February 28: Molly Picon
Yiddish actress and lyricist Molly Picon (Malka Opiekun) was born on this day in 1898. She first appeared onstage at age six, and was the sensation of the Yiddish theater world of Second Avenue by the early 1920s, following an acclaimed European tour with her husband, actor Jacob Kalich. (“The Yiddish I spoke was completely bastardized,” she later recalled, “and part of our plan was for me to learn correct Yiddish with its soft, guttural European accent.”) Picon’s films included East and West, about the New World-Old World culture clash in Jewish life, and Yidl Mitn Fidl, made in Poland, in which she disguises herself as a boy to make a living as an itinerant musician. She and Kalich were the first performers to tour Displaced Persons camps in Europe following the Holocaust. In 1954, she spoke passionately to the Israeli Knesset about the need to preserve rather than suppress Yiddish language and culture in the Jewish state.
“How can I tell all the people who have laughed and cried with me through seventy-five years in the theater, all over the world, when I was up and when I was down . . . how can I tell you how much your love for me has gladdened my heart through a wonderful life?” —Molly Picon