When asked to describe accomplished Cleveland actress Dorothy Silver, her middle son, Dan Silver, used almost every adjective any mother would want to be known as – loving, engaged, wise and entertaining.
“This was independent of all of her professional accolades and activities,” Silver, of Broomfield, Colo., told the Cleveland Jewish News. “She had very little ego about her stardom. I had been thinking that I could not have been more grateful for having her as my mother.”
Silver died July 17, while visiting family in New York. She was 92.
The Shaker Heights resident, known for her presence in the Cleveland acting community, was involved in theater for more than 70 years, acting well into her 80s. She performed on small stages and big screens, appearing in films such as “Love & Other Drugs,” “Old Fashioned” and “The Shawshank Redemption.”
Her eldest son, Paul Silver, of Pittsburgh, told the CJN their mother’s automatic personality was that of great respect and love for those she cared for, and that communication was a key aspect of their family life. Silver’s husband, Reuben Silver, died at age 88 in 2014. The Silvers acted together and collaborated on many plays.
“We talked to her and our father about everything and we always felt we could go to them about anything,” Paul Silver said.
A winner of the Cleveland Arts Prize, Silver was involved with Karamu House for 21 years as an actor, rising to assistant director and then a resident guest director. She was also cultural arts director at the former Jewish Community Center on Mayfield Road in Cleveland Heights for 12 years. Halle Theatre operated out of that building and when she retired, its annual new play competition was named in her honor.
But their mother was more than her claims to fame, Paul Silver said. While the theater was a large part of who she was, he said she remained down to earth.
“She didn’t need to be the center of attention at all,” he said. “She focused on having a whole and complete family, and when we would see her on stage, we’d be amazed by her skill and talent. We weren’t surprised by it because she was the same person at home, just not doing a play.”
Dan Silver said there were many times he’d find himself in awe of his mother while she was in her element performing, so much so he’d forget she was his mother because she was that dedicated to her craft.
“It’d take about five seconds before I forgot she was my mother because she completely inhabited each character she played,” he said. “That was always the most exciting thing and a mark of how wonderful she was as an actor.”
Silver was also known to perform readings of Jewish drama throughout the United States, Israel, Europe and the former Soviet Union, according to the Cleveland Arts Prize website. As a couple, the Silvers were administrators, teachers and mentors, impacting the Cleveland arts scene since they arrived in 1955.
Her youngest son, Josh Silver, of Philadelphia, said many people “get excited” about her Hollywood connections, but that was only the icing on the cake that was Silver’s life. The other 95% of the cake was her influence on hundreds of actresses and actors as a beloved mentor, he said.
“These are actors and actresses of various ages, often at Karamu House and so on, that continued to create lives outside of the theater, continuing in theater or other parts of the arts,” he told the CJN, adding she was also one of his role models, supporting any interest he had growing up.
And for Eric Coble, a playwright and member of Cleveland’s Play House Playwrights Unit, Silver’s presence was that of an adopted parent – showing him it was possible to feel fulfilled by one’s art.
“Decades ago, she and Reuben committed themselves to Cleveland and made great art here, and that was one of the greatest lessons from her for me,” he said. “Not only is there nothing shameful in it, but that sense of pride you can infuse into your art. To create really beautiful theater and to touch people’s lives.”
Originally from Edinburgh, Scotland, and then raised in New Mexico and Colorado, Coble said when he decided to settle in Cleveland, Silver was the textbook example that one could be successful and happy. Fresh out of graduate school, Coble said Silver cast him in “Substance of Fire” at Dobama Theatre. He later wrote two plays specifically for her, “The Hat Box” and “The Velocity of Autumn.”
“It set the bar for me, and continues to do so,” he said. “She showed me you can live a full, rich and satisfying life and still be a brilliant artist. Torture is not a prerequisite to greatness. She treated people with respect and didn’t offer any nonsense. She was honest and very smart and was still respectful of people’s work even if it wasn’t to her taste. She still wanted to support it.”
With a rich history of impact not only in her personal life, but also in the Greater Cleveland theater community, Dan Silver said legacy was not top of mind for his mother, even as she continued to be such an important figure in many lives.
“She touched so many people, and we’re constantly hearing that,” he said. “These are genuine ripples of love, joy and positivity, and it came about because of what she was doing.”
Silver is survived by her sons, Paul (Linda), Daniel (Ann) and Josh; grandchildren, Sarah, David, Jeremy and Maria; and one great-grandchild, Ori. She was predeceased by her husband, Reuben, whom she married in 1949.
Managing Editor Bob Jacob contributed to this report.