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Re: stereotypical Jewish performers?
- From: Sapoznik <Sapoznik...>
- Subject: Re: stereotypical Jewish performers?
- Date: Sun 26 Mar 2000 13.53 (GMT)
Blacks have a name for this kind of performer - Uncle Tom. I've never
heard of a similar name for Jewish performers who took on the streeotypical
Back in Europe, Yiddish musicians who succumbed to Gentile demands that they
act the part of stereotypical Jews were sometimes refered to as "Ma
Yofusnikes" an allusion to the ubiquitous melody "Ma Yofus" (the Hava Negila
of its day,) and the best known Jewish melody among Gentiles.
In America, there was a name given to performers who trod the vaudeville
boards in grotesque depiction of Jews: they were called "Hebe" or "Jew"
comics. Wearing clothing either too big or small and a derby hat mashed down
over their ears, these characters held sway on mainstream stages from the
1890s until the Depression. Though a good number of the performers who
depicted the hunched shouldered, hand wringing, cringing, whining abrasive
conniving Yids on turn-of-the century vaudeville stages were Gentiles, a
great number were Jews such as Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor and George Jessel
who, by being Jewish themselves, gave legitimacy to these demeaning
Though Black performers such as pioneering comic Bert Williams unwillingly
donned blackface to darken his lighter West Indian complexion to live up to
the public's conception of what a "coon" looked like, his Ziegfeld Follies
co-star Fanny Brice (ne: Borach) happily smeared on blackface or, when doing
her popular "Jew" roles, exaggerated her delivery to mock every kind of
Jewish woman. Though Jews portrayed Blacks in a myriad different comic
venues, the converse does not seem to have happened in any meaningful way at
the same time....
Even though many of the same type of character Jewish types were found in the
Yiddish theater, there they were surrounded by a bevy of other characters
thus eliminating the harshness and stereotypicality of the role. This would
not occur on the legitimate stage for quite a time to come.
Sadly, this kind of depiction was common and in show business at the time,
the only way to move up that ladder of success was to portray someone farther
down that same ladder.
"Klezmer! Jewish Music
>From Old World to Our World"
P.S. After Boris Thomashevsky's ill-advised 1903-04 Yiddish production of
"Uncle Tom's Cabin", papers like "Di Groyse Kundes" began refering to him as
"Uncle Thom" and "Uncle Thomashevsky"...
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