Bio

THEODORE BIKEL Z”L MAY 2 1924- JULY 21 2015

Born in 1924, Theodore (Meir) Bikel was thirteen when Hitler and Göring paraded with their invading army beneath his apartment window on Mariahilfestrasse – one of the main thoroughfares in Vienna. He and his parents- Josef z”l and Miriam z”l- were able to leave six months later for Palestine. Already fluent in Hebrew, Yiddish, and German with a respectable command of English and French, he intended to study and teach comparative linguistics – but many other talents intervened.

Theodore Bikel sang from the time he was a child. He sang with his parents at home and in the Vienna woods. Later, as a young man on a kibbutz, he found an abandoned guitar, taught himself to play and has not stopped playing and singing since. He sang with international friends in London, and, as a young actor/singer was invited to Buckingham Palace to perform for the Queen Mother (and her daughters). On coming to America, Bikel first sang in informal venues and clubs. He was invited by Jac Holtzman to record for Elektra records – and since has made more than 25 albums of folk songs, freedom songs, cast albums of musicals, and classical works. Theo was mostly known for his songs in many languages: he sang in 33 of them: and was adored by Jewish audiences for recording many Yiddish albums and Hebrew folk songs. Many Bikel albums were best sellers. Theo began to sing in concert halls throughout the country and abroad, and his concert schedule remained heavy until the last month of his life. In 1956 he gave his first celebrated Carnegie Hall concert, and performed many concerts each year throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe, Israel, New Zealand and Australia. In 1961, together with Pete Seeger and George Wien, Theo co-founded the legendary Newport Folk Festival.

Theodore Bikel’s theatre life began at age 19 as a student actor in the Habima Theatre in Israel. Soon after, in 1944, he co-founded the Cameri Theatre in which he worked for several years before entering the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London from which he graduated with honors. He then appeared in several West End plays including A Streetcar Named Desire, starring Vivien Leigh at the invitation and under the direction of Sir Laurence Olivier and The Love of Four Colonels by and with Peter Ustinov. It was during this time that he was cast for the small role of Second Captain in the film The African Queen. While in London, he worked continually to raise funds and awareness for the plight of the Jewish refugees after the holocaust, for the Socialist Zionist ideals he grew up with at home, and, in 1947-48, urgent support for the newly formed State of Israel during the war of independence.

In 1955, Theo was invited to America to appear on Broadway in Tonight In Samarkand, and, falling in love with New York, he decided to settle in the States, eventually buying his home in Greenwich Village which quickly became a center for Civil Rights activism and a Folk Musicians hangout. Since Tonight in Samarkand, Theo has had many memorable stage performances. In 1959, Theo created the iconic role of Baron von Trapp on Broadway in The Sound of Music opposite Mary Martin; the song Edelweiss was written specifically for him after Rogers and Hammerstein heard him playing his guitar and singing to the cast during a lunch break in the first days of rehearsals. Some of his other stage performances were in The Lark, The Rope Dancers, I Do I Do, The Sunshine Boys, My Fair Lady, Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living in Paris, the Chosen, The Gathering, About Time, The Disputation, (Wesker’s) Shylock, Zorba The Greek, and one man show “Shalom Aleichem: Laughter Through Tears” which he wrote and directed. But the role Theodore Bikel is perhaps most remembered is the role of Tevye’ in the stage version of Fiddler On the Roof: he has played Tevye’ more than any other actor, over 2200 times in tours spanning 40 years and the entire United States. Theo received two Tony nominations for actor in a lead role.

Theodore Bikel has also had a rich film career. He made his film debut in African Queen and since has performed in more than 35 films including: The Enemy Below, The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming, The Little Kidnappers, My Fair Lady, I Want To Live, Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels, and The Defiant Ones, for which he received an Academy Award nomination. The documentary film Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem, in which Theo acts, sings, and narrates, was released in 2014 and has screened to critical acclaim across the US and abroad.

Theo has starred in virtually every top dramatic show on TV including: Law And Order, JAG, All In The Family, Dynasty, Murder She Wrote, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Babylon 5, Little House On The Prairie, The Twilight Zone, The Final Days (as Henry Kissinger), L.A. Law and Columbo. He received an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Harris Newmark, a founder and of the first Jewish settlers in Los Angeles.

But as important as his musical and acting career were to him, Theo was equally devoted to the causes of Peace, Civil rights, and social Justice. He was active for many years in Actors’ Equity Association, serving as Vice-President for nine years and President for nine years. During that time he argued for the establishment of a National Council on the Arts, established federally supported housing for actors, helped establish tie Actors Federal Credit Union (his account is #7) and wrote the Equity regulations regarding protection for Equity members in shows where nudity is required. As Vice President of the International Federation of Actors (FIA) for ten years, he argued for international cooperation with actors’ unions and guilds behind what was then the Iron Curtain. “The smell of greasepaint is stronger than the whiff of gun powder.” He served for many years (and until the end of his life) as President of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (4A’s) and was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 to serve a 5-year term on the National Council for the Arts. With Oliver Sacks, he testified before Congress regarding the Arts and Senior citizens: Seniors as artists, and Seniors as audience.

On the national scene, Theodore Bikel was a delegate to the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago and played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement participating in marches and voter registration drives in the south and playing concerts throughout the county – concerts whose content was the message of equality for all people. He was arrested for acts of civil disobedience against segregation in the South of the US, for his work on behalf of Soviet Jewry, and against apartheid. He was very active in SNCC (Students Non Violent Coordinating Committee), a major anti segregation organization, but split with the publicly after SNCC started using violence and published anti-Semitic materials.

Throughout his career, Theodore Bikel has felt a particular responsibility to Jewish life and to the Jewish community, and had what has been called a “profound impact on Jewish culture”. His numerous albums of Jewish folk music, concerts and theater performances, his co-founding of Israel’s Cameri Theater, his leadership in the Soviet Jewry movement, have all distinguished him as a Jewish activist. Theo served as Vice President of the American Jewish congress and was a leader in the movement to free Soviet Jewry. One of his deepest passions was the survival of the Yiddish language and he devoted much energy to insure its continued existence. Theo served as Chairman of Meretz USA – the US support arm of an Israeli Political Party that seeks to pursue peace and religious pluralism. Shortly before his death in 2015 he was chosen to lead the progressive HaTikva list to the World Zionist Congress.

Theodore Bikel is also an accomplished translator of song lyrics. His book, Folksongs and Footnotes, published by Meridian Books in 1961, has had three reprint editions. His updated autobiography, Theo, (with a special Afterward for his 90th year) was published by the University of Wisconsin Press. His latest released CDs were IN MY OWN LIFETIME – a bouquet of Theatre Songs and OUR SONG a compilation of duets with renowned Cantor Alberto Mizrahi. In 2016, Redhose Records published the CD In My Own Lifetime, a collection of spoken word and songs recorded before he died. In 2009, Theo performed with many of his colleagues at a special 85th Birthday concert at Carnegie Hall. In 2014, for his 90th birthday, he performed, again with a host of folk and Jewish music legends, at the Sabban Theatre in LA. From 2008-2012 Theo toured and performed in their quartet Serendipity 4/ A Bridge 4 Peace, devoted to the notion that music can reach across the lines of national conflict and promote Peace among even the fiercest of “enemies”.

Theo was married to Ofra Bikel (1956-1957), Rita Weinberg Bikel (1967-2008), Tamara Brooks (2008-2012) and Aimee Ginsburg Bikel (2013-). He was Father to sons Rob and Danny, and Step Father to step sons Zeev and Noam.

PHOTO GALLERY

THEODORE BIKEL Z”L MAY 2 1924- JULY 21 2015

Born in 1924, Theodore (Meir) Bikel was thirteen when Hitler and Göring paraded with their invading army beneath his apartment window on Mariahilfestrasse – one of the main thoroughfares in Vienna. He and his parents- Josef z”l and Miriam z”l- were able to leave six months later for Palestine. Already fluent in Hebrew, Yiddish, and German with a respectable command of English and French, he intended to study and teach comparative linguistics – but many other talents intervened.

Theodore Bikel sang from the time he was a child. He sang with his parents at home and in the Vienna woods. Later, as a young man on a kibbutz, he found an abandoned guitar, taught himself to play and has not stopped playing and singing since. He sang with international friends in London, and, as a young actor/singer was invited to Buckingham Palace to perform for the Queen Mother (and her daughters). On coming to America, Bikel first sang in informal venues and clubs. He was invited by Jac Holtzman to record for Elektra records – and since has made more than 25 albums of folk songs, freedom songs, cast albums of musicals, and classical works. Theo was mostly known for his songs in many languages: he sang in 33 of them: and was adored by Jewish audiences for recording many Yiddish albums and Hebrew folk songs. Many Bikel albums were best sellers. Theo began to sing in concert halls throughout the country and abroad, and his concert schedule remained heavy until the last month of his life. In 1956 he gave his first celebrated Carnegie Hall concert, and performed many concerts each year throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe, Israel, New Zealand and Australia. In 1961, together with Pete Seeger and George Wien, Theo co-founded the legendary Newport Folk Festival.

Theodore Bikel’s theatre life began at age 19 as a student actor in the Habima Theatre in Israel. Soon after, in 1944, he co-founded the Cameri Theatre in which he worked for several years before entering the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London from which he graduated with honors. He then appeared in several West End plays including A Streetcar Named Desire, starring Vivien Leigh at the invitation and under the direction of Sir Laurence Olivier and The Love of Four Colonels by and with Peter Ustinov. It was during this time that he was cast for the small role of Second Captain in the film The African Queen. While in London, he worked continually to raise funds and awareness for the plight of the Jewish refugees after the holocaust, for the Socialist Zionist ideals he grew up with at home, and, in 1947-48, urgent support for the newly formed State of Israel during the war of independence.

In 1955, Theo was invited to America to appear on Broadway in Tonight In Samarkand, and, falling in love with New York, he decided to settle in the States, eventually buying his home in Greenwich Village which quickly became a center for Civil Rights activism and a Folk Musicians hangout. Since Tonight in Samarkand, Theo has had many memorable stage performances. In 1959, Theo created the iconic role of Baron von Trapp on Broadway in The Sound of Music opposite Mary Martin; the song Edelweiss was written specifically for him after Rogers and Hammerstein heard him playing his guitar and singing to the cast during a lunch break in the first days of rehearsals. Some of his other stage performances were in The Lark, The Rope Dancers, I Do I Do, The Sunshine Boys, My Fair Lady, Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living in Paris, the Chosen, The Gathering, About Time, The Disputation, (Wesker’s) Shylock, Zorba The Greek, and one man show “Shalom Aleichem: Laughter Through Tears” which he wrote and directed. But the role Theodore Bikel is perhaps most remembered is the role of Tevye’ in the stage version of Fiddler On the Roof: he has played Tevye’ more than any other actor, over 2200 times in tours spanning 40 years and the entire United States. Theo received two Tony nominations for actor in a lead role.

Theodore Bikel has also had a rich film career. He made his film debut in African Queen and since has performed in more than 35 films including: The Enemy Below, The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming, The Little Kidnappers, My Fair Lady, I Want To Live, Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels, and The Defiant Ones, for which he received an Academy Award nomination. The documentary film Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem, in which Theo acts, sings, and narrates, was released in 2014 and has screened to critical acclaim across the US and abroad.

Theo has starred in virtually every top dramatic show on TV including: Law And Order, JAG, All In The Family, Dynasty, Murder She Wrote, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Babylon 5, Little House On The Prairie, The Twilight Zone, The Final Days (as Henry Kissinger), L.A. Law and Columbo. He received an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Harris Newmark, a founder and of the first Jewish settlers in Los Angeles.

But as important as his musical and acting career were to him, Theo was equally devoted to the causes of Peace, Civil rights, and social Justice. He was active for many years in Actors’ Equity Association, serving as Vice-President for nine years and President for nine years. During that time he argued for the establishment of a National Council on the Arts, established federally supported housing for actors, helped establish tie Actors Federal Credit Union (his account is #7) and wrote the Equity regulations regarding protection for Equity members in shows where nudity is required. As Vice President of the International Federation of Actors (FIA) for ten years, he argued for international cooperation with actors’ unions and guilds behind what was then the Iron Curtain. “The smell of greasepaint is stronger than the whiff of gun powder.” He served for many years (and until the end of his life) as President of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (4A’s) and was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 to serve a 5-year term on the National Council for the Arts. With Oliver Sacks, he testified before Congress regarding the Arts and Senior citizens: Seniors as artists, and Seniors as audience.

On the national scene, Theodore Bikel was a delegate to the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago and played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement participating in marches and voter registration drives in the south and playing concerts throughout the county – concerts whose content was the message of equality for all people. He was arrested for acts of civil disobedience against segregation in the South of the US, for his work on behalf of Soviet Jewry, and against apartheid. He was very active in SNCC (Students Non Violent Coordinating Committee), a major anti segregation organization, but split with the publicly after SNCC started using violence and published anti-Semitic materials.

Throughout his career, Theodore Bikel has felt a particular responsibility to Jewish life and to the Jewish community, and had what has been called a “profound impact on Jewish culture”. His numerous albums of Jewish folk music, concerts and theater performances, his co-founding of Israel’s Cameri Theater, his leadership in the Soviet Jewry movement, have all distinguished him as a Jewish activist. Theo served as Vice President of the American Jewish congress and was a leader in the movement to free Soviet Jewry. One of his deepest passions was the survival of the Yiddish language and he devoted much energy to insure its continued existence. Theo served as Chairman of Meretz USA – the US support arm of an Israeli Political Party that seeks to pursue peace and religious pluralism. Shortly before his death in 2015 he was chosen to lead the progressive HaTikva list to the World Zionist Congress.

Theodore Bikel is also an accomplished translator of song lyrics. His book, Folksongs and Footnotes, published by Meridian Books in 1961, has had three reprint editions. His updated autobiography, Theo, (with a special Afterward for his 90th year) was published by the University of Wisconsin Press. His latest released CDs were IN MY OWN LIFETIME – a bouquet of Theatre Songs and OUR SONG a compilation of duets with renowned Cantor Alberto Mizrahi. In 2016, Redhose Records published the CD In My Own Lifetime, a collection of spoken word and songs recorded before he died. In 2009, Theo performed with many of his colleagues at a special 85th Birthday concert at Carnegie Hall. In 2014, for his 90th birthday, he performed, again with a host of folk and Jewish music legends, at the Sabban Theatre in LA. From 2008-2012 Theo toured and performed in their quartet Serendipity 4/ A Bridge 4 Peace, devoted to the notion that music can reach across the lines of national conflict and promote Peace among even the fiercest of “enemies”.

Theo was married to Ofra Bikel (1956-1957), Rita Weinberg Bikel (1967-2008), Tamara Brooks (2008-2012) and Aimee Ginsburg Bikel (2013-). He was Father to sons Rob and Danny, and Step Father to step sons Zeev and Noam.

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