Nehemiah Persoff
Persoff in 1960
Born(1919-08-02)August 2, 1919
Jerusalem, British Mandate of Palestine
DiedApril 5, 2022(2022-04-05) (aged 102)
  • Israel
  • United States
EducationHebrew Technical Institute[1]
  • Actor
  • painter
Years active1948–2003
Thia Persov
(m. 1951; died 2021)
Military career
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service1942–1945
Battles/warsWorld War II

Nehemiah Persoff (August 2, 1919 – April 5, 2022) was an American actor and painter. He appeared in more than 200 television series, films, and theatre productions, and also performed as a voice artist in a career spanning 55 years.[1]

His first acting role was as an extra in The Naked City (1948). Persoff is best known for roles as Leo in The Harder They Fall (1956), as Little Bonaparte in Some Like It Hot (1959), as Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik in The Untouchables (1959–1963), as Rebbe Mendel in Yentl (1983), and as the voice of Papa Mousekewitz in the animated film An American Tail (1986) and its sequels. He also made appearances on episodes of The Twilight Zone, Gilligan's Island, Hawaii Five-O, Adam-12, and Law & Order.

Early life and education

Persoff was born to Shmuel Persoff (1885–1961) and Puah Holman (1887–1963), both Palestinian Jews, in the city of Jerusalem in 1919.[2][3][4][5] His father Shmuel, who was a silversmith, jeweler, and art teacher, decided that there were better prospects for him and his family in the United States and initially emigrated on his own. In 1929, Shmuel had become financially secure in New York City and sponsored the immigration of his wife and three sons (Boaz, Avraham, and Nehemiah himself) and two daughters (Tamar and Geula).[6] At first, the family lived in an apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, before eventually moving to The Bronx.[2] Persoff's parents later returned to Israel.[6]

Military service

Persoff attended the Hebrew Technical Institute in New York City, graduating as a certified electrician in 1937.[7] In 1942, he was drafted into the United States Army and served for the remainder of World War II; he was assigned to the Special Services for entertainment.[8] After he completed his military service, he took up an electrician's job as a subway signal maintenance worker in New York City.[2]


Persoff began to pursue his acting career in New York theatre. In 1947, he was accepted into the Actors Studio and was one of the 26 members of the beginners' class taught by Elia Kazan, along with Martin Balsam, Julie Harris, Kim Hunter, Cloris Leachman, and James Whitmore.[2] He began his acting career in 1948.[9][10]

His first role was an uncredited bit part in the film noir The Naked City (1948).[11]

Among his early film roles was as the taxi driver during Brando's "I coulda been a contender" scene in On the Waterfront (1954);[2] Leo the accountant in The Harder They Fall (1956), with Humphrey Bogart and Rod Steiger;[2] and the gangster boss Little Bonaparte (a parody of Rico/Little Caesar) in Billy Wilder's film Some Like It Hot (1959),[12] and he appeared again with Steiger in Al Capone (also 1959).[2] He also appeared in supporting roles in films such as The Comancheros (1961)[13] and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).[14]

Persoff, alongside Dean Stockwell and Andrew Bloch, appeared as Darius the Great's wicked Babylonian administrators in the 1978 Greatest Heroes of the Bible episode Daniel in the Lions' Den.[15]

In the film Yentl (1983), Persoff portrayed the father of Barbra Streisand's character.[16] He appeared in the comedy film Twins (1988)[17] and in the American Tail animated-film series as Papa Mousekewitz.[18] His last movie was 4 Faces (1999), the last film to be directed by Ted Post.[19]

His acting career included many appearances in television series, including six episodes of The Untouchables, three episodes of which he appeared as Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik (regarded by many as his signature role),[20] and Gilligan's Island as the title character in the episode "The Little Dictator" (the favorite episode of the show's creator Sherwood Schwartz).[21] Persoff appeared on the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Most Toys" and was the oldest living male actor to appear in a Star Trek production at the time of his death.[22]

Retirement and memoir

Persoff retired from acting in 2003 and pursued painting, specializing in watercolors.[23]

His memoir, The Many Faces of Nehemiah, was published by The Autumn Road Company in July 2021.[24][16]

Personal life

In 1951, Persoff married Thia Persov, who had served as a nurse with the Palmach, the elite fighting force of the Haganah, during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.[2] She died of cancer in 2021. The couple had four children: Jeffrey, Dan, Perry, and Dahlia.[2]


On April 5, 2022, at the age of 102, Persoff died of heart failure at a rehabilitation facility in San Luis Obispo, California.[1][2]

Selected filmography

Film and television

Year Title Role Director(s)
1948 The Naked City[11] Smiling Man Departing Subway Jules Dassin
1954 On the Waterfront[2] Cab Driver Elia Kazan
1956 The Harder They Fall[2] Leo Mark Robson
The Wrong Man[25] Gene Conforti Alfred Hitchcock
The Wild Party[14] Kicks Johnson Harry Horner
1957 Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Season 3 Episode 4: "Heart of Gold") Ralph Collins Robert Stevens
Men in War[17] SFC Nate Lewis Anthony Mann
Street of Sinners[26] Leon William Berke
This Angry Age[27] Albert René Clément
1958 The Badlanders[28] Vincente Delmer Daves
1959 Never Steal Anything Small[29] Pinelli Charles Lederer
Green Mansions[17] Don Panta Mel Ferrer
Some Like It Hot[2] Little Bonaparte Billy Wilder
Al Capone[2] Johnny Torrio Richard Wilson
Day of the Outlaw[30] Dan Andre de Toth
The Untouchables
Episode: "The Empty Chair"
Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik John Peyser
The Twilight Zone
Episode: "Judgment Night"[14]
Carl Lanser John Brahm
1960 Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Season 5 Episode 17: "The Cure") Jeff Jensen Herschel Daugherty
The Untouchables
Episode: "Head of Fire, Feet of Clay"
Johnny Fortunato Walter Grauman
The Untouchables
Episode: "The Waxey Gordon Story"
Waxey Gordon John Peyser
1961 The Big Show[14] Bruno Everard James B. Clark
The Untouchables
Episode: "The Seventh Vote"
Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik Stuart Roenberg
The Comancheros[13] Graile Michael Curtiz
John Wayne
1962 The Untouchables
Episode: "The Stryker Brothers"
Mr. Jaeger Stuart Rosenberg
The Untouchables
Episode: "Doublecross"
Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik Paul Wendkos
1963 The Hook[17] Capt. Van Ryn George Seaton
1964 A Global Affair[31] Under Secretary Segura Jack Arnold
Fate Is the Hunter[32] Ben Sawyer Ralph Nelson
1965 The Greatest Story Ever Told[14] Shemiah George Stevens
Gunsmoke[2] Mr. Dino Vincent McEveety
Gilligan's Island The Little Dictator Pancho Hernando Gonzalez Enriques Rodriguez Jack Arnold
1966 The Big Valley Legend of A General, Part 1 & 2 Gen. Vicente Ruiz Virgil W. Vogel
The Time Tunnel[2] Prof. Anton Biraki Sobey Martin
1967 The Wild Wild West The Night of the Underground Terror Major Hazard James B. Clark
Too Many Thieves[33] Georgi Abner Biberman
1968 The Money Jungle[34] Lt. Dow Reeves Francis D. Lyon
The Day of the Owl[35] Pizzuco Damiano Damiani
The Power[36] Prof. Carl Melnicker Byron Haskin
Panic in the City[37] August Best Eddie Davis
Hawaii Five-O[2] Deathwatch Harry Cardonus Herschel Daugherty
1969 The Girl Who Knew Too Much[38] Lt. Miles Crawford Francis D. Lyon
1970 The People Next Door[39] Dr. Salazar David Greene
1971 Mrs. Pollifax-Spy[40] Berisha Leslie H. Martinson
Red Sky at Morning[41] Amadeo Montoya James Goldstone
1972 Lapin 360[42] Unknown Robert Michael Lewis
1974 The Missiles of October[17] Andrei Gromyko Anthony Page
1975 Psychic Killer[39] Dr. Gubner Ray Danton
1975 Hawaii Five-O Hit Gun for Sale Cordell John Peyser
1976 Voyage of the Damned[36] Mr. Hauser Stuart Rosenberg
1976 Columbo Now You See Him Jesse Jerome Harvey Hart
1977 Deadly Harvest[43] Mort Logan Timothy Bond
1978 Hawaii Five-O[2] Number One With a Bullet Allie Francis Don Weis
1978 Little House on the Prairie - Season 4 - Episode 19 - "The Stranger" Mr. Lindstrom (Peter's Father) Michael Landon
1978 Barney Miller[44] Carl Simms Lee Bernhardi
1979 In Search of Historic Jesus[45] Herod Antipas Henning Schellerup
1979 Barney Miller[46] Yacov Berger Noam Pitlik
1981 St. Helens[47] Mr. Ellison Ernest Pintoff
1982 O'Hara's Wife[48] Dr. Fischer William Bartman
1983 Yentl[2] Rebbe Mendel (Papa) Barbra Streisand
1986 An American Tail[18] Papa Mousekewitz (voice) Don Bluth
1988 The Last Temptation of Christ[49] Rabbi Martin Scorsese
MacGyver Sam Bolinski Michael Preece
Twins[17] Mitchell Traven Ivan Reitman
1991 An American Tail: Fievel Goes West[50] Papa Mousekewitz (voice) Phil Nibbelink
Simon Wells
1998 An American Tail: The Treasure of Manhattan Island[51] Larry Latham
1999 An American Tail: The Mystery of the Night Monster[52]
4 Faces[19] Unknown Ted Post
2003 Angels in America (TV miniseries) Rabbi (uncredited) (final film role) Mike Nichols

See also


  1. ^ a b c Evans, Greg (April 6, 2022). "Nehemiah Persoff Dies: Prolific Actor Of 'Yentl', 'The Twilight Zone', 'Gunsmoke' & Many More Was 102". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved April 6, 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Berger, Joseph (April 6, 2022). "Nehemiah Persoff, Actor With a Familiar Face (and Voice), Dies at 102". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 6, 2022.
  3. ^ International Television & Video Almanac (2007), pg. 366
  4. ^ This former Hollywood movie star living in Cambria just celebrated his 100th birthday
  5. ^ Schoenberg, Randy (March 12, 2015). "Nehemiah Persoff". GENi. Retrieved April 9, 2022.
  6. ^ a b Persov-Persoff, Thia (December 3, 2014). "Shmuel Persov". GENi. Retrieved April 9, 2022.
  7. ^ "Hebrew Technical Institute Graduation Program". December 6, 2011 – via Flickr.
  8. ^ Tugend, Tom (October 5, 2021). "Jewish character actor Nehemiah Persoff looks back at ups and downs of his first 102 years". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved February 15, 2022.
  9. ^ Shadrak, Herbert (March 26, 2010). "Nehemiah Persoff: From Jerusalem to Hollywood – and Beyond". Cinema Retro. Retrieved May 10, 2014.
  10. ^ Staggs, Sam (2005). When Blanche Met Brando: The Scandalous Story of "A Streetcar Named Desire". St. Martin's Press. p. 43. ISBN 9780312321642. Retrieved March 19, 2019.
  11. ^ a b Seibold, Witney (April 6, 2022). "Nehemiah Persoff, Character Actor Known For Yentl, The Twilight Zone, Some Like It Hot, Dies At 102". Slash Film. Retrieved April 7, 2022.
  12. ^ Jeffrey Meyers: The Genius and the Goddess: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe. University of Illinois Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-252-03544-9, p. 193.
  13. ^ a b Saltzman, Barbara (January 21, 1994). "Star Talk Enriches 'The Comancheros'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  14. ^ a b c d e Evans, Greg (April 6, 2022). "Nehemiah Persoff Dies: Prolific Actor Of 'Yentl', 'The Twilight Zone', 'Gunsmoke' & Many More Was 102". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  15. ^ "The Story of Daniel and the Lion (1978)". Archived from the original on July 27, 2021.
  16. ^ a b "Nehemiah Persoff, one of Hollywood's busiest actors, dies at 102". Washington Post. April 6, 2022. Retrieved April 7, 2022.
  17. ^ a b c d e f Dagan, Carmel (April 6, 2022). "Nehemiah Persoff, Actor in 'Yentl,' 'Some Like It Hot,' Dies at 102". Variety. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  18. ^ a b Adams, Abigail (April 6, 2022). "Some Like It Hot, Gunsmoke and An American Tail Actor Nehemiah Persoff Dead at 102". Yahoo! News. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  19. ^ a b Israel, David (April 6, 2022). "Character Actor Nehemiah Persoff Dead at 102, Played in On the Waterfront, Gunsmoke, Yentl". Jewish Press. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  20. ^ "Exclusive! Interview with acclaimed actor nehemiah persoff - Cinema Retro".
  21. ^ Cantor, Paul A. (July 15, 2011). "What 'Gilligan's Island' creator Sherwood Schwartz was saying about democracy". The Washington Post.
  22. ^ Spelling, Ian (April 7, 2022). "Oldest Living Male 'Star Trek' Actor Dies at 102". Heavy Inc. Retrieved April 12, 2022.
  23. ^ "Nehemiah Persoff retired from screen to canvas". Senior Voice. Retrieved June 12, 2017.
  24. ^ "At 102, SLO County actor and painter Nehemiah Persoff adds a new title — author". San Luis Obispo Tribune. Retrieved September 4, 2021.
  25. ^ "The Wrong Man (1956) -- Booked for a Holdup". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  26. ^ "Street of Sinners (1957)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  27. ^ Nason, Richard W. (June 26, 1958). "This Angry Age". The New York Times. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  28. ^ "The Badlanders". TV Guide. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  29. ^ Weiler, A. H. (February 12, 1959). "'Never Steal Anything Small' on View". The New York Times. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  30. ^ "Day of the Outlaw". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  31. ^ "A Global Affair". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  32. ^ "Fate Is the Hunter". TV Guide. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  33. ^ "Too Many Thieves (1966)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on December 3, 2018. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  34. ^ "The Money Jungle". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  35. ^ "Il giorno della civetta (The Day of the Owl)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 8, 2022.[permanent dead link]
  36. ^ a b D'Angelo, Bob (April 6, 2022). "Nehemiah Persoff, actor in 'Some Like It Hot,' 'Yentl,' dead at 102". WFTV-9 ABC. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  37. ^ "Panic in the City". Variety. January 1, 1968. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  38. ^ "The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1968)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on October 20, 2020. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  39. ^ a b Barnes, Mike (April 6, 2022). "Nehemiah Persoff, Actor in 'Some Like It Hot,' 'On the Waterfront' and 'Yentl,' Dies at 102". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  40. ^ "Mrs. Pollifax-Spy". TV Guide. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  41. ^ Lapin, Andrew (April 7, 2022). "Nehemiah Persoff, Jewish character actor with more than 200 roles, dies at 102". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  42. ^ "Lapin 360 (1972)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on January 19, 2021. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  43. ^ "Deadly Harvest". TV Guide. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  44. ^ "The Ghost". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on November 8, 2019. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  45. ^ "In Search of Historic Jesus (1979)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on November 8, 2019. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  46. ^ "Middle Age". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on November 8, 2019. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  47. ^ Rosin, James (April 22, 2008). "Nehemiah Persoff". Films of the Golden Age. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  48. ^ "O'Hara's Wife". TV Guide. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  49. ^ "The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on August 11, 2016. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  50. ^ Zad, Martie (May 10, 1992). "'Fievel Goes West'". Washington Post. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  51. ^ "An American Tail: The Treasure of Manhattan Island". Barnes & Noble. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  52. ^ "An American Tail: The Mystery of the Night Monster". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 8, 2022.