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February 12: The Great Eagle

February 12, 2016

m197701890014The pioneering actor of the Yiddish theater, Jacob Adler, known as “the Great Eagle” (Adler meaning “eagle” in German), was born in Odessa on this date in 1855. He was briefly a boxer, and was a popular dancer, a peddler, a hoodlum — and a student of classical theater. Once he took to the stage, Adler became one of the Yiddish theater’s most serious and classically oriented performers and producers and had a successful career in both London and America. In 1902, he co-founded the Grand Theater in New York, the first theater erected specifically for Yiddish productions. He was also the founder of the Independent Yiddish Art Company and became owner of Union Theatre, which “quickly became the most serious Yiddish-language theatre in New York,” according to the Jewish Virtual Library. “Adler recruited Jacob Gordin, a well-respected novelist, to become the Theater’s main playwright, writing such successes as The Yiddish King Lear. During this time, Adler played one of his most memorable performances, as Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice on the Yiddish stage at the People’s Theatre, and again in 1903 in a Broadway production.” Adler was the patriarch of a theater family that included Celia Adler, Luther Adler, and Stella Adler.

“Only dipped in blood and lit with tears of a living witness can the world understand how, with our blood, with our nerves, with the tears of our sleepless nights, we built the theater that stands today as a testament to our people.” —Jacob Adler