Molly Picon

By: Brian Berger
February 28, 2015


Standing not even five feet tall, MOLLY PICON (1898–1992) grew into a towering figure of Yiddish theater and an indelible presence elsewhere on stage and screen. Born to a Polish father and a Ukrainian mother, Picon was raised in Philadelphia, making her first public performance at age five, when her singing and dancing earned her $10 at an amateur talent show; a decade in Yiddish repertory — including Philadelphia’s renowned Arch Street Theater — and English-language variety shows followed. At 16, Picon quit William Penn High School and, in 1917, she hit the vaudeville circuit with an all-female musical act, the Four Seasons. Stranded in Boston during that city’s influenza epidemic of September 1918, Picon met Galicia, Poland-raised Yiddish theater director Jacob “Yonkel” Kalich, who became her husband, manager and lifelong creative partner. In 1920, Kalich had the brilliant idea of introducing Picon to Europe; thus Picon’s appearance in the 1923 Yiddish film Ost und West and thus the growing reputation that, by decade’s end, made her a Jewish-American icon, “Molly of Second Avenue.” In 1936, Picon starred in the remarkable Polish-made Yiddish film, Yidl Mitn Fidl and, if she was too Jewish for ethnically repressed Hollywood, Nat Hiken, Jewish autuer of Car 54, Where Are You? knew she was perfect for the Bronx. In “I Won’t Go” (October 15, 1961), Picon plays Mrs. Bronson, who refuses to leave her condemned apartment where soon a George Washington Bridge approach ramp will be. Officers Toody and Muldoon arrive to remove her.

Muldoon: You seem to be an intelligent woman. Do you want to hold up progress?

Mrs. Bronson: The approach is progress? Because some man in Bermuda shorts and fancy socks wants to go to New Jersey ten minutes faster to play golf, I have to get out of my house where I lived forty years? Tell him with the Bermuda shorts and fancy socks, get up ten minutes earlier! …

Muldoon: [exasperated] Gunther, you try.

Toody: Try what? She makes sense!


Ost und West (1923)

“Yom Pom Pom” (1931)

Yidl Mitl Fiddle (1937)

Car 54 Where Are You, “I Won’t Go” (1961)


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: John Fahey, Linus Pauling, Guy Maddin, Milton Caniff, Vincente Minnelli.

READ MORE about members of the Hardboiled Generation (1894-1903).


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