“Our Molly,” that inveterate world trouper, is back from Russia and Palestine, her eyes a little wider with wonder at the world.
And, after all, it would take a lot to open wider the eyes of “Our Molly,” who, you will please bear in mind, has travelled through nineteen countries merely as a matter of trouper’s routine. She was born, so to speak, off the wings of a theatre, has had grease paint with her dinners and has gone to bed in a Pullman sleeper in one state to awake the next morning five states away.
But, of course, Russia and Palestine are a little further away and she went there, on vacation, so to speak, to amuse and relax herself rather than amuse the tens of thousands of exacting theatre-goers who say: “We’ve had bread; give us cake, we want Molly, Our Molly!”
Wait a minute! Maybe you’re one of those barbarians who doesn’t know who “Our Molly” is. Why, Molly Picon, of course, otherwise known as Molly Darling, who played “Yankelle 1,800 times in nineteen countries, everywhere in the one tongue that she knows best, that Esperanto of Judaism known as Yiddish.
MOLLY AT HOME
Molly Picon has another name, the interviewer discovered the other day. It is Mrs. Jacob Kalish, wife of her playwright and manager, and although Molly may hold the boards and hear that echo to her humor known as the belly-laugh with the consciousness that the audience is indisputably her’s, within the pleasant domestic walls of the Kalish apartment on West 69th Street, Molly Picon, or the good wife Mrs. Kalish, listens attentively to the clear, calm words of her husbandâ€”the power behind the theatrical throne. Her place may not be the home, but she knows her place in the home.
It was from him, and from her also, that I learned about the Yiddish theatre.
“Isn’t it true,” I asked, “that the Yiddish theatre is rather simple, that in the same so-called play there will be both the broadest, crudest humor and the most drivelling weepy sentimentality?”
After all, I was at headquarters and if headquarters couldn’t tell us, who could?
Headquarters told. Mr. Kalish spoke. Molly assented. Whereas, he pointed out, a theatregoer to the English stage can pick his evening’s entertainment from among a light revue, a horror story, a society drama, a tragedy and a bedroom farce, the Yiddish theatregoer has not the same choice; he must get a dozen forms of theatre in one performance. To realize the superiority of the Yiddish theatre, said Mr. Kalish, you must compare it not with the Broadway stage, but with the other immigrant theatres. After all the Italian and the German theatre in New York are far from being the permanent outfit that the Yiddish theatre is.
DELIGHT OF A GOOD CRY
And also, Molly Picon interprosed, the old immigrant woman does attend the Yiddish theatre with every expectationâ€”which must not be disappointedâ€”of a good cry. Whereas the new generation dabs at its furtive tears with a glove, the old lady of the East Side unashamedly takes out her handkerchief and enjoys herself.
Well, I asked, isn’t the Yiddish theatre losing the patronage of the younger elements who are growing up, and deriving their entertainment from the English stage.
No, said Molly. It’s the other way around. “I would find, after I had done a turn in vaudeville, that many of those whom I had amused there would come to see me on the Yiddish stage.”
And also, said Mr. Kalish, “I used to watch the audiences that came to see Molly and night after night I found them almost equally divided among these three elements of Jews: the grandparents, the parents and the sons and daughters.
POINT OF SUPERIORITY
However patronizing the English stage may feel toward the Yiddish stage in America, there is one respect in which it has reason to feel inferior.
Sometimes actors from the English stage, on their off-nights, if when they are “at liberty,” stray into the Yiddish theatre, and marvel at the responsiveness of the audience. “What we couldn’t do if we had such an audience to work with!” they have often told the Kalishes.
The accord struck in the Yiddish theatre between performer and audience imposes an obligation, however, on the performer, an obligation with its pleasant side.
“The English actor’s work is done when the performance is over. The Yiddish actor’s work is not over when the curtain falls.” And then they explained. The popular Yiddish actor must take some part in the communal life of his audience. Dozens of Jewish mothers have named their daughters Molly, after “Our Molly.” Whenever she sails to, or returns from, a foreign port, she is greeted at the pier by scores of admirersâ€”none of them known personally to herâ€”with their children whom they have named after her. She will receive wedding cakes after a marriage ceremony at which admirers have been united. The interviewer was shown, and honestly impressed by, the beautiful token of esteem bestowed on Molly by the Jews of Buenos Aires and the Jews of Roumaniaâ€”autograph volumes in beautiful hand-tooled leather bindings. And in the Roumanian book, there were inscribed copies of deeds to hundreds of trees in Palestine planted as memorials to Molly.
AMONG FRIENDS ABROAD
I do not think such things happen to English stage stars; either their audiences keep them, or they keep their audiences, at a greater distance.
Both in Russia and in Palestine Molly Picon and Jacob Kalish were among friends. They were in the Soviets, during the Theatre Festival of June 1-10, and saw performances of the State theatres’ repertoire of drama, ballet, opera. Direction and settings were brilliant, but the material of the play, ballet and opera was invariably propagandistic. And the propaganda is becoming monotonous. The stage in Russia is conducted not for the sake of the theatre but for the sake of the propaganda. Our tourists from the East Side met the players of the Jewish State Theatre.
They arrived in Palestine in time for Passover. Perhaps they would have put off that visit to a later date had they not promised Bialik, whom they had met at Carlsbad, that they would come to Palestine. When they arrived they were made much of, gave four concerts, participated in the planting of trees on the orange grove of Rubin, the painter, and on many other occasions. During the entire period of their visit, their host, the greatest Hebrew poet, spoke Yiddish exclusively.
HEBREW ON THE STREETS
Hebrew, of course, is the language of the theatre and of the streets. Even the newcomers from Germany have no difficulty in adjusting themselves to the new tongue, for even the most assimilated among them recall some Hebrew from their prayer books and early school lessons. They found that old words were beautifully adapted, even by children on the streets, to new uses and that even the Hebrew jargon has a beauty and dignity of its own.
Tel Aviv they discovered was the cultural centre of Palestine. In that city alone there are three groups of players, including the famous Habima.
Molly will divide the forthcoming season between the Yiddish and English language theartres. She is at present considering an offer to appear in a moving picture. This offer, if accepted, will take up the rest of the summer. The only dubious point is whether she will start the Fall in the English theatre or in the Yiddish. She is equally at home in both. She was an English vaudeville hoyden before she entered the Yiddish stage. And her career started when her Philadelphia employer refused to give her a raise. She was then sixteen. Molly Picon has been in the theatre and of the theatre since the age of five.