Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Samuel (Shmuel) Tornberg


Born in 1872 in Lodz, Poland. His father was a bridge builder. He learned in the old city Beit HaMedrash.

A certain Bernstein, a mashkhil (enlightened man), learned German and bookkeeping and directed in a circle, through which he had the opportunity to attend the German, Polish and Yiddish theatre. Here T. became familiar with actor Shliferstein, who spoke to him about becoming an actor. Because of this, T. ran away from home. But he was cheated in his hopes of Shliferstein, he immigrated at the age of seventeen to America.

Here he made the acquaintance of Adler and was his "main prompter" for studying his roles. Later T. traveled to New Haven, where he entered into work for a business, and he founded with intelligent youths a dramatic union., who performed each Sabbath evening. So he continued to act, neglecting his post, and in 1894, during a crisis, he returned to New York and became a play copyist for Adler in a theatre (formerly the Roumanian Opera House). Initially during Sukkos 1895 T. debuted in an episodic role in the play "Der rb hkull" by Adolf Phillips, and made a very bad impression on all the actors due to his "natural speak." Only Moskowitz encouraged him to remain on the stage.

Initially, thanks to Gordin who had observed T.'s serious acting, even in that episodic role as "The Doctor" in "The Brothers Luria," T. was given more responsible roles, and Gordin even wrote special roles for him.


T. then became a partner in the Thalia Theatre with Kessler, Gordin, Lipzin and Moskowitz. Later, he acted with Lipzin. In 1905-6, he acted on the English stage (as "The Peddler" in the "Gelt-borger"), but soon returned to the Yiddish stage.

According to information from his son, he also had guest-starred in London, Galicia and Poland.

T. especially excelled in the creation of "Leizer, the wedding bard (badkhan)" in Gordin's "God, Man and Devil," and "Nachumtshe" in Gordin's "Mirele efros," as the "Peddler" in Kobrin's "The Lost Paradise," and in the plays "Two Worlds," "On the Mountain," and "The Orphan."

T. had for a long time written stories for the "Herald" and "Forward," where he also published several translations of Mark Twain. He also dramatized Balzac's "The Game of Speculation" and translated Joseph Jefferson's manuscript "Rip Van Winkle," or "The Demons of the Catskills Mountains" by Washington Irving (staged on 4 November 1906), in which he acted in the role of "Rip," and he left in manuscript a one-acter "Father and Son," and a historic operetta in five acts and ten scenes, "Don yitskhok abarbanel."

Laid up with diabetes, T. passed away on 5 October 1911 in New York and was brought to his burial plot at Mount Zion Cemetery, Radom section [listed as "Samuel Thornburg" in Mt. Zion Cemetery database; "Samuel Thornberg" on death certificate -- ed.]

T. had left three children who were connected with the English theatre: David Torn -- a dramatist, August Torn -- a stage director and actor, and Lulu Torn -- an actress.

Ab. Cahan characterized him as such: "He was a slightly dry, intelligent person, as are most Yiddish actors, and his intelligence was not only in his head, but also in his heart. He had ideal aspirations, a higher "ambition" as an artist. He genart put together interesting character portraits. He had a genuine love for art. In his art he can use more of his brain as with fantastical vigor. His acting was, however, permeated with a seriousness..."

Joel Entin characterizes him in this manner: "He had a scratchy voice, which grated upon the ears and which led him to becoming somewhat hysterical. This always caused tears of Jewish laughter. The screech of pain that steals itself into the mournful prayer (Avinu Malkeinu is a sad prayer of supplication on the High Holidays) became, 'My heart is so funny' ...He didn't have a musical voice as compared to the other Yiddish actors, but when he sang, 'Oh, woe, poverty,' it was the song of poverty. Such a forlorn satirical song about troubles could not have been better performed if it had been sung with a more lyrical voice and a more musical ear. He spoke clearly and succinctly. When he interpreted Hebrew he did so with the correct meaning right into the ear of the listener. He was always a very warm person, and also very passionate. It had a Chasidic fire that he brought into the roles he played, with life and limb. He played them fresh and with fire with every movement of his body. He possessed a strong, poetic interior strength, and when he played an interesting personality, he would inculcate the characters inner being and his 'who.' He....He had a pair of big, sharp, shining, always wandering, piercing, which could add to his portrayals and give them an unusual sharpness, a great life experience. If he needed to portray a crafty suspicious person full of intrigues, his eyes came powerfully to his aid. His intelligence and his own fashion adapted itself to Gordin's humor. And so he was forced to grow together with Gordin, together with him a new humor to create [on the stage], to bring on a new genre of actor on the Yiddish stage, the character-comic. And so together with Gordin, he went for 'Devorah'le meyukheses' until 'Dementia Americana.' He always went on and always a new human being to create."

Moyshe Nadir writes: "The most interesting artist of that group (Adler, Kessler, Thomashefsky, Moskowitz, Feinberg [Feinman], Katzman, Mogulesko] was Tornberg. The same had a fine understanding of the theatre, an innate tact. He used to perform as sharply as the others, and his character used to manifest as an old cooper shtikhn."

Leon Kobrin in his "Memories of a Yiddish Dramaturg," characterizes S.'s acting as such: "He was a comic and his comical aspect was at all times a clean one, an honest person, an unmanageable one. He never denied his talent, as far as I remember, with buff comical aspects. There was an honest laughter, never manufactured for the coarse laugh apparatus of the large audiences. His comical aspect was an entirely unique person -- a calm person, and I want to say a philosopher, although happy like a pauper. He didn't have with his voice, when he should have thought about it, that arising out of those instruments is not from that. However he always smiled cleverly and quietly, exactly as his entire appearance had made the impression of calmness and intelligence, and exactly as his figure and his feet weren't for dancing, so also was his talent."

Sh. E. from David Torn and M. E. from Moshe Zilberstein.

  • B. Gorin -- "History of Yiddish Theatre," Vol. II, pp. 102, 161.

  • Samuel Tornberg -- Vi azoy ikh bin gevorn an aktor -- "Di theater velt," N. Y., 4, 1909, (reprinted in "Theater-zikhrones," Editor Z. Zylbercweig, Vilna, 1928, pp. 73-85.

  • A. K. [Ab. Cahan] -- In der yidisher teater velt, "Forward," N. Y., 7 Oct. 1911.

  • J. Entin -- Shmuel tornberg, "Di varhayt," N. Y., 6 October 1911.

  • Moyshe Nadir -- Mayn bakantshaft mitn amerikanishn idishn teater ["teater-bukh," Kiev, 1927, p. 147].

  • Leon Kobrin -- "Erinerungen fun a yidishn dramturg," N. Y., II, pp. 187-191.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 2, page 858.

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