Schwartz, Maurice

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SCHWARTZ, MAURICE

SCHWARTZ, MAURICE (1890–1960), U.S. Yiddish actor. Schwartz was the last major figure in the Yiddish theater of New York. He flourished at a time when there were about 20 Yiddish shows on Second Avenue in New York City, and his Jewish Art Theater was among the last to close. He belonged to the older theatrical tradition; he had an impressive figure, he used wide gestures, and though he tended to be flamboyant, like many of his school, he achieved performances of great dignity.

In 1901, Schwartz reached New York with his parents from Sedikov in the Ukraine, and grew up on the Lower East Side. He made his debut with a Yiddish stock company in Baltimore in 1905 and seven years later was engaged by David Kessler for the opening of the Second Avenue Theater. Here he remained until launching the Jewish Art Theater in 1918. During the 40 years that followed, Schwartz became known in almost every corner of the Yiddish-speaking Diaspora. He toured North America, South America, Europe, Israel, and South Africa. His company had a repertoire of 150 plays from Shakespeare, Lope de Vega, Toller, and George Bernard Shaw to Shalom Aleichem. He was known especially for his playing of Reb Malech in Singer's Yoshe Kalb, Luka in Gorki's The Lower Depths, Oswald in Ibsen's Ghosts, Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, and the title role in King Lear. The Jewish Art Theater became an institution in New York, breeding talent for both the Yiddish and English-speaking stage. Schwartz's vital performances drew the Broadway critics, who found his theater vital and perceptive. The Jewish Art Theater lasted until 1950, when both audiences and companies had moved out of Second Avenue. An attempt to revive it in 1955 met with little success. Schwartz turned to motion pictures, but without success. In 1960 he went to Israel hoping to establish a Yiddish art center. He attracted a number of Israel players to his company and opened in Yoshe Kalb but two months later he died.

bibliography:

Z. Zylbercweig, Leksikon fun Yidishn Teater, 3 (1959), 2327–68, incl. bibl.

[Richard F. Shepard]