Theodore Bikel

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Theodore Bikel
Theodore Bikel (4133239868 24c25ac837 z) (cropped).jpg
Bikel in 2009
Born
Theodore Meir Bikel

(1924-05-02)May 2, 1924
DiedJuly 21, 2015(2015-07-21) (aged 91)
Resting place Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery
OccupationActor, folk singer
Years active1946–2007
Spouse(s)
  • Ofra Ichilov
    (m. 1942;div. 1943)
  • Rita Weinberg Call
    (m. 1967;div. 2008)
  • Tamara Brooks
    (m. 2008;died 2012)
  • Aimee Ginsburg
    (m. 2013)
Children2
Website www.theodorebikel.com/home

Theodore Meir Bikel ( /bɪˈkɛl/ bih-KEL; May 2, 1924 – July 21, 2015) was an Austrian-American actor, folk singer, musician, composer, unionist and political activist. He appeared in films including The African Queen (1951), Moulin Rouge (1952), The Enemy Below (1957), I Want to Live! (1958), My Fair Lady (1964) and The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966). For his portrayal of Sheriff Max Muller in The Defiant Ones (1958), he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. [1]

<i>The African Queen</i> (film) 1951 film by John Huston

The African Queen is a 1951 British-American adventure film adapted from the 1935 novel of the same name by C. S. Forester. The film was directed by John Huston and produced by Sam Spiegel and John Woolf. The screenplay was adapted by James Agee, John Huston, John Collier and Peter Viertel. It was photographed in Technicolor by Jack Cardiff and had a music score by Allan Gray. The film stars Humphrey Bogart, and Katharine Hepburn with Robert Morley, Peter Bull, Walter Gotell, Richard Marner and Theodore Bikel.

<i>Moulin Rouge</i> (1952 film) 1952 British drama film by John Huston

Moulin Rouge is a 1952 British drama film directed by John Huston, produced by John and James Woolf for their Romulus Films company and released by United Artists. The film is set in Paris in the late 19th century, following artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in the city's bohemian subculture in and around the burlesque palace, the Moulin Rouge. The screenplay is by Huston, based on the novel by Pierre La Mure. The cinematography was by Oswald Morris. This film was screened at Venice Film Festival (1953) where it won the Silver Lion.

Contents

He made his stage debut in Tevye the Milkman in Tel Aviv, Israel, when he was in his teens. He later studied acting at Britain's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and made his London stage debut in 1948 and in New York in 1955. He was also a widely recognized and recorded folk singer and guitarist. In 1959, he co-founded the Newport Folk Festival and created the role of Captain von Trapp opposite Mary Martin as Maria in the original Broadway production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's The Sound of Music . In 1969, Bikel began acting and singing on stage as Tevye in the musical Fiddler on the Roof , a role he performed more often than any other actor to date. The production won nine Tony Awards and was one of the longest-running musicals in Broadway history.

Tevye the Dairyman is the fictional narrator and protagonist of a series of short stories by Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich, originally written in Yiddish, and first published in 1894. The character is best known from the fictional memoir Tevye and His Daughters as a pious Jewish milkman in Tsarist Russia with six troublesome daughters: Tzeitel, Hodel, Chava, Shprintze, Beilke, and Teibel. He is also known from the musical dramatic adaptation of Tevye and His Daughters, Fiddler on the Roof. The Village of Boyberik, where the stories are set, is based on the town of Boyarka in Ukraine.

Royal Academy of Dramatic Art drama school located in London, England

The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) is a drama school in London, England that provides training for film, television and theatre. It is one of the oldest and most prestigious drama schools in the United Kingdom, founded in 1904 by Herbert Beerbohm Tree.

Folk music musical and poetic creativity of the people

Folk music includes traditional folk music and the genre that evolved from it during the 20th-century folk revival. Some types of folk music may be called world music. Traditional folk music has been defined in several ways: as music transmitted orally, music with unknown composers, or music performed by custom over a long period of time. It has been contrasted with commercial and classical styles. The term originated in the 19th century, but folk music extends beyond that.

Bikel was president of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America until 2014, and was president of Actors' Equity in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He served as the Chair of the Board of Directors of Partners for Progressive Israel, [2] where he also lectured.

The Associated Actors and Artistes of America (4As), established in 1919, is the federation of trade unions for performing artists in the United States. The following unions belong to the 4As:

Actors Equity Association

The Actors' Equity Association (AEA), commonly referred to as Actors' Equity or simply Equity, is an American labor union representing the world of live theatrical performance, as opposed to film and television performance. However, performers appearing on live stage productions without a book or through-storyline may be represented by the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA). As of 2010, Equity represented over 49,000 theatre artists and stage managers.

Partners for Progressive Israel is a non-governmental organization and registered 501(c)3 devoted to civil rights in Israel, and human rights throughout the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The organization advocates a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, social justice, human rights, religious freedom, and environmentalism.

Early years

Theodore Bikel was born into a Jewish family [3] in Vienna, Austria, the son of Miriam (née Riegler) and Josef Bikel, [4] from Bukovina. As an active Zionist, his father named him after Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. Following the German union with Austria in 1938, Bikel's family fled to Mandatory Palestine, where his father's contacts helped the family obtain British passports. Bikel studied at the Mikve Yisrael agricultural school and joined Kibbutz Kfar HaMaccabi. [5]

American Jews, or Jewish Americans, are Americans who are Jews, whether by religion, ethnicity or nationality. The current Jewish community in the United States consists primarily of Ashkenazi Jews, who descend from diaspora Jewish populations of Central and Eastern Europe and comprise about 90-95% of the American Jewish population. Most American Ashkenazim are US-born, with a dwindling number of now elderly earlier immigrants, as well as some more recent foreign-born immigrants.

Vienna Capital city and state in Austria

Vienna is the federal capital and largest city of Austria, and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primate city, with a population of about 1.9 million, and its cultural, economic, and political centre. It is the 7th-largest city by population within city limits in the European Union. Until the beginning of the 20th century, it was the largest German-speaking city in the world, and before the splitting of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, the city had 2 million inhabitants. Today, it has the second largest number of German speakers after Berlin. Vienna is host to many major international organizations, including the United Nations and OPEC. The city is located in the eastern part of Austria and is close to the borders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. These regions work together in a European Centrope border region. Along with nearby Bratislava, Vienna forms a metropolitan region with 3 million inhabitants. In 2001, the city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In July 2017 it was moved to the list of World Heritage in Danger.

First Austrian Republic republic in Central Europe (1919–1934)

The First Austrian Republic was created after the signing of the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye on 10 September 1919—the settlement after the end of World War I which ended the Habsburg rump state of Republic of German-Austria—and ended with the establishment of the Austrofascist Federal State of Austria based upon a dictatorship of Engelbert Dollfuss and the Fatherland's Front in 1934. The Republic's constitution was enacted in 1 October 1920 and amended on 7 December 1929. The republican period was increasingly marked by violent strife between those with left-wing and right-wing views, leading to the July Revolt of 1927 and the Austrian Civil War of 1934.

Bikel started acting while in his teens. He performed with Habimah Theatre in 1943 and was one of the founding members of the Cameri Theatre, which became a leading Israeli theatre company. [5] [6] He described his acting experience there as similar to, if not better than, the Method acting techniques taught at the Actors Studio in New York. "The Habimah people were much closer to the Method, indeed, than Lee Strasberg was, because they were direct disciples of Stanislavski." [7]

Method acting training and rehearsal techniques

Method acting is a range of training and rehearsal techniques that seek to encourage sincere and emotionally expressive performances, as formulated by a number of different theatre practitioners. These techniques are built on Stanislavski's system, developed by the Russian actor and director Konstantin Stanislavski and captured in his books An Actor Prepares, Building a Character, and Creating a Role.

Actors Studio organization for professional actors, theatre directors and playwrights

The Actors Studio is a membership organization for professional actors, theatre directors and playwrights at 432 West 44th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City. It was founded October 5, 1947, by Elia Kazan, Cheryl Crawford and Robert Lewis, who provided training for actors who were members. Lee Strasberg joined later and took the helm in 1951 until his death on February 17, 1982.

Lee Strasberg American actor, drama teacher, acting coach, theorist

Lee Strasberg was a Polish-born American actor, director, and theatre practitioner. He co-founded, with directors Harold Clurman and Cheryl Crawford, the Group Theatre in 1931, which was hailed as "America's first true theatrical collective". In 1951 he became director of the nonprofit Actors Studio in New York City, considered "the nation's most prestigious acting school," and in 1966 he was involved in the creation of Actors Studio West in Los Angeles.

In 1945, he moved to London to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. [8] Bikel moved to the United States in 1954 and became a naturalized citizen in 1961. [9]

Bikel did not return to live in Israel nor did he take part in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. Bikel wrote in “Theo”: “A few of my contemporaries regarded [not returning to Israel] as a character flaw, if not a downright act of desertion. In me there remains a small, still voice that asks whether I can ever fully acquit myself in my own mind.” [10]

Career

Actor

Bikel (back, center), performing in The Elgin Hour, 1955, with (l-r) Joe Mantell, Orson Bean, Polly Bergen The Elgin Hour San Francisco Fracas 1955.jpg
Bikel (back, center), performing in The Elgin Hour , 1955, with (l-r) Joe Mantell, Orson Bean, Polly Bergen

In 1948, Michael Redgrave recommended Bikel to his friend Laurence Olivier as understudy for the parts of both Stanley Kowalski and Harold "Mitch" Mitchell in the West End premiere of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire . [11] Aside from being an understudy, Bikel's main role in the production was the relatively minor part of Pablo Gonzales. [12] However, he graduated from supporting actor and understudy to star opposite the director's wife, Vivien Leigh, with a sudden unplanned performance when a co-star, playing the role of Mitch, came down with a case of flu. Bikel showed up backstage and went directly to Leigh's dressing room to ask if she wanted to rehearse with him, to make sure he was right for the role. She replied that she did not need to: "Go and do it," she said. "You are a professional, and Larry gave you this job because he trusted you to do it well." After the show, Leigh told him, "Well done." [7]

For most of his acting career, he became known for his versatility in playing characters of different nationalities, claiming he took on those different personalities so his acting would "never get stale." [9] On television, he played an Armenian merchant on Ironside , a Polish professor on Charlie's Angels , an American professor on The Paper Chase , a Bulgarian villain on Falcon Crest , a Russian on Star Trek: The Next Generation , and an Italian on Murder, She Wrote . [9]

In movies, he played a German officer in The African Queen (1951) and The Enemy Below (1957), a Southern sheriff in The Defiant Ones , and a Russian submarine captain in the comedy The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966). He also portrayed the sadistic General Jouvet in The Pride and the Passion (1957), and was screen tested for the role of Auric Goldfinger in the James Bond film Goldfinger (1964). [13] In My Fair Lady (1964), he played an overbearing Hungarian linguist. [9]

He made his Broadway debut in 1955 in "Tonight in Samarkand" and in 1958 was nominated for a Tony for "The Rope Dancers". In 1959, he created the role of Captain von Trapp in the original production of The Sound of Music , which earned him a second Tony nomination. [6] However, Bikel did not like his role because his ability to sing was underutilized, nor did he like performing the same role of the Captain repeatedly. When the composers, Rodgers and Hammerstein, realized Bikel was an accomplished folksinger, they wrote the song "Edelweiss" specifically for him to sing and accompany himself on the guitar. [14]

In 1964, he played Zoltan Karpathy, the dialect expert, in the film version of My Fair Lady . Since his first appearance as Tevye in the musical Fiddler on the Roof (1967), Bikel had performed the role more often than any other actor (more than 2,000 times). When an injury required 74-year-old fellow Israeli performer Chaim Topol (veteran of many productions of the stage show and star of the motion picture of Fiddler on the Roof) to withdraw from a high-budget, much-promoted 2009 North American tour of the musical, Bikel substituted for him in several appearances in 2010. [15]

Bikel was a guest star on many popular television series. He appeared in an episode of the 1954 NBC legal drama Justice based on cases from the Legal Aid Society of New York. [16] He also appeared in the episode entitled "The Faithful Pilgrimage" of CBS's Appointment with Adventure anthology series. The particular episode was written by Rod Serling. He also appeared in a second episode of Appointment with Adventure entitled "Return of the Stranger". Bikel also appeared in an acting role in Frank Zappa's experimental film 200 Motels (1971).

Bikel later guest-starred on Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone (episode "Four O'Clock" as Oliver Crangle). He appeared on episodes of Wagon Train , Hawaii Five-O , Columbo (1977, "The Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case"), Charlie's Angels , The San Pedro Beach Bums , Cannon , Little House on the Prairie , Mission: Impossible , Gunsmoke , Dynasty , All in the Family , Knight Rider , Murder, She Wrote , Fantasy Island , Law & Order , and Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer (episode "Elegy for a Tramp" as Gerringer and aired on January 28, 1987).

In the early 1990s, he appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation , in the episode "Family", playing Sergey Rozhenko, the Russian-born adoptive father of Worf. Bikel performed two roles in the Babylon 5 universe, in 1994 as Rabbi Koslov in the first-season episode "TKO" and in 1998, as Ranger leader Lenonn in the TV movie Babylon 5: In the Beginning .

Bikel was nominated for the Drama Desk Award in 2010 for outstanding solo performance for Sholom Aleichem: Laughter Through Tears, an off-Broadway play which he also wrote. [14] [17] In 2012, Bikel played the title role in Visiting Mr. Green with the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company in Toronto, Ontario. [18] In 2013, Bikel starred in Journey 4 Artists, a documentary which celebrates the power of music and religious diversity. [19] [20]

Folk singer and composer

In 1955, at the suggestion of Jac Holzman of Elektra Records, [21] Bikel began recording songs, including several albums of Jewish folk songs and songs from Russia and other countries, making over 20 contemporary and folk music albums during his career. [22] For those, he played acoustic guitar alone or accompanied by other musicians. He was able to sing in 21 different languages, including Yiddish, Hebrew, German, Russian, Hungarian, Romanian, French, medieval Spanish, Zulu and English. His early albums included Israeli Folk Songs (1955) and Songs of Russian Old & New (1960). [9] One of his Russian albums was entitled Songs of a Russian Gypsy, in 1958, where he introduced the folk tune, "Kretchma." [23] Bikel's live performances were issued on two albums: Bravo Bikel (1959), and Bikel on Tour(1963). [24]

In 1959, Bikel co-founded the Newport Folk Festival (together with Pete Seeger, Harold Leventhal, Oscar Brand and George Wein). He performed a number of recorded duets with Judy Collins at various festivals and on television. [25] [26] During an interview, when asked what inspired him to become involved in organizing a folk festival, he said that music was "one of the few answers to the chaos that we have," one of the only recourses to avoid social strife, and a means of giving youth hope for a better world. [9] [27]

Bikel viewed then 21-year-old Bob Dylan as one of those young performers expressing emotional and social messages through song. [27] In 1963, Bikel joined Dylan, Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary and Joan Baez for the festival grand finale as they sang "Blowin' in the Wind" and "We Shall Overcome." [28] Following the festival, Bikel, Seeger and Dylan traveled to a planned rally in Greenwood, Mississippi to perform Dylan's newly-written song, "Only a Pawn in Their Game," about the man who murdered Medgar Evers, head of the NAACP. [28] Originally, only Bikel and Seeger were scheduled to perform, but Bikel wanted Dylan to go with them. He told Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman, "I'll tell you what. Buy him a ticket. Don't tell him where it came from. Tell him it's time to go down and experience the South." [29]

Bikel's close friendship with Seeger was sometimes tested as a result of the festival's choice of performers. On one occasion, Seeger became infuriated and wished he had an ax to cut the electrical cables because of the poor audio during Bob Dylan's legendary performance accompanied by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Seeger expected Bikel to support him: "Theo, for Chrissake—tell them. Set them straight!" Bikel stepped forward and told Seeger, "Peter, this band, these rebels—they are us. They are what we were twenty years ago. Remember?" Seeger stared at him "like a trauma victim", as Bikel succeeded in calming Seeger down enough to let the group finish their songs. [30] In 1965, Bikel, as well as Seeger, was shocked when Bob Dylan turned electric at the Festival, an event some call "Dylan's declaration of musical independence." [31] [32]

In 1962, Bikel became the first singer besides Dylan to perform "Blowin' in the Wind" in public. His album A Folksinger's Choice (1964) featured Jim McGuinn (as he was then known) on banjo. [24] Bikel (with business partner Herb Cohen) opened the first folk music coffee house in Los Angeles, The Unicorn. Its popularity led to the two opening a second club, Cosmo Alley, which in addition to folk music presented poets such as Maya Angelou and comics including Lenny Bruce. Bikel became increasingly involved with civil rights issues and progressive causes, and was a delegate to the 1968 Democratic Convention. [33]

Personal life

Bikel was married four times. He married Ofra Ichilov in 1942. They divorced the following year. His second marriage was in 1967 to Rita Weinberg Call with whom he had two children. They divorced in 2008. He married conductor Tamara Brooks later that year. She died in 2012. He married journalist and foreign correspondent Aimee Ginsburg on December 29, 2013. [9]

Bikel died on July 21, 2015, at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles of natural causes, according to publicist Harlan Boll. Bikel is survived by his wife, Aimee Ginsburg, his sons from his second marriage, Robert and Daniel, and four grandchildren. [9] He was buried at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.

Political activism

Bikel was a longtime activist in the civil rights and human rights movements, participating as a fundraiser with performances. [9] He co-founded the Actors Federal Credit Union in 1962, and in 1968 he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. [9] He was president of Actors' Equity from 1977 to 1982 in which office he supported human rights causes. Since 1988 he had been president of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America. [34]

Upon hearing of his death, Actors’ Equity wrote: "From the time he joined Equity in 1954, Bikel has been an advocate for the members of our union and his extraordinary achievements paved the way for so many. No one loved theater more, his union better or cherished actors like Theo did. He has left an indelible mark on generations of members past and generations of members to come. We thank you, Theo, for all you have done." [14]

Bikel was an active supporter and campaigner for John F. Kennedy. He did some of his campaigning during the run of The Sound of Music which got him into trouble with the producers, who did not think it was becoming for an actor. He recalls, "I would go out sometimes between matinee and evening performances, go to a rally and speak from a flat-bed truck, and then come back to the theater." The producers stopped complaining, however, when after one show he was picked up backstage by a limousine carrying Eleanor Roosevelt, and he accompanied her to a Democratic rally as her special guest. [35]

At the 1977 AFL–CIO Convention, Bikel welcomed the Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky upon his release from the Soviet Union. [36] He was arrested in front of the Soviet Embassy in Washington in 1986 while protesting the plight of Soviet Jews. [9]

President Jimmy Carter appointed him to serve on the National Council for the Arts in 1977 for a six-year term. [37] In 2007, he served as chair of the Board of Directors of Meretz USA (now Partners for Progressive Israel). [38]

He was a member of the High IQ collective Mensa International. [39]

Bibliography

Folksongs and Footnotes Theodore Bikel Meridian Books, Inc. 1960 Library of Congress Catalog Card Number M 60-1030

Awards and recognition

Discography

Complete filmography

See also

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References

  1. "THE 31ST ACADEMY AWARDS - 1959". Oscars.org. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences . Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  2. "About Partners for Progressive Israel". Archived from the original on 21 November 2012.
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  48. & This album was later retitled Theodore Bikel does "Song of Songs" and other Biblical Prophecies (reissued on Everest Records with Marian Seldes as Shulamit.).
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