The romantic idols of Yiddish musicals, Seymour Rechtzeit (1914-2002) and Miriam Kressyn (1910-1996) rose to fame in Yiddish theater and film. But their legacy was on the radio, where for decades they blended Yiddish language and sensibilities with American pop culture to create a brand of entertainment all their own.
Seymour Rechtzeit (stage name: Rexite) began his career as a child prodigy: at age nine he sang for the US Congress and Calvin Coolidge. As an adult, his high, sweet tenor voice made him a matinee idol, as he sang for over a dozen radio shows a week, crooned in Billy Rose’s nightclub, acted in Yiddish theater productions and starred in one of the first full-length Yiddish films with sound: Mayn Yidishe Mame (1930).
By the time Miriam Kressyn married Seymour Rechtzeit in 1943, the young soprano already had a lengthy international resume: she had spent the previous decade touring with shows in Europe, the United States, South America and South Africa. She also had begun a film career, starring in Der Purimshpiler (1937), one of the last Yiddish movies filmed in Poland before World War II.
Kressyn and Rechtzeit enjoyed great popularity as a team, first in Yiddish musicals and then on radio until the 1990s. Kressyn was also a talented translator who wrote Yiddish lyrics to American popular standards—and vice-versa. These translations featured in most of their radio programs, particularly Memories of the Theater, in which they shared firsthand accounts of American and Yiddish theater. Rechtzeit also served as president of the Hebrew Actors Union, giving him an in-depth familiarity with all aspects of show business.
The Seymour Rechtzeit Jewish Theater Collection includes:
At the heart of the collection are hundreds of rare audio recordings of Rechtzeit and Kressyn’s radio programs. These unique resources give researchers the opportunity to listen to Rechzeit and Kressyn reminisce about their lives and careers, hear Kressyn’s song translations performed, and to explore their unique insights into American and Yiddish theater in the 20th century.
A collection guide for the audio recordings, accompanied by a biography of Rechtzeit and Kressyn by Caraid O’Brien, is currently in preparation for publication.
Accessing These Materials
- The Rechzeit and Kressyn papers are described in HOLLIS.
- The photographs from the Rechzeit Collection have been digitized.
- Physical materials from the Rechtzeit Collection, including audio recordings, can be consulted in the Judaica Division office in Widener Library by appointment. Request access through HOLLIS Special Request, or email us.