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October 12, 1990 - Image 79

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-10-12

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

Photos by Glenn Tries

Embittered Playwright

Herschel Steinhardt still strives for writing success at age 80.


Special to The Jewish News


erschel Stein-
hardt, just over
a year past his
open-heart sur-
gery, gets up at
5:30 a.m. every day and goes
swimming. On most days he
will then put in several hours
of volunteer work with the
elderly. He may also do some
work on his mail-order book
business, which he runs out of
his Southfield home.
But the focus of his day is
still his writing. Mr. Stein-
hardt will sit down in front of
his old, non-electric type-
writer to work on another
Seeing such devotion to
playwriting in a man well
past most people's retirement
age, an observer would likely
conclude that Mr. Steinhardt
was continuing a life-long
love affair with the written
word. However, if that devo-
tion to playwriting has been
a love affair for Mr. Stein-

hardt, that love has been
Mr. Steinhardt has enjoyed
brief flirtations with glory,
has seen several of his works
come briefly to life. But the
great majority of his plays
have never been seen by an
audience, have never gone
beyond the artistic director of
a theater company, later to be
returned to the author with
courteous regrets.
Mr. Steinhardt is openly
bitter and angry about his
lack of success. He often
speaks harshly about "they"
— the artistic directors who,
Mr. Steinhardt believes, are
incapable of recognizing true
talent. Mr. Steinhardt vented
his feelings in a play The Ar-
tistic Street Cleaner. The play
has been published, but not
yet produced.
"What hurts," Mr. Stein-
hardt says, "is the contempt
they show for somebody who's
not known. No consideration.
No humanity. They look at
you as if you were a dog."
He was born in Zambrow,
Poland, in 1910. Mr. Stein-

hardt's family moved to
Detroit 10 years later. Mr.
Steinhardt aspired to
playwriting from an early
age. He recalls receiving his
first inspiration shortly after
arriving in Detroit.
"We lived on Alfred Street,"
Mr. Steinhardt says. "It was
1920. My father took me for
a walk from Alfred Street on-

Play in hand, Mr.
Steinhardt moved
to New York to take
his shot at
B roadway.

to Hastings. On the corner
was a candy store. I looked at
the open display case and my
father saw me looking and he
picked me up, and there was
a red ball (in the window). He
bought me the red ball — 10
cents in 1920.
"I made up my mind at that
time that I was going to write
a play about it. I used the idea

of the red ball as a symbol. It
meant happiness." Mr.
Steinhardt did write The Red
Ball. It, too, has been publish-
ed but not performed.
Mr. Steinhardt attended
Wayne State University for
two years, where he began
writing plays. Deciding that a
playwright needed some real-
life experience away from
school, he left college and hit-
chhiked to Florida, where he
did odd jobs and worked on a
dredging boat.
The play he had hoped to
write, dealing with a work-
ingman's life, came to life as
Before the Morning in 1935.
Play in hand, Mr. Steinhardt
moved to New York to take
his shot at Broadway. "With
that play I went to New York.
And then, of course, starva-
tion," he says.
Working as a clerk and liv-
ing in a tiny apartment with
no windows and no heat, Mr.
Steinhardt took his play
around New York and caught
an agent's interest. "They of-
fered me a collaboration," Mr.
Steinhardt says. "But I

wouldn't take it. He was to
get 60 percent (of the
royalties) and I was to get 40."
Mr. Steinhardt moved closer
to the theater by landing a job
with the new Federal Theater
Project, doing secretarial and
prop work. When he showed
Before the Morning to the
head writer, Emmet Lavery,_
Mr. Steinhardt got a job as a
play reader.
When the Federal Theater
closed and World War II ar-
rived, Steinhardt went to
work for the Navy, doing
clerical jobs. He was now mar-
ried, with two children, and
his wife was ill.
After the war, he worked as
a press representative for the
National Refugee Service of
the United Jewish Appeal,
meeting displaced persons
from Europe at the docks and
preparing human interest
stories. Even as a journalist,
he wrote with dramatic flair,
as in this exceprt from his ar-
ticle, "I Cover the 'DP'
"A group of three refugees
are having some difficulties



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