Dec 12, 2014
What kind of introduction most becomes a legend? That’s what I’ve been thinking about for the past week, knowing today I would be speaking with a most remarkable a man, living legend of stage, screen, civil and union activism, Theodore Bikel. And let me tell you, the task doesn’t get any less daunting when you read his memoir, Theo: An Autobiography. Just his family’s escape from Nazi-occupied Vienna would be enough for one book. Or his full career as a rising actor and musician in London with an interest in social activism.
THEODORE BIKEL podcast excerpt: "It was an extraordinary experience, working with Humphrey Bogart on 'The African Queen,' because he seemed so laid-back, so laconic--monosyllabic, almost. Until he got on the set. And then there was a full-blown performance. And I can't tell you, to this day, where and when it came together. It was a lesson that I've never forgotten. He was also very pleasant to be with, pleasant to talk with. We played a lot of chess together. We had some laughs together. This was no standoffish personality. He was a wonderful guy."
When he gets his first opportunity to appear onstage in America, Bikel’s life has so much going on you’d swear he must have cloned himself. Read his book and you’ll get intimate stories of: • Co-starring with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in The African Queen;
• Of sneaking into Greenwood, Mississippi, at the height of the civil rights movement under cover of darkness with an emerging young folk singer named Bob Dylan;
THEODORE BIKEL podcast excerpt: "I was only a boy of 13 when the Nazis rolled into Vienna, but one day I was a person of equal rights and immediately I turned, overnight, into an object of derision, of hatred, of persecution. I saw incredible cruelties being perpetrated upon people I knew, down in the street. Men forced to clean the sidewalk with their toothbrushes, women, with their fur coats. Men being shipped off in trucks to God-Knows-Where."
• Of appearing opposite Mary Martin onstage in “The Sound of Music”;
• Of touring the United States as a singer accompanied by Bill Lee (later the father of Spike Lee);
• And of standing in a men’s restroom line behind Gregory Peck, who told him, “I have seen 'Fiddler on the Roof' about five times with different Tevyes. Yours was far and away the best.” Nope, not intimidating at all. Oh, and he celebrated his recent 90th birthday with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Besides the third edition of his autobiography, Bikel is also the attraction in a new documentary film narrated by Alan Alda, Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem.