In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles actress and star of the Yiddish Theatre Molly Picon.
THE GHETTO GIRL
MOLLY PICON. The darling of East Broadway.
She 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.
On the East Side they name kids and clubs after her.
Once every year on a certain Jewish holiday she plays for the prisoners at Sing Sing.
During her entire career she received only one mash note. And that was from a college boy who had to write it as part of his initiation to join a fraternity.
Continually suffers from tonsillitis. In fact she was brought up on it.
When she was four years old she had only thirteen hairs on her head. Her nickname was “Chayve rive mit di dtraitzen haar.” Which in plain English means: “Molly with the thirteen hairs.”
She keeps a book at home in which she makes every prominent visitor write his name.
She went to Niagara Falls for her honeymoon. On the homeward trip, the happy couple were robbed of their baggage, their money, in fact everything. They arrived at Molly’s mother’s house in a taxi and had to borrow money from her to pay the fare. The mother put her arms around Molly and with tears in her eyes said: “My poor daughter. She goes on a honeymoon and she loses everything.” To which Molly quickly replied: “But I had a good time.”
She is very nervous on opening nights. On two occasions she lost her voice completely while on the stage.
Every day her husband gives her a list of “Don’ts.”