09 February, 2009

Jacob Ben-Ami


Jacob Ben-Ami was born in Minsk, Russia, and acted for Yiddish companies in Odessa, Vilna, and even London before immigrating to America in 1912. Ben-Ami soon joined Maurice Schwartz's famous theatre at Irving Place, but found his purist ideals clashed with Schwartz's more pragmatic approach. In 1918 he came to the attention of Arthur Hopkins, who encouraged him to improve his English and perform on Broadway. His first English speaking role was as Peter Krumback in Samson and Delilah (1920). Thereafter he moved back and forth between American and Yiddish theatres. He played and directed for the Theatre Guild and supported Eva Le Gallienne at her Civic Repertory Theatre (including Trigorin in The Sea Gull and Epihodov in The Cherry Orchard), as well as assuming important roles in other Broadway shows. He established a number of Yiddish theatre groups, dedicated to mountings of Yiddish classics and Yiddish translations of important works in other languages. Called “the knight of the Yiddish intelligentsia,” he was praised by Stark Young as “the most profoundly natural actor we have.”

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