Molly Picon

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Molly Picon
Picon in Car 54, Where Are You? (1962)
Małka Opiekun[citation needed]

(1898-02-28)February 28, 1898
New York City, US
DiedApril 5, 1992(1992-04-05) (aged 94)
Resting placeMount Hebron Cemetery, New York City
Years active1904–1984
Jacob Kalich
(m. 1919; died 1975)

Molly Picon (Yiddish: מאָלי פּיקאָן; born Malka Opiekun; February 28, 1898[1] – April 5, 1992) was an American actress of stage, screen, radio and television, as well as a lyricist and dramatic storyteller.[2]

She began her career in Yiddish theatre and film, rising to a star, before transitioning into character roles in English-language productions.

Early life[edit]

Picon was born Malka Opiekun (Anglicized first to Pyekoon, later Picon).[1] The family began living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when she was three years old.[3]


Picon became a star of the Yiddish Theatre District, performing in plays in the District for seven years.[4][5] Picon was so popular in the 1920s, many shows had her adopted name, Molly, in their title. In 1931, she opened the Molly Picon Theatre.[citation needed]

Jacob Kalich (second from left), Picon's husband, in the comedy play Mezrach und Maarev, 1921

Picon appeared in many films, beginning with silent movies. Her early films were made in Europe; among the first, and earliest to survive, was the Yiddish language East and West, a film adaptation of the 1921 play Mezrach und Maarev produced in Vienna in 1923.[6][3] The film depicts a clash of New and Old World Jewish cultures. She plays a US-born daughter who travels with her father back to Galicia in East Central Europe.[6]

In 1934, Picon had a musical comedy radio show, The Molly Picon Program, broadcast on WMCA in New York City. In 1938, she starred another radio program on WMCA, I Give You My Life. That program "combined music and dramatic episodes that purported to be the story of her life." Two years later, she starred in Molly Picon's Parade, a variety show on WMCA.[7]

Picon made her English language debut on stage in 1940. On Broadway, she starred in the Jerry Herman musical Milk and Honey in 1961. In 1966, she dropped out of the disastrous Chu Chem during previews in Philadelphia; the show closed before it reached Broadway.

Picon and Jim Nabors in Gomer Pyle USMC (1968)

Picon had a bit part in the 1948 film The Naked City as the woman running a news-stand and soda fountain towards the climax of the film. Her first major Anglophonic role in the movies was in the film version of Come Blow Your Horn (1963), with Frank Sinatra. One of her best-known film roles was as Yente the Matchmaker in the 1971 film adaptation of the Broadway hit Fiddler on the Roof.

Picon appeared as Molly Gordon in an episode of CBS's Gomer Pyle, USMC and had a recurring role as Mrs. Bronson in the NBC police comedy Car 54, Where Are You?. In the comedy For Pete's Sake (1974), she appeared as an elderly madam ("Mrs. Cherry") who arranges a disastrous stint for Barbra Streisand on a job as a call girl.[citation needed] She later had television roles on the soap opera Somerset and appeared in a few episodes of The Facts of Life as Natalie's grandmother. Picon's final role was as Roger Moore's mother in the comedies Cannonball Run and its sequel Cannonball Run II in 1981 and 1984, respectively.


Picon wrote So Laugh a Little (1962), a biography about her family. In 1980, she published her autobiography, Molly!.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Picon was married to actor and playwright Yankel (Jacob) Kalich from 1919[3] until his death from cancer in 1975. They had no children.[citation needed]



Year Title Role Notes
1922 Look After Your Daughters
1923 East and West Mollie [14]
1936 Yiddle with His Fiddle Itke aka Judel
1937 Let's Make a Night of It Specialty Act Uncredited
1938 Mamele Khavtshi Samet aka Mamele
1948 The Naked City Soda-Selling Shopkeeper Uncredited
1959 Startime Sarah Rabinowitz Episode: "The Jazz Singer", a TV production starring Jerry Lewis
1961-1963 Car 54, Where Are You? Mrs. Rachel Bronson 3 episodes
1968 Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. Molly Gordon 1 episode
1963 Come Blow Your Horn Mrs. Sophie Baker
1971 Fiddler on the Roof Yente
1974 For Pete's Sake Mrs. Cherry
1975 Murder on Flight 502 Ida Goldman
1979 That's Life
1981 The Cannonball Run Mom Goldfarb
1984 Cannonball Run II


  1. ^ a b "The Papers of Molly Picon (1898-1992)". Archived from the original on November 10, 2007.
  2. ^ "Unknown Title". Tucson Daily Citizen. Tucson, Arizona. August 29, 1952. p. 16.
  3. ^ a b c "This Week in History: Award for Yiddish actress, Molly Picon, June 28, 1980". Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved March 29, 2017.
  4. ^ Pennsylvania Biographical Dictionary. North American Book Dist LLC. January 1999. ISBN 9780403099504. Retrieved March 10, 2013.
  5. ^ Plesur, Milton (1982). Jewish life in twentieth-century America: challenge and accommodation. Nelson-Hall. ISBN 9780882298009. Retrieved March 10, 2013.
  6. ^ a b Shandler, Jeffrey (2014). Shtetl: A Vernacular Intellectual History. Rutgers, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. p. 41.
  7. ^ Sies, Luther F. (2014). Encyclopedia of American Radio, 1920-1960, 2nd Edition, Volume 1. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-5149-4. Pp. 523, 337, 455.
  8. ^ Picon, Molly; Bergantini Grillo, Jean (1980). Molly! An Autobiography. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  9. ^ Simonson, Robert (March 19, 2006). "Where Have You Gone, Molly Picon?". The New York Times.
  10. ^ "Relkin Drops Picon Theatre". The New York Times. February 12, 1943. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 16, 2022.
  11. ^ "26 Elected to the Theater Hall of Fame". The New York Times. March 3, 1981.
  12. ^ ​Picon Pie​ at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
  13. ^ Deming, Mark (2012). "Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Archived from the original on August 26, 2012. Retrieved April 14, 2012.
  14. ^ "East and West" [film catalog entry]. National Center for Jewish Film. Retrieved 29 March 2017.


  • Eth Clifford. Molly Picon – So Laugh a Little, Messner, 1962 (see [1]).
  • Lila Perl, Donna Ruff. Molly Picon: A Gift of Laughter, Jewish Publication Society, 1990, ISBN 0-8276-0336-3.

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