The Hebrew Actors Union Collection
- [Press Release - New York City- March 2009] The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is proud to announce the opening of its new exhibition Stars, Strikes, and the Yiddish Stage: The Story of the Hebrew Actors’ Union, 1899–2005 on March 12, at the Center for Jewish History. A major gift from Eli Broad, businessman and noted philanthropist, made the preservation of the records of the Hebrew Actors' Union and this exhibition possible.
At a private reception on March 10, YIVO will honor Eli Broad and his wife, Edythe, by naming the gallery housing the Hebrew Actors’ Union exhibit the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation Gallery in Honor of Leon and Rebecca Broad.
Founded in 1899, the Hebrew Actors' Union (HAU) was the first union for actors in America. Its membership included the most famous actors and actresses of the Yiddish stage. Throughout its existence, the HAU championed actors' rights to fair wages and decent working conditions.
After the death in 2002 of Seymour Rexite, a well-known singer and performer who served as the union’s last president, the union was decertified by the Associated Actors and Artistes of America because of its declining membership. In 2006, a New York Times reporter interviewed Mike Burstyn, who is himself an actor on the Yiddish and American stages (and currently is performing in Lansky, a one-man Off-Broadway production), about the cache of treasures and artifacts in the Hebrew Actors' Union building. That same year, the Hebrew Actors' Union donated its collection to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, which holds the world’s largest collection of original materials on the Yiddish theater.
Following extensive preservation work on the collection by YIVO curatorial staff, the exhibition was prepared along with its accompanying catalog, underwritten by a gift of $186,000 from The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, based in Los Angeles. Eli Broad is an entrepreneur who founded two Fortune 500 companies – KB Home and SunAmerica.
He and his wife are founders of The Broad Foundations, which they established to advance entrepreneurship for the public good in education, science and the arts.
Stars, Strikes, and the Yiddish Stage: The Story of the Hebrew Actors’ Union, 1899–2005 features rare HAU materials such as original letters, theater posters, manuscripts and artifacts: a telegram from Molly Picon from Poland reporting on concerts she gave for Holocaust survivors after the war; financial ledgers showing the weekly wages of actors; and items on stars such Ludwig Satz, who earned $500 per week at a time when the rank and file actor was earning $40 at most. Maurice Schwartz, director of the Second Avenue Theatre, who was known for the high quality of his productions and for his frequent passionate altercations with the Hebrew Actors Union, is also represented.
Fyvush Finkel, a HAU member who continues to perform today, recalled in an interview about the HAU that the famous “auditions” of the 1930s were so tough that even famous actors like Celia Adler failed them several times before being accepted.
The exhibition includes a video an interview with the late Seymour Rexite about those HAU auditions. It is excerpted from Komediant, a film about the Bursteins, the renowned Yiddish American theatrical family, shown courtesy of New Yorker Films. Discuss Email To A Friend Purcha