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May 2: Theodore Bikel

May 2, 2014

theodore_bikel-_language_music_and_literature_in_his_vienna_home_croppedMultilingual actor and musician Theodore Bikel was born in Vienna on this date in 1924. His family fled the Anschluss (Nazi Germany’s move into Austria) to Palestine in 1939. Fourteen years later, Bikel came to the U.S in 1954, by which time he had trained as an actor and performed in several plays and films, including in The African Queen (1951). Bikel became widely known in the U.S. for originating the role of Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music on Broadway (1959). He has also played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof in more than 2,000 performances, more than any other actor. Bikel developed a parallel career as a folksinger (he was a cofounder of the Newport Folk Festival) and as a performer of Jewish music. More than any other Jewish actor of his generation, Bikel has publicly embraced his Jewish identity and included Jewish culture as a significant part of his large musical and acting repertoire. At the same time, he has been politically active in support of civil rights, Soviet Jewry, progressive Zionism, and as president of Actors’ Equity in the late 1970s and early ’80s and as chair of the board of Partners for Progressive Israel (formerly Meretz USA) since 2007. Bikel’s filmography includes The Defiant Ones (1958), My Fair Lady (1964), The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966), Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels (1971), and many, many other movies and television shows. His autobiography, Theo, was published in 1995. To see him playing “Edelweiss” in 2010, look below.

“[W]hen I toil in the field of Jewish culture, which I frequently do, I am indeed a Jewish artist.” -Theodore Bikel