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Early Years at the Jewish Theater - Boston

Selma, 8 yrs., Horlick School RecitalWhat shall I tell you about the Jewish Theatre?

...I was 13 years old; nobody was to know how old I was, because they weren’t allowed to employ anyone under the age of, I think it was at that time, 16. Anyway, Gladys was 3 yrs older then I, and she was the captain of the sold-called “chorus”. We were 6 girls, 5 of whom were Jewish and one was not. The orchestra leader’s name was Ruby Osofsky, and we learned the Jewish songs, or the operettas, so-to-speak, phonetically. One of the girls, the gal that wasn’t Jewish, had difficulty with the words…well, it was a song called ‘Dein Siesersmeckel’ – which meant ‘your sweet smile’ but she didn’t know how to say it, so she said ‘dein Sieserschmeckel’ which meant ‘penis’. (lol)                  

We danced in the musical comedies; we danced and sang the Jewish songs.  One of the Jewish songs that we sang was for a bride der glickles ertuck veiekale…………..the happiest day of a bride is when she goes to the altar……….we can all see in her heart, how happy she is, in the whole world she is the most beautiful….

Through the years, at weddings and bar mitzvahs, Selma and Gladys would get up, the two Hoffman Sisters, and would sing these songs.  It just wouldn’t be the same, if they didn’t.

Selma , age 6The Jewish Theatre was a repertory company with Sadie Scheingold, Max Kletter, Samuel Auerbach, I think his name was, and we were the ones that performed in the musicals.  Max Kletter was the hero, and he was a very, very handsome young man with a beautiful voice.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, the young men of the world at that time found him and took a liking to him, so the front rows were always filled with young men, and when we came out of the stage door, they were there waiting for him to come out.  I guess in this world, you call them gays.  I learned about gays at a very young age.

We danced and sang with Molly Picon;  she was in one of the early television shows, where she’d look out a window, and talk to her neighbor in the house next door… in the fifties?...no, maybe it was a movie…

Selma, ageAnyway, we were in her dance group, and we danced as a group with Yablakov, and Menasha Skullnick that came with his own group of girls, to work as the chorus.  We did 4 performances – I made a dollar and a half a performance which was 6 dollars a week.  We performed on the weekends, and rehearsed during the week.  I went to school…after school we had to go for rehearsals and at the time I was going to Latin School – it really was very difficult for me.   I gave my mother the 6 dollars and she gave me back a dollar – 50 cents for my carfare, 50 cents for me.  That was a long time ago…  I think the shows were Friday night, 2 on Saturday night and 1 on Sunday.  That was 68 years ago…

It was very difficult for me at the time.  I was going to school with Shirley Gitlin, to Latin School which was in the city of Boston.  Sometimes, her father would drive us to school, or my father would.  My father was a traveling salesman; he had a Ford with a rumble seat.  I remember going to New York – 10 hours on Route 1, in the rumble seat of the car in October – and it was so cold – and nobody wanted me to go, and I was really a spoiled brat, and I insisted on going.  So I had 5 blankets with me in the rumble seat with me, and Gladys went in the front seat.  I’ll never forget that one!

Fall 1936

I was having difficulty with English and with Latin translation, because, of course, I didn’t have much time for study what with the Jewish Theatre in the winter and my ballet training. My mother came to me and said she didn’t want to see me working the way I was - I was very young – and asked me to leave the Boston Latin School, where I had attended from the 7th though 10th grades. So in the fall of ’36 I transferred to Dorchester High School.

I was sad leaving Latin School and my friend Shirley, upon her graduation, gave me her ring, because she felt that I deserved it more than she did. She knew how I felt about having to leave. During the winter of my junior year at Dorchester, I danced very little, as I had hurt my knees, and needed a rest.

Early Dance Training

Shirley Gitlin, is my oldest and dearest friend.  She remembers more of my family than I do.  She probably could tell more about the Jewish Theatre than I can, because she used to come and sit in the back and applaud for us and everything.  I don’t know if she even understood anything but she would come.

Selma, 16 yrs., Horlick School RecitalWe worked very hard, we had to learn the words in the song, and that was learning them phonetically, which was not easy.  I was learning Latin, and beginning to study German.  That may have been a little early for German – I think in my sophomore year I started German.  But I still went for dancing lessons every time I could, with Sarah Horlick, who had a studio in Dorchester, and then I think she moved to Roxbury – and she thought that I was very talented, and she took me to me to New York with her, on school vacations.  She was someone who liked ballet and dance and tap.  I don’t remember her being a professional herself, this is in the early days – very little ballet, so to speak.  And she had a marvellous background of music, and we learned dances to the classics.  Mrs. Horlick used classical music for the lessons, and I think the pianist’s name was Hazel, and she used to play for the dance classes.  I remember one of dances that I did for the recital was an acrobatic character-type dance, and it was to the music from the Pilgrim’s Chorus of Tannhauser – and to this day, I still remember that while the singers were singing slowly, the violins were racing through glorious music, and I had to listen to the violins because my dancing was timed to them, and not to the slow singing that was going on in the Pilgrim’s Chorus. I learned a lot about music at that time and I began to love the classics. 

She thought that I was very talented, so a couple of times, on vacation from school, she took me to New York City with her, for 2 days, paying my way, then registered me in the classes of the Russian teachers that were teaching ballet in New York at the time. She even made believe she was my mother so that she could watch the class.  I would do the demonstration, and she would remember the steps particularly – both of us – and we’d go back to Boston, and of course, she used me to demonstrate. I didn’t audition – at that time, you could just take the classes.  There was one teacher that was wonderful, I don’t remember her name.  Glady, of course, encouraged me…everybody did.

Sarah Horlick had a dance recital every June.  For the recital of June 1937, Gladys did jazz, ballet and tap, and I was doing ballet and acrobatics.  I did adagio with 2 boys, and once 3 boys, where at one point, two of the boys each one held a leg and an arm, and they swung me around in a circle over their heads, and then threw me across to one of the other boys.  One of the boys names was Jordan, I don’t remember the others.  And he caught me flying through the air.  It was very exciting. 

Being a seamstress, my mother made our costumes; she made beautiful costumes – open sides for the acrobatics, so that my partners could hold my body, without their hands slipping. We had no money and my mother used to sew clothing and costumes for the other students, so that she’d have enough money to get the material and pay for our costumes. She used to make ours at the very end. Once, Glady had a costume that she was pinned into at the recital, at the last minute, because my mother didn’t have time to finish it.

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