Subsubseries A: Yiddish Art Theatre (New York), 1919 - 1939
Scope and Contents
This series contains materials related to performances and activities of theaters and theater troupes, organized by geographic location. Some files also pertain to a variety of local organizations that presented theatrical events and concerts, as well as organizations that promoted and supported Yiddish or Hebrew theater. The last subseries, Yiddish Theater (General) and Unidentified Materials, contains a small grouping of materials not related to specific localities, including manuscripts, clippings, and unidentified materials.
The materials in this series consist predominantly of theater programs; ephemera such as fliers, invitations, and tickets; and newspaper clippings (occasionally scrapbooks). The series contains, in all, an estimated 1700 to 1800 programs. The programs pertain to plays; revues; recitations; concerts, including cantorial concerts; dance performances; honorary evenings; and various special events of local organizations.
To a lesser extent, there are also publications and periodicals; and sometimes generic correspondence such as letters to supporters and fundraising letters, and, occasionally, manuscripts of articles about the given theater troupe, typically intended for publication in newspapers. (Some of the latter items were evidently donated by Zalman Reisen, editor of the Vilner Tog.)
The materials of the above types found under any given heading for a theater troupe, theater, or organization, are typically of mixed provenance, collected by various different individuals.
This series also occasionally includes small amounts of original records of theater troupes, such as correspondence and financial records.
Original letters from troupe members or leaders addressed to the literary historian and newspaper editor Zalman Reisen are found in the files for the Vilna Troupe (Folder 533); and "Ararat" (Folder 596). In the case of the Varshever Yidisher Kunst-Teater (VYKT), there is a small amount of original correspondence received by the troupe, including a letter from Richard Beer-Hofmann (Folder 500).
Fragmentary financial records are included for the Vilna Troupe, 1922 (Folder 538); and a ledger book for the "Baveglekher Yidisher Dramatisher Teater," 1921-1922, under the geographic heading for Warsaw (Folder 633). (According to an entry in Zylbercweig, VI: 4993, the latter troupe was founded by Jonas Turkow.)
Other notable provenance-based groupings of materials in the subseries for Poland are found under the following city headings:
Łuck (Lutsk, Ukraine): papers of the theater director Abraham Kolodny related to the "Yidishe Fraye Bine," 1910-1920 (Folders 621-622), along with theater programs likely collected by him.
Brześć nad Bugiem (Brest, Belarus): a scrapbook documenting performances of the Brisker Dramatishe Studye, 1927-1929, created by M. Sarwer (Sarver), the group's artistic director, along with programs evidently collected by him (Folders 696-697).
Częstochowa: receipts of impresario N. Zolotarew related to a tour of Lidia Potocka (Folder 668).
Also noteworthy is a scrapbook pertaining to a 1934 revival of the experimental Yiddish puppet theater "Khad Gadyo" in Łódź (founded in 1922, a collaboration between and Moyshe Broderzon and the artist Yitskhok Broyner); it contains the script of the performance, photographs and clippings (Folder 615).
Troupes represented with the most substantial amounts of materials include:
In Subseries 1. Poland, under the sub-heading "Poland by Theater Troupe": Varshever Yidisher Kunst-Teater (VYKT); Varshever Nayer Yidisher Teater (VNYT); the Vilna Troupe; Yung Teater/Nay Teater; and the "Kleynkunst," or revue theaters "Azazel," "Ararat," "Sambatyon," and "Yidishe bande."
In Subseries 4, United States, the Yiddish Art Theater, New York (directed by Maurice Schwartz).
In Subseries 6, Palestine (Eretz Israel), the Hebrew theaters Habimah and Ohel, respectively.
In the case of these major theater troupes, most of the material related to them is gathered under their name heading, found under the geographic locality with which they are primarily associated; however, the materials found there also include items pertaining to their tours in other parts of the country or region, and internationally.
On the other hand, files for specific towns, cities, or countries, in general contain many programs and clippings pertaining to guest appearances of individual performers, as well as smaller ensembles and troupes, who are based somewhere else.
Clippings are generally classified according to the main topic of the article (i.e. not necessarily according to the locality where it was published).
It should be noted that throughout the series, a distinction is usually made between professional theater and concerts, on the one hand, and amateur theater, or 'dramatic circles' on the other; when materials are related to amateur groups that distinction is typically specified in the heading. The distinction is especially clear in the subseries for Poland, which includes a separate sub-subseries for Amateur Theater (this follows the scheme established by Jonas Turkow during his preliminary organization of these materials at the YIVO Institute in New York).
Finally, as background, it should be noted that the programs that form the backbone of this series in representing the troupes, theaters, and localities, were among the materials that were organized and cataloged by Jonas Turkow at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, in the late 1950s to mid 1960s. They bear stamped or handwritten item numbers (falling within the range 175167 to 177690) that Turkow assigned based on his initial sequencing of them in alphabetical order according to the names of the authors of plays (with concert programs grouped together at the end). Subequently, he selected certain programs to form groupings under peformer names (see Series II, subseries 1. Programs) and others to form groupings under the names of theater troupes and geographic headings (constituting the present series). The selection of the programs found in this series under general geographic headings, for particular towns, cities, and countries (as opposed to headings for the featured performer or director, as in Series II) thus reflects the arrangement devised by Turkow, documented in the cross-references he provided on his catalog cards for the programs. For further details, see the Scope and Content Note for Series I, Subseries 2, Programs.
- 1919 - 1939
Language of Materials
In Yiddish and English, with some Polish and one item in German.
The collection has been digitized and is available online without restrictions. The physical collection is closed.
Maurice Schwartz was born 18 June 1890 in Sudilkov (Sudylkiv), Ukraine, then in the Russian Empire, the son of Isaac Schwartz, a grain dealer, and his wife Rose (née Bernholtz). He attended a traditional cheder, and then a Russian primary school. At the age of nine he began singing with the local cantor, and later with a cantor in Bila Tserkva. At the age of 11 he emigrated with his mother and siblings to the New York City, where his father had already settled earlier.
In New York, Schwartz attended the Baron Hirsch School on East Broadway. He worked at his father's rag shop and, in the evenings, took lessons from a German teacher who read to him from German classics and Shakespeare. Drawn to Yiddish theater, he was inspired by stars such as Sigmund Mogulesko, David Kessler, and Jacob Adler, and voraciously read plays and novels. The lectures by critic Joel Entin that he heard at the Progressive Dramatic Club shaped his views of the actor's art. He would declaim before groups of fellow theater enthusiasts, and in 1905 became a member of the Delancey Street Dramatic Club. With other aspiring actors he met there, he participated in an amateur production of Isidore Zolatarevsky's "20-er yorhundert, oder, khurbm Keshenev" (The 20th Century or the Destruction of Kishinev) in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and in New York. Around this time, Theater impresario Leo Largman saw Schwartz in an amateur performance at Teutonic Hall in Brooklyn, and hired him his professional troupe in Baltimore, as an actor as well as stage manager. After two years with Largman's troupe, Schwartz moved on to other theater companies in Cincinnati, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
In 1908, performing in Philadelphia as a member of a troupe at the New Columbia Theatre on Green Street (managed by Max Thomashefsky), Schwartz drew critical praise and also appeared in his first major role, in N. Rakow's "Der Arbeter." Shortly later he performed just as successfully in his first major role at a theater in New York City, as a temporary replacement in a the role of the lawyer, in Alexandre Bisson's "Madame X," with Malvina Lobel.
In 1911, he was engaged by David Kessler, to perform in New York, eventually appearing as Khatskl Drakhme in Gordin's "Got, mentsh un tayvl" (God, Man and Devil), in September of that year, at the newly opened Second Avenue Theatre.
In December 1912, Schwartz's Yiddish translation of J. Hartley Manners's "The House Next Door" was produced at the Liptzin Theatre. His own first play, "Der volkn" (The Cloud) was produced in April 1913 at the Royal Theatre, starring Malvina Lobel.
In the 1913-1914 Schwartz auditioned to join the Hebrew Actors' Union, a necessary step to further pursue a professional career as an actor in New York; at the first try he failed to be admitted but on his second try, with the backing of the Forverts editor Abe Cahan, he was accepted by a narrow margin.
In the next several years, while engaged by Kessler and, for a time, by Joseph Edelstein, at the People's Theatre, Schwartz was often dissatisfied with the repertoire; on the occasions of his own benefit evenings as an actor he would take the opportunity to appear in different types of plays, including Ibsen's "Di gayster" (Ghosts), in 1916, and "Der tants fun libe un toyt" (The Dance of Love and Death), by Stanisław Przybyszewski (translated by Leon Gottlieb), in 1917, and Goethe's "Faust" (translated by Moshe Schorr), in early 1918.
At this time, Maurice Schwartz decided to realize his dream of a better repertoire by establishing his own theater. When the Irving Place Theatre, which had been a German theater, failed and became vacant, he acquired it, with Max Wilner as his partner and business manager, in early 1918. In preparation for the 1918/19 season Schwartz sought subscribers to help support the theater, and gathered a troupe of talented actors, including Jacob Ben-Ami, Ludwig Satz, Celia Adler, and Berta Gersten. The Irving Place Theatre opened as a Yiddish theater on 30 August 1918, with a production of S. Libin's "Der man un zayn shotn" (The Man and His Shadow), a play that Libin – a dramatist known more for popular than literary drama – wrote especially in order to offer it to Schwartz. Peretz Hirschbein's "A farvorfn vinkl" (A Forsaken Corner), a discerning selection championed by Ben-Ami, as well as Hirschbein's newest play, "Dem shmids tekhter" (The Blacksmith's Daughters), were presented later in 1918, with great success. The first season also included plays by Jacob Gordin, David Pinski, Ossip Dymow, and Moshe Nadir, as well as works in translation, such as Bernard Shaw's "Mrs. Vorens profesye" (Mrs. Warren's Profession), Schiller's "Di royber" (The Robbers), Karl Gutzkow's "Uriel Akosta," and Ibsen's "Di gayster" (Ghosts) and "Nora" (A Doll's House). Schwartz directed and acted in the productions. He stressed ensemble acting, rather than the featuring of stars.
In February 1919 some of the actors of the troupe, including Ben-Ami and Celia Adler, departed to found, together with Louis Schnitzer and his wife, the actress Henriette Schnitzer, a new, even more literary Yiddish theater that they called the Jewish Art Theatre (housed in what had previously been the Garden Theatre), at 27th Street and Madison.
Among the troupe members in Schwartz's second season at the Irving Place, 1919/20, were Berta Gersten, Misha and Lucy German, Chana Hollander, Yudel Dubinsky, Eliahu Tenenholtz, Abraham Teitelbaum, Menasha Skulnik, Jennie Vallier, and Gustav Schacht; the repertoire included plays by Gordin, Sholem Aleichem, Leon Kobrin, and Mark Arnstein.
Schwartz continued at the Irving Place Theatre for a third season, 1920/21, opening in 3 September 1920 with I. L. Peretz's "Di goldene keyt" (The Golden Chain), with Schwartz as Reb Shlomo. The season included Sholem Aleichem's "Shver tsu zayn a yid" (Hard to Be a Jew).
For the 1921/22 season, due to a disagreement with one of the lead actresses, Jennie Vallier, Schwartz gave up his partnership with Wilner at the Irving Place Theater and moved with the core of his troupe to the Garden Theatre, at 27th and Madison, joining with manager Louis Schnitzer (after the failure of Schnitzer's Jewish Art Theatre at that location). There, for the first time, Schwartz billed his troupe as the Yiddish Art Theatre. The first play performed that season was S. Ansky's "Der dibek" (The Dybbuk). The company remained at the Garden Theatre until spring 1925.
The troupe's production of Leonid Andreyev's "Anatema" (Anathema) in February 1923 was so successful that Schwarz pursued the idea to stage the play in English, which he did at the 48th Street Theatre, on Broadway, using a translation by Herman Bernstein. Schwartz himself played the role of Dovid Leyzer in English – his first foray into English-language theater. The reviews were mixed and the venture proved a financial loss. Schwartz then took the Yiddish Art Theatre on tour across the United States.
The 1923/24 season included a production of Schwartz's adaptation of Goldfaden's "Di tsvey Kuni Lemls," which generated such interest, in both Jewish and non-Jewish circles, that Schwartz was invited to give a lecture on Yiddish theater, in English, for students at New York University; he subsequently gave such lectures several more times.
In April 1924 Schwartz took his entire troupe on a European tour, with stops in London, Paris, and Vienna. The company brought along their own costumes, stage properties, and electrical effects for a repertoire of 12 plays, by authors including Sholem Aleichem, Hirschbein, Andreyev, Ibsen, and Ernst Toller. In Vienna, Schwartz won critical praise in the role of Oswald, in Ibsen's "Gayster." At this time he also starred in the silent film "Yizkor" (Remembrance), based on the play by Harry Sackler (which he had staged in New York the previous year), under the direction of Sidney Goldin, with several other members of the Yiddish Art Theatre participating.
In 1925, since the Garden Theatre was slated to be torn down, Schwartz moved the Yiddish Art Theatre to the Nora Bayes Theatre, on West 44th Street, where they opened the 1925/26 season, with "Shoyl ha-melekh" (King Saul) by Paul Heyse, translated by Mark Schweid.
In fall 1926 Schwartz's theater company moved into a new theatre built for the purpose by his friend L. N. Jaffe, at Second Avenue and 12th Street. The reputation of the Yiddish Art Theatre was by this time well established as the foremost theater in New York for better Yiddish drama. With a delay due to the building's still being completed, the season opened on 18 November, with Schwartz's adaptation of Abraham Goldfaden's "Dos tsente gebot" (The Tenth Commandment). The actors in the company at that time included Celia Adler, Anna Appel, Paul (Ben-Tsvi) Baratov, Joseph Buloff, Berta Gersten, Wolf Goldfaden, Morris Silberkasten, Anna Teitelbaum, Lazar Freed, Abraham Fishkind, Jacob Cone, Luba Kadison, Isidore Cashier, and Morris Strassberg.
Due to financial difficulties, after two seasons at the Jaffe Theatre, Schwartz moved the company for the 1928/29 season to the City Theatre on 14th Street, where on 14 September 1928 he staged his adaptation of Sholem Asch's "Kidesh hashem," in a lavish production rich in scenic effects. A tendency to such productions continued in the following seasons.
In summer 1929 the troupe headed across the country to California. After some stops in cities along the way, including Chicago, Omaha, and Denver, they opened in San Francisco, and then moved on to Los Angeles.
In the 1929/30 season, the Yiddish Art Theatre moved to Proctor's Fifth Avenue Theatre, at Broadway and 28th Street, where it opened its 12th season with Schwartz's adaptation of Leon Feuchtwanger's "Yid Zis" (Jew Suss), with Samuel Goldenburg in the title role and Schwartz as Duke Karl Alexander. The season also included his adaptation of Sholem Aleichem's "Blondzhende shtern" (Wandering Stars). Beginning in April 1930 Schwartz had great success performing scenes from Shakespeare's "Shylok" (Shylock; The Merchant of Venice) in English at Keith's Palace Theatre, and on the vaudeville circuit. That summer, on the invitation of Yiddish theater director Adolf Mide, he traveled to Argentina and directed the local troupe in the staging of a series of plays from the repertoire of the Yiddish Art Theatre.
Upon returning to New York, he opened the 1930/31 season of the Yiddish Art Theatre at Kessler's Second Avenue Theatre. Among the plays produced that season were "Di kishefmakherin fun Kastilyen" (The Witch of Castile) and "Onkl Mozes" (Uncle Moses), Schwartz's dramatizations of two novels by Sholem Asch; Leon Kobrin's "Riversayd drayv" (Riverside Drive); and Alekseĭ Faĭko's "Der man mitn portfel" (The Man with the Portfolio), translated by A. Winogradoff. After the end of the season the Schwarz took the company on tour in the United States, and for extended stays in Montreal and Toronto.
Not able to secure a building for the Yiddish Art Theatre in fall 1931, Schwarz undertook (with part of his troupe) English-language productions on Broadway, at the Ambassador Theatre, of plays from the Yiddish repertoire, including Sholem Aleichem's "Shver tsu zayn a yid" (If I Were You; translated by Tamara Berkowitz), Ernst Toller's "Blutiker gelekhter" (Bloody Laughter; Hinkemann), and Romain Rolland's "Velf" (Wolves).
In 1932 Schwartz starred in the Yiddish sound film Uncle Moses, based on Sholem Asch's work, directed by Sidney Goldin; and in the summer embarked on a 'word concert' (solo recitation) tour in Europe (together with singer Viola Philo), with stops in Paris; Kovno; Warsaw and other cities in Poland; Riga; and cities in Romania.
For the 1932/33 season Schwartz brought the Yiddish Art Theatre back to the theater that had been built for them by Jaffe, on Second Avenue and 12th Street, now known as the Folks Theatre. They opened on 11 October with "Yoshe Kalb," Schwartz's dramatization of the novel by I. J. Singer. The play became wildly successful, running for the entire season to a packed house. After the season the company toured the United States with the play, and it became a regular part of the repertoire.
The 1933/34 season included Aaron Zeitlin's "Khelmer khakhomim" (The Wise Men of Chelm)' and "Josephus," a dramatic adaptation of Lion Feuchtwanger's novel. At the end of December 1933 Schwartz also made an attempt to stage "Yoshe Kalb" in English, at the National Theatre, but the production ran only three days.
In 1933, the Warsaw journal Literarishe bleter devoted a special issue to Schwartz's Yiddish Art Theatre (4 October, no. 40/41).
In spring 1934 Schwartz toured with his company in the U.S. and Canada, mostly performing "Yoshe Kalb." In spring 1935 he went abroad with some members of his troupe and performed "Yoshe Kalb" in Paris and London. He subsequently organized an elite troupe, with which he performed for nine months in Poland, first in Warsaw, then in Łódź, and Lwów.
Returning to New York, Schwartz and his Yiddish Art Theatre performed for the 1936/37 season at the 49th Street Theatre (west of Broadway). In spring 1937 Schwartz traveled to Vienna on a solo recitation tour. The same year he visited Palestine for the first time. After giving a solo dramatic reading of "Yoshe Kalb" in Tel Aviv at Ohel Shem hall, he traveled to various towns and settlements, performing recitations in Yiddish and Hebrew, especially Saul Tchernichovsky's poem "Baruch of Mainz."
Back in New York again for the 1937/38 theater season, Schwartz had difficulty finding a theater and finally settled the Yiddish Art Theatre at the Venice Theatre (former Jolson's Theatre) on Seventh Avenue and 59th Street, where they opened with Schwartz's dramatization of I. J. Singer's "Di brider ashkenaz" (The Brothers Ashkenazi). That play ran for the entire season, and the company then toured with it across the U.S. Subsequently Schwartz traveled to Europe with members of the company, including Samuel Goldenburg and Luba Kadison, and staged "Di brider ashkenaz" in Paris and London. Schwartz went on to Palestine, where he staged the same play in Hebrew at the Ohel Theater, and then toured with recitations in Yiddish and Hebrew.
Schwartz's Yiddish Art Theatre continued for the next two seasons at the Venice theater, opening in October 1938 with "Dray shtet" (Three Cities), Schwartz's dramatization of Sholem Asch's trilogy Farn mabul (Before the Flood), and in September 1939 with "Der tilim yid" (The Psalm Jew), his dramatization of Asch's novel of the same title. In between, in spring 1938 Schwartz appeared in Paris and London with great success, directing and starring in Jacob Preger's "Der vaser treger" (The Water Carrier; also know as Simkhe Plakhte); and in 1939 he directed and starred in the sound film Tevye, based on his own adaptation of the stories by Sholem Aleichem.
For the 1940/41 season the Schwartz's Yiddish Art Theatre moved to the Public Theatre, at Second Avenue and Fourth Street, where they opened with Aron Zeitlin's "Esterke." The company continued to perform through the 1940s, most of the time at the Public Theatre. Among the more significant productions were Schwartz's adaptations "Di mishpokhe Karnovski" (Family Carnovsky), from the novel by I.J. Singer (1943/44 season); "Drey matones" (Three Gifts), adapted by Schwartz and Melech Ravitch from the story by I. L. (1945/46 season), and "Shaylok un zayn tokhter" (Shylock and his Daughter), adaptation by Schwartz from a Hebrew novel by Ari Ibn-Zahav (1947/48 season).
In spring 1942 Schwartz guest starred in Buenos Aires, and later that year staged a Spanish-language version of S. Ansky's "Der dibek" there, at the National Theater. He put aside his plans for further Spanish-language productions upon learning of his father's death in Palestine.
After disbanding the Yiddish Art Theatre following the 1949/50 season, Maurice Schwartz continued to act, direct, organize productions, and give recitations, traveling in the United States, Israel, Mexico, South Africa, and South Africa. He worked in productions in both Yiddish and English. In 1953, he appeared in two Hollywood films, as the king's overseer, in Salomea and as Daniel in Slaves of Babylon.
After a first marriage that ended in divorce in 1911, Maurice Schwartz married Anna Bordofsky in 1914, and they remained together until his death. They adopted two children, Frances (later Risa Schwartz Whiting; born in Antwerp in 1939) and Marvin (Menachem).
Maurice Schwartz died in Tel Aviv on 10 May 1960, while touring in Israel.
Lifson, David S. The Yiddish Theatre in America. New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1965. pp. 313-395 ("Maurice Schwartz and the Yiddish Art Theatre").
"Maurice Schwartz, Actor, Dead; Founder of Yiddish Art Theatre". New York Times. May 11, 1960.
Zylberzweig, Zalmen (ed.). "Shvarts, Moris (Avrom Moyshe)." Leksikon fun yidishn teater. Vol. 3. New York: Hebrew Actors' Union; Elisheva, 1959. cols. 2327-2368.
0.5 Linear Feet (1.25 boxes; 25 folders)
Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States