Molly Picon (Yiddish:מאָלי פּיקאָן) (June 1, 1898–April 5, 1992) was an American star of stage, screen and television, as well as a lyricist. She was first and foremost a star in Yiddish theatre and Film, but as Yiddish theatre faded she began to perform in English-language productions.
Picon was born Małka (Margaret) Opiekun in New York City to Clara and Louis (or Denis) Opiekun (later changed to Picon). Her career began at the age of six in the Yiddish Theatre. In 1912, she debuted at the Arch Street Theatre in New York and became a star of the Second Avenue Yiddish stage.
Opiekun is a Polish language name meaning, "guardian" or "caretaker".
Picon was so popular in the 1920s that many shows had the name Molly in their title. In 1931 she opened the Molly Picon Theatre. She appeared in many films, starting with silent movies. Her earliest film still existing is East and West which deals with the clash of new and old Jewish cultures. Molly plays an American-born daughter who travels with her father back to Galicia in East Central Europe. Real-life husband Jacob Kalich plays one of her Galician relatives from Eastern Europe.
Picon's most famous film, Yidl Mit'n Fidl (1936), was made on location in Poland, and has her wearing male clothing through most of the film. In the film, a girl and her father are forced by poverty to set out on the road as traveling musicians. For her safety, she disguises herself as a boy, which becomes inconvenient when she falls in love with one of the other musicians in the troupe.
Picon made her English language debut on stage in 1940. On Broadway, she starred in Neil Simon's Come Blow Your Horn and the Jerry Herman musical Milk and Honey, both in 1961. In 1966 she quit the disastrous Chu Chem during previews in Philadelphia; the show closed before reaching Broadway.
Her first English speaking role in the movies was the film version of Come Blow Your Horn (1963), and she portrayed Yente, the Matchmaker in the film adaptation of the Broadway hit Fiddler on the Roof in 1971.
In the 1970s, she was featured as a madame named Mrs. Cherry in For Pete's Sake, a film starring another famous Jewish-American actress, Barbra Streisand. She later played a role on television on the soap opera Somerset.