Adler, Jacob

   The dominant actor of the New York-based Yiddish theatre during its heyday, Jacob Adler endeavored to elevate the quality of acting and the dramatic literature performed by Yiddish-speaking companies. As a young man, the Russian-born Adler joined a small theatrical troupe in Riga, Latvia. During the pogroms, Adler left for London, where he lived for a time in the mid-1880s before moving to the United States. He first attempted to establish a Yiddish company in Chicago, but it failed. After a frustrating two years in New York City, Adler returned to London and was well received, but he remained there for only two years before returning to New York billed as "Greater Than Salvini."
   Adler's first American appearances, in The Beggar of Odessa and Under the Protection of Sir Moses Montefiore, flopped, but The Russian Soldier, followed by La Juive, firmly established his popularity. Adler toured with Boris Thomashefsky for a time, but personal matters and divergent tastes ended the partnership. Adler particularly rejected the operettas and other lighthearted fare that Thomashefsky typically presented as part of his repertory, instead setting about to raise tastes and audience expectations. Adler commissioned playwright Jacob Gordin to write The Yiddish King Lear (1892), a free adaptation of Shakespeare, and it was a major success frequently revived by Adler. Gordin also wrote The Wild Man, another triumph. Adler's production of a Yiddish translation of The Merchant of Venice in 1901 was the pinnacle of his achievement as an actor. It was staged on Broadway (in 1903 and 1905) with the convention that all of the actors spoke English except Adler, who spoke Yiddish in the role of Shylock. In 1909, Gordin wrote Elisha ben Avuya for Adler, and although it failed in its initial production, it ultimately evolved into another Adler staple, as did Leo Tolstoy's The Living Corpse.
   Following Adler's marriage to Dina Stettin (mother of their daughter Celia Adler), he indulged in several scandalous love affairs before marrying Sara Levitzka (1860-1953), mother of his other seven children, including actors Luther Adler and Stella Adler. Worshipped by Jewish audiences, Adler suffered a stroke in 1920 that ended his acting career, bringing an irreparable loss to the Yiddish stage.

The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. .

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