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Monday, February 15, 2021

Obituary for Louis Gilrod, Forverts March 14 1930

Since Gilrod features so prominently among the parodists featured on this blog, I thought you might be interested in what the editors of the Yiddish Forward had to say right after his death. 

The following week there was a reflection by Joseph Rumshinsky which I'll post later, when I record "Fifty-Fifty," which it references extensively. 

 March 14 1930
The deceased Gilrod wrote couplets for dozens of years
Most of his little songs were popular across the entire Jewish world - his career as actor


A small number of actors and others in the Yiddish theater came yesterday to pay last respects to the deceased Louis Gilrod, but not one member of the larger theater audience, which had been enraptured by Gilrod as actor and lyricist some decades ago. The public was not moved, even by curiosity, to come say a last farewell.

It was a sad scene which elicited sad thoughts about the current state of the Yiddish theater, about the attitude of the theater audience and the luck of the small and weak who in their best years helped build up the giant edifice of Yiddish theater, now beginning to crumble...

One who would certainly not have fallen into a bad mood seeing the scanty funeral was the deceased himself.

If such a miracle could occur, if Gilrod could have attended his own funeral and seen how little popularity he has now at the time of his death, he wouldn't have been disappointed. He was ready for anything with his resigned attitude and somewhat strange philosophy of life. He had for quite a time seen himself as a corpse's spirit, hovering, its body no longer with us.

And how long has it been since since Gilrod cooked and stormed, burned up the world? How long since he was the star of the Yiddish vaudeville theater, and thereafter its star lyricist?

Louis Gilrod was born September 10, 1879, in the village of Ruizana. He grew up in Ulyanov, in the Padolya region of Ukraine. His father was a bookseller; he let his son study in cheder and afterwards in a shul. In 1881 Gilrod came with his father to America. It was the era of the great exodus to America. But Gilrod's father, like many immigrants, couldn't get used to it; he went back to Ukraine, leaving the 12-year-old boy here with an uncle. A trade was found for him: he was apprenticed to a barber. He learned the trade, and worked in Newark, but never liked the work. When was 17 he founded a dramatic club and performed "The Greenhorns" by Lateiner, playing, successfully, the role of Moyshele. He began to think of making theater his profession. While continuing to act, he began writing lyrics; this led him into professional theater, where he began to play small roles in the Thalia and Windsor theaters.

His greatest period of success began in the early years of this century, when New York was flooded with Yiddish vaudeville houses. At the time there weren't yet any English vaudevilles or movie theaters on the East Side; English language melodrama played only in the Thalia theater, where every Sunday Yiddish theater was performed as well. The Yiddish population was not yet Americanized. Every day new "greens" came. They made a living and wanted a little bit of life as well, in the Jewish style, and the Yiddish vaudeville houses were well patronized. There were two on Broome Street and a few on Eldridge Street, on the Bowery, on Grand Street and Canal Street.

Usually the program in these vaudeville houses began with a one-act operetta in which the whole company appeared. Most of these operettas were excerpted by Gilrod from the original works, and some of the songs in the operettas were his. After the operetta came "single turns" (in Europe called "solo numbers") and here Gilrod would sing or act his songs, for some of which he'd written the music. The programs concluded with one-acts or more acting sketches featuring Max Gebil and Ida Dvorkin, or Zigmund Vayntraub and his wife, or Louie Kremer, Jacob Vekslekh, or Gilrod. Each was the star of a vaudeville house in which he played. These sketches were written by Gebil, Louis Kremer, or Gilrod; each star acted only in his own sketches. Gilrod wrote up to 65 sketches in which he himself acted.

Gilrod's popularity was, however, not as an actor. Although he created his own comic characters in the course of his career, many others surpassed him. It was as a lyricist that he was popular and famous, as the writer of the songs sung in the Yiddish operettas he revealed his rhythm and musicality. His lyrics sang themselves. He wasn't one-sided, he wrote national, sentimental, humorous and social songs. There were lyrics through which actors became famous and lyrics sung by tens of thousands of Jews in the whole world. Especially popular was his ditty "Pavolye, Reb Volye," which Mogulesco sang in "Faytl Pavolye," the lyrics to Thomashefsky's "Pintele Yid" (music by Herman Wohl), and "Got un zayn mishpet iz gerekht" (written together with David Meyerowitz) which was sung by Jacob P. Adler in Libin's "Gebrokhene hertser."

After retiring from acting, he kept writing lyrics. His last lyrics were to Siegel's operetta "Dos freylikhe yesoymele" (music by Joseph Rumshinsky), which is playing at the Second Avenue theater right now.

Gilrod also had to his credit the big theater career of Muni Weisenfreund. In 1918 as Morris Schwartz's messenger he went to Muni in Philadelphia, where he was playing in a Yiddish vaudeville house, saying he should come to New York and play in Yiddish art theater at Irving Place.

These last 3-4 years Gilrod was ill and expected catastrophe every day. In the last months his illness intensified and he had to be taken to the hospital. He was in a bad economic situation and two weeks ago a matinee benefit performance was organized for him at the Second Avenue Theater. Stars acted, but one star was missing - the public didn't come... The sick Gilrod had barely managed to drag himself to the theater, and instead of coming home with money, he was left with heartache.

Feeling his last days were near, Gilrod asked for the actor Abraham Sinkoff and gave him all his lyrics, asking that they be published. 

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