The Arty Semite

Mandy Patinkin Goes Back to the Well

By Forward Staff

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Mandy Patinkin isn’t just having a moment — he’s having a moment, still. That mostly has to do with his role as CIA director Saul Berenson on the hit Showtime series “Homeland,” based on the Israeli show “Hatufim” (“Prisoners of War”). In 2012 the series won a Golden Globe for Best Television Show, and Patinkin was recently nominated for an Outstanding Supporting Actor Emmy for his role.

Now there’s a great, long profile of Patinkin in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, online today. The writer, Alex Witchel, distinguishes between a “Do Less” Mandy, as exemplified by his iconic role in “The Princess Bride,” and a “Too Much” Mandy, who “doesn’t just wear his heart on his sleeve, he slices it up and serves it on Triscuits.” Witchel goes on:

During a Broadway concert, to highlight the troubles in the Middle East, he ended the show by propping Israeli and Palestinian flags on a table and singing the Israeli national anthem in Hebrew, followed by an angry version of “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” from “South Pacific.” Then the flags were knocked on their sides while the pianist slammed the keys to sound like an explosion. Patinkin followed that with “Children Will Listen” from “Into the Woods.” (Post-9/11, he scrapped the flag bit and sang both songs softly, as a lullaby.) On a lighter note, he toured “Mamaloshen,” a concert all in Yiddish in which he led the audience in the hokeypokey, also in Yiddish. If you’ve ever pondered the ultimate meaning of “oy,” this is it.

Back in 2011, in an interview with The Arty Semite, Patinkin recalled how he first began singing in Yiddish thanks to Joe Papp, the legendary director of The Public Theater:

Joe Papp asked me if I would sing a song in Yiddish. When I told him I didn’t know any, he said, “It’s time you learned one.” He sent over “Yossel, Yossel.” When I sang that song, it hit me in the kishkes in a way that I can’t explain. It was like meeting someone you love.

Joe came over one Shabbos, and I played the song for him. He said to me: “You must learn this music. This is your job. Do you understand me?” And I understood. I have to continue passing on this heritage.

Other highlights of the Times piece include a discussion about Patinkin’s father, Lester, who ran “People’s Iron and Metal Company, a Chicago-based junk business” and who died when Patinkin was 19, and his relationship with his mother, Doralee, who is now 88. Read the whole thing here.


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