A Flag is Born

A Flag is Born is a 1946 play that advocated the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people in the ancient Land of Israel—at the time of the play's release Mandatory Palestine, under British administration. With a cast including Paul Muni, Celia Adler and Marlon Brando, it opened on Broadway on September 4, 1946. It was written by Ben Hecht and directed by Luther Adler, with music by Kurt Weill. A Flag is Born was produced by the American League for a Free Palestine, an organization headed by Hillel Kook (known in America by the anglicized name Peter Bergson), to raise money for Zionist causes.[1]

Program cover. Zionists are superimposed over American Revolutionary figures.[1]


A Flag is Born has three principal characters, with other actors playing bit roles.[2] Tevye and Zelda (played on Broadway by Paul Muni and Celia Adler, major stars at the time) are survivors of the Treblinka death camp who are attempting to travel to British-administered Palestine, the ancient Land of Israel. David (Marlon Brando) is an angry young Holocaust survivor.

The play opens with Tevye and Zelda ushering in the Jewish Sabbath on a Friday night somewhere on their journey. Zelda lights candles on a broken tombstone. After reciting the Sabbath prayers, Tevye dreams of the town where he was born, as it was before the Nazis destroyed it. A dream sequence follows in which Tevye has visions of the biblical kings Saul and David, then imagines himself standing before the United Nations Security Council pleading for the formation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine; he is ignored.

Tevye awakens to find that Zelda has died in the night. He recites kaddish, a Jewish memorial prayer, then welcomes the Angel of Death, who has come for him too. He bids David farewell. As David considers committing suicide, three Jewish soldiers (representing the Haganah, Irgun, and Lehi) suddenly appear and implore him to join them: "Don't you hear our guns David? We battle the English, the sly and powerful English. We speak to them in a new Jewish language, the language of guns. We fling no more prayers or tears at the world. We fling bullets. We fling barrages ... We promise to wrest our homeland out of the British claws."[3][4]

In the play's finale, David delivers a fiery pro-Zionist speech, moves across a bridge into Palestine, and with the mixed sounds of "Hatikvah" and gunfire in the background, raises Tevye's prayer shawl as a makeshift flag and marches off to war.[4]

Zionist causes

Jews, largely Holocaust survivors, sailing for Palestine aboard the SS Exodus in 1947. A Flag is Born was produced to support such migrants.

A Flag is Born was produced by the pro-Zionist American League for a Free Palestine (ALFP) to raise financial and political support for Zionist causes, including the transport of Jews from Europe. The AFLP was entirely open about its political motivations—publicity materials read: "'A Flag is Born' is not ordinary theatre. It was not written to amuse or beguile. 'A Flag is Born' was written to make money—to make money to provide ships to get Hebrews to Palestine ... and [to] arouse American public opinion to support the fight for freedom and independence now being waged by the resistance in Palestine."[1]

In promoting the play, the Bergson Group attempted to equate the Zionist organizations in Palestine with the Patriots of the American Revolution. The cover of the program showed three Zionists—one with a rifle, one with a hoe, and one with a Zionist flag—superimposed over three American Revolutionary figures. Advertisements used the slogan "It's 1776 in Palestine!", portrayed members of the Irgun as "modern-day Nathan Hales," alluded to "taxation without representation" in Palestine, and quoted Thomas Jefferson's phrase, "Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God." When Tevye dreams about addressing the United Nations, he compares Palestine in the 1940s with the American colonies in the 1770s.[1] A Flag is Born played in six North American cities and raised more than $400,000 for the ALFP, the largest block of funds it ever attained.[1]

Brando had already been voted "Broadway's Most Promising Actor" for his role as an anguished veteran in Truckline Café, but that play was not a commercial success and Brando was still young, relatively unknown and impecunious. Brando contended that the survivors of the Holocaust deserved to have their own land where they could live freely; he accepted only the Actor's Equity minimum payment so more of the proceeds from A Flag is Born could go towards Zionist causes.[1][5]

Reception and impact

After the play proved extremely popular, the Broadway run was extended and a tour was arranged. The sponsoring committee included many prominent people, including composer Leonard Bernstein, novelist Lion Feuchtwanger, New York City Mayor William O'Dwyer, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Following the Broadway run, A Flag is Born traveled to Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Boston. It was also scheduled to play at the National Theater in Washington, D.C. However, in an early action of the civil rights movement, Americans who opposed racial discrimination began a boycott to oppose the practice of barring blacks from attending Washington theaters, and the committee moved the play to the Maryland Theater in Baltimore. A special train brought members of Congress to the performance.[1] The American League for a Free Palestine and the NAACP cooperated to use the occasion to force the management of the Maryland Theater to abrogate its segregation policy (blacks restricted to the balcony) for the duration of the play's run which, in the context of the times, was considered a victory for civil rights.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Medoff, Rafael (April 2004). "Ben Hecht's 'A Flag is Born': A Play That Changed History". Washington D.C.: David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. Archived from the original on March 25, 2015. Retrieved April 17, 2015.
  2. ^ "A Flag is Born". Internet Broadway Database. New York: The Broadway League. Retrieved April 17, 2015.
  3. ^ Bird, Kai: Divided City: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis
  4. ^ a b Wertheim, Albert: Staging the War: American Drama and World War II, p. 279
  5. ^ Kemp, Louie (October 7, 2004). "My Seder With Brando". The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Los Angeles: Tribe Media Corp. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
Alexander Scourby

Alexander Scourby (; November 13, 1913 – February 22, 1985) was an American film, television, and voice actor known for his deep and resonant voice. He is best known for his film role as the ruthless mob boss Mike Lagana in Fritz Lang's The Big Heat (1953), and is also particularly well-remembered in the English-speaking world for his landmark recordings of the entire King James Version audio Bible, which have been released in numerous editions. He later recorded the entire Revised Standard Version of the Bible. Scourby recorded 422 audiobooks for the blind which he considered his most important work.

Ben Hecht

Ben Hecht (; February 28, 1893 or 1894 – April 18, 1964) was an American screenwriter, director, producer, playwright, journalist, and novelist. A journalist in his youth, he went on to write 35 books and some of the most entertaining screenplays and plays in America. He received screen credits, alone or in collaboration, for the stories or screenplays of some seventy films.

At the age of 16, Hecht ran away to Chicago, where, in his own words, he "haunted streets, whorehouses, police stations, courtrooms, theater stages, jails, saloons, slums, madhouses, fires, murders, riots, banquet halls, and bookshops". In the 1910s and early 1920s, Hecht became a noted journalist, foreign correspondent, and literary figure. In the 1920s, his co-authored, reporter-themed play, The Front Page, became a Broadway hit.

The Dictionary of Literary Biography - American Screenwriters calls him "one of the most successful screenwriters in the history of motion pictures". Hecht received the first Academy Award for Best Story for Underworld (1927). Many of the screenplays he worked on are now considered classics. He also provided story ideas for such films as Stagecoach (1939). Film historian Richard Corliss called him "the Hollywood screenwriter", someone who "personified Hollywood itself". In 1940, he wrote, produced, and directed Angels Over Broadway, which was nominated for Best Screenplay. In total, six of his movie screenplays were nominated for Academy Awards, with two winning.

He became an active Zionist shortly before the Holocaust began in Germany, and wrote articles and plays about the plight of European Jews, such as We Will Never Die in 1943 and A Flag is Born in 1946. Of his seventy to ninety screenplays, he wrote many anonymously to avoid the British boycott of his work in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The boycott was a response to Hecht's active support of paramilitary action against British forces in Palestine and sabotaging British property there (see below), during which time a supply ship to Palestine was named the S. S. Ben Hecht.(nl)(he)

According to his autobiography, he never spent more than eight weeks on a script. In 1983, 19 years after his death, Ben Hecht was posthumously inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.

Celia Adler

Celia Feinman Adler (December 6, 1889 – January 31, 1979) was an American actress, known as the "First Lady of the Yiddish Theatre".

Harry Landers

Harry Landers (born Harry Sorokin; September 3, 1921 – September 10, 2017) was an American character actor. He was born in New York City.

Hershy Kay

Hershy Kay (November 17, 1919 – December 2, 1981) was an American composer, arranger, and orchestrator. He is most noteworthy for the orchestrations of several Broadway shows, and for the ballets he arranged for George Balanchine's New York City Ballet. Kay died on December 2, 1981 in Danbury, Connecticut.

John Baragrey

John Baragrey (15 April 1918 – 4 August 1975) was an American film, television, and stage actor who appeared in virtually every dramatic television series of the 1950s and early 1960s. On stage, in films, and especially on television, he teamed up with many of the leading ladies of the era, including Rita Hayworth, Jane Wyman, Jane Powell, Anne Bancroft, Judith Anderson, Tallulah Bankhead, Delores del Rio, and Bette Davis. Yet today he is virtually forgotten, partly because so much of his work was in early television, and many of the tapes of these shows have been lost or were never even recorded.Baragrey was married to American actress Louise Larabee. After a prolific career, Baragrey died suddenly at the age of 57 of a stroke.

Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris (born Jonathan Daniel Charasuchin; November 6, 1914 – November 3, 2002) was an American character actor whose career included more than 500 television and movie appearances, as well as voiceovers. Two of his best-known roles were as the timid accountant Bradford Webster in the television version of The Third Man and the fussy villain Dr. Zachary Smith of the 1960s science fiction series Lost in Space. Near the end of his career, he provided voices for the animated features A Bug's Life and Toy Story 2.

Luther Adler

Luther Adler (May 4, 1903 – December 8, 1984) was an American actor best known for his work in theatre, but who also worked in film and television. He also directed plays on Broadway.

Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando Jr. (April 3, 1924 – July 1, 2004) was an American actor and film director. With a career spanning 60 years, he is regarded for his cultural influence on 20th-century film. Brando's Academy Award-winning performances include that of Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront (1954) and Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972). Brando was an activist for many causes, notably the civil rights movement and various Native American movements. He is credited with helping to popularize the Stanislavski system of acting having studied with Stella Adler in the 1940s. He is often regarded as one of the first actors to bring Method Acting to mainstream audiences.

He initially gained acclaim and an Academy Award nomination for reprising the role of Stanley Kowalski in the 1951 film adaptation of Tennessee Williams' play A Streetcar Named Desire, a role that he originated successfully on Broadway. He received further praise for his performance as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, and his portrayal of the rebellious motorcycle gang leader Johnny Strabler in The Wild One proved to be a lasting image in popular culture. Brando received Academy Award nominations for playing Emiliano Zapata in Viva Zapata!; Mark Antony in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1953 film adaptation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar; and Air Force Major Lloyd Gruver in Sayonara (1957), an adaptation of James Michener's 1954 novel. Brando was included in a list of Top Ten Money Making Stars three times in the 1950s, coming in at number 10 in 1954, number 6 in 1955, and number 4 in 1958.

The 1960s saw Brando's career take a downturn. He directed and starred in the cult western film One-Eyed Jacks, a critical and commercial flop, after which he delivered a series of box-office failures, beginning with the 1962 film adaptation of the novel Mutiny on the Bounty. After 10 years, during which he did not appear in a successful film, he won his second Academy Award for playing Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather, a role critics consider among his greatest. The Godfather was then one of the most commercially successful films of all time. With that and his Oscar-nominated performance in Last Tango in Paris, Brando re-established himself in the ranks of top box-office stars, placing sixth and tenth in the Money Making Stars poll in 1972 and 1973, respectively. Brando took a four-year hiatus before appearing in The Missouri Breaks (1976). After this, he was content with being a highly paid character actor in cameo roles, such as in Superman (1978) and The Formula (1980), before taking a nine-year break from motion pictures. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Brando was paid a record $3.7 million ($15 million in inflation-adjusted dollars) and 11.75% of the gross profits for 13 days' work on Superman. He finished out the 1970s with his controversial performance as Colonel Kurtz in another Coppola film, Apocalypse Now, a box-office hit for which he was highly paid and which helped finance his career layoff during the 1980s.

Brando was ranked by the American Film Institute as the fourth-greatest movie star among male movie stars whose screen debuts occurred in or before 1950. He was one of six professional actors, along with Charlie Chaplin, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra, and Marilyn Monroe, named in 1999 by Time magazine as one of its 100 Most Important People of the Century.

Marlon Brando filmography

This is a complete filmography of Marlon Brando, who is considered one of the greatest actors of all time.

Paul Muni

Paul Muni (born Frederich Meshilem Meier Weisenfreund; September 22, 1895 – August 25, 1967) was an American stage and film actor who grew up in Chicago. Muni was a five-time Academy Award nominee, with one win. He started his acting career in the Yiddish theatre. During the 1930s, he was considered one of the most prestigious actors at the Warner Bros. studio, and was given the rare privilege of choosing which parts he wanted.

His acting quality, usually playing a powerful character, such as the lead in Scarface (1932), was partly a result of his intense preparation for his parts, often immersing himself in study of the real character's traits and mannerisms. He was also highly skilled in using makeup techniques, a talent he learned from his parents, who were also actors, and from his early years on stage with the Yiddish theater in Chicago. At the age of 12, he played the stage role of an 80-year-old man; in one of his films, Seven Faces, he played seven different characters.

He made 22 films and won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the 1936 film The Story of Louis Pasteur. He also starred in numerous Broadway plays and won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his role in the 1955 production of Inherit the Wind.

Rita Gam

Rita Gam (born Rita Eleanore MacKay, April 2, 1927 – March 22, 2016) was an American film and television actress and documentary filmmaker. She was nominated for a Golden Globe and won the Silver Bear for Best Actress.

Sam Spanier

Samuel Louis Spanier (1925–2008) was an American artist from New York City, who worked in painting, theater, and film, and also helped to develop the Integral Yoga movement in the United States.

Steven Hill

Steven Hill (born Solomon Krakovsky; February 24, 1922 – August 23, 2016) was an American actor. His two better-known roles are district attorney Adam Schiff on the NBC television drama series Law & Order, whom he portrayed for 10 seasons (1990–2000), and Dan Briggs, the original team leader of the Impossible Missions Force on the CBS television series Mission: Impossible, whom he portrayed in the initial season of the show (1966–1967).

Victor Saul Navasky

Victor Saul Navasky (born July 5, 1932) is an American journalist, editor and academic. He is publisher emeritus of The Nation and George T. Delacorte Professor Emeritus of Professional Practice in Magazine Journalism at Columbia University. He was editor of The Nation from 1978 until 1995 and its publisher and editorial director from 1995 to 2005. Navasky's book Naming Names (1980) is considered a definitive take on the Hollywood blacklist. For it he won a 1982 National Book Award for Nonfiction.He was awarded the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence by Harvard's Nieman Foundation in 2017.

Vincent Beck

Vincent Beck was a tall American character actor with a deep voice who began his career as a stage actor. He was a prolific film and television actor who acted in films such as Santa Claus Conquers the Martians in 1964, The Spy in the Green Hat in 1967, The Scorpio Letters in 1967, The Pink Jungle in 1968 and in the same year, The Bamboo Saucer. He also was in Vigilante in 1983. He also appeared in at least 26 different television shows which included The Monkees, Get Smart, Daniel Boone, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Bonanza, The Time Tunnel, and Lost In Space.

We Will Never Die

We Will Never Die was a dramatic pageant staged before an audience of 40,000 at Madison Square Garden on March 9, 1943, to raise public awareness of the ongoing mass murder of Europe's Jews. It was organized and written by screenwriter and author Ben Hecht and produced by Billy Rose and Ernst Lubitsch. The musical score was composed by Kurt Weill (1900–1950), and staged by Moss Hart (1904–1961), a leading Broadway producer. The pageant starred Edward G. Robinson, Sylvia Sidney and Paul Muni and subsequently traveled to other cities nationwide.

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