The Schmooze

An Actor Who Broke a Leg — or Two

From the Shtetl to the Stage: The Odyssey of a Wandering Actor
By Alexander Granach, with a new introduction by Herbert S. Lewis
Transaction Publishers, 304 pages, $29.95

Actor Alexander Granach performed in Yiddish as a member of Berlin’s Jacob Gordin Theatrical Society early in the past century. He went from his shtetl in Galicia to Yiddish theater in Berlin, then to director Max Reinhardt’s acting school in the same city. As a Jew and man with leftist leanings, he fled Hitler’s Germany in 1933, and before his death in 1945 he performed in 20 Hollywood films, including Bertolt Brecht and Fritz Lang’s “Hangmen Also Die” and Ernst Lubitsch’s “Ninotchka.” He never became a film star; most of his roles were as a supporting actor. But Granach’s thespian achievements took him far from his beginnings in rural Kolomea and his early life as a bread baker, onto sound stages with some of the world’s most prominent film artists.

The story of Granach’s early life, an incomplete autobiography that ends at around 1920, was recently reissued under the title “From the Shtetl to the Stage: The Odyssey of a Wandering Actor.” Granach writes in great detail about his life among impoverished Galician Jews, his first girlfriends, fellow bakers and his early enthusiasms in theater. At 17 he dreamed of playing the role of Shakespeare’s famous Jew, Shylock. The dream, deferred while Granach fought as a soldier during World War I, was finally realized in 1919. The book ends with that achievement, still early in the actor’s career.

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An Actor Who Broke a Leg — or Two

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