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Molly Picon; Broadway, Yiddish Theater Star

April 08, 1992| From Associated Press

NEW YORK — Molly Picon, a comic star of the Yiddish theater who also tickled audiences in vaudeville, radio and on Broadway, has died. She was 93.

Miss Picon, a zestful performer who also wrote much of her own material, died Sunday at her sister's home in Lancaster, Pa., theatrical agent Max Eisen said Monday. He said she was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

Miss Picon's most famous English-speaking role was in the Broadway musical "Milk and Honey" in 1961, in which she portrayed a widow hunting for a husband in Israel.

Born June 1, 1898, in Manhattan to an immigrant couple, Miss Picon first displayed talent at the age of 5 when she won a teddy bear in a burlesque house amateur contest.

She was 6 when she made her first appearance in a Yiddish repertory company in Philadelphia. Work was steady after that. She quit high school after three years to join an English-language stock company.

Early in her career, the elfin Miss Picon, at 5 feet and 108 pounds, often landed the roles of small boys.

At age 15, she played Topsy in a bilingual--Yiddish and English--touring company version of "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

Yiddish operettas were her forte. Many were written for her by her husband, Joseph Kalich, whom she married in 1919 and who wrote about 40 shows for her before his death in 1975.

Miss Picon also appeared in the movies "Come Blow Your Horn" with Frank Sinatra and "For Pete's Sake" with Barbra Streisand.

She was an indefatigable performer adored by Yiddish theater audiences worldwide. In 1979, at the age of 81, she wrote and performed in the revue, "Those Were the Days."

The show revisited her career as the idol of New York's Second Avenue, where a robust Yiddish theater flourished until after World War II. She performed the revue mainly in Yiddish in New York, then took it to Philadelphia in English.

"I'm the last of the Yiddish theater," Miss Picon said then. "They hang onto me."

She is survived by a sister and a nephew.

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