Nehemiah Persoff

Biography

Date of Birth 2 August 1919, Jerusalem, Palestine (now Israel) Height 5' 7" (1.70 m) Mini Biography Born in 1919 (some sources say 1920) in Jerusalem, Nehemiah Persoff emigrated with his family to America in 1929. Following schooling at the Hebrew Technical Institute of New York, he found a job as a subway electrician doing signal maintenance until an interest in the theater altered the direction of his life. He joined amateur groups and subsequently won a scholarship to the Dramatic Workshop in New York. This led to what would have been his Broadway debut in a production of "Eve of St. Mark", but he was fired before the show opened. He made his official New York debut in a production of "The Emperor's New Clothes" in 1940. WWII interrupted his young career in 1942, returning to the stage after his hitch in the army was over three years later. He sought work in stock plays and became an intern of Stella Adler and, as a result, a strong exponent of the Actor's Studio. Discovered by Charles Laughton and cast in his production of "Galileo" in 1947, Persoff made his film debut a year later with an unbilled bit in The Naked City (1948). Short, dark, chunky-framed and with a distinct talent for dialects, Persoff became known primarily for his ethnic villainy, usually playing authoritative Eastern Europeans. In a formidable career that had him portraying everything from cab drivers to Joseph Stalin, standout film roles would include Leo in The Harder They Fall (1956) with Humphrey Bogart, Gene Conforti in Alfred Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1956), Albert in This Angry Age (1958) and gangster Johnny Torrio in Al Capone (1959). That same year he played another gangster, the small role of Little Bonaparte, in the classic comedy Some Like It Hot (1959). He was a durable performer during TV's "Golden Age" ("Gunsmoke" (1955), "The Twilight Zone" (1959)) and well beyond ("Chicago Hope" (1994), "Law & Order" (1990)), playing hundreds of intense, volatile and dominating characters. In later years, his character's heart grew a bit softer as Barbra Streisand's Jewish father in Yentl (1983) and the voice of Papa Mousekewitz in the An American Tail (1986) will attest. Later stage work included well-received productions of "I'm Not Rappaport" and his biographical one-man show "Sholem Aleichem". Persoff took to painting in 1985, studying sketching in Los Angeles, when declining health and high blood pressure forced him to slow down. Specializing in watercolor, he has created around 100 works of art, many of which have been exhibited up and down the coast of California. IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net Spouse Thia Persoff (22 August 1951 - present) 4 children Trivia In his early years he posed for painters who worked out of studios in Manhattan's Union Square. Once asked why he chose acting as a profession, he stated that the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe compelled him to prove himself worthy of his "gift of life." He was the obscure cab driver in the famous "I coulda been a contender..." scene with Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger in the classic movie On the Waterfront (1954). When the Actors Studio was formed in 1947 Persoff was in the first "beginner's"class directed by Elia Kazan. Among his fellow students were Julie Harris, Steven Hill, Cloris Leachman, James Whitmore, Marty Balsam, Kim Hunter and Jocelyn Brando (Marlon's sister.). Personal Quotes "Despite the fact that I've been an actor for more than 50 years, I'd never really looked at nature. But now [since painting] I see the light dancing on the trees, the light of the water and the rocks. Everything in life has taken on a completely different look." "If I'm playing a good guy, I'll try to show that he has some bad in him. If I'm playing a bad guy, I'll give him some dignity and love." The difference between film and stage acting is clearly a matter of reaching the audience. On stage, the actor has to project vocally so he can be heard in the last seats of the balcony. This alone makes the acting theatrical and unnatural...The film actor must rely on his face, on his eyes mainly, (on his thoughts) to communicate with the audience. When you are turned down as an actor, it's not only your talent that's in question, but your entire being: your looks, face, hair, the way you speak, your personality, ethnicity, everything about you.

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Person Photo

Birth Name

Nick Perry, Nicky

Birth Place

Jerusalem, Palästina

Birth Date

8/2/1919

Death Date

4/5/2022
Known For
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An American Tail

Papa Mousekewitz (voice)

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The Comancheros

Graile

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Men in war

Sfc. Nate Lewis

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An American Tail: The Mystery of the Night Monster

Papa Mousekewitz (voice)

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The Girl Who Knew Too Much

Lieutenant Miles Crawford

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Mrs. Pollifax - Spy

Berisha

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Al Capone

Johnny Torrio

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Panic in the City

Actor

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The Hook

Capt. Van Ryn

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The Stranger Within

Dr. Edward Klein

Starring In
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Boris Karloff: The Rest of the Story

Self - Interviewee

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Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster

Self - Interviewee

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An American Tail: The Mystery of the Night Monster

Papa Mousekewitz (voice)

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An American Tail: The Treasure of Manhattan Island

Papa (voice)

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An American Tail: Fievel Goes West

Papa (voice)

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Twins

Mitchell Traven

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The Last Temptation of Christ

Rabbi

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An American Tail

Papa Mousekewitz (voice)

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Yentl

Reb Mendel 'Papa'

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O'Hara's Wife

Doctor Fischer

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St. Helens

Mr. Ellison

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Voyage of the Damned

Mr. Hauser

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The Missiles of October

Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko

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The Stranger Within

Dr. Edward Klein

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Mrs. Pollifax - Spy

Berisha

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The People Next Door

Dr. Salazar

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The Girl Who Knew Too Much

Lieutenant Miles Crawford

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Mafia

Pizzuco

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Panic in the City

Actor

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The Power

Prof. Carl Melnicker

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The Greatest Story Ever Told

Shemiah

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The Wild Party

Kicks Johnson

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Fate Is The Hunter

Ben Sawyer

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A Global Affair

Under Secretary Segura

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The Hook

Capt. Van Ryn

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The Comancheros

Graile

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Day of the Outlaw

Dan

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Some Like It Hot

Little Bonaparte

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Green Mansions

Don Panta

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Al Capone

Johnny Torrio

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Never Steal Anything Small

Pinelli

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This Angry Age

Albert

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Men in war

Sfc. Nate Lewis

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The Wrong Man

Gene Conforti

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The Harder They Fall

Leo

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On the Waterfront

Cab Driver (uncredited)

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The Naked City

Smiling Man Departing Subway (uncredited)

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The Badlanders

Vincente - The Powder Monkey

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