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November 29, 1974 - Image 6

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1974-11-29

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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• • 1 4 4 4 44t 1 11 ■ 4 'ix '

6—Friday, Nov. 29, 1974

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Unless a man feels he has
Error of opinion may be
a good enough memory, he tolerated where reason is
should never venture to lie. left free to combat it.
—Michel De Montaigne
—Thomas Jefferson
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The reviewer of the Paul
Muni biography, Dr. Peter A.
Martin, who is among the na-
tion's most prominent psy-
chiatrists, is additionally
deeply interested in the thea-
ter. As his comments indi-
cate, he had been a devotee
of the Yiddish theater since
the era of the Littman Thea-
ter on Hastings Street.

=

By DR. PETER A. MARTIN
When Philip Slomovitz
asked if I would review this
SE book about Paul Muni, I ac-
cepted with a feeling of ex-
citement mixed with nostal-
▪ gia. These feelings were in
response to my immediate

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Yiddish Theater Days Recalled by Reviewer of Muni 'Biography

"Paul Muni His Life and His
= Films" by Michael B. Druxman,
= South Brunswick and New
York: A. S. Barnes and Corn-
-
pany, London: Thomas Yose-
- = loff, Ltd., 1974.

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associations to the Yiddish
theater.

To me Muni was the Jew-
ish actor from the Yiddish
theater who had hit the top
in the American legitimate
theater and movies, There is
no doubt that my love for
and excitement about the
legitimate theater had its
origins with the Detroit Yid-
dish theater of my early
childhood.

Here I find myself in the
same kind of bind as my
analysands are when I ask
them for their earliest mem-
ories. I am not sure how
much of what I remember is
what I experienced myself
and how much is what I sil-
ently listened to and ab-
sorbed from the family's
stories -about the Yiddish
theater.

But I do remember a
theater filled with excite-
ment,' joy and awe and the
strange language which I
spoke only with my grand-
mother but could understand

DR. PETER A. MARTIN

even when the adults did not
want me to know what they
were talking about.

For the under 40 genera-
tion who read this review,
some have heard of Paul
Muni; few have heard of the
Yiddish theater in Detroit.
Knowledge of Yiddish de-
clines strikingly from the
second to third generation.
To them, the feelings ex-

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pressed in the first para-
graph may seem strange. So
too with the author of this
book who was born in 1941.
My expectations for this
book were unwarranted; he
concentrated on Muni the
movie star. The book con-
sists mostly of 150 photo-
graphs from Muni's motion
pictures and stage appear-
ances, plus hard facts of cast
credits, critics' reviews and
production notes from all o
the films.
What is missing is a dy-
n a m i c understanding of
Muni's Jewish backgroun
and character formation. Hi
parents are presented as
pasteboard figures who do
not come alive.
Born in Austria in 1895,
Muni was the youngest of
three sons. His parents were
strolling players in the ghet
toes of Eastern Europe. When
they came to the United
States, they continued in the
Yiddish theater and Muni
made his first stage appear-
ance at age 12 and continued
on as an actor for the rest
of his life.
Maurice Schwartz, the dean
of Yiddish actors offered
Muni a place with the fabu-

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PAUL MUNI

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lous Yiddish Art Th t -
New
there he went to the E .
speaking theater i
York at age 31 a'
with the advP-
pictures t
Arrrrig his memora
were: "Scarface," "The Gt'
Earth," "Emile Zola" at
"Louis Pasteur."
In this book Muni comes
across as a rather one-sided
individual whose life was
focused on his acting per-
formances. Nothing e 1 s e
seemed to matter to him.
Anything that interfered with
his ideas • about his work
were irritants to him. He did
not get along well with thos
who thwarted him in his per
suit of excellence as he saw
it.
Although he did not prac-
tice his religion, he was a
proud Jew who hated anti-
Semitism. Perhaps the
eulogy at his funeral best
sums up his character:
"Someone defined God as the
voice within us which keeps
saying • . . 'It isn't good
enough!' If that is true, then
Muni has lived very close to
God."

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