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home > exhibits > stutchkoff > page 1 "Nahum Stutchkoff" from Zalmen Zylberzweig's The Lexicon of Yiddish Theatre,

"Nahum Stutchkoff"
from Zalmen Zylberzweig's The Lexicon of Yiddish Theatre, Vol. 2, 1934, Warsaw. Updated and translated from the Yiddish by Henry Sapoznik

Nahum Stutchkoff was born to hasidic parents on June 7, 1893 in Brock, a neighborhood of Lodz, Poland. In 1900, the family moved to Warsaw, where Stutchkoff received a traditional Jewish education. He studied in kheyder (Hebrew school) until the age of 10, and then in the yeshivas (Jewish seminaries) of Lumdesh, Warsaw, and Vasilov.

At the age of 16, Stutchkoff made a break from his traditional upbringing and became involved with the Yiddish theater. He joined a theatrical group under the leadership of Y.L. Peretz and made his debut in the Hermitage Theater in Marova, appearing in Sholom Aleichem's play People.

Stutchkoff began to translate and re-work various pieces for the Yiddish theater. He translated The Roofer, or Shloimke Blackie (an adaptation of Louis Angel's The Roofer), which was produced in 1912 by the Kompanitsky Troupe at the Maronova Theater. He translated "Hercules," a one-act play by Belz (later published by Zalmen Zylbercweig), The Small Mistake by Louis Angelli, the melodrama The Street Urchins, and the farce Robert and Bertram. He also appeared as an actor in several of the plays he translated.

From Warsaw, Stutchkoff traveled with Kompanitsk's Troupe across Poland and Russia, later joining Sharvaner's Troupe and then the Troupe Kanievsky-Harlamp. Stutchkoff was in Charkov when the First World War broke out and was inducted into the army. After his release, he joined up with Adolf Siegal, becoming the secretary of the Artist's Union. He translated several plays for Siegal's troupe, including Eve and Judith and Sold into Slavery, none of which were produced.

Between 1917 and 1921, Stutchkoff was affiliated with the Charkov Jewish theater, which produced his translation of Voltaire's comedy The Scapegoat and Moliere's The Trickeries of Scapin. He then became the director of Wittenberg's Yiddish Labor Theater, where he translated Moliere's The Miser.

In 1923, Stutchkoff immigrated to the United States, to play the role of Oswald in a translation of Ibsen's Ghosts at the New York Yiddish Art Theater under the direction of Maurice Schwartz. The theater also produced Stutchkoff1s adaptations of Benevente's The Bonds of Interest.

For the 1924-25 season, Stutchkoff went to the Garden Theater in Philadelphia, and together with Samuel Goldenberg and Celia Adler, wrote and adapted plays for the following season under the direction of Max Rosenthal.

At the same time, New York's Irving Place Theater staged N. Braker's Who Am I? (adapted by "Goodnatured Thomas", a Stutchkoff pseduonym). Muni Weisenfreund (Paul Muni) starred in the play. During the same season, Samuel Goldenberg starred in Braker's Good Luck to the Women, also translated by Stutchkoff.

Towards the end of 1924-25 season, Stutchkoff's operetta Two Brides was produced. It was staged again in 1929 at the McKinley Square Theater in the Bronx as A Small Town Wedding with music by Hymie Jacobson. On July 17, 1925, New York's National Theater presented his one-act play "The Holdup in the Mountains," starring Samuel Goldenberg and Celia Adler. The theater also staged Stutchkoff's one-act sketch, "Three Weddings."

In 1926, Stutchkoff was named secretary of the Yiddish Dramatic League. In 1927, Stutchkoff's play The Argentinean Father, or For a Father's Sin opened in Detroit, and was later staged in Europe. On September 9, 1927, Prospect Theater in the Bronx staged Stutchkoff's operetta Forget Me Not. It was later produced in Brooklyn's Lyric Theater together with his Woman of Long Ago.

On November 2, 1928, the Prospect Theater staged Stutchkoff's melodrama In Red Russia starring him and Nathan Goldberg, with music by Philip Laskovsky. That same year, his play Proud Women appeared in theaters throughout America. On December 20, 1929, the New York Folk Theater presented As the Rabbi Wishes, a hasidic operetta with libretto and lyrics by Stutchkoff and with music by Abe Ellstein. Directed by A. Chertoff and starring Ludwig Satz, the play received much critical praise.

On January 10, Celia Adler opened in the starring role of his drama, The Marriage License, at the Hopkinson Theater in Brooklyn. The play was later staged with Adler in Argentina and Europe. On January 16, 1931, Brooklyn's Roland Theater presented Isidore Kashier's production of Oy, America! with lyrics by Stutchkoff and music by Sholom Secunda.

The same year, Stutchkoff's Yiddish Rhyming Dictionary was published by Farlag Leksik in New York. The book contained more than 35,000 words. It catapulted Stutchkoff to new heights of fame and popularity, and made him a renowned figure among playwrights, the intelligentsia and the general Yiddish world. Sales of the book, however, were small and it never sold out its small initial run.

In 1931, Stutchkoff began his long association with Yiddish radio. He started at Brooklyn station WLTH as assistant to station music director (and children show host) Sholom Secunda. When Secunda left for WEVD, Stutchkoff assumed his duties and changed the name of the program from Uncle Sholom's Program to Uncle Nahum's Program. It aired Sundays at noon and was extremely popular.

1935 was an especially productive year for Stutchkoff. He moved across the river to join the staff of WEVD, where he replicated his Yiddish children's show. Soon, he was writing, directing, and starring in a series of radio dramas that included In a Yiddisher Grocery Store (sponsored by Planter's High Hat Peanut Oil and brought to the stage in 1939), Stories of a Thousand and One Nights (also sponsored by Planter's), and Annie and Benny, a sensitive drama about the marriage of an American Jewish woman to an emigre man. He also premiered several other shows including an etymology/folklore program called Vi di Mame Fleg Zogn, (based on his Thesaurus of the Yiddish Language), An Eydem af Kest (A Live-in Son-in-Law), Der Mame's Tokhter (Mother's Daughter) and A Velt Mit Veltelakh (A World Within Worlds). He also wrote many commercials for sponsors such as Kirsch beverages, Met Life and Breakstone's dairy products.

In 1936, he premiered another of his great radio dramas, Bei Tate-mames Tish (Round the Family Table) sponsored by Manischewitz Matzo. Three years after the show's radio premiere, Stutchkoff adapted it to the stage. The play, which was produced at the Irving Place Theater, featured many of the stars who appeared in the radio show, including Celia Boodkin, Eli Mintz, and members of Stutchkoff's family including his son Misha.

In 1937 Stutchkoff staged Der Land fun Khaloymes (The Land of Dreams). Both it and Bei Tate-mames Tish were noted for their natural and very human characters and their real and believable plots. The next year also saw the premiere of a comedy series— Shiker un Shlimaz—again sponsored by Planter's High Hat Peanut Oil.

As if that were not enough, Nahum Stutchkoff also began work on one of his most important projects: the first thesaurus of the Yiddish language. It contained nearly 1,000 pages and more than 150,000 entries (including thousands of idiomatic expressions and folk sayings). The project would take him over 15 years to complete and was published in 1950 by the YIVO Institute. This monumental work was later joined by the equally groundbreaking Otsar ha'Safah ha'Ivrit, the first Hebrew thesaurus in print. It was published in 1968, three years after Stutchkoff's death.

During World War II, Stutchkoff was one of several playrights writing verité dramas about the fate of Europe's Jews under the Nazis for a series sponsored by the U.S. Treasury Department. These works are among the more forceful and penetrating he ever wrote.

In 1946, Stutchkoff debuted a new radio drama called Tsures ba Leitn (People's Problems) sponsored by the Brooklyn Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital. The storyline of the very popular show hinged on the recovery of various characters in the wards of this hospital. The show featured many of the regulars in Stutchkoff's repertory company as well as others such as Rita Karpanovitch and Isaiah ("Sonny") Sheffer.

It was this association with the hospital, which would become so important to Stutchkoff after he became ill in the mid-1960s. As repayment for his service on its behalf, the hospital opened its doors to him when his health failed, affording him a comfortable resting place until his death in1965.

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