Oyb s'iz geven gut far mayn mame, iz gut far mir
If It Was Good Enough for My Mother, It's Good Enough for Me
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Oyb s'iz geven gut far mayn mamen, iz gut far mir (If It Was Good Enough for My Mother, It's Good Enough for Me), with lyrics by Molly Picon, is from Rumshinsky’s 1927 musical comedy to a book by Meyer Schwartz, Dos mamele—“Kid Mother” (lit., the little mother), which became one of Picon’s most famous and most enduring roles. The show was also the prototype for the 1930s film Mamele, based on a similar story with essentially the same theme, but with a new score by Abraham Ellstein. Whereas the story for the film was set in Poland, the action of Rumshinsky’s show, in three acts with a prologue, takes place in the United States.
Molly Picon’s leading lady character, Ida, or Khaye Feygl, is the youngest of three sisters, and she has two brothers. Their mother has died, and Khaye has assumed the duties as well as the emotional pillar function as “mother and woman of the household.” But neither her siblings nor her father appreciate her devotion and sacrifice, which includes rearing the youngest child, her brother Archie, as well as maintaining every aspect of the home. The two older sisters are preoccupied much of the time with their own social life and romantic pursuits, and with finding husbands. When her sister Gertie’s “gentleman caller,” Sidney, invites her to spend a weekend with him at a country house he has rented with friends, Khaye, obviously suspicious of his motives, tries unsuccessfully to persuade the oldest sister, Selma, to accompany them as a chaperone. Intent on looking after Gertie’s welfare, Khaye insists that if necessary, she will herself go along with Gertie and Sidney. At that, the family mocks her, reminding her of the impossibility of her going to a weekend party with no fashionable clothes to wear, since she apparently has made do with their mother’s old clothes as part of her general selflessness and preoccupation with housework. “Oy, mame, what a bunch you left me to look after; but I’m not complaining!” Khaye exclaims, as that line—according to indications in the script—leads into her first rendition of the song Oyb s’iz geven gut. “I can look after my sister in these clothes, too; I’m not embarrassed by them,” she adds after singing the song, which is repeated before the end of the first act.
Khaye has developed romantic feelings for a man named Louis—identified in the cast list of the program booklet as a “modern cantor”—but he relates to her only as a brother or father. He urges her to realize that she deserves to have a personal life with some enjoyment and a future, and thus she would be even better able to help her family. At one point, a friend counsels Khaye on how to ignite in Louis the response she seeks by exploiting some feminine wiles: “Show a bit of your shoulder, and of your leg—all men like that!” Meanwhile, Sidney reappears to tell Khaye that she is really the one he “loves,” not her sister Gertie. Khaye rejects him, but emboldened by her friend’s earlier advice, she employs a male jealousy routine by insinuating to Louis that in a moment of weakness something physical occurred between Sidney and herself. The scheme works, and Louis begins to take an interest in Khaye as an adult woman. He suggests that they leave together for a while, so that her family will realize how lost they are without her and all she does for them. That strategy works as well. Before long, she receives word from home that the household is falling apart and she must return to save it.
In the final act, Khaye returns home, now with Louis. The entire family welcomes them, having learned its lesson, and she assures them that a good future awaits all of them (including herself). At or toward the end of the show, Oyb s’iz geven gut is repeated, apparently as a finale. This show was first and foremost a vehicle for Molly Picon, providing her, observed a New York Times reviewer, “chance enough to sing, to dance, and to mimic Charlie Chaplin when she is not playing in the style of Mary Pickford.” Molly Picon wrote the lyrics to many of the other songs in the show as well, and she is listed in the program as the lyricist of the production. At least a few of its songs, however, appear to have lyrics by others, such as Hot Dogs, whose words were by Isidore Lillian.