Friday, October 18, 2013


On a recent Sunday trip to Jewish Waldheim Cemetery, I had a page of Find a Grave photo requests.  One of these requests took me to Gate 9 - Anshe Maariv.  While looking for the grave I was supposed to photograph, I saw an interesting gravestone:

The gravestone for Ellis and Ray Glickman was carved to look as if it had a stage curtain over it, and in the middle, the masks of tragedy and comedy that have symbolized the theatre for centuries.  I figured there would be an interesting theatre-related story under this stone and I was right.

Ellis Glickman is the man credited with bringing Yiddish Theatre to Chicago.  But let's start back at the beginning, as we tell our tale of the theatre.

Ellis Glickman was born Elias Glickman in April of 1870 in Zsitomir  Russia.  His father's name was Fischl Glickman.  I could not find out his mother's name, but I did find that he had a brother, Phillip (1859-????).

Ellis began his career on the stage with Jacob Adler in London in 1887. After some disappointments, he decided to come to America, which he did in 1888. In the United States he made his debut in Troy, New York, in Goldfaden's comedy, "Kuni-Lemels". He then went on tour in Yiddish plays, and in 1890 was well received in Chicago.

Because of his warm reception, he realized that there was a great need for Yiddish theatre in Chicago that was being largely ignored. He decided to fill that void, and early in the 1890s he relocated to Chicago for the express purpose of establishing Yiddish theatre here. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen on December 8, 1893 in Chicago.

The first Yiddish stock company he organized here was established in Metropolitan Hall at Jefferson and O'Brien streets in 1894. 

On New Years Eve 1895 Ellis Glickman married Miss Ray Lipsitz (1875-1935) in Chicago.

Glickman's hunch was correct - there was a market for Yiddish theatre in Chicago.  Within two years he had outgrown the Metropolitan Hall, and he moved to the larger Lyceum Theater.

The 1900 Census shows the Glickman family living at 329 14th Street in Chicago.  There is 30 year-old Ellis who lists his profession as "Performer", wife Ray, son Mortimer (born December, 1898), Ellis' brother Phillip (who lists his occupation as "Nothing"), and Ray's mother Bluma Lipshitz.  Chicago changed its address numbering system in 1909.  329 14th Street (old) converts to 932 West 14th Street (new).  A parking lot now sits at 932 W. 14th Street.    

One of the ways Ellis Glickman made theatre classics appealing to his Yiddish audience was to change the play to make it more "Jewish". For example, here's an excerpt from the Chicago Daily Tribune's February 28, 1903 review of Glickman's adaptation of "Uncle Tom's Cabin":


MEMBERS of one persecuted race portrayed the wrongs of another last night when "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was presented in Yiddish at Glickman's Jewish theater, 56 Suth Desplaines street. While the audience hissed, an exiled Russian Jew, Ellis F. Glickman, as a burnt cork Uncle Tom bent beneath the lash of Simon Legree and pleaded for deliverance.

Eliza and Harris, appearing more like new arrivals at Castle Garden than southern slaves, told their sufferings in a mixture of German, Arabic, and English; Aunt Ophelia made her "how shiftless" quite as effective in its strange rendering, and when Uncle Tom took little Eva upon his knee to tell her of the angels in heaven it was from the Talmud that he read.

It was, in short, an Uncle Tom of the Ghetto—a curious mélange of character interpretations, all breathing the atmosphere of the west side Babel. Jacob Frank as Marks was a typical "shyster" lawyer of the police court, Mrs. St. Clair presented the startling apparition of a Levantine beauty in hoopskirts, while little Eva was a pretty child of an oriental cast of features with golden curls and wearing a starched frock.

It was odd to see the Israelitish countenance shining through the burnt cork of the negro or adorned with the rakish mustache of the revolver firing, whip cracking slave owner—odd to find the wide verandas of the southern mansion filled with types of Chicago's foreign population, and stranger still to hear the plantation songs sung to Hebrew melodies.

Mr. Glickman made a better Uncle Tom than is seen in many an American company in tent or theater. He was well made up as a venerable, solemn, kind hearted family slave, and he adapted the sonorous Yiddish lines to the character in an admirable manner. In the slave auction, the bondage under Legree, and the death of Little Eva, Mr. Glickman's acting was distinguished by a taste too often lacking in the companies where the play is not such a stranger.

Even Shakespeare was not "sacred" to Glickman.  Here's an article from the Tribune on February 16, 1903 where it talks about Glickman "re-writing" Hamlet:

Capitalizing on the success he had in Chicago, Glickman took his Yiddish stock company on the road in 1903, touring the United States to great acclaim.  He had the misfortune to be in San Francisco in April, 1906 during the great earthquake and fire and lost everything he had there in the conflagration.  

Glickman returned to Chicago and in August of 1907 the Tribune noted that Glickman had opened a completely renovated International Theater:


While operating the International Theater, Glickman tried a well-publicized experiment, using nine girl ushers in place of the customary males.  Unfortunately, this experiment failed miserably when he asked one what she would do to aid the patrons in case of fire in the theatre and she replied "I'd run like hell."  

The December 30, 1903 Iroquois Theater fire in Chicago caused the city to dramatically tighten its fire regulations for theatres.  This caused the doom of the International Theatre as reported by the Chicago Daily Tribune on April 20, 1909:

International "Caught With Goods" Having Three Sets of Movable Scenery; Is Allowed None.
New York Pull Alleged.
"Big Tim" Sullivan Said to Have Helped Local Managers Take Chance In Violation of Ordinances.

With the memorial roll of 600 men, women, and children who died in the Iroquis fire still before Chicagoans, the management of the International theatre, 401 Wabash avenue has "taken a chance" by deliberately using movable scenery in defiance of the city ordinance that provides that, as a Class 4 theater, it is subject to immediate closure by the police if other than stationary scenery is used.

Following discovery of the unlawful practices, and a warning to mend their ways, the managers presented the show within three hours at night with movable scenery.  Chief of Police Shippy, before this last violation occurred, had stated that he would confer with Fire Chief Horan this morning, and that the theater might lose its license.

Admit They Are Violators.

A reporter for the Tribune caught the theater people "with the goods" yesterday afternoon and secured an admission of guilt.  Fred W. Busey, representative of the show, did the admitting after the reporter and Building Inspector E.F. Kelling had counted three sets of movable scenery stacked on the stage.  he also admitted that under date of April 10 he received a communication addressed to himself, and Ellis Glickman, manager of the theater, stating that the place would be closed if other than stationary scenery was used.

Lastly, he admitted being a good friend of "Big Tim" Sullivan of New York, whose arm was rumored to have reached to Chicago to help out himself and "Al" Woods.

Denies "Pull" From New York

That "Big Tim" figured in the violation of the ordinance, without let or hindrance was denied by Busey.  He maintained humbly that the ordinance and the written orders of the building and fire department heads were disregarded simply in the hope that the disregarders would not be caught.  What the fireman on duty at the theater was doing instead of reporting the use of movable scenery Busey failed to explain.  He simply followed the usual course of violators of the theater ordinance by promising to be good when caught.

The reporter gave his information about the International to Building Commissioner Campbell, who promptly said that if the law was being violated he did not know how it came about.

"I will have it looked up and give you a full report on it tomorrow," said the commissioner.  Fire Marshall Horan and I gave strict orders to respect the ordinance.

The reporter requested the assignment of Inspector Kelling to accompany him on a tour of investigation at once and the commissioner agreed to the proposition.  First, however, Inspector Kelling displayed the files.

Letter to Theater Managers.

One letter, under date of April 8, addressed to the managers, contained instructions regarding the theater, in certain specific details which apparently were complied with.  Another under date of April 10 was as follows:  
"Ellis Glickman and Fred W. Busey, Managers International theater:

"You are hereby notified as managers of the International theater, Wabash avenue and Hubbard court, that a license has been granted to operate said theater as a Class 4 theater restricted to stationary scenery only.  If movable scenery is used the house will be ordered closed.
"Murdock Campbell
Building Commissioner.

"James Horan
Fire Marshall"

Under the same date, the following letter was sent to the Chief of Police:

"George M. Shippy:
"Dear sir - Please allow International Theater, Wabash avenue and Hubbard court, to open as a Class 4 house only.  If movable scenery is used, close the theater."

The letter was signed by Commissioner Campbell and Marshall Horan.

Hard to Find Managers.

When the theater was visited there was difficulty in finding responsible persons to talk about the scenery.  A man was discerned walking off the stage rather hurriedly.

"There goes Mr. Busey, said one of the stage hands."

"Well, he'll have to walk chalk," observed Inspector Kelling, starting for him.  

"Didn't you get the orders of the department saying you couldn't use movable scenery and telling you that if you did we would close the house?" asked the inspector.

"Well, we're not using all of it now," replied Mr. Busey.

"But why have you been violating the law at all by using moving scenery?" asked the reporter.

"We just took a chance", admitted Mr. Busey.

"I won't be down here tonight, but I will tomorrow night and if I find movable scenery being used, I will close you up," asserted Mr. Kelling. "I'm going to make a report to the Building Commissioner tomorrow, anyhow.  It will rest with him as to what action to take respecting past violations."

Chief Shippy was wroth when he heard of the discovery of the afternoon.

"I shall see Fire Chief Horan the first thing in the morning and go into this matter," he said.  "I had the place visited to see if there was anything immoral going on, but I had no reports about the scenery.

"I intend to have men watch this theater, but it may be that the violations that have occurred already will warrant taking away the license of the place.  The use of movable scenery should have been reported long ago, and I will try to find out why it wasn't done."        

Even though Glickman tried to use his considerable clout, he was unable to get the International reopened.   He decided he had had enough of Chicago, and the 1910 Census shows the Glickman family living in New York, at 246 38th Street.

246 W. 38th Street, New York City

Ellis listed his occupation as "Theater Manager" and the family had another addition:  another son, Frederick, who was born in 1904.

New York was not able to hold on to Glickman, and The Economist of May 18, 1912 carried the following item:

White and Tabor have negotiated a ten year lease west of the river as follows:  To Ellis F. Glickman, the Bijou Theatre property at the southwest corner of Halsted street and Jackson boulevard, at an aggregate rental of $130,000.00.  The lease will remodel the theater at a cost of $15,000.00 and (Glickman) plans to make it the foremost Jewish playhouse in the west.

It was during this period in New York that Ellis Glickman decided to try his hand at the new medium of motion pictures.  He signed up as an actor to work on an occasional basis with Thanhouser in 1914 and 1915. His first appearance was in "Repentance". The New York Dramatic Mirror, May 27, 1914, told of his debut with Thanhouser:

Charles J. Hite, president of the Thanhouser Film Corporation, has made it possible for Ellis F. Glickman, the Jewish character actor, to be seen in silent drama.  There has just been produced at the New Rochelle studio a four-reel picture by Mr. Glickman, called "The Last Concert."  Mr. Glickman has played more than 800 character parts on the speaking stage, being at one time leading man for Bertha Kalich.  The Last Concert is Mr. Glickman's second appearance in the silent drama, his previous story being "Repentance."  Minnie Berlin plays opposite Mr. Glickman, being supportive in a cast headed by Nolan Gane, Thanhouser's juvenile.

The Last Concert was not released until nearly a year later, on May 3, 1915.

In addition to the newly-renovated Bijou, another theater was opened at 12th street and Blue Island avenue as "Glickman's Palace Theatre".

The 1920 Census had the Glickman family living at 3234 Douglas Boulevard, in the heart of the Jewish neighborhood of that era:

3234 Douglas Boulevard, Chicago

Ellis lists himself as a "Theater Manager".  His wife Ray and son Fred are with him - Mortimer must have moved out on his own.  However Ray's mother Bluma has rejoined the Glickmans.

Ellis Glickman was managing three Yiddish theaters in Chicago in the 1920s.  As the 1920s came to a close, Glickman was mostly managing the theatres, and occasionally still producing shows.  However, he was still writing plays as well.  On May 16, 1929 he copyrighted a story called "A Regular Woman" - a drama in 3 acts.  The copyright entry notes that it is "an unpublished work."

In the late 1920s, Ellis and Ray Glickman moved again - this time to an apartment at 939 W. Windsor Avenue in Chicago:

939 W. Windsor Avenue, Chicago

The 1930 Census has the Glickmans still at 939 W. Windsor.  It listed 58 year old Ellis, a "Theatre Performer", his wife Ray, eight year-old grandson Bert, and a live-in maid.  It also reported that the Glickmans owned the building on Windsor, and assigned it a value of $30,000.00 - and they did own a radio..

Ellis F. Glickman died in Columbus Hospital on October 3, 1931 of  heart disease.  he was "about 62 years old."

He was buried at Gate 9 - Anshe Maariv Cemetery, part of Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois, Row 32, Lot 2.  Here's his obituary from the Chicago Daily Tribune of October 4, 1931:

His beloved Ray followed him on February 13, 1935.  Here's her obituary:

Ray Glickman

She is buried next to her husband.

It is said "Choose a job you love, and you'll never have to work a day in your life".  I think we can safely say that Ellis F. Glickman never worked a day in his life.

Ellis F. Glickman

May he rest in peace.

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