On October 16, 2021 the SinaiFree Film Society was honored to host a remarkable conversation with renowned character actor Nehemiah Persoff. He was then 102 years old. Sadly, Mr. Persoff passed away on April 5, 2022. The program gave Mr. Persoff great pleasure, and we were blessed that he shared his generosity and spirit with us.
Mr. Persoff worked practically non-stop on stage, film and TV for over 50 years, appearing in more than 40 films and 400 TV episodes – we know him as Reb Mendel (Yentl’s Papa), and as Little Bonaparte in Some Like it Hot, and many of us no doubt recognize his face from both the small and big screens.
Members of the SFS community had the rare opportunity to ask Mr. Persoff about his life and career and to hear him recount many wonderful stories and experiences. He spoke with candor, humor and gratitude about his life and career. His energy and genuine interest in each person with whom he engaged were remarkable. As one congregant said, “I was blown away by the wonderful evening with Nehemiah. It was more than interesting, it was inspirational!”
You can view the recording of the event here.
Our audience also included members of The Actors Studio, the venerable institution where Mr. Persoff began his career in 1947, the year of its founding. Invited by cofounder Elia Kazan to join the first class, Mr. Persoff discovered that he was in the company of Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Julie Harris, Maureen Stapleton, Eli Wallach and other young hopefuls destined for notable careers as well. In his recently published memoir, The Many Faces of Nehemiah, Mr. Persoff remembers his first evening so long ago as “life changing”.
Prior to our program, we prepared viewing recommendations in consultation with Mr. Persoff, to help participants familiarize themselves with his work. The recommendations focus on several television episodes featuring Mr. Persoff during the ‘50s and ‘60s, a period of which he is particularly proud.
It is our hope that the Sinai Free community and all website visitors will continue to enjoy these episodes. We also invite you to spend some time with the supplemental resources, which contains links to other interviews, a fascinating 101st birthday tribute, his one-man show of the stories of Sholem Aleichem and his complete filmography.