Collection ID: P-890

Collection context


This collection contains the personal and professional papers of Celia Adler and Lazar Freed, including theatrical materials such as scripts, programs and sheet music, correspondence, newspaper clippings, assorted publications, and photographs of many of the members of the Adler family and their friends from the Yiddish theater. These materials reflect the wide scope of the Adler acting family and their immense influence on Yiddish theater, Broadway and motion pictures.
The collection is in Yiddish and English with some Hebrew, Russian, German, and Dutch.


Scope and Content:

The collection relates to the theatrical careers of Celia Adler and Lazar Freed, as well as the greater Adler acting family, including Jacob P., Sara, Frances, Stella, and Luther. It consists of manuscripts and printed versions of plays in Yiddish, English and Hebrew, lectures, theater programs, clippings of reviews of various productions, poems and songs, press notices, flyers, correspondence, memorabilia, Russian theater books, drawings, and programs and posters for performances. There are also photographs and drawings of Lazar Freed and of many of the Adler family in performances and in publicity stills. There are manuscript pages of an English translation of Celia Adler’s autobiography, which was never published.

Biographical / Historical:

Celia Adler

Celia Feinman Adler was born in New York on December 6, 1889 and was the only child of actors Jacob P. Adler and his second wife Dinah Shtettin. She was known as the “First Lady of the Yiddish Theatre.” Her parents’ marriage was short-lived and after Jacob Adler’s 1891 elopement with Sara Heine, Dinah divorced Jacob and married actor Siegmund Feinman. Their daughter Lillie Feinman married Yiddish actor Ludwig Satz. Dinah continued to appear onstage with Jacob Adler even after their divorce and, at age four, Celia Adler acted in “Der Yidisher Kenig Lear” (The Jewish King Lear) alongside her father and his new wife, Sara.

In 1918, Maurice Schwartz hired Celia for his Yiddish Art Theater. Others in the troupe included Jacob Ben-Ami, Ludwig Satz, Berta Gersten, and Lazar Freed (May 30, 1889-March 11, 1944), whom she married soon after joining the troupe. They had a son, Selwyn (Zelig) Freed, before divorcing. Schwartz’s repertory was the classic Yiddish melodramas and vaudeville that were so popular at the time and Adler was usually cast as a weeping maiden or a desperate mother. Adler and Ben-Ami persuaded Schwartz to stage a serious drama, Peretz Hirschbein’s “Farvorfen Vinkel” (Forsaken Nook) but although the play was a hit, Schwartz quickly returned to his former material.

Under the leadership of Ben-Ami, a group of actors, including Celia Adler, broke away, founding the Jewish Art Theater (Naye Teater) in 1919. Inspired by the Moscow Art Theater and the new trend towards realism in drama, they developed a small literary repertoire with fully realized characterizations. They adopted a single Yiddish dialect to be used consistently, what ultimately came to be known as “theater Yiddish,” and appointed a literary-artistic committee to choose the repertoire. They hired a professional director, Emanuel Reicher of the Deutsche Freie Buehne (German Free Stage), and engaged professionals to design the sets and lighting. The new theater’s first season, including Hirschbein’s “The Idle Inn” and Leo Tolstoy’s “Power of Darkness,” marked a high point in the development of Yiddish theater but the troupe folded quickly and the members dispersed.

In 1921–1922, Celia Adler, Ben-Ami, and Satz performed at the Irving Place Theater, and in 1923 Adler acted again under the direction of Maurice Schwartz, appearing as leading lady of the troupe. During the 1923–1924 season, she appeared as a guest star with Anschel Shur in Philadelphia and toured Europe and America with her brother-in-law, Ludwig Satz. In 1927–1928, Adler tried directing her own repertory company, varying this work with guest roles at the various Yiddish theaters in New York and Philadelphia. While at the Yiddish Art Theater in 1929–1930 at Philadelphia’s Arch Street Theater, she met Jack Cone, an actor and theater manager she had known in childhood. They soon married, although this second marriage also ended in divorce.

Adler appeared in the films “Abe’s Imported Wife” and the 1937 production “Vu Iz Mayn Kind?” (Where Is My Child?), a reprise of the melodramatic tearjerkers of her earlier years. In 1938 she joined the Yiddish Dramatic Players, together with the new star of the Yiddish stage, Joseph Buloff. Adler continued to act on the Yiddish and English stage throughout the 1920s and 1930s, even as Yiddish theater faded away almost completely. In 1946, at age fifty-seven, Adler was called back to the stage by Ben Hecht, who cast her opposite Paul Muni (an old friend from Yiddish theater days) in his English-language play “A Flag Is Born,” which was one of the first theatrical portrayals of a Holocaust survivor. Members of the cast included Marlon Brando, Quentin Reynolds, and her youngest brother, Luther Adler, who also directed. Scheduled to run four weeks, the play ran for thirty weeks. Celia Adler appeared in several films and television programs from the 1930s through the early 1950s, including a small part in the 1948 film “Naked City,” before retiring. Adler married for a third time, to businessman Nathan Froman, who died in 1978. Less than a year later, Celia Adler died on January 31, 1979.

Jacob P. Adler

Jacob Pavlovitch Adler, star of the Yiddish theater in Odessa, London and New York City and patriarch of a great acting clan, was born in Odessa on February 12, 1855. He established himself on the Yiddish stage in Odessa and London before moving to New York City in 1889. In New York Adler started his own Yiddish theater company, ushering in a new, more serious Yiddish theater, most notably by recruiting the Yiddish theater's first realistic playwright, Jacob Gordin. He scored a great triumph in the title role of Gordin's “Der Yiddisher Kenig Lear” (The Yiddish King Lear), set in 19th-century Russia, and in the title role of Karl Gutzkow’s play “Uriel Acosta,” which along with his more realistic portrayal of Shakespeare's Shylock would form the core of the persona he defined as the “Grand Jew.”

Jacob Adler married the actress Sonya Oberlander in 1880 and together they had two children, Rivka, who was born in 1883 and died of croup in 1886, and Abram, born 1886. Sonya died of an infection contracted while giving birth to Abram. At the same time, Jacob had been having an affair with actress Jenny “Jennya” Kaiser, who gave birth to his son Charles, also in 1886, and with a young chorus girl from an Orthodox Jewish family, Dinah Shtettin, as well as several other affairs. Dinah's father insisted on a marriage, which took place in 1887. In 1889, Dinah gave birth to a daughter, Celia, but the marriage did not last. After Jacob ran away with Maurice Heine’s ex-wife Sara (1858 – April 28, 1953), Dinah and Jacob were divorced. Together, Jacob and Sara Adler were two of the most prominent Yiddish theater actors for almost 30 years and Sara continued to act after Jacob Adler’s death in 1926. Jacob and Sara Adler had six children together, Frances, Florence, Jay, Julia, Stella, and Luther, all of whom, like their three older half-siblings, were involved with the theater, particularly Stella and Luther, who were involved with the Group Theater. Many of the Adler nieces, nephews, in-laws, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren were also involved in theater and films.

On March 31, 1926, Jacob Adler collapsed, dying almost instantly. Thousands of mourners marched with his coffin through the streets of the Lower East Side and aNew York Timeseditorial maintained that Adler’s death marked the end of the heroic age of the Yiddish theater.


Adler, Celia.Tsili Adler Dertseylt. Nyu-york: Tsili Adler Faundeyshon un Bukh-Komitet, 1959.

Adler, Jacob, translated by Lulla Rosenfeld.Jacob Adler: A Life on the Stage. New York: Applause Theater Books, 1999.

Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Paula E. Hyman and Deborah Dash Moore, eds. Vol. 1, pgs. 13-15, Routledge: New York, London, 1997.

Lifson, David S.The Yiddish Theatre in America. New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1965.

Rosenfeld, Lulla Adler.The Yiddish Theatre and Jacob P. Adler. New York: Shpolsky Publishers, 1977.

Sandrow, Nahma.Vagabond Stars. New York: Harper and Row, 1977.

Zylbercweig, Zalmen.Leksikon fun Yidishn Teater. Vol. 1, pgs. 35-37, Nyu-york: Farlag “alishbe,” 1931.

Acquisition information:
The papers of Celia Adler and Lazar Freed were donated by their son Selwyn Freed in 2000. The photographs of Jacob, Sara, Stella, Luther, and Frances Adler were donated by Stella’s daughter Ellen Adler in 2000.

The collection is arranged by topic and document format. The Yiddish materials are arranged according to the Hebrew alphabet and the English materials are arranged according to the Latin alphabet. The collection has been divided into nine series, the first of which has been further divided into subseries.

  • Series I: Monologues, Dramas, Lectures and Other Writings, 1977, undated
    • Subseries 1: Yiddish Monologues, undated
    • Subseries 2: English Monologues, undated
    • Subseries 3: Dramas, 1977, undated
    • Subseries 4: Lectures, Interviews and Writings, undated
  • Series II: Correspondence, 1920-1929, 1970-1975, undated
  • Series III: Poems and Songs, 1952, undated
  • Series IV: Manuscripts, 1959, undated
  • Series V: Clippings, 1924-1929, 1946-1992, undated
  • Series VI: Programs and Announcements, 1928-1929, 1958-1961, undated
  • Series VII: Memorabilia and Miscellaneous Publications, 1917-1936, 1970-1972, undated
  • Series VIII: Photographs, 1924-1926, 1988, undated
  • Series IX: Museum Items, 1916, undated

Online content


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