Pioneering Yiddish film and stage director dies at 96

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NEW YORK — Joseph Green, the theater and film producer who revitalized Yiddish-language motion pictures, died June 20 in Great Neck, N.Y. He was 96.

Before the Holocaust, Green produced four films evoking Jewish life in Poland.

Born Joseph Greenberg in 1900 in Lodz, Poland, Green studied drama during World War I in German-occupied Warsaw. In Berlin in 1918, he joined an offshoot of the Vilna Troupe, a traveling Yiddish theater group that brought him to the United States. He settled in New York, acting in Yiddish troupes.

In 1927 he landed a walk-on part in Hollywood's "The Jazz Singer." Five years later the biblical silent film "Joseph in the Land of Egypt" was being rereleased with a Yiddish soundtrack: Green was hired to dub Joseph's voice.

Back in Poland, he raised funds for his own production company, set on issuing Polish-made, Yiddish-language films starring U.S. actors.

His first film, 1936's "Yidl Mitn Fidl" (Yiddle with a Fiddle), featured the young American stage actress Molly Picon. This tale of a woman posing as a man in a traveling band was the first international Yiddish hit.

He followed with "Der Purimshpiler" (The Purim Player) in 1937 and "Mamele" (Little Mother) and "A Brivele der Mamen" (A Little Letter to Mother), both in 1938.

During World War II, Green produced stage versions of H. Laivick's "The Miracle of the Warsaw Ghetto" and David Bergelson's "We Will Live" at New York's old Yiddish Art Theater.

He continued working as a distributor. His English-language "Yiddle with a Fiddle" toured in 1990.