Museum of the Yiddish Theatre


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The Parkway Theatre
(formerly the Rolland Theatre)
1768 St. Johns Place, Brooklyn, NY
This production opened on December 31, 1936.



by Louis Freiman, music by Yasha Kreitzberg


The Cast of Characters:








This review was written by Dan Kaplan and appeared in the Jewish Forward on January 29, 1936:


Baby Helen


In the musical comedy, "Hard to be a Girl," which now is playing in the Parkway Theatre in Brownsville, there is one "feature," very small but inconspicuous, from which the audience in the theatre enters into the greatest admiration. There is a small, young girl, a seven-year-old child. Among the participating actors in the program, her name is not there. However, I found out that she is called "Helen."

The tiny Helen does not have any role in the comedy. She is brought into the production, like in many other features, for singing and dance numbers that are inserted into today's musical "shows." The inserted dot of a girl is a gorgeous, lively pearl. She spends no more than a few minutes on the stage, not only in one song and one dance, but she takes away the greatest number of stormy, spirited applause. And she truly deserves it.

It does not inadvertently come to mind a comparison with the famous little one, movie star Shirley Temple, who is so much advertised and circulated all over the country and all over the world that most moviegoers feel that it is true, that she is a "genius." I've noticed on one occasion that in almost every big city one can probably find more than one girl who would play just as well, maybe even better than Shirley Temple, if she would receive the necessary, additional education. Let us add here that in the Jewish neighborhoods there are certainly such girls as Shirley Temple, who would show so much skill and talent when given only such opportunities.

Helen still does not possess Shirley Temple's studied technique, the smooth agility in the movements, but she possesses more novelty, and the main thing: You feel that she is a real child, a living person of flesh and blood, with nerves, a heart, a mch'l. I don't know how Shirley Temple is in her private life at home, in school, among the children in the street. Probably she is also a dear child, as is every child. But on the movie sheets she mostly gives the impression of a doll, who dwells on drama. Every step, every touch, every face is studied to a tee, without a look, just like with machine-made dolls.

With Helen she sings, her little heart speaks, and from her eyes her soul lights up -- I want to say, the ... Jewish soul --  is what strikes you with a particular genus. This is, without a doubt, a sign of significant qualities and talents that are still present, of course, to a potential degree, because it is difficult to predict what will come of such children later. It depends on many causes and factors that can help, and very often conversely, it holds back the growth and development of these potential abilities and talents.

Now about the production.

"Hard to be a Girl" is a musical comedy with all the necessary potpourri of this kind of creations -- a great number of songs and dance, a chorus of young girls, many jokes and laughs, and d. gl, The thing also has no bad subject, just an extraneous one. There is a bit of news, and it touches on an important point in our lives, but it is carried out in the usual way of such comedies.

A couple of people, Jack and Mary, beggars in the streets. Jack is portrayed as a blind man and plays a violin. Mary picks up the alms. She borders herself with the underworld. Kid Benny, a pickpocket, who now has a job as a chauffeur, shows them an advertisement that says that they can make five-thousand dollars. In a rich house there is an abandoned baby. The owner of the house advertises that if the mother of the child will call, she will receive five-thousand dollars. He takes three of the gang to do the job to get this amount. Florence, a singer in a cheap cabaret, shows up as the mother of the abandoned baby. Jack and Mary appear as Florence's parents. And they receive the five-thousand dollars.

Let us go there too. The baby becomes abandoned in the house of Yosl Green, a respectable boss, but not a rich one. The rich real-estate person, Mister Zlatkin, has a mortgage on his house, and he can through him out at any time. So, for Zlatkin it is not difficult to carry it out, that his daughter, Helen, should be a bride for Green's son, Martin, although Martin does not like Helen.

Helen also doesn't want Martin. She pleads to her father that she cannot forget her sweetheart, Walter, who Zlatkin had plunged into murder on a false accusation. And here we learn right away that the abandoned baby is Helen's child. This is what her father did for the job, and he forced her to remain silent and marry Martin.

Jack and Mary, dressed as a rabbi and rebbetzin from a country town somewhere, arrive with Florence to Green for the abandoned baby. Zlatkin, with his daughter, are also present. They hear Florence's story, and are silent, naturally. But the money does not quickly go to the people. The abyssal business continues, and an entanglement begins here.

Martin falls in love with Florence, and he hires her as a model for his pictures. He is a painter. And the old Zlatkin shares himself to Florence too. With money they can buy everything, he says, why should he not have such a beautiful young woman as Florence? Florence does not want to hear about it, he explains to her that he has a mortgage on her, a stick: He knows that she is not the mother of the abandoned baby. Florence decides to come out with the whole truth. People believe it or they don't. She's made crazy. Jack and Mary explain that their "daughter" often falls into such craziness.

And Martin with Helen go to the wedding canopy. But at the last second, Walter enters. His term has already been set, a year in prison, and then he would return to Helen. And Helen now tells the truth.

Helen goes to Walter and Martin catches up with Florence.

The role of Jack and Mary are played by Louis Birnbaum and Minnie Birnbaum. Also Peter Graf is good as the real-estate person Zlatkin.

Jacob Rechtzeit and Bettie Jacobs are Yosl Green and his wife Sara, and they create many minutes of jokes and laughter.

The singer and dancers are: William Schwartz, as Martin; Paul Lubelska, as Florence; Mildred Block, as Martin's sister Susie; Seymour Rechtzeit, as Kid Benny.

Nathan Goldberg plays satisfactorily in the small role of Walter, who comes in at the last second, when Martin and Helen are already at the wedding canopy. Satisfactory also is Thelma Jacobs [Mintz -- ed.], as Helen, Zlatkin's daughter.

 The lyrics are by Jacob Jacobs. The sets are constructed by the Saltzman Brothers. The dances were learned thoroughly by Seymour Rechtzeit.



Photo of the Parkway Theatre courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives.

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