Skip To Content

Frances Adler’s Theatrical Heritage

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.

Daughter of Jacob P. Adler, founder of American Yiddish theatre and scion of his own dynasty of thespians, Frances Adler acted in both Yiddish and English for over five decades —frequently appearing as her father’s leading lady. It was a role perhaps especially suited to the Yiddish patriarch and daughter — she was Portia to his Shylock, and in a more romantic pairing — Desdemona to his Othello. She is described as having been extremely striking and slight, with the talent to set herself apart from her clan. She performed with leading actors of the day including Paul Muni and Yiddish theatre giants Rudolph Schildkraut and David Kessler. Frances was known for a dramatic range that ran the gamut from Yiddish theatre classics such as Jacob Gorden’s “God Man and Devil,” to a later role in “The Files,” Jean Paul Sartre’s 1943 adaptation of the Greek Electra myth.

An actor educated at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, she was unafraid to stray into murkier hybrid Yiddish topics. In 1921 Frances Adler appeared in “Apartment No. 3,” Yiddish playwright Leon Kobrin’s psychological drama about white slavery and the sex trade set in the interior of a big city Jewish household that is deeply engaged with trafficking and the violence it entails. In the 1950’s she would appear in Kobrin’s reportedly disturbing post-war drama “Riverside Drive,” playing a cold hearted American born daughter-in-law, opposite the great Yiddish divo Maurice Schwartz who would play a survivor. The main crisis of the play saw Adler’s ongoing rejection of her European born Yiddish speaking father-in-law until finally he stammers out his cri-de-coeur in accented English: “You do not have to love me, but you should have respect for me!” And to whom would Gertrude Berg look when seeking authenticity for America’s first radio broadcast series featuring a Jewish family? None other than Frances Adler who appeared as Mrs. Safler in “The Goldbergs.”

Frances Adler lit up stages here and abroad — and died in 1964 one week after the Channukah holiday, at the age of 73 at the Upper West Side’s Bancroft Hotel where she resided.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.