A bisl libe un a bisl glik
A Bit of Love and a Bit of Luck
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Rumshinsky’s song A bisl libe un a bisl glik (A Bit of Love and a Bit of Luck) is one of his eighteen cited musical numbers in his 1924 three-act musical comedy Tsipke, to a book and libretto by Louis Freiman and S. H. Kohn. Molly Picon, who starred in the production at the Kessler Second Avenue Theater, wrote the lyrics to this song, but lyrics for others in the musical were also written by Boris Rosenthal and Yankl Kalich (Molly’s husband), both of whom also played and sang in the production—which Kalich staged as well
The first act takes place in Chicago, shortly after the armistice that resulted in the conclusion of the First World War. Tsipke, a young war widow, is the daughter of Yankl “Shiker” (the drunk), who pressured her into a loveless marriage with a bartender, Milton Valdner—so that he could receive free service at the bar where Valdner worked. But on their wedding day Valdner was drafted into the United States Army, sent overseas for combat, and killed in action. Living with her parents, Tsipke supports them for the most part, since her father is unable to keep a job. She works at what was (until fairly recently) fondly known as a “five-and-ten” or “dime store” (selling items for five or ten cents), and she has no life of her own. Her father is abusive and violent, but she cannot bring herself to leave, because her ill mother needs her care.
When her uncle Benjamin (her father’s brother), identified in the program cast list as a gangster, arrives and witnesses her life, he is moved to help. He recalls having read in the newspaper of a young soldier, coincidentally named Milton Valdner, also killed in action during the war, who was the son of an extremely wealthy banker in Peoria, Illinois—a city on the Illinois River about 130 miles from Chicago. Uncle Benjamin proposes that Tsipke present herself at the Valdners’ home, pretending to be their son’s widow, claiming—supposedly difficult to dispute—that he married her secretly just before his unit was shipped to Europe. Her marriage license showed the name Milton Valdner, and even city or county records would not contain contrary information. There was no such thing as Social Security at that time, and therefore no related identifying numbers.
After some convincing, Tsipke agrees to follow her uncle’s plan. The second act finds her at the Valdners’ home in Peoria, where they are in mourning for their son. Gladys, a cousin, had always imagined herself Milton’s fiancée, and she is now living with the Valdners. Meanwhile, Tsipke has done her homework in creating a story, and with the aid of her marriage license she convinces the Valdners that she is indeed their widowed daughter-in-law. She makes no effort to hide her own background. To the contrary, she explains that she met their son while working as a salesclerk at the five-and-ten store. He was stationed at an army base near Chicago awaiting shipment overseas, and during a brief courtship they fell in love in Jackson Park—a large, beautiful area adjacent to the neighborhood of Hyde Park, home to Chicago’s prosperous German Jewish community then, as well as to the University of Chicago. Rhea Valdner, Milton’s mother, is prepared to embrace Tsipke as her daughter-in-law, but her husband, Emmanuel, is mortified to learn that his son had married without his knowledge or consent, and he is even more concerned about how public knowledge of his son’s marriage to a girl of such low social and economic class might affect his own social standing. He offers to pay Tsipke off with ten thousand dollars if she will agree to disappear, and he is even ready to claim, if necessary, that Milton was not really his son. But they allow her to stay the night at their home, and their other son, Archie, becomes sympathetic to Tsipke, insisting that she is a “perfect lady.”
A telegram arrives announcing that the Peoria Milton has in fact survived the war and is on his way home; he will be there in a few hours. A last-minute homecoming party is organized, and when he arrives, Tsipke runs up to him and welcomes him effusively as “her husband,” falling at his feet and clinging to him. Milton goes through a moment of shock, but he is instantly attracted to her and to the mystery of the situation, and he goes along with her charade. At the party, upon which the third-act curtain opens, he introduces her as his wife, even though the issues raised by his father have not been resolved. To complicate matters, Gladys, who had always hoped to marry Milton, feels betrayed. In her anger, she threatens to leave the household. Apparently, part of Emmanuel Valdner’s wealth depended on Gladys and her living with them, and he would have to give her one hundred thousand dollars—enough to bankrupt him—if she left. Tsipke offers to leave, without taking Emmanuel up on his offer of a bribe. At that point her Uncle Benjamin and her parents arrive, assuming that Tsipke’s plan has succeeded. In view of the strife and dissension they see, Tsipke’s mother, Rivke, advises her to give up the deception—even though Milton is obviously ignoring it—and “tell all.” Her father urges her at least to take the ten thousand dollars Emmanuel has offered, but Tsipke, after revealing everything, determines to leave without the money. When Milton’s brother Archie sees how heartbroken he is at Tsipke’s decision to leave—since by now Milton is truly in love with her despite (perhaps even in awe of) her ruse—he lectures him on the value of true love over social status and on the importance of following one’s heart. Rhea is so moved by Archie’s emotional but sensible case that she manages to persuade her husband to back down and withdraw his opposition. Milton runs after Tsipke just as she is departing, and the two are married.
The script does not specify where in the action the song A bisl libe occurs, but it could have been sung at any number of points, or more than once. It is easier to know when it would not have been sung—at the end of the play, for example, when the lyrics would no longer have applied.
Tsipke became one of Rumshinsky’s most beloved musicals and one of Molly Picon’s most acclaimed roles. She played and sang in many subsequent performances on tours throughout the United States and abroad, including one in Buenos Aires in 1932.