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March 20: The Straight Man

Carl Reiner, the straight man to Mel Brooks’ “Two-Thousand-Year-Old Man” and a major influence upon American comedy as it ripened through the early years of television, was born in the Bronx on this date in 1922. Reiner worked as writer and actor on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows and, based on that experience, developed […]

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February 11: Here on Gilligan’s Isle

Tina Louise (Blacker), who played ‘Ginger,’ the sexy shipwrecked actress on television’s Gilligan’s Island, was born in New York on this date in 1934. Her mother was a fashion model; her father, a candy-store owner; her stepfather, a wealthy doctor. Tina Louise’s early pursuit of a serious acting career was perpetually beset by modeling and […]

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January 30: Directing Andy Griffith

Aaron Ruben, who produced (and sometimes wrote and directed) The Andy Griffith Show for its first five seasons, died at 95 in Beverly Hills on this date in 2010. Ruben wrote radio shows for Dinah Shore, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Milton Berle, and Fred Allen, before breaking into television. Among the hit shows he […]

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July 29: The World’s Foremost Authority

Professor Irwin Corey, the World’s Foremost Authority, was born on this date in 1914 in Brooklyn. Kenneth Tynan described Corey and his routine of double-speak pontificating as “a travesty of all that our civilization holds dear, and one of the funniest grotesques in America. He is Chaplin’s tramp with a college education.” Corey was born […]

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July 12: Uncle Miltie

Milton Berle (Berlinger), America’s first television star, was born in Harlem on this date in 1908. He won a talent contest at age 5 and caught the show biz bug with appearances as a child actor in silent films, including The Perils of Pauline. Berle was an established radio comedian and vaudevillian when he became […]

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February 14: Jack Benny

Jack Benny (Benjamin Kubelsky) was born on this day in 1894. One of America’s favorite comedians on radio, television and in film, Benny was married to Sadye Marks, whom some say was a cousin of the Marx Brothers and who played his stage girlfriend  in most of the incarnations of his show. Another key character, […]

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February 5: Modern Times

Charlie Chaplin was not Jewish — he was baptized and raised in the Anglican church — but Nazi propaganda in the 1930s said otherwise, identifying him as “Karl Tonstein,” a Jew and a communist. The rumors stuck, especially after Chaplin’s release of The Great Dictator in 1940, and he consistently refused to deny being Jewish, […]

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January 20: George Burns

George Burns (Nathan Birnbaum) was born in New York City on this day in 1896. He quit school in the fourth grade to be an entertainer. His vaudeville career was floundering until he met Gracie Allen in 1923 (they married in 1926) and started playing the cigar-smoking straight man to her silly, literal-minded woman — […]

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The Return of the Repressed: Yiddish in Israel

by Benjamin Weiner Hebrew’s defeat of Yiddish in the language war of early Zionism is well known, but recent scholarship has added to our understanding of the conflict. The works of Dovid Katz and Yael Chaver, in particular, attest to the outright hostility, even physical violence, of the Hebraist camp, and the extent to which […]

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