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Molly Picon

A lively comic actress with a talent for playing tomboys, Molly Picon brought Yiddish theater to a wider American audience.
Gloria Steinem Speaking

Halloween: JWA Style

Jordyn Rozensky

We are well into October and it is time to talk Halloween. Knowing that it can be difficult to find a costume that accurately represents your feminism and your Jewish identity, we’ve put together our guide to a well-researched JWA Halloween costume.

Wendy Wasserstein

Making Trouble: Clips from the Cutting Room Floor

Steven Myers-Yawnick

While hard at work here at the Archive, I stumbled upon some interviews that ended up on the cutting room floor during production of our prizewinning documentary “Making Trouble”. Take a look at a few clips that feature fabulous Jewish women in entertainment talking about fabulous Jewish women in entertainment.

See Tovah Feldshuh speak about the ahead of her time Sophie TuckerAlex Borstein explore Gilda Radner's beauty,  Adrienne Cooper's take on Molly Picon gender roles, and Wendy Wasserstein's thoughts Jewish entertainers on and off the stage. 

Topics: Comedy, Film, Theater

What "Making Trouble" means to me

Leah Berkenwald

If you follow JWA on Twitter or Facebook, it should be pretty obvious that we think Making Trouble, the film about six trailblazing Jewish women entertainers, makes a great Hanukkah present for the whole family.  Normally, the idea of pushing a "product" makes me queasy.  Afterall, I chose to work for a non-profit, not an advertising firm!  So I feel that I owe the JWA audience a real and honest explanation for why I think Making Trouble is something you should own.

Topics: Comedy, Film

Molly Picon

For over seventy years, Molly Picon, star of Yiddish theater and film, delighted audiences with her comic song and dance performances. Picon performed on stage and in Yiddish and Hollywood films for Jewish and non-Jewish audiences around the world. Her engaging persona and powerful performances helped keep Yiddish culture alive by bringing it out of the shtetl and into mainstream American culture.

Award for Yiddish actress, Molly Picon

June 28, 1980

Born in New York in 1898, Molly Picon moved with her family to Philadelphia before she was three.

Yiddish Theater in Vienna

Jewish theater in Vienna between 1900 and 1938 is inconceivable without women actors. A total of 112 people were active in the Viennese Yiddish theaters, of whom 37 were women. Actors such as Pepi Litmann, Molly Picon, and Mina Deutsch popularized “trouser roles” in which women depicted men as well as playing strongly typified female characters.

Yiddish Theater in the United States

Women have always been important as both Yiddish theater audiences and actors. For a decade and more, most American Yiddish actors were immigrants, as were their audiences. Often families played in the same company, such as the famous Adler family. Now, as Yiddish theater has become attenuated, the loyalties and memories of women are important for its survival.

Yiddish Musical Theater in the United States

Jewish women on stage in America took on a variety of musical roles and performed all kinds of songs, including religious hymns and liturgical chants.

Yiddish Film in the United States

American Yiddish films captured the language, lifestyle, values, dreams, and myths of Yiddish culture, which resonated deeply with many Yiddish immigrant communities in New York City. Yiddish film reached its “Golden Age” between 1936 and 1939, and many influential women graced the Yiddish screen, including Moly Pico, Celia Adler, Jennie Goldstein, Lili Liliana, and Berta Gersten. 

Vaudeville in the United States

It would only begin to tell the larger story of how and why Jewish women and vaudeville came to intersect as they did in the early decades of the twentieth century.

Theater in the United States

For over a hundred years, Jewish women have been involved in the American theater as writers, actors, directors, designers and producers. The vitality of the Yiddish theater, the splendor of Broadway, the rich tapestry of the regional theater—and everything in between—all owe a debt to the Jewish women who have given of their talents, their energy, their drive, and their dreams.

Television in the United States

Jewish women have had a long-standing, complex, often fraught relation to American television. They have had to battle a male-dominated production system and sexist stereotypes, but also have seen significant advances, in front of and behind the screen, resulting from the cable and streaming revolutions and third-wave feminist activism.  

Molly Picon

A drunk’s dare to a five-year-old on a trolley car initiated the career of Molly Picon, the petite darling of the Yiddish musical theater.

Bessie Thomashefsky

With suffragist spirit and comedic skill, Bessie Thomashefsky adapted great American and British plays for Yiddish-speaking audiences. Thomashefsky performed Yiddish adaptations of plays by Chekov, Wilde, and Shakespeare, as well as modern Yiddish creations at the People’s Theater in New York, playing many strong female characters. From 1915 to 1919, she ran the People’s Theater and renamed it for herself. 

Jewish Women and Jewish Music in America

American Jewish music has expanded vastly in variety, range, and quality of activities. Jews brought to America their secular-folk and sacred-liturgical musical heritage. There has been a renascence of age-old traditions that have become means of self-expression for Jewish women.

Film Industry in the United States

The history of Jewish women’s contribution to the Hollywood film industry has been one of gradual progression toward ever higher levels of participation. For most of Hollywood’s history, the dominant tendency was to achieve a universal image that revealed no traces of ethnic heritage. This trend held until the 1960s and affected all ethnic groups. Only a few dozen Jewish actors were able to make their way into stardom under these constraints. Since the 1960s, however, Hollywood films have reflected a higher degree of ethnic diversity. The result of this change is that increasing numbers of Jewish actors have been able to establish careers in Hollywood.

Bella Bellarina

Bella Bellarina was beloved on the Yiddish stage, but her lack of English prevented her from transitioning to the mainstream theater. Bellarina was discovered by David Herman and performed with his Vilna Troupe for several years. She was known for her range, playing the mischievous tomboy Tsine in Grine Felder and the reserved, ladylike Leah in The Dybbuk

Molly Picon: A Celebrity for the Ages

Lauren

Years ago, when I was working on my undergraduate thesis on Yiddish film, I attempted conversation about the subject at cocktail parties (well, at that point they weren’t yet cocktail parties, but there were definitely M&Ms) –

“Yiddish? Film? What? Like Yentl?”

No. Not like Yentl. They’re in Yiddish! And most of them were originally Yiddish theater productions. Molly Picon? ... No?... Nobody?... Nevermind. Is it hot in here? Pass the M&Ms.

Making Trouble in Boston

Judith Rosenbaum

Yesterday I finally got to see Making Trouble, the film produced by the Jewish Women's Archive, on the big screen. After sold-out shows at film festivals around the country (plus Jerusalem!), Making Trouble made its Boston premiere as part of the Boston Jewish Film Festival. Though I've seen the film several times, and in various versions, it was exciting to see it in a theater, with a big audience.

Topics: Comedy, Film
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