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The Jewish South. [volume] (Richmond, Va.) 1893-1899, November 24, 1893, Image 5

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Jewish Actors.
During his recent engagement at the Grand
Opera House in this city, Henry Irving, the
celebrated English actor, in a published inter
view, expressed himself of the opinion tbat
Jews were the principal patrons of the theatre.
I do not think there is a single theatrical man
ager in any of the larger cities of the Union
but who will corroborate Mr. Irving's state
ment. So far as San Francisco is concerned, if
anyone doubts the assertion, let him step into
any of our leading temples of Thespis, especial
ly on a "first night," and in all likelihood his
skepticism will at once be removed. And since
our Jewish fellow-citizens are so liberal in their
patronage of the art, I have often wondered
why it is that there were not a larger number
of our co-religionists who had acquired fame
and fortune in the deamatic profession.
To be sure one often hears the remark that
tnis actor or that actress is an Israelite, bnt
when one commences to investigate it does not
not take long to become convinced of the fact
that the statement is entirely without founda
tion. For instance, I have often heard it said
(and the saying was embellished with no small
amount of positiveness) that Junius Brutus
Booth, the father of Edwin Booth, was a He
brew. It is an absolute fact that he was a
thorough Hebrew scholar. He had received an
excellent classical education, and not only read
the Talmud, bnt strictly adhered to some of its
laws He loved to frequent synagogues and
converse with rabbis and learned doctors in the
sacred tongue. He even joined them in their
worship, and some years ago, while on a pro
fessional visit to New Orleans, I was informed
that during one of his spells of inebriety he bad
fallen on his knees on the sidewalk and boldly
proclaimed : ''Shema Yisroel, Adonia Elo
hainuh, Adonai Echod."
On September 17, 1822, during his autumn
engagement at Covent Garden, London, in
imitation of the attempt of a foreign actor, he
essayed the role of Shy lock, playing it in the
Jewish dialect. It is even said that he inter
polated many Hebrew phrases, and occasion
ally spoke entire scenes in the language. When
he purchased "The Farm," as his country resi
dence near Belair, Maryland, was called, he
fenced in a little graveyard, where the Jewish
althea bushes had their place among the yews
and weeping willows Iv the face of all this
cumulative evidence one naturally is led to be
lieve that there must have been Jewish blood
in his veins. But then Mr. Booth was as fa
miliar with the Koran as with the Talmud, and
visited the cathedral of the Catholic as often as
he did the synagogue of the Jew, and so I am
inclined to think that the statement as to that
brilliant actor's Jewish origin is apocryphal,
to say the least.
The Wallacks have also often been quoted as
being of Hebraic origin. William Wallack, the
progenitor of the well-known theatrical family,
was an actor and vocalist at Astley's Amphi
theatre in London. That many Astley's
equestrians there were many Jews cannot be
gainsaid. And that Mr. Wallack, in his asso
ciation with tbe latter, may have picked up a
smattering of Hebrew, is within the range of
possibilities It is barely possible that Mrs.
Wallack may have been of the faith, but there
is considerable doubt about it.
Did it ever occur to you how the mistake is
apt to be made? Did you ever notice that
the most successfnlectors were men with pro
nounced features? A prominent nose and bril
liant eyes are natural concomitants to success on
the stage, and as those features are distinctive
marks of the Jewish race, is it not barely possi
ble that the mere fact of an actor possessing
them may lead to his being classed among the
chosen?
But so far as the drama is concerned, it is
not surprising that the Jew is not found partici
pating in theatrical productions in the early
history of the English stage. The first per
formances were mysteries and miracle
plays depicting the suffering of the mar
tyrs, and the principal performers were
monks and priests Missionaries would com
bine preaching with playing, and it is narrated
of St Adhelm that when his audience became
weary he would take a small harp from under
his gown and strike up a song. In the year
1119, Geoffrey, a monk, was a manager at
Dunstable, and produced "The Life of St Kath
erine." For several centuries the Church em
ployed tbe stage for religious ends, but in
1587, after the birth of legitimate tragedy and
comedy, theatres were bitterly attacked by
Goeson, the parson of St. Botolph's, in his
book entitled "A School of Abuse," and aimed,
as he said, "against poets, players, jesters, and
such like Caterpillars of a Commonwealth."
About this time was passed a statute classing
players as rogues and vagabonds, unless they
could procure a license from two justices In
view of all these facts, it is not strange that
Jewish actors were comparatively unknown
until the present century. Be that as it may,
the first recorded instance of Jewish acting
antedates the Roman Thespians, Roecius and
__9opus many centuries. It is narrated in I
Samuel, 21, that David fled for fear of Saul to
Achish, the King of Gath; but finding tbe latter
unfriendly, "changed his behavior before them
and feigned himself mad in their hands and scrab
bled on the doors of the gate, and let his spit
tle fall down upon his beard." David must have
performed his part remarkably well, for Ach
ish said unto his servants "Lo, ye see the
man is mad: wherefore then have ye brought
him to me? Have of madmen, that ye
have brought this fellow to play the madman
in my presence? Shall this fellow come into
my house?" After this successful portrayal Da
vid was allowed to depart thence and escaped
to the cave of Adullain.
But the first Hebrew' in modern times to
1 achieve distinction on the stage was John Bra
ham, 1774-1856. His father's name was Abra
ham, and as he was short and stout his neigh
bora nicknamed bim "Punch." The title
clung and always after he was spoken of as "Abe
1 PUnch. " Now and then young Abraham made
1 a few shillings singing at the synagogue, where
his voice eventually attracted the attention of
ne of the wealt Goldsmid family. The lat
er introduced himself to Leoni Lee, a clever
musician, who instructed Abraham in the
rudiments of music and singing. After study
ing for two years, he made his first appearance
at the Garrick Theatre under the name of Bra
ham, where bis success was at once prompt and
decisive. Hia voice was a tenor, of the purest
quality, end ranged from La below the line to
the upper Si. In 1796 he appeared in the opera
on Mahmoud at Drury Lane and then visited
' the principal Italian cities. In 1801 be return
ed to Convent Garden, where his success was
triumphant He was also a composer, and
wrote numerous songs, besides incidental mu
sic to a large number of dramas. It is a singu
lar circumstance that a few years later, in 1809,
the management of this same theatre engaged
large numbers of Jewish pugilists, headed by
Mendoza, to quell the famous "(). P." riots.
Tbe house had been rebuilt snd on reopening,
the price of seats was increased. The British
public resented the manager's temerity by
howling, hissing and shouting, and demanded
that they be admitted at the old price. The
riots lasted for fifty nights, and when the He
brew fighters were admitted to 'he boxes (they
had always previously been confined to the
pit) there was no end of derisive hooting. It is
needless to ray, the managers were victorious,
and the O. P'.s did not prevail.
Eliza Rachel Felix Rachel, the daughter of
the Jewish peddler, was born in Munf, Switzer
land, in 1820. In 1831 the family moved to
Paris, where Sarah, an elder sister, used to
sing at the various cafes to the accompaniemnt
of an old guitar, while Rachel went from table
to table to collect the offerings of the spectators
In 1833 she made her debut as an actress, and
in 1838 made a decided hit as Camille in Cor
neille's "Les Horaces." Her fame culminated
in 1843 in Raciene's tradgedy of "Phedre." In
1848 her public recital of the Marseilles Hymn
created a perfect furore, and her name will al
ways be connected with tbe history of that try
ing period. She visited with equal success
England, Russia and America, but while in
this country her health failed and she returned
to France utterly piostrated. On January 3,
1858, she died at Cannes, after having amassed
a fortune. It is said of her that she was con
stant in her home affections, and freely shared
her prosperty wit h ber family.
Adah Isaacs Menken was born on June 15th,
1835, under the scorching sun of Louisiana. Her
real name was Adelaide McCord. __ four
teen she was first seen as a danseuse in New
Orleans. In 1856 she married Alexander Isaacs
Menken, a musician, at Galveston, Tex., and
two years later made her first appearance at the
New Orleans Varieties in "Fazio." She final
ly made a pronounced success as "Mazeppa,"
and in 1864 sallied for England, where she ap
peared at Astley's She also performed in Par
is, the play running 100 nights. On the oc
casion of the last performance there were pres
ent Napoleon 111, the Ring of Greece, the Duke
of Edinburgh and the Prince Imperial. She
then visited Vienna, but finally died at the age
of 33 in the French capital. I will not dwell up
on her matrimonial experiences, which were
varied and numerous She had considerable lit
erary ability, and reckoned among her more
or less intimate associates such men as Charles
Dickens, Alexander Dumas, Theophile Gautier
and Swinburne, Srie died in the Jewish faith
and lies buried in Mount Parnasse Cemetery.
— Jnlius Kahn, in San Francisco Jewish Progress.
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