An article in todays NY TIMES.
Yiddish still interests everyone, but our film still can't get a tiny screening in that city.
The Charms of Yiddish Theater, and a Chandleresque Tale
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By SAM ROBERTS
Published: November 26, 2006
THE Jewish people’s tiny share of the human race “suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way,” but the Jew “has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages, and has done it with his hands tied behind him.” So wrote Mark Twain.
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Hazel Hankin via Rivergate Press
Jones Walk, Coney Island, in the ’80s, a scene captured in “Hidden New York.”
Recently Published (November 26, 2006)
Stefan Kanfer invokes Twain’s celestial metaphor for the title of his entertaining new book, “Stardust Lost: The Triumph, Tragedy and Mishugas of the Yiddish Theater in America” (Alfred A. Knopf, $26.95). You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy his wry take on a nearly extinct institution that left an indelible mark not only on the Lower East Side, but also on Broadway and the American stage, and whose history echoes in today’s headlines about immigration and assimilation.
The Adlers, the Thomashefskys, Bertha Kalish, Maurice Schwartz, Abraham Goldfaden and Molly Picon are among the largely forgotten stars of Mr. Kanfer’s hyperkinetic ensemble. Their outsize personalities, coupled with excerpts of the skits and scripts they performed and adapted, provide some of the most memorable passages in his book.
Readers gratefully tag along as Jacob Gordin escorts Henry James on a tour of the Lower East Side, and listen in as Paul Muni theatrically transforms himself during his interrogation by an immigration judge from a crippled, heavily accented greenhorn into a proud and polished young man who speaks English eloquently. “Your honor, it’s remarkable,” Muni announces. “Now that you’ve made me a citizen, I can speak perfectly!”
Mr. Kanfer traces Yiddish theater from its roots in Romania to America, where it thrived for decades, and retells the odyssey of the first Yiddish crossover hit, a 1932 song called “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen.”
Mr. Kanfer calls Yiddish “the Velcro language” because words and phrases from all over Europe affixed themselves to it. Somehow, it survives and, like the Yiddish theater, “not only changed the ghetto dwellers, it had altered the history of Broadway and Hollywood, and thus, to a certain extent, America.” In the end, he concludes, the stardust has not been lost: “Scattered to the winds, perhaps — but lost? Never.”
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