Ben-Ami, Jacob


Ben-Ami, Jacob
(1890-1977)
   Born in Minsk, Russia, as Jacob Shtchirin, Jacob Ben-Ami was one of the few stars of Yiddish theatre to also find success on the English-speaking American stage. Before immigrating to the United States in 1912, Ben-Ami performed with the Hirshbein Theatre and the Vilna Troupe in Russia, after which he worked for the Fineman Art Theatre in London. In New York, Ben-Ami joined the Irving Place Theatre in 1918, but clashed with producer Maurice Schwartz over the quality of the works being staged. He brought a modernist view to the Yiddish theatre, seeking to abandon the star system and what he regarded as old-fashioned, mediocre works.
   Ben-Ami founded the Jewish Art Theatre, where he produced plays by Sholom Aleichem, Leo Tolstoy, and Gerhardt Hauptmann. Broadway producer Arthur Hopkins cast Ben-Ami in Samson and Delilah (1920). He appeared in Eugene O'Neill's Welded (1924), Evening Song* (1934), and The Tenth Man* (1959) before retiring in 1974. Ben-Ami was also a member of Eva Le Gallienne's Civic Repertory Theatre, acting in The Cherry Orchard (1929), Romeo and Juliet (1930), The Green Cockatoo (1930), and Siegfried (1930), and winning particular plaudits from critics as Trigorin in The Seagull (1929). He also worked with the Theatre Guild as an actor and director, toured Africa and South America with Yiddish theatre productions, and founded several groups with the goals of promoting Jewish culture and production of Yiddish classics in translation.

The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. .

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