life" with Michal Michalesko.

During the Second World War, Strassberg left the theatre to work in a munitions factory. In 1944 he returned to the theatre and became the stage manager of the Folk Theatre (under the direction of Jacob Ben Ami and Joseph Green). Then he returned  to the Yiddish Art Theatre where, in addition to acting he also became the technical stage director. In 1949 he appeared in the English language film "With These Hands" with Same Levene and Arlene Francis, and in 1950 in "The Goldbergs" with Molly Berg. In 1950 he came to Los Angeles with the Yiddish Art Theatre where he remained for a few years. He opened a variety store and performed with local groups in "The Blacksmith's Daughters" and "A Faraway Corner." In 1953 he performed in Y. Elkin's comedy, " Help Doctor!". Then he moved to the Civic Theatre where he performed with Maurice Schwartz, in English, in "Take Now Thy Son" by Camille Honig and afterwards in "It's Hard to Be a Jew", and " Mr. Blank's Family" by Sholem Aleichem and in Gordin's "God Man and Devil." Later, in the same theatre he appeared in the English-language comedy repertoire with Leo Fuchs while performing, at the same time in Yiddish with Celia Silver in Zylbercweig's dramatization of Fanny Edelman's "Court Stories."

In 1955 Strassberg returned to New York and performed in the Yiddish Art Theatre as both an actor and technical director of L. Trayster's "The Shepherd King." He also made the models and decorations for this play. In 1956 he appeared on Broadway with Paul Douglas, in English, in Arnold Schulman's " A Hole in the Head." In 1958 he went back to Los Angeles with Maurice Schwartz where he made the designs and decorations for the Ivor Theatre for Moshe Dluzshnovsky's "The Lonely Ship" where he appeared as "wine steward". He then went to the Civic Playhouse where he appeared as "Brother Max" in "A Hole in the Head" with Jesse White.   

During the summer months of 1946, 1947, 1948 and 1955, Strassberg worked at the Unzer Camp of the Farband as an actor and designer. He often appeared on the Yiddish radio, WEVD, and also on English language radio, MCA, in the series "Goldstein and Bernstein," with Mark Schweid and later with Zvi Scooler.

Sh. E.

  • Sidney Gordin (Hayim Ehrenreich) , "Through a jest a Yiddish actor becomes a sculptor" , Forward, N.Y. 22 Dec. 1934.

  • Wolf Mercur, "Merkuyozn", Philadelphia, 1948, pp 136-139.

  • Y. Levit, "Two actors of Art Theatre settle in Los Angeles and go into business", Forward, N.Y. 22 August, 1950.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 3, page 2284.

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