Molly Picon was a petite woman with many talents in the entertainment sector. Picon was a star of the Yiddish and English-speaking stages, motion pictures, radio and television. She wrote almost 100 songs and skits for the stage. She performed for the sick, the American troops in World War II and the surviving Jews in Europe. Picon also took children into her home through the Foster Parents' Plan for War Children.
Picon was the elder of two daughters of Lewis and Clara (Ostrow) Picon. She was born in a tenement in New York City on June 1, 1898. Her father was from Warsaw, Poland, and worked in the needle trades. Her mother had come from Kiev, Russia, and worked as a seamstress.
The family moved to Philadelphia when Picon was three years old. At the age of five, she sang at an amateur night for children and won five gold dollars. She made the rounds of all children's amateur nights and won many prizes and had coins tossed to her by the audience.
Picon's mother was a dressmaker for actresses. One of the actresses told her about an opening in Mike Tomashefsky's Yiddish stock company. At the age of six, Picon began playing children's parts in Tomashefsky's company. Picon toured with a vaudeville act called "The Four Seasons" in 1919. When members of the act came to Boston, they found the theaters closed due to an influenza epidemic. Out of work and out of money, Picon went to the local Yiddish theater in search of a job or to borrow money. Jacob Kalich, manager of the Grand Opera House, gave her a job. The two were married on July 29, 1919.
Kalich recognized his wife's talents. He took her to Europe to perfect her Yiddish and to star in his operetta Yankele. Picon played the role of a small boy. The tour was very successful. After they returned to the United States in 1923, the theater was sold out. Many Europeans had written to their American relatives about the greatness of Picon in Yankele.
Through the years, Picon starred in many Yiddish plays on Second Avenue. She made a Yiddish film in Warsaw called Yiddle With His Fiddle in 1936. She starred in another Yiddish film, Mamale, in 1938.
She toured the American vaudeville circuit in the early 1930s. Picon's first Broadway English-speaking role was in Morning Star. She completed 19 years of radio with General Foods as its sponsor in 1951.
She starred in a 13-week television show in 1948. Picon and her husband were among the first entertainers to go to Europe after World War II to entertain the surviving Jews. They brought 700 gift packages of cosmetics and costume jewelry for women who had survived the concentration camps and candy for the children.
Picon was a member of: The Jewish Theatrical Guild, Hebrew Actors Union, Jewish Theatrical Alliance, American Actors Association, Yiddish Composers Guild, American Federation of Radio Artists, American Guild of Variety Artists and Actors Equity. She died on April 6, 1992.
Sources: This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America: 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism, © 1996, written by Seymour Sy Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.