Thursday, September 16, 2021

THE MANY FACES OF NEHEMIAH PERSOFF

Great news! The great character actor Nehemiah Persoff recently finished his memoirs. If the name is not familiar, his face and voice would be. Anyone who has ever watched classic TV shows and movies knows the man... and here we have the opportunity to reach into the mind of the author... revealing (with poignancy and humor) his cultural and ethical clash with Broadway and Hollywood.

 

Born in 1919 in Jerusalem, Nehemiah Persoff immigrated with his family to America in 1929. Following schooling at the Hebrew Technical Institute of New York, he found a job as a subway electrician doing signal maintenance until an interest in the theater altered the direction of his life.

He joined amateur groups and subsequently won a scholarship to the Dramatic Workshop in New York. This led to what would have been his Broadway debut in a production of "Eve of St. Mark", but he was fired before the show opened. He made his official New York debut in a production of "The Emperor's New Clothes" in 1940.


WWII interrupted his young career in 1942, returning to the stage after his hitch in the Army was over, three years later. He sought work in stock plays and became an intern of Stella Adler  and, as a result, a strong exponent of the Actor's Studio. Discovered by Charles Laughton and cast in his production of "Galileo" in 1947, Persoff made his film debut a year later with an uncredited bit in THE NAKED CITY (1948).


Persoff as the cab driver in ON THE WATERFRONT (1954).


SOME LIKE IT HOT (1958)


Short, dark, chunky-framed and with a distinct talent for dialects, Persoff became known primarily for his ethnic villainy, usually playing authoritative Eastern Europeans. In a formidable career that had him portraying everything from cab drivers to Joseph Stalin, standout film roles would include Leo in THE HARDER THEY FALL (1956) with Humphrey Bogart, Gene Conforti in Alfred Hitchcock’s THE WRONG MAN (1956), Albert in THE SEA WALL (1957) and gangster Johnny Torrio in AL CAPONE (1959). 


Nehemiah Persoff on GILLIGAN'S ISLAND


It was that same year he played another gangster, the small role of Little Bonaparte, in SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959), alongside Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe. He was a durable performer during television’s “Golden Age” as he made guest appearances on six episodes of GUNSMOKE, MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE, THE WILD, WILD WEST, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., THE UNTOUCHABLES, PLAYHOUSE 90 and THE TWILIGHT ZONE. In recent years he appeared on CHICAGO HOPE, MURDER SHE WROTE and LAW AND ORDER, playing hundreds of intense, volatile and dominating characters.


"Judgment Night" episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. 


In later years, his characters grew a bit softer as Barbara Streisand’s Jewish father in YENTL (1983) and the voice of Papa Mousekewitz in AN AMERICAN TAIL (1986) will attest. Later stage work included well-received productions of "I'm Not Rappaport" and his biographical one-man show "Sholem Aleichem."


After declining health and high blood pressure forced him to slow down, Persoff took up painting in 1985, studying sketching in Los Angeles. Specializing in watercolor, he has created around 100 works of art, many of which have been exhibited up and down the coast of California. He celebrated his 100th birthday in 2019.


To order his book, click here:

https://www.amazon.com/Many-Faces-Nehemiah-Persoff/dp/B099TQL3VJ


  

Friday, September 10, 2021

Silent Vignettes by Tim Lussier

More than two decades ago Anthony Slide wrote a magnificent book titled Nitrate Can't Wait, featuring documentary write-ups about silent movies that have since become lost due to lack of preservation. Slide not only documented what was considered a "lost" silent gem, but helped preserve some of those films we will never see. Flash forward to today and we have Tim Lussier carrying the torch. For almost three decades, Tim posts on a regular basis an essay (or news brief) about films and film stars from the silent era before the major motion pictures switched to synchronized sound. 

Silent movies are Tim's pill of choice... and an addiction. Tim is more than a collector -- he is a collector, educator, and writer with enthusiasm for silent movies. His insightful articles on actress Virginia Lee Corbin (written with the full cooperation of Virginia's surviving sons) led to the publication of the first-ever biography on that quintessential flapper, Bare Knees Flapper: The Life and Films of Virginia Lee Corbin, published by McFarland in 2018. So dedicated was he to the subject, in fact, that he personally paid to restore one of Corbin's feature films, Headlines (1925), held at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. and eventually released to the silent film video market. 

So it comes as no surprise that he authored a new book of lively essays about various silent screen actors, from Pickford, Chaplin, Keaton and Garbo -- as well as profiles on Reginald Denny, Francelia Billington, Virginia Brown Faire, Harold Lockwood, Viola Richard, George Fawcett and Anita Garvin. There is also a three-part dissertation on the beautiful Novak sisters, Jane and Eva. In his book, Silent Vignettes, Tim reveals how much water played a role in many of Keaton's stunts, the incomparable Betty Compson, the rise, reign and requiem of the Lubin Manufacturing Company, the mysterious death of Olive Thomas, a chapter on the stuntmen who risked their lives, the war-themed movies and bond drives of Mary Pickford, the silk hat comedian known as Raymond Griffith, and the silent ladies of Chaplin's films.

As you might surmise, these are not just biographies of silent screen actors and actresses. Let us be honest, there are plenty of books that serve that purpose. (I have a few on my bookshelf.) This book documents various aspects of silent screen stars and studios that make this book worth reading. If you love silent movies, this is a must-have for your bookshelf.

To order a copy of the book, click here: https://bearmanor-digital.myshopify.com/products/silent-vignettes-stars-studios-and-stories-from-the-silent-movie-era-paperback?_pos=1&_sid=47ba75a7e&_ss=r

If you want to check out his website, visit www.silentsaregolden.com


Friday, September 3, 2021

DIAL 999: A Television Review

A few months ago I purchased a DVD set for a television program titled DIAL 999. Starring Robert Beatty in the lead role as a modern-day Canadian Mountie who ventures to England to help assist Scotland Yard with cleaning up the crime in the streets, this series ran one full year in the late 1950s. Based on the files of Scotland Yard, the stories were abound with detective work and explosive entertainment. Shrewd maneuvers to thwart the desperate, dangerous quarry are found in every episode. To sum up an accurate description of this series, I consider this the British equivalent of America's Dragnet

Along the way I saw some familiar faces such as William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, but also the screen debut of Barbara Steele. But the real star is Robert Beatty as Detective Inspector Mike Maguire. He was born in Canada (so his Canadian accent is authentic) and he served for a time as a British Police Constable during World War II. If the actor's name is not familiar, his face may be. He played supporting roles in Odd Man Out (1947) with James Mason, Man on a Tightrope (with Frederic March), and in Something of Value (with Rock Hudson and Dana Wynter). 

The DVD set was issued in England and while the print transfers are drop dead gorgeous, the format is in PAL. If you do not have a region-free DVD player, you will not be able to play these. But if you do have a region-free DVD player, do yourself a favor and buy this. A couple friends of mine followed my advice and both, later and separately, called to tell me out of the blue that they appreciated the recommendation because they enjoyed this series very much.













 

Friday, August 27, 2021

The Complete Northwoods Stories of Frederick Nebel

You will never find earnest mythology of Canadian Mountie fiction than the printed prose of the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Although it has been said that Canada had no Wild West because the Mounties got there first, the truth is that before their heralded arrival Canada's frontier was as wild as any Wild West dime novel. Native murders and whiskey traders were so common that such vandalism could never be depicted accurately on screen. Such adventure stories of a frozen Northern territory in which Mounties replaced the heroic sheriffs and gunslingers of the American Western, exorcized locales such as the Yukon, offering the local color of dogsleds, fur thieves, trappers, drunk gamblers and foolish gold prospectors.

While Canadian Mountie fiction from the first half of the 20th century is still in demand for a niche crowd, very little has been reprinted in paperback. And this is a darn shame when you consider James B. Hendryx still has not received his due for the large number of Connie Morgan novels published in such magazines as American Boy, or his Corporal Cameron Downey series. Among the notable pulp magazines that provided such adventures was North-West Stories, Complete Northwest and North-West Romances... but sadly most of them have never been reprinted over the years. Fans of the red tunic have had to resort to buying the original pulp magazines, not reprints, lending credence to the statement that "Canadian Mountie fiction is not yet forgotten, but it is crumbling into dust."

As a fan of Canadian Mountie fiction during that romantic era when the Mounties never always got their man, my bookshelf contains hardcover novel reprints and 1930s pulp magazines loaded with Canadian Mountie fiction. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered Altus Press releasing the first of Frederick Nebel's forte, chronologically. It was from this reprint that I was introduced to Corporal Chet Tyson, who would appear in multiple stories for more than six years. There is also a serial novelette, Defiance Valley, which dramatizes the adventure of R.C.M.P. Pat Quinlin. My favorite story in the collection was the 1926 short story, "The Black Fox Skin," which told not a tale of Canadian Mountie law, but of two natives who competed for the hand of a beautiful woman... for the first person to catch the skin the elusive black fox. 

Regrettably, this book was published six years ago in 2015, which makes me suspect there will not be a volume two. I hope I am wrong because future volumes will be a welcome addition to my bookshelves. In the meantime, if anyone is looking for something to read by the fireplace during the cold winter months, click on the link below and make your purchase today.