Molly Picon Stories

Stories and reflections which illustrate the Yiddish actress's continued influence on Yiddish culture

In this feature we are delving through our digital collection to share stories of the Yiddish theater. We are focusing on Molly Picon, the widely celebrated comic actress who, in over eighty years of performing, helped introduce Yiddish theater to a wider American audience and captured a humorous, poignant view of shtetl life. Picon began her career in vaudeville and in “Yiddish Broadway,” the thriving community of Yiddish theater on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Her winsome persona and theatrical talent brought audiences to laughter and tears, and Picon went on to perform in tours across the United States and Europe and star in Yiddish and Hollywood films. 

Our own archives contain many wonderful stories about encounters with Molly Picon. We have curated a wide range of stories and reflections here for you to enjoy: starring alongside the famous actress, Jules Feiffer’s theory of Yiddish theater’s cultural influence, a memorable encounter on a playwright’s opening night, and memories of a one-person show in Montana. Together, these perspectives capture Picon’s enchanting presence and illustrate her continued influence on Yiddish culture. 

A Sentimental Attachment to Yiddish Theater

Dan Opatoshu, screenwriter and grandson of Yiddish writer Yosef Opatoshu, reflects on his father’s career as an actor and on his own personal connection to Yiddish theater, including memorable childhood visits to Molly Picon’s house. 

Performing My Molly Picon Show All Over the U.S.—Even in Montana 

Diane Cypkin, professor at Pace University and performer, describes her one-person concert/presentation on Picon’s life and career. She explains why audiences respond so emotionally to the show.

“The Storytelling, the Attitude, the Give and Take”: The Influence of Yiddish Theater

Jules Feiffer, Pulitzer Prize–winning cartoonist and writer, describes the many examples of Yiddish and Jewish influence that can be found throughout American culture, including in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

Rehearsal at the Jewish National Theater

Shirley Schachter Katz, a child singer and performer for Yiddish vaudeville, describes rehearsals at the National Theater on Second Avenue, including Hymie Jacobson’s comedy act and her impressions of Molly Picon and her husband.

The Molly Picon Room 

Jack Lebewohl, owner of 2nd Ave. Deli in New York City, tells the story of the room in the deli his brother named for Molly Picon. 

“I Realized . . . in a Few Years These People Would Be Gone Forever”: Capturing Yiddish Culture on Film

Annette Epstein Jolles—Washington, DC, native and social worker—discusses her favorite Yiddish film and her realization when watching it. 

The Story Behind the Musical Golden Land

Moishe Rosenfeld—founder of Golden Land Concerts & Connections, a New York City–based booking agency for Jewish performing arts—describes the process of writing and producing his play Golden Land and of a special encounter on opening night.

On Performing with a Giant of Yiddish Theater

Rick Grossman, actor and member of a Yiddish theater family, talks about working with Molly Picon as a teenager and seeing hundreds of her performances. He explains how she touched his life as an individual and not just as an actress.