Dementia Series-Disabled Legend Molly Picon

Molly Picon was born Małka (Margaret) Opiekun on 1 June, 1898 in New York City, New York, USA to Clara and Louis (or Denis) Opiekun (later changed to Picon). Opiekun is a Polish language name meaning, “guardian” or “caretaker”. Molly Picon died on 5 April, 1992 aged 93, from Alzheimer’s disease in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Molly Picon is buried in the Yiddish Theater section of the Mount Hebron Cemetery.

Molly Picon’s husband, from 1919 until his death in 1975 from cancer, was Jacob Kalich. They had no children.

Molly Picon was an American star of stage, screen and television, as well as a lyricist. Molly Picon was first and foremost a star in Yiddish theatre and Film, but as Yiddish theatre faded she began to perform in English-language productions.

Molly Picon’s career began at the age of 6 in the Yiddish Theatre. In 1912, she debuted at the Arch Street Theatre in New York and became a star of the Second Avenue Yiddish stage.

Molly Picon was so popular in the 1920s that many shows had the name Molly in their title. In 1931 she opened the Molly Picon Theatre. Molly Picon appeared in many films, starting with silent movies. Molly Picon earliest film still existing is East and West which deals with the clash of new and old Jewish cultures. Molly Picon plays an American-born daughter who travels with her father back to Galicia in East Central Europe. Real-life husband Jacob Kalich plays one of her Galician relatives from Eastern Europe.

Molly Picon’s most famous film, Yidl Mit’n Fidl (1936), was made on location in Poland, and has her wearing male clothing through most of the film. In the film, a girl and her father are forced by poverty to set out on the road as traveling musicians. For her safety, she disguises herself as a boy, which becomes inconvenient when she falls in love with one of the other musicians in the troupe.

Molly Picon made her English language debut on stage in 1940. On Broadway, she starred in Neil Simon’s Come Blow Your Horn and the Jerry Herman musical Milk and Honey, both in 1961. In 1966 she quit the disastrous Chu Chem during previews in Philadelphia; the show closed before reaching Broadway.

Molly Picon’s first English speaking role in the movies was the film version of Come Blow Your Horn (1963), and she portrayed Yente, the Matchmaker in the film adaptation of the Broadway hit Fiddler on the Roof in 1971.

In the 1970s, she was featured as a madame named Mrs. Cherry in For Pete’s Sake, a film starring another famous Jewish-American actress, Barbra Streisand. Molly Picon later played a role on television on the soap opera Somerset.  An entire room was filled with her memorabilia at the Second Avenue Deli in New York
(now closed).

The little “yente” with the big, expressive talent, New York-born Yiddish icon Molly Picon entertained theater, radio, TV and film audiences for over seven decades with her song-and-dance routines while helping to popularize the Yiddish culture into the American mainstream as well as overseas. Raised in Philadelphia, she was performing from age 5 but broke into the big time with a vaudeville act called “The Four Seasons” in 1919, eventually making a comedy name for herself in the Second Avenue Theatres on the Lower East Side back in New York. The indefatigable Molly Picon was a real live wire and played very broad, confident, dominant characters on stage, which ended up making it hard for her to be taken seriously in dramatic pieces.

In film she is best remembered for her Yiddish-language showcases of the 30s, notably in Yidl with His Fiddle (1936), the story of a traveling musician who dresses as a boy to avoid unwarranted male advances. Molly Picon was cast as a Yiddish Cinderella, a dutiful but unappreciated daughter who cares for her father and his large family, in Mamele (1938), the last Jewish film made in Poland. During one musical vignette, Molly Picon portrays her character’s grandmother in several stages of life. In the 1940s, Molly Picon started to include English-speaking plays as well and as she grew into matronly roles, became synonymous as the typical well-meaning but overbearing and coddling “Jewish mama.” Such amusing, unflappable film roles would be found in Come Blow Your Horn (1963) (as an interfering Italian mother) and Fiddler on the Roof (1972) as Yente the matchmaker. Molly Picon long association with husband and corroborator, Yiddish stage star Jacob Kalich, was a fruitful one. Husband Jacob Kalich became her mentor, the author of many of her popular plays and the manager of her career. They Married in 1919, Jacob Kalich died in 1975 but she continued performing albeit sporadically. Vicariously known as the “Jewish Charlie Chaplin” and “Jewish Helen Hayes”, she was a patriot and humanitarian at heart, with an energy, creativity and ability to entertain that couldn’t help but make her one of entertainment’s most beloved citizens.

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Dementia Series-Disabled Legend Mike Frankovich

Mitchell John “Mike” Frankovich was born on 29 September 1909 and died on 1 January 1992 in California, USA of pneumonia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Mike was a film producer and husband of the late actress Binnie Barnes (who converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism for him, as he was a Roman Catholic), who was 6 years his senior; they adopted 3 children, including producer Peter Frankovich and production manager, Mike Frankovich Jr..

Mike played football for UCLA and was inducted into UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame in 1986. Mike served as president of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission and helped to bring the Los Angeles Raiders football team and 1984 Summer Olympics to Los Angeles.

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Dementia Series-Disabled Legend Mervyn Leroy

Mervyn Leroy was born on 15 October, 1900 and died on 13 September, 1987. Mervyn was an Academy Award-winning American film director, producer and sometime actor. Mervyn worked in costumes, processing labs and as a camera assistant until he became a gag writer and actor in silent films. Mervyn’s first directing job was in 1927’s No Place to Go. When his movies made lots of money without costing too much, he became well-received in the movie business. Mervyn LeRoy retired in 1965 and wrote his autobiography, Take One, in 1974. Mervyn died in Beverly Hills, California and was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. Mervyn Leroy has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1560 Vine Street.

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Dementia Series-Disabled Legend Dana Andrews

Dana Andrews was born on 1 January, 1909 and died on 17 December, 1992. Dana was an American film actor. Dana Andrews signed a contract with Samuel Goldwyn and 9 years after arriving in Los Angeles was offered his first movie role in William Wyler’s The Westerner (1940), starring Gary Cooper. In the 1943 movie adaptation of The Ox-Bow Incident with Henry Fonda, often cited as one of his best films, he played a lynching victim. Dana gave a finely calibrated performance in Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), followed by the Andrews’ two signature roles, as an obsessed detective in Laura (1944) opposite Gene Tierney, and as a soldier returning home from the war in the Oscar-winning 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives.

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Dementia Series-Disabled Legend Jack Lord

Jack Lord was born on 30 December, 1920 and died on 21 January, 1998.  Jack O’Brien was an American television, film, and Broadway actor. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Jack Lord was the son of Irish-American parents. Jack’s father, William Lawrence Ryan was a steamship company executive. Jack’s first work on Broadway was in Traveling Lady with Kim Stanley. Jack was then cast as a replacement for Ben Gazarra in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  Jack Lord died of congestive heart failure at his home on January 21, 1998 in Honolulu, Hawaii, at the age of 77.  Jack left an estate of $40 million, and being a philanthropist in his lifetime, the entire estate went to various Hawaiian charities upon his wife Marie’s death in 2005. Portions of their estate were auctioned on eBay in March 2007.

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Dementia Series-Disabled Legend Rita Hayworth

Rita Hayworth was born on 17 October, 1918 and died on 14 May, 1987. Margarita Carmen Cansino, better known as Rita Hayworth, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Spanish flamenco dancer Eduardo Cansino (Sr.) and English/Irish-American Ziegfeld girl Volga Hayworth. After about 1960, Rita suffered from extremely early onset of Alzheimer’s disease, which was not diagnosed until 1980. Rita continued to act in films until the early 1970s and made a well-publicised 1971 appearance on The Carol Burnett Show. Both of her brothers died within a week of each other in March 1974, saddening her greatly, and causing her to drink even more heavily than before. Rita Hayworth public diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease in 1980 was a big step in destigmatizing the degenerative disease.

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Dementia Series-Disabled Legend Charlton Heston

Charlton Heston was born on 4 October, 1924. Charlton is an American film actor. In a long career he was mostly known for playing heroic roles such as Moses in The Ten Commandments, Colonel George Taylor in Planet of the Apes, and Judah Ben-Hur in Ben-Hur. Charlton Heston’s most frequently played roles on stage include the title role in Macbeth, Sir Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons, and Mark Antony in both Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. Charlton Heston is lost in a world of Alzheimer’s Disease, according to close family friends.

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