Jewish Actors, Playwrights, Comedians, Musicians
Theodore Bikel (born May 2, 1924) is a Jewish character actor, folk singer and musician. He made his film debut in The African Queen (1951) and was nominated for an Academy award for his supporting role as Sheriff Max Muller in The Defiant Ones (1958).
Theodore Bikel is President of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America and was president of Actors' Equity in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Theodore Bikel serves Theodore Bikelas the Chair of the Board of Directors of Meretz USA, where he also lectures. His autobiography, Theo, was published in 1995.
Theodore Bikel was born in Vienna, Austria, the son of Miriam (née Riegler) and Josef Bikel from Bukovina. Being active in Zionism, his father named him after Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. Following the Nazi occupation of Austria, Theodore Bikel's family fled to Palestine, where his father's Zionist contacts helped the family obtain British passports. The British Mandate for Palestine was responsible for organizing a Jewish state in Palestine.
Theodore Bikel started acting while in his teens. He co-founded the Cameri Theatre there—which has gone on to become one of Israel's biggest theaters—before he moved to London to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1945. In 1948, Michael Redgrave recommended Theodore Bikel to his friend Laurence Olivier as understudy for the parts of both Stanley Kowalski and Mitch in the West End premiere of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. Theodore Bikel graduated from understudy to star opposite the director's wife, Vivien Leigh, who would go on to recreate her role as Blanche DuBois in the film version opposite Marlon Brando.
After several plays and films in Europe, Theodore Bikel moved to the United States in 1954, and became a naturalized citizen in 1961. He was the U-boat first officer to Curt Jürgens in The Enemy Below (1957) and played the captain of the Russian submarine in The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966). He also portrayed the sadistic General Jouvet in The Pride and the Passion (1957) Theodore Bikel was screentested for the role of Auric Goldfinger in the James Bond film Goldfinger (1964). The screentest can be seen on the "Ultimate Edition" DVD released in 2006. Theodore Bikel also appeared in Frank Zappa's 1971 film 200 Motels.
On Broadway he originated the role of Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music in 1959, for which he received his second Tony nomination. Theodore Bikel did not like his role in "Sound of Music" because his ability to sing was limited in the play, and he did not like to perform repeatedly the same role of the Captain. 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 in 1967, Theodore Bikel has performed the role more often than any other actor (more than 2,000 times to date). 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, Theodore Bikel substituted for him in several Canadian appearances, including Calgary in January 2010, and has scheduled appearances in the musical beyond his 86th birthday in May.
In the 1950s, Theodore Bikel produced and sang in several albums of Jewish folk songs, as well as Songs of a Russian Gypsy, in 1958. He was a co-founder of the Newport Folk Festival (together with Pete Seeger and George Wein) in 1959. In 1962, he heard Bob Dylan give his premiere performance of "Blowin' in the Wind". Theodore Bikel then went to his scheduled performance and became the first singer besides Dylan to perform the song in public. Theodore Bikel (with business partner Herb Cohen) opened the first folk music coffeehouse 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. Theodore Bikel became increasingly involved with civil rights issues and progressive causes, and was a delegate to the 1968 Democratic Convention.
In addition to scores of appearances on film and on the stage, Theodore Bikel was a guest star on many popular television shows. He appeared in an episode of the 1954 NBC legal drama Justice based on cases from the Legal Aid Society of New York. 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."
Later, Theodore Bikel 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, Charlie's Angels, Little House on the Prairie, Mission: Impossible, Gunsmoke, Dynasty, "All in the Family, Knight Rider, and Law & Order. He appeared on the game show Super Password as a celebrity guest in 1988.
In the early 1990s, he appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation, in the episode "Family", playing Sergey Rozhenko, the Russian-born adopted father of Worf, who, as a petty officer on the Starfleet vessel Intrepid, had found Worf at the site of the Khitomer Massacre and taken him home to raise as his son. Theodore Bikel performed two roles in the Babylon 5 universe. In 1994 he portrayed Rabbi Koslov in the first season episode "TKO". In 1998 he appeared in the TV movie Babylon 5: In the Beginning as Anla'Shok leader Lenonn.
Actors' unions and charities: Leadership
Theodore Bikel is President of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America. He was president of Actors' Equity in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in which office he supported human rights. At the 1977 AFL–CIO Convention, Theodore Bikel welcomed the Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky upon his release from the Soviet Union. U.S. President Jimmy Carter appointed him to serve on the National Council for the Arts in 1977 for a six-year term.
On January 28, 2007, he agreed to serve as Chair of the Board of Directors of Meretz USA, where he also lectures.
His autobiography, Theo, was published in 1995 by Harper Collins, and re-issued in an updated version by the University of Wisconsin Press in 2002. He is a member of the High IQ collective Mensa International.
Theodore Bikel married his third wife, conductor Tamara Brooks (1941-2012), in 2008.
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in the Jew
Watch Library is archived here under fair use without profit or payment to those
who have expressed a prior interest in reviewing the included information for
personal use, non-profit research and educational purposes only.
If you have additions or suggestions
Email Jew Watch