Carl Reiner will be the guest of honor at a benefit program of The National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene on June 17 at Town Hall in New York.
Photo courtesy Carl Reiner
June 12, 2008
The National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene will hold a tribute to actor/writer/producer legend Carl Reiner at a gala benefit concert on Tuesday, June 17, at 8 p.m. at Town Hall in Manhattan.
Mary Tyler Moore, whose career as a TV star took off after Reiner cast her in the role of Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, will headline the roster of entertainment icons — including Theodore Bikel, Fyvush Finkel, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, and Renee Taylor — appearing at the event. NBC Nightly News’ Brian Williams — a self-described Yiddish enthusiast — will serve as master of ceremonies.
The stars of stage, screen, and TV will provide material celebrating not just the roots of Yiddish culture but the “trunks, branches, and leaves” that directly fed the golden age of television comedy.
In a telephone interview with NJ Jewish News, singer, actor, writer, and musician Bikel, who worked with Reiner in the 1966 film The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming! said his old friend Reiner “has to be counted among the comedic geniuses, both as a writer and as performer. He is phenomenally talented.”
Bikel, who was about to board a flight to Israel for a wedding, recalled their days on the set of The Russians are Coming! more than 40 years ago.
“We spent a great deal of time together. We furnished our own entertainment to each other. He’s a terrific guy. Never a dull moment when you’re in his company.”
Although Reiner never performed in the Yiddish theater per se, his style and sensibility are “absolutely emblematic of this kind of humor,” said Bikel.
“You have to have lived in and around a mode of speaking and thinking that is Jewish,” he said. “It is Jewish comedy in terms of what is said of where a punch line lies, how it comes about. You play to an audience both of today and of yesterday, in a sense, because yesterday’s audience reacts to certain things, and you retain the memory of how they react, and when, and to what.
“Even when it’s not specifically Jewish to the naked eye” — as was often the case with Reiner’s brand of writing and performing — “it is clear that much of it is transposed from Yiddish,” Bikel said, then offered an example.
“To say to somebody in English, ‘Are you some kind of wise guy?’ — that’s not Yiddish. ‘What are you, a wise guy?’ on the other hand, is Yiddish.”
Reiner was born in the Bronx in 1922. He received his acting training via the Works Progress Administration in the late 1930s. He broke into show business as a comedian on the Borscht Belt and appeared in several Broadway plays before achieving major recognition on TV on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows. Like many of his contemporaries, he “borrowed” material he gleaned from Yiddish performances.
The comedian, actor, novelist, and film director is an eight-time Emmy winner and was awarded the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for Comedy in 2000. As creator, writer, producer, and cast member of The Dick Van Dyke Show, which debuted in 1961, he is credited for revolutionizing the TV sitcom.
The June 17 event — which benefits Folksbiene, currently the only professional Yiddish theater in America — will also honor Jewish activist and philanthropist Irwin Hochberg.
For tickets, which range from $75 to $500, call Folksbiene at 800-994-3347 or 212-213-2120 or visit www.folksbiene.org.
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