"Different people, different nations all in one lot! Pour their souls together in a big melting pot!"
Some are a bit loud….
"From an attic, a crazy woman shrieks like mad! Yeeeeeeeeeeee in that New York Symphony..."
"Slowly a funeral passes you by. And from a wedding somebody sings Aiyyy yayy yi!"
"….it's "driving you mad…That NEW YORK SYMPHONY!"
Much more Yiddish than other beloved Jewish comediennes who arrived a little earlier or later (Fanny Brice or Sophie Tucker and Gertrude Berg and Mae Questel), Molly Picon was born in America in 1898, but didn't choose vaudeville or radio for a show biz career. The former Małka Opiekun made her name in Yiddish theater productions and ethnic silent films. By the 1930's, she was a lot more assimilated, and goes through the frantic English lyrics of "The New York Symphony" like the native New Yorker she actually was. The song was recorded in England in 1936, which isn't that surprising. Picon performed around the world, and that same year, released what fans consider her best movie, "Yidl Mtn Fidl" which was shot in Poland (home of her ancestors). That's "Yiddle with his Fiddle" to you…with Molly mostly in male drag.
In the 20's and 30's, Picon recorded dozens of 78's, many of them for Columbia and RCA Victor, which is kind of surprising considering these were sung in Yiddish, with titles including "Farges ich Nit," "Ch'hob a Katar," "In a Yiddish Shtetele," and "Abi Gesind." She rarely sang in English. "Believe it Or Not" for Banner, and the bizarre serio-comic "New York Symphony" were exceptions.
Consider "The New York Symphony" to be an ultra-strange prelude to Tony Martin's horribly entertaining "Tenement Symphony," performed in a 1940's Marx Brothers movie and chronicled elsewhere on this blog.
One of the more audible female Jewish comic voices in the 40's belonged to Minerva Pious, who played "Mrs. Nussbaum" on Fred Allen's radio show. Mrs. Nussbaum and her husband Pierre once had a fight. She told Fred that her husband stormed out of the house...but made sure to take his Molly Picon records! Molly had lots of fans, and those old records from Bubbe's attic would be replayed by Jerry Lewis and Barbra Streisand and many others. While Gertrude Berg would achieve 50's TV fame as "Molly Goldberg," influential and nostalgic fans like Jerry and Barbra did something about Picon's relative obscurity when they had the chance. After the Yiddish theater great starred in the musical "The Kosher Widow" in 1959 she came to Broadway in 1961 with an important starring role in "Milk and Honey." Along with Mae Questel, Picon became one of the last old cute Jewish ladies standing, which helped her get small roles as aunts and feisty grandmas in sitcoms.
She turned up in a few films, including "Come Blow Your Horn" (1963, the same year she published her autobiography "So Laugh A Little") and the screen adaptation of "Fiddler on the Roof" in 1971.
Why Picon her? because of the outrageous NEW YORK SYMPHONEEEEEE