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Molly Picon: Star of the Yiddish Stage and Screen 

April 2, 2024
by Daniel Zimmer
Polly Picon in Bublitchki, 1938.

Molly Picon spent nearly all of her life acting, no stage nor screen too small nor too large. Born Margaret Pyekoon on the Lower East Side in 1898, her career started at the age of five, when she won a local theater contest. By the time she was a teenager, she joined an English-language vaudeville troupe, dropping out of school due to pressure to support her single mother. In 1919, Picon married Jacob Kalich, manager of the Boston Grand Opera House, and the two traveled through Europe for two years. During that time, Picon gained stage experience and worked on her Yiddish, performing in original acts she wrote with Kalich. Upon returning to the United States, the two collaborated on numerous new shows, with Kalich scripting and directing shows to highlight Picon’s skills.

Molly Picon performing at a USO camp, March 21st, 1945.
Molly Picon in a promotional shot for the 1926 production of Some Girls at the Second Avenue Theatre.

Through the 1920s, Picon’s talents saw her starring not just on the Yiddish stage at the Second Avenue Theater in New York, but also in Yiddish films. By 1936, she was hosting a radio program, and made her Broadway debut in 1940. She made her Hollywood debut in the 1963 Frank Sinatra vehicle Come Blow Your Horn, and famously played Yente the Matchmaker in the 1971 film adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof. AJHS is thrilled to have the Molly Picon Papers (Collection P-38) in its collection, which contains theater items including scripts, music, and programs, as well as personal notes she made during her time on stage, on set, and on USO tours.

Molly Picon visiting senior citizens, 1926.
Molly Picon & Jacob Kalich visiting troops in Korea, 1951-1952.