“The Great Eagle” of New York’s Yiddish Theater

In the 1880s, lower Second Avenue became kind of a Jewish Broadway. As great waves of Eastern European Jews immigrated to New York City, they established dozens of theaters there and elsewhere in today’s East Village and Lower East Side.

JacobadlerposterJacob Pavlovich Adler (Adler is Eagle in German, hence his nickname) was one of the biggest headliners. Born in Russia, he came to New York after gaining fame in Odessa (where Yiddish Theater was subsequently outlawed as its popularity grew) and then London.

He acted in or helped produce serious dramas: Yiddish versions of King Lear and The Merchant of Venice, classics by Dumas and Ibsen, and toward the end of his career, 1911’s The Living Corpse by Tolstoy. 

On the sheet music cover at left, that’s likely Adler’s wife Sarah with Adler. They started their own theater on Canal Street and the Bowery in 1904.

Adler died in 1926, as Yiddish Theater began to lose popularity. After World War II, it was pretty much obsolete. Several of his kids became actors, and his daughter Stella taught Method acting to generations of stars, such as Marlon Brando.

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5 Responses to ““The Great Eagle” of New York’s Yiddish Theater”

  1. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    What an alive spot 2nd Avenue must have been in those days…I can just imagine them rehearsing and flirting with the actresses. Henry Miller mentions that a bit in many of his books, the trilogy ‘Rosy Crucifixion’ looks at those years on the Lower East Side. But of course Henry Miller did a little more than just acting 🙂

  2. Jeanne Barrack Says:

    The greats of Yiddish Theater live on in their children, grandchildren and the performers and entertainers they instructed. Boris Thomashefsky’s grandson, conductor, Michael Tilson-Thomas, to name just one, exemplifies this wonderful heritage.
    And Mick, he’s one of the tribe….:~D
    Thanks for sending the link!

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    Luckily some of the old theaters still survive. I think Sunshine Cinema down on East Houston was originally a Yiddish theater. And there’s a Yiddish Theater Walk of Fame outside the Second Avenue Deli. Whoops, I mean the former Second Avenue Deli….

  4. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    I used to live on 13th Street and 2nd Avenue, the 2nd Avenue Deli was on 10th Street, so you can imagine how many times I stopped in for a frank or a knish, plenty of times. And maybe once a month for a pastrami sandwich with those lovely delicious pickles…my mouth still waters.

  5. melaniemusings2 Says:

    When I was very little I met Menashas Skulnick (sp?)–he was renowned in Yiddish Theatre. My Mom loved The Yiddish Theatre and Vaudeville and would tell me about it. Menashas was an elderly man at the time I met him but he was charming and always had a Yiddish song to sing. Those were the days.

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