Yiddish on Broadway
Molly Picon, 1898 - 1992
"Slowly, as immigration diminished, the ethnic theaters petered out, but the Yiddish theater outlasted them all, in spite of the fact that the younger, American-born generation no longer could speak, or even understand, mama-loshen, the mother tongue (so called, I suppose, because mama did all the talking). Since Mama was so anxious to see her children become Americans, not remain greenhorns, she urged them on to learn English, to be able to go to college, to become a Somebody. Unfortunately, she didn't realize then what a wonderful heritage and what a vivid, juicy language they were losing and would never be able to recapture."
Despite the decline of Yiddish-speaking audiences, Picon's career continued to flourish. In 1942, Kalich responded to the demographic change and wrote his new musical, Oy Is Dus a Leben! (What a Hard Life!), in both Yiddish and English. A biographical piece that chronicled Picon's childhood and romance with Kalich, the play was a huge success and became the first Yiddish play ever to reach Broadway. Picon considered it her "biggest moral and financial success."
- "Slowly, as immigration..." Picon, Molly & Bergantini Grillo, Jean, Molly! (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980) 94.
- "biggest moral..." Picon, Molly & Bergantini Grillo, Jean, Molly! (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980) 94.