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:
|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.
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.
The 1920 Census had the Glickman family living at 3234 Douglas Boulevard, in the heart of the Jewish neighborhood of that era:
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."
His beloved Ray followed him on February 13, 1935. Here's her obituary:
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.