Times Square Tintypes: Molly Picon

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles actress and star of the Yiddish Theatre Molly Picon.


MOLLY PICON. The darling of East Broadway.
Caricature of Molly PiconShe is not quite five feet and weighs a hundred pounds. Wear a size eleven girl’s dress. Her toes never reach the tip of her stockings.
She is always asking questions.
Her one disappointment in life is that she wasn’t born a boy.
Made her stage début as an infant prodigy at amateur nights. In those days she was “Baby Margaret.” Ten years ago in Boston she deserted vaudeville for the Yiddish stage by joining a Jewish burlesque show. She speaks English better than many actors on Broadway.
Has a mania for French dolls. Her apartment is cluttered with them.
She writes the lyrics of all her songs. For every show she learns something new. She can sing, dance, perform feats of magic, play six different musical instruments and do acrobatic tricks.
Hates to talk on the telephone. If she is home alone she never answers the phone but lets it keep on ringing.
In every play she wears a dress suit. She owns one dress suit with three pairs of paints.
Always sits with her feet on the chair.
She is married. When she first met her husband, Jacob Kalish, he never combed his hair, shined his shoes or pressed his trousers. She told him that if he dolled up she’d marry him. He immediately bought three suits and invited her to his house. He then changed suits every half hour. There was nothing left for her to do but marry him. She proudly states that he can make love to her in six different languages.
She carries Jewish luck charms given to her by rabbis.
Whenever she has a new dress she goes to the Royal Café. This is the Reuben’s, Sardi’s and Algonquin of Second Avenue.
Is always putting her fingers in her mouth but never bites her nails.
When it comes to naming a favorite actor and actress, Charlie Chaplin and Helen Hayes head her honor roll.
She has performed in Russia, Roumania, Galicia, Jerusalem and Austria. The results of this tour were a gift from Queen Marie of Roumania, the finding of Joseph Rumshinsky (he now writes the music for all her plays) in Vienna and the naming of two gardens after her in Jerusalem.
During intermission she always drinks a glass of tea with lemon.
Offstage she never uses powder, lipstick or perfume. She doesn’t smoke.
She wears both nightgowns and pajamas. She buys neither. It is the custom of the Yiddish theater to have a “Testimonial Evening” once a month. On these occasions she receives nightgowns and pajamas from admirers.
When she was born the midwife looked at her and said: “Nebesh—poor kid.” Her mother didn’t kiss her until she was a year old.
Is actually afraid of people who talk figures. Has no head for business. Her husband arranges all her financial affairs.
She gets a big kick out of reading poetry and visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her favorite author is Ben Hecht. In her opinion One Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago is one of the finest books ever written.
D. W. Griffith is her most ardent admirer. He intends to star her shortly in a talking picture.
She lives with her husband, mother and sister. Her husband is a part owner of Kessler’s Second Avenue Theatre, where she performs. Her mother is a wardrobe mistress at that theater. Her sister does the cooking for the family. They keep a kosher house. Outside, however, Molly loves to go to a Chinese restaurant and eat roast pork.

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In Your Hat, pt. 5

Here’s Chapter 5 of In Your Hat, the 1933 tell-all memoir by Hat Check Girl to the Stars, Renee Carroll, in which she dishes on 1930s press agentry and Broadway columnists such as Walter Winchell, Louis Sobol, Mark Hellinger, and others.

     THE press boys are divided into two sections. Those who are in and those trying to get in. Those already in are such lights as Winchell, Hellinger, Sobol, Skolsky, Yawitz, Sullivan and the rest. On the other side of the gate, trying day and night to crash it, are a host of diligent workers, most of them intelligent youngsters who have experienced softening of the brain.
     The press agents, who like to think of themselves as connected with the newspaper business, are in such great numbers that it would be difficult to name them all. But the majority of the best ones are connected with the films.
     It has been said that if you scratch a star you’ll find a press agent, and if you scratch a press agent, he’ll thank you. The press agent is a nervous, erratic type who works in twenty-four hour shifts (while you sleep) and succeeds in bringing the name of his client before the public—or gets thrown into the street in the attempt. If you walk along and see a man dusting himself off, you can lay odds it’s a press agent with another idea gone wrong.
     The reason I say that most press agents are in the preliminary stages of dementia praecox is because they write things that under ordinary circumstances they would admit were insane, and yet they expect editors to print the stuff without question. Their efforts are so frantic that in no time at all they get farfetched and nutty, and the result is shown partly in the collection of press-agent’s squibs that I have collected from time to time. All of the copy is from movie press agents gone wrong.
     For example, one of them, having nothing else to do, will write a story and send it to the editors expecting them to print it. This one is an extract of a story sent from Hollywood:

   “…the physical measurements of 124 of the chorus girls under contract to this studio reveal that they have grown, on an average, one-fourth of an inch in height in the past eight months since most of them were placed under contract. There has also been an average of increase of three pounds in weight despite the strenuous dancing which is part of their daily routine.”

     This startling item may make the nation growth-conscious and it may, on the other hand, make the press agent obnoxious.
     Another great news break for managing editors comes printed in sotto voce type, telling the gaping world that an English actor who appeared as a butler in many films “has received letters offering him jobs as the major-domo in the service of many Park Avenue dowagers.” It goes on to say that the actors has received 279 offers.
     Another story teller sends out a squib saying that love scenes have not suffered with talking films, for a hero and a heroine meeting for the first time on the set no longer find it necessary to simulate warmth in their celluloid caresses. Science has come to Cupid’s assistance in the guise of a portable set-warmer, which sends gales of hot air into chilly stages. SIZZLING LOVE SCENES ARE BECOMING A REALITY AT TALKIE STUDIOS! (The capital letters are the press agent’s.) Operated by gas and electricity, the heating units, etc. An electric fans blows hot air in any desired direction.
     They might have saved expenses and put the writer on the scene.
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