Theodore Bikel iTunes Tracks Theodore Bikel Official Website

Theodore Bikel

Born May 2, 1924, Vienna, Austria, most film & TV movie buffs will recognise Jewish singer THEODORE BIKEL, rather than cosmopolitan folk fans, with the exception of Americans of a certain pension age in the know that he was a on the roster of Elektra Records.
His early years consisted of upheaval: when aged only 14, he and his family fled from their homeland to Palestine, in turn gaining British citizenship while working on a farm. From studying drama at Tel Aviv’s Hamimah Theater in ’43 to winning a prestigious place at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in ’46, BIKEL was first choice against a certain Laurence Olivier for a role in the capital’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire.
Having played a villainous German naval commander in the 1951 movie African Queen (alongside Bogart & Hepburn), he went on to play other baddies in major movies from Moulin Rouge in ’52 to The Colditz Story in ’55.
It was around this point in his career, Theo decided on a parallel music career having already upped sticks to New York City. As a side-line to project his love of worldly folk music (mainly Yiddish), rather than anything to challenge “proper” pop stars, BIKEL would deliver a plethora of LPs, his starting point being folk songs of ISRAEL (1955) {*5}.
Subsequent (and selective) titles such as SINGS JEWISH FOLK SONG (1958) {*6}, SONGS OF A RUSSIAN GYPSY (1958) {*6} and SINGS FOLK SONGS FROM JUST ABOUT EVERYWHERE (1958) {*5}, paint a picture or tell the story more than any other words could describe.
Meanwhile, BIKEL’s film work went from strength to strength as he did in several major movies in the late 50s such as The Enemy Below, The Pride And The Passion, Fraulein, I Want To Live!, The Defiant Ones (for which he was Oscar-nominated) and A Dog Of Flanders. In 1961, or thereabouts, BIKEL featured in the stage production of The King And I (alongside Barbara Cook), while further memorable celluloid roles came by way of My Fair Lady (1964), The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1966), FRANK ZAPPA’s 200 Motels (1971), Fiddler On The Roof (1971) and his first “Columbo” TV movie, The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case (1977); he also appeared in a handful of Murder She Wrote episodes.
From the 60s onwards and with each passing year, BIKEL’s music slipped more and more into religious rather than traditional fare; one LP in particular, A FOLKSINGER’S CHOICE (1964) {*6}, displayed the banjo-playing talents of a young Jim McGuinn (aka ROGER McGUINN), the record also boosted by covers of EWAN MacCOLL & PETE SEEGER’s `Springhill Mine Disaster’ and The WEAVERS’ `Come Away Melinda’ (the latter also procured by fellow thespian-cum-folksinger HARRY BELAFONTE, albeit Calypso rather than Yiddish). BIKEL’s last genuine folk LP came by way of SONGS OF THE EARTH (1967) {*6}, a trad recording shared with female septet The Pennywhistlers.
Always politically-minded, Theo was inducted by President Jimmy Carter into the National Council for the Arts between 1977-82, while many other honorary have come his way (Doctor of Fine Arts and Americans for the Arts are at least two). Now well into his 80s, BIKEL still manages the odd outing, whether it be on film or celebrating his true passion, music.
Sadly, aged 91, Theodore passed away from natural causes in L.A. on July 20, 2015.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Jul2015

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