Feature from awordinyoureye.com

THE BORIS THOMASHEFSY(*) JOKES
(*) or THOMASHEVSKY

I’ve come across two famous jokes about Boris Tomashefsky, including four versions of one of them. A friend of mine believes that, “one of the jokes is told by Belle Barth on a record. She was a 1950's Jewish comedienne from the Bronx with a reputation of a foul mouth and her jokes were absolutely outrageous.  On one of her albums, "If I embarrass you, tell your friends!" she tells the Boris Tomashevsky joke.”

Nevertheless, even though we may laugh at these Boris Thomashefsky jokes, my research shows that he was a Ukrainian-born (later American) Jewish singer and actor who became one of the biggest stars in Yiddish theater.  Born in Tarashcha, a shtetl near Kiev, Ukraine, he emigrated to the U.S. at the age of 12 in 1881. A year later, barely a teenager, he was largely responsible for the first performance of Yiddish theater in New York City and has been credited as the pioneer of Borscht Belt entertainment. And so, because I think his life and achievements were special, I have included a detailed description of Boris Thomashefsky below.

The jokes:
Joke#1, Version 1
The famous Yiddish actor Boris Tomashefsky was celebrated for his bedroom exploits as well as his stage virtuosity.   After a sexual bout with a local whore, he presented her with a pair of tickets to the evening performance of his play.
The lady looked with scepticism at the tickets and said, "With these you can buy bread?"
"If you're looking for bread," the actor said, "screw a baker."

Joke#1, Version 2
The great Thomashevsky was taking a walk after one of his famous performances in the Yiddish Theater on the Lower East Side of Manhattan (there were lots of Yiddish theaters then, around 1900 I guess.) Anyway, a young woman approaches him and asks him for his autograph.  They get into a conversation and things proceed.  He takes her back to his hotel room.  He screws her a few times during the night, and as she's leaving the next morning, he gives her 2 free tickets to his next performance.
She looks at the tickets and says, "But I need bread!"
He replies, "If you need bread, why don't you go bang a baker?"

Joke#1, Version 3
The famous Yiddish actor Boris Tomashefsky was celebrated for his bedroom exploits as well as his stage virtuosity.   After a sexual bout with a local whore, he presented her with a pair of tickets to the evening performance of his play.
The lady looked with scepticism at the tickets.  "With these you can buy bread?" she asked.
"If you're looking for bread," the actor said, "screw a baker."

Joke#1, Version 4
Boris Thomashefsky, a star of the Yiddish theater, was as famous for his romantic pursuits as for his acting, and there was always an attractive woman waiting for him at the stage door. One night, the story goes, Thomashsefky went home with an alluring young lady. In the morning, he handed her a gift - two front-row tickets to that evening's performance. The young lady was evidently disappointed and she began to cry.
"What's wrong?" asked the actor in astonishment.
"Oh, Mr. Thomashefsky," she said. "I'm very poor. I don't need tickets. I need bread!"
"Bread?" cried Thomashefky. "Thomashefsky gives tickets. You want bread? Sleep with a baker!"

Joke#2
In a small Yiddish theatre the great Boris Thomashefsky had a heart attack and died while acting in the middle of a scene. The stage manager came over and felt Thomashefsky’s pulse and told the packed theatre that unfortunately the great man was dead. An old lady in the front row yelled up to the Manager, "Give him some chicken soup." When she was ignored, she yelled even louder, "Give him some chicken soup." To this the manager replied, "Madame I don’t think you understand - the Great Thomashefsky is dead. What good will chicken soup do?" The old lady replied, "What good? What harm?"

About Boris Thomashefsky:
From what I can gather, Yiddish stage star Boris Thomashefsky was a champ at shmoozing (socializing), shpieling (playing) and shtupping (sleeping together, an activity that has nothing to do with sleeping!). He was as famous for his romantic pursuits as for his acting, and there was always an attractive woman waiting for him at the stage door.

1. Following is what Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, says
Boris Thomashefsky (1868–1939, sometimes written Thomashevsky, Thomaschevsky, etc.) was a Ukrainian-born (later American) Jewish singer and actor who became one of the biggest stars in Yiddish theater; born in Tarashcha (Yiddish:Tarasche), a shtetl near Kiev, Ukraine, he emigrated to the U.S. at the age of 12 in 1881. A year later, barely a teenager, he was largely responsible for the first performance of Yiddish theater in New York City and has been credited as the pioneer of Borscht Belt entertainment.

Although Thomashefsky left Imperial Russia at a time when Yiddish theater was still thriving there (it was banned shortly after, in September 1883), he had never actually seen it performed prior to the 1882 performance he brought together in New York. Thomashefsky, who was earning some money by singing on Saturdays at the Henry Street Synagogue on the Lower East Side, was also working as a cigarette maker in a sweatshop, where he first heard songs from the Yiddish theater, sung by some of his fellow workers.

He managed to convince a local tavern owner to invest in bringing over some performers. The first performance was Abraham Goldfaden's operetta The Witch. The performance was a bit of a disaster: pious and prosperous "uptown" German Jews opposed to Yiddish theater did a great deal to sabotage it. Thomashefsky's performing career was launched partly because part of the sabotage consisted of bribing the soubrette to fake a sore throat: Thomashefsky went on in her place.
Shortly after, the teenaged Thomashefsky was the pioneer of taking Yiddish theater "on the road" in the United States, performing Goldfaden's plays in cities such as Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Boston and Chicago, all in the 1880s; for much of the 1880s, Chicago was his base. After Yiddish theater was banned in Russia, his tours came to include such prominent actors as Siegmund Mogulesko, David Kessler, and Jacob Adler, with new plays by playwrights such as Moses Ha-Levi Horowitz.

In 1887, playing in Baltimore, he met 14-year-old Bessie Baumfeld-Kaufman, who went backstage to meet the beautiful young "actress" she had seen on stage, only to discover that "she" was a boy. Bessie soon ran away from home to join the company, and eventually took over the ingenue roles, as Boris moved on to romantic male leads; they were married in 1891.

In 1891, with Mogulesko, Kessler, and Adler all engaged in starting the Union Theater, Moishe Finkel brought the still relatively unknown Thomashefsky back to New York to star at his National Theater, where Thomashefsky became such an enormous popular success in Moses Halevy Horowitz's operetta David ben Jesse as to force the Union Theater temporarily to abandon its highbrow programming and compete head on.

After Adler recruited Jacob Gordin as a playwright and found a way to draw the masses to serious theater with Gordin's The Yiddish King Lear, and then turned to Shakespeare's Othello, Thomashefsky decided to show that he could compete on that ground as well, and responded with the first Yiddish-language production of Shakespeare's Hamlet, in which, by all reports, he acquitted himself excellently. These productions ushered in what is generally seen as the first great age of Yiddish theater, centered in New York and lasting approximately until a new wave of Jewish immigration, in 1905—1908 once again resulted in a vogue for broad comedy, vaudeville and light operettas, which the Thomashefskys embraced wholeheartedly, especially in performing Leon Korbin's plays about immigrant life.

Other notable Thomashefsky productions included Yiddish versions of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Goethe's Faust and, unlikely as it may seem, Wagner's Parsifal. According to the Jewish Virtual Library [1], in an adaptation of Hamlet called Der Yeshiva Bokher (The Yeshiva Student), "a wicked uncle smears [a] rabbinic candidate’s reputation by calling him a nihilist and the young man dies of a broken heart."  (They don't say whether this was the production that went head to head with the Adler/Kessler Othello.)

By 1910, Thomashefsky owned a 12-room home on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, plus a bungalow by the sea, and 20 acres (81,000 m²) in Hunter, New York which included an open-air theater, Thomashefsky's Paradise Gardens. Each of his three sons had an Arabian horse.
With his wife, actress Bessie Thomashefsky, he had a son Ted, who changed his name to Ted Thomas and became a stage manager; one of Ted Thomas's sons was the noted conductor Michael Tilson-Thomas.

2. The following 2006 story is taken from the Sibelius software website
Michael Tilson Thomas hosts "The Tomashefskys: Music & Memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theater" and brings his grandparents' legacy to New York and San Francisco

Americans are heirs to many cultural legacies, and one of these is the story of the massive Jewish immigration to New York City. Although Manhattan's Lower East Side at the turn of the 20th century conjures up visions of crowded streets, pushcarts and sweatshops, few are aware of the intensity of creative activity of those years and of its most public and unifying expression - the Yiddish Theater.

Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky, two young Jewish émigrés, were founding members and pioneers of America's Yiddish Theatre. They were not only superstar performers, but also entrepreneurs who drew countless authors, composers, actors, musicians, producers and designers into their creative circle. Through comedy and drama, they tackled new themes reflecting the challenges of American immigrants.
Their plays and operettas were pioneering and reflected new artistic forms in scriptwriting, musical composition, choreography, acting, direction and scene design. And, although this early phase of Yiddish theatre was short-lived, its influence continued as succeeding generations went on to Broadway, Hollywood and elsewhere, giving a distinctive edge to American popular culture.

Joseph Rumshinsky, composer of many of Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky's most popular musicals, wrote:
"The situation of the composer in the Yiddish theater in general is a sad one. The world can never get to know his better musical creations, because the whole score in which the ensembles, serious duets, romances, and the better songs are found seldom, indeed hardly ever, gets to print."

Rumshinsky was right in that a large number of the scores have vanished. But not all.

The Thomashefsky Project was founded in July 1998 in order to rescue the story of both the Thomashefskys' work and the early American Yiddish theatre's contribution to American cultural life. Through the work of The Project, many disintegrating scores have been located and preserved. Extant fragments of musical manuscripts, discovered at various archives, have been pieced together and transcribed into a digitized music program. Many scripts have also been rescued, copied and, in many cases, translated for the first time.

The culmination of the first period of research will be performances on evenings in April and June of 2005 in New York City and San Francisco. Sibelius user Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the New World Symphony and President of The Thomashefsky Project, serves as a guide through the lives and repertoire of his grandparents, Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky. Although his grandfather died before he was born, his grandmother lived until he was seventeen, and his close relationship with her and many of her colleagues is a source of much of the material.

"My grandparents became great stars," says Tilson Thomas. "They found themselves smack in the public eye, and were subject to adulation and relentless scrutiny. Legions of crazed fans were obsessed with every detail of their work and their lives. It was a far cry from the simple Jewish family life in the Ukrainian villages of their origins. In the old country, there was already an answer to every question. Now, in a new land of total freedom, new unimagined questions were waiting around every glittering corner.

"They wanted to use their theater to explore these new questions and serve as a forum to search for possible answers. I marvel at what they attempted and how well they succeeded, from the classics to avant garde dramas to original productions based on current events and Jewish life. They did Shakespeare, Ansky, Chekhov, their own versions of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Faust, and even a production of Wagner's Parsifal."

Bessie's most famous roles included Salome, Khantshe in America, an independent-minded immigrant who wanted to be a chauffeur, and Minke Di Dinstmoyd (Minke the Maid). Minke was a modern-day Pygmalion, for which Bessie created the character of the wise-cracking Jewish lady that we all know so well from later performances by Fanny Brice and Barbara Streisand.

Boris was well-known for his portrayal of Hamlet in Der Yisheve Bokher, a version of the classic, "translated and improved upon by Boris Thomashefsky," as the poster read. He played King Lear, Romeo, Judah Maccabee and the "Jewish Yankee Doodle."

At the height of their influence, the Thomashefskys owned theatres in and out of New York, published their own magazine The Yiddish Stage , wrote columns in popular Yiddish newspapers, sponsored and encouraged new generations of young artists, brought many Yiddish artists to the U.S., tirelessly raised funds for social causes and, through it all, were adventurous trend-setters.

From the early Yiddish Theatre comes a musical sound that few have heard integrating aspects of Eastern European klezmer and cantorial modes with elements of opera and operetta. With time the music incorporated more American scales and rhythms as Eastern European Jewish composers became more aware of their new surroundings. In the history of American stage this music comprises an important model for the growth of both Tin Pan |Alley and Broadway and influenced the works of composers who grew up in its shadow, like Irving Berlin and George Gershwin.

Performances at Carnegie/Zankel Hall in New York (April 16-17 2006) and Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco (June 29 2006) will include material selected from the Thomashefskys' individual autobiographies, excerpts from their plays, and other original materials from their repertoire. All will be woven together with archival visuals to bring an important expression in American culture to life.

3. There is also a nice description on Jewishvirtuallibrary.       http://www.Jewishvirtuallibrary.org

4. This website has pictures of Boris and Bessie as well as Boris singing.      http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4601242



 



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If you have any jokes, comments or suggestions, email me at david@awordinyoureye.com