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LEONARD NIMOY ORAL HISTORY
CHRISTA WHITNEY:This is Christa Whitney, and today is October 15th, 2013. I'mhere in Los Angeles with Leonard Nimoy. We're going to record an interview as part of the Yiddish Book Center's Wexler Oral History Project. Do I have your permission to record?
LEONARD NIMOY: Yes.
CW: A sheynem dank. Fun vanen shtamt der mishpokhe [Where does your familycome from]?
LN: Mayn mishpokhe kimt from rusland. Fun Ukraine. A shteytl vos iz geventzaslav, in Ukraine. [My family comes from Russia. From Ukraine. A town which was called Zaslav, in Ukraine.]
CW: Un vos veyst ir fun zeyer lebn in der alter heym [And what do you know1:00about their life in the Old Country]?
LN: Mayn tate hot gearbet in -- er hot geshnayt hor. Ven er iz gevenzeksn. Un zeyde gearbet mit lider far -- vi azey zogt men [My father worked in -- he cut hair. When he was sixteen. And my grandfather worked with leather for -- how do you say] "bridles" and "saddles" far ferd [for horses].
CW: Un [And], do you have an -- a gedank vi azoy zayn lebn in rusland iz gevenfar kimen in amerike [an idea of what their life was like in Russia before coming to America]?
LN: Mayn gedank iz az s'iz geven zeyer shver. Vayl s'iz geven zeyer shtarkeantaysemitn environment -- leybn dortn. Mayn mame hot mir getselt ayn mol fun 2:00kosaks arayngekimen un [My understanding is that it was very difficult. Because there was a very strong anti-Semitic environment there. My mother once told me about Cossacks who came and] -- how do you say "frightened"?
CW: "Moyredik"? Zi hot moyre? ["Frightened"? She was afraid?]
LN: Moyredik [Scary], yeah, yeah. A sakh moyre. Un dos iz geven dem lebnfar [A lot of fear. And that was life for], especially for my mother. She was a very frightened person, yeah.
CW: Did they talk about it often?
LN: They didn't talk about that very much. I just -- I had the sense thatthat was their experience. It was sort of -- lived very carefully and very quietly, and always a concern about what might happen next. My father had a brother who was killed by a Cossack raid. And my earliest years -- I was born in 1931, so in 1941, when the Second World War started, I was ten years old. 3:00My experience during those next three or four years, during the war years, was that the landslayt [fellow countrypeople] from Zaslav would come together in Boston -- there were others in the city -- and they would put together packages of clothes, kleyder, and canned goods to ship over to the family and -- relatives and friends in Zaslav. So, there was a lot of talk about Zaslav, Zaslav. The landslayt -- my father was the treasurer -- in Boston, was the treasurer of a Landslayter Society Credit Union that people put together to help each other financially. And he was very modest. I remember when a man would come in and say, "Ikh hob a tokhter geyt farheyrat vern. Mir zukhn a bisl gelt -- fiftsik doler [I have a daughter who is going to get married. We're looking 4:00for some money -- fifty dollars]" -- they would borrow fifty dollars for a wedding for his daughter. And my father was the loan officer who would loan the fifty dollars. And he was a barber from the time he was a kid in Russia. So, in the shop in Boston, they would come in to pay off their -- once a week to pay him a dollar or whatever it was to pay towards the loan. It was very modest, very touching kind of -- but a very personal life.
CW: Um-hm. Un der zeyde iz geven der ershter in amerike [And yourgrandfather was the first to come to America]?
LN: Yeah, der ershter, yeah.
CW: Un der nokh hot er geshikt gelt [And did he send money after he came]?
LN: Mayn zeyde hot gekimen, ikh gloyb, arim nayntsn tsen -- elf, tsvelf [Mygrandfather came, I think, around 1910 -- 1911, 1912]. Then came the First World War, di ershte [the first] --
CW: Velt milkhome [World war]?
LN: Velt milkhome, yeah. And so, the rest: my grandmother and the children5:00had to wait 'til the war was over. They couldn't come to the United States during the war. They came nokhn milkhome [after the war].
CW: Are there any mayses fun rusland? Freylikhe mayses, oder nor shreklekhe?[stories from Russia? Happy stories, or only terrible ones?]
LN: Yeah, di mayses zenen nisht git. Nisht git. S'iz geven a zeyer a shverlebn [the stories aren't good. Not good. It was a very difficult life.] I only remember that my father -- I think my father told me that his father worked in a mill, with the -- where the farmers would bring their product to be ground for -- to make flour. And because he worked in a mill he was able to bring home -- he was dealing with farmers all the time, so he was able to bring home food. So, the eating was a little better than it might have been, 'cause they had -- he had access to farm goods. 6:00
CW: Un ayer heym in boston [And your home in Boston] --
CW: -- tsi kent ir shildern vos vi es hot gezet oys, der binyen [can youdescribe what it looked like, the building]?
LN: Mir zenen gevoynen zeks, zeks, zeks [We were living six, six, six] -- I'mtrying to say "six" -- "zeks"?
LN: -- mentshn [people] in the apartment. Mayn bobe-zeyde, mayn tate-mame,ikh mit mayn brider [My grandparents, my parents, me and my brother]. Three generations. How do you say generations?
CW: "Doyres." "Doyres." [Generations. Generations.]
LN: "Doyres"? Dray. ["Doyres"? Three.] In one apartment. (laughs) Maynbobe hot neyn mol gelernt english. So mayn brider un ikh hobn -- tsu redn mit ir miz redn yidish. Ober far mayn brider -- mayn brider iz fir un a halb yor elter fun mir, so zayne ershte shprakh iz geven yidish -- in boston. Geboyrn 7:00in boston ober zayne ershte shprakh iz geven yidish vayl mayn tate-mame hobn nor geredt yidish ven er iz geven a kleyne kind. Ven ikh bin geborn fir un a halb yor shpeyter, hobn zey geven beser mit english, so mayne ershte shprakh iz geven english. Ober ikh miz redn yidish mit mayne bobe-zeyde. [My grandmother never learned English. So my brother and I needed to speak to her in Yiddish. But my brother -- my brother is four-and-a-half years older than me. So his first language was Yiddish in Boston. Born in Boston, but his first language was Yiddish because my parents only spoke Yiddish when he was a little child. When I was born four-and-a-half years later, they were better with English. So my first language was English, but I needed Yiddish to speak with my grandparents.]
CW: Un bobe-zeyde zenen geven fun der mames mishpokhe [And these grandparentswere from your mother's side]?
LN: Yo, yo, fun di mame, yo [Yes, yes, from my mother's, yes].
CW: Un tsi iz dos geven a yidishe heym [And was it a Jewish home]?
LN: Zeyer yidishe heym, yo [Very Jewish home, yes]. Kosher. Kosher heym, yeah.
CW: Un vos nokh iz geven yidish? Tsi gedenk ir esnvargn yidish [And what8:00else was Jewish about the home? Do you remember Jewish food] -- like, Yiddish food, Jewish food in the home, other aspects of Yiddish?
LN: Yeah, my grandmother was a very successful cook and baker. Notprofessional, but in the home. She could bake a challah that was beautiful.
CW: What was it like?
LN: She made -- they made a brush from turkey feathers, these big feathersthat they dipped in the egg batter and basted the challah with that. And she taught my mother how to do it. I remember that vividly. (laughs) Came out golden brown. It was so beautiful. The challah was beautiful. And it was kosher mainly because of my grandmother. She was very concerned about having a kosher house, so we had three sets of dishes. We had milkhik, fleyshik, and peysekhdik [milk, meat, and Passover]. And they were very careful to -- for -- to honor her, mostly. She was the one who cared about it most deeply, my grandmother. 9:00
CW: Can you describe your grandmother a little more? Did you call her"bubbie [grandmother]"?
LN: "Bobe," yeah. She was a very quiet person. Not a lot ofconversation. And talking with her was difficult, 'cause my language was very limited. So, it had to do with some immediate needs about food or clothing or a light or something around the house. But there was -- there wasn't any in-depth conversation. So, it was difficult. But we had -- we lived in a very interesting neighborhood. It was called the West End. It was written about by a Harvard sociologist. His name escapes me at the moment, but the book that he wrote was called "The Urban Villagers," and it presented the idea that this neighborhood really was a village within the city. It was about ten or twelve square blocks, I guess, right in a major, major -- very valuable 10:00property in the city, adjacent to the Charles River. Very close to downtown. You could walk -- downtown Boston. Very close to the Boston Common, the Public Gardens, State House, city hall. And it was a tenement neighborhood. I think early on, around 1900s, it had been a black neighborhood, and then it became more immigrants. And eventually, by the time we came along, it was about sixty percent Italian and about thirty -- twenty-five or thirty percent Jewish, Yiddish-speaking Jews, and the rest a mix of various others: some Irish, some Poles, a few -- a sprinkling of blacks. But there was a street called Spring Street, which was where most of the Jewish shops were. And the shopkeepers there all spoke Yiddish. So, my grandmother, if she wanted to shop there, never had to speak English, never had to worry about the language. She could 11:00go and do all her business in Yiddish. We had -- before a refrigerator, we had an icebox, which meant that it was a box with two compartments. The top compartment was where they put the ice -- a block of ice. Bottom compartment was where all the food went. We had an iceman who put a block of ice on his shoulder and came up the two or three flights and put the block of ice in whatever -- I don't remember whether it was one a week or whatever when the ice was disappearing. And he was an Italian who spoke Yiddish. He learned to speak Yiddish because he had a lot of Yiddish customers, so (laughs) it was that kind of a crossover relationship. The Italians spoke Yiddish, the Jews spoke Italian, some did. And my friends were all a mix of Jews and Italians. We lived -- second floor was Italian, third floor was Jewish, and you could tell who the occupants were by the smell of the food. (laughs) It was really an 12:00interesting and I thought a very healthy way to grow up, because you really learned about other people, other cultures. I feel very grateful that I had that kind of a life as a child.
CW: If you put yourself back there in the -- Spring Street, can you recall thebusinesses? What were the Jewish businesses there?
LN: There would be a butcher shop. Mr. [Mezikovsy?] ran a kosher butchershop. My mother would send me there as -- occasionally, and she would always embarrass me. She'd say, "Tell him you want a good cut." "My mother says give me a good cut." (laughs) And there would be a fruit and vegetables shop. Very small. The fruits and vegetables were in these kind of wooden baskets or bins that they came in. They just set them right down, and they'd 13:00be heaped up in stacks, and -- oh, there was a man whose name was [Shnipper?]. Very big man. Very, very heavy, big man who sat kind of at the back and dominated the place with his voice and his personality. "Lady! Don't squeeze the apples!" Yeah. (laughs) "You squeeze 'em, I can't sell 'em! Yeah, the oranges are four cents, yeah." He was a scary guy. And pharmacy nearby, on the corner. Fish. Poultry came from a slaughterhouse, which I never got to, but the conversation I would hear would be -- my mother would be saying to a neighbor, "You're going to the shekhet [ritual slaughterer]? Buy me a pullet. Bring me a pullet." So, they would shop for each other, and then they would deliver the food to each other. So, that would be helpful that 14:00way. My father's barber shop was within, I would say, seventy-five yards of where we lived. So, we didn't have a car for many years. I was the first one in the family to own a car. When I was sixteen, I got myself a driver's license. By the time I was seventeen, I had a car, and I was the first one to drive, because the transportation in Boston was very good, buses and subways and streetcars. And my father didn't learn to drive until, oh, many years later. I think he was probably seventy and a very dangerous driver. (laughs) But that's the way we lived. It was really a village life.
CW: Were the -- was there a Jewish block and Italian block, or were they mixed in?
LN: It was mixed. It was mixed. On our block, even on -- even with abuilding you'd have Jews and Italians living -- there were some buildings that were all Italian and others that were all Jewish, but there was quite a mixture.
CW: And can you describe the barber shop?
LN: Yeah, there were two. There was the barber shop when I was very young,15:00which was a -- kind of an old and tired building, tired shop on a corner, on Leverett Street, not far from where we lived. And then, in a -- what was a -- really an exciting move, my dad and his partner opened a new shop called The Modern Barber Shop. That was the name of it. The Modern Barber Shop. And it was nicely outfitted. There were three chairs, although I don't ever remember the third chair being used. And maybe it was just in case business got so big that they would need a third barber. But there were two barbers: my cousin and my father. And linoleum floor. There was always a pinochle game going in the back room. When things got slow, they'd -- you could go in the back room, get in a card game. A little bit of gambling going on. My memory was that my dad had a reputation for being a pretty good card player. I would 16:00bring him lunch. Sometimes, when he couldn't come home for lunch, he'd send a note to my mom that he wasn't coming home 'cause he couldn't get away from the shop. So, my mom would put some food in a bag, a brown paper bag, and I'd bring it to him, and he'd have a sandwich at the shop while he was working. He was a heavy smoker, which I picked up and started, much to my regret. I smoked for about forty years and it didn't do my lungs any good. That's my memory of the shop, and I'm -- yeah, haircuts, I think were twenty-five cents, and a shave was a dime. And then, I think, by the time I left Boston, he was all the way up to seventy-five cents for a haircut and a shave was probably a quarter. It was that kind of a business.
CW: So, in your -- in the home, you -- it was three generations.17:00
CW: What was the impact of growing up with your grandparents?
LN: I think, above all, I learned to accommodate the needs of others, becausethere were six of us living in tight quarters. And you had to have a concern about what other people needed. There was one bathroom, so there was a lot of sharing going on. You couldn't monopolize. With my father and my grandfather both working the way we did -- the way they did, I think I learned a very, very big respect for responsibility. Those guys were very responsible people. They worked six, seven days a week, and we lived fairly comfortably because there were two incomes coming into the apartment: my dad and my grandfather. 18:00So, we were all okay. I was -- when I was born, 1931 was the beginning of the Depression. So, my early years were all Depression-influenced. And I -- we saw people who couldn't pay their rent, yeah, on our block being put out, their furniture being put out on the sidewalk, waiting for some relative to come with a horse and wagon to pick up the furniture, put it on the wagon, and drive away. Never saw or heard from them again. I don't know where they went. To live with a relative or something. So, we saw poverty all around us. We were okay. We -- I never felt that we were poor. On the contrary, I felt that we were safe because, as I say, we lived fairly comfortably. The food was good, the work was steady. My grandfather left in the dark every morning and came home at dark every night. And my dad was a block away, I could see him working all the time. I could drop down and say hello. My brother and I sold newspapers. From the time I was ten years old, we were selling newspapers, downtown Boston and the Boston Common on Sundays, and then eventually on -- 19:00after school, on various corners in Boston, selling the newspapers to people. So, there was a great sense of responsibility and being able to take care of yourself.
CW: Can you describe your grandfather? You said he was -- worked withleather, but -- yeah.
LN: He was always -- I saw him as the adventurer in the family. He was theone who left Europe and came to the United States. I don't know what he had in the way of prospects. I think he had some cousins in Boston. I think that's why he ended up in Boston. But he was the explorer. He was the one who left first, and eventually started bringing over the family. My mom and dad knew each other as children in Zaslav. But they were not a couple. They re-met in Boston. My father came over and my mom -- I was told that my mother was brought out across the border to Poland in a hay -- under the hay, and the hay 20:00was snuck across, smuggled across the border. She and her mother, I guess, under the hay in a hay wagon. And my father snuck across the border on foot, someplace that was not patrolled carefully. So, he walked across the border into Poland to get out of Russia. And they -- my father went to Buenos Aires first 'cause he couldn't get a visa to the US immediately, so he had to spend some time in Argentina. And then, when his visa came through, he went to New York. There, he heard about a cousin of his who wanted to start a barber shop in Boston. So, he went to Boston to deal with that issue, and there he re-met my mother, who he knew from Zaslav, and that's where they were married. They were married in Boston, in the early 1920s, I guess. My brother was born in 1926.
CW: Were you frum, were you religious?
LN: I was exposed to a frum life, and I didn't consider myself a terribly21:00religious person. I didn't think about God a lot. But socially and ethically, we were very concerned with the religion and the culture. The shul that we went to, where I was first bar mitzvahed, only three doors from our house -- could step out the front door and walk three doors and be into the synagogue.
CW: Which synagogue was that? What shul?
LN: I don't remember the name of it.
LN: The Hebrew school that I went to was only about a block away. Afterschool, for years. I was bored, because I didn't understand what was going on, except that I had to memorize. It was all about memorization, unfortunately. There was not a lot of discussion about content or interpretation. It was just memorization. Learn this, learn that. Say this, say that. And I guess I was a successful bar mitzvah, because I was asked to perform the -- my bar 22:00mitzvah performance at a second shul, so I did that at -- one week at one shul and one week -- the next week at another shul. (laughs) But I remember the first -- in the first shul, it was very touching. Caught me totally by surprise. When I was finished, there was a rain of small bags of candies and raisins and nuts. Evidently, my mother and grandmother, in the balcony, with the women, had handed out these little bags, little brown paper bags filled with candies and nuts. And when I was done with my responsibilities, all these women were throwing this stuff down at me. It was kind of a rain of goodies, yeah. (laughs) Tradition at the time. There was a man named [Bass?] who had a beauty shop, a fairly successful beauty parlor in the neighborhood, on the same street, Chamber Street, and he was a clarinet player with a klezmer 23:00orchestra. And I used to love to listen to them play. They played in the shul, mostly. I mean, that's what he did, as a -- as sort of a hobby. Any time there was an event at the shul, he and his guys would play some klezmer music, and I used to love to hear that. And I sang in choirs. When I was probably eleven, twelve, thirteen years old, I sang in choirs for the High Holidays.
CW: Was there Jewish music in the home?
LN: Very little. We hear it on the radio, but we were not a home that wasfilled with culture. Nobody read a book. There were maybe three or four records and a big old record player that was hardly ever used. The records were Yiddish music, Seymour Rechtzeit, I remember, was a singer that we used to listen to. Same record, over and over and over again. (laughs) There wasn't much variety. There wasn't much interest or available money for that kind of 24:00thing. Money was very carefully dealt with, so it was always necessity. What do we need? What do we need? Not what you want, but what you need. So, there was -- and the "Forverts," the newspaper was in the house regularly. I remember my grandmother -- my grandfather and my father sitting and reading the "Forverts" regularly. That was -- the outside world came into the apartment that way.
CW: Do you remember discussion -- political discussion?
LN: Very little, very little. There was some. Not that I paid an awful lotof attention. I do vividly remember, when I was very young, hearing some relatives with my parents, in our apartment, talking politics and talking -- and I remember vividly somebody saying a Catholic would never be elected President of the United States. This must have been in the late '30s. I was totally confused, because Boston is a very Catholic city. And my understanding was 25:00that Catholics were the majority. I didn't know that outside Boston that wasn't the case. I really didn't know that. So, I couldn't understand why they would not elect one of their own as a president. Took me some time to understand what that was all about. So, that befuddled me. I remember during the Second World War, there was some deep concern about what was happening to the Jews in Europe. I remember once being very scared and very moved when my father was reading the "Forverts" and he put it down, and I heard him say, "Men harget yidn -- they're killing Jews," you know -- wow. What that was really all about sunk in much later, but it -- I got it. I heard him say that, and I had a sense of what he was talking about. And then, there was the question about whether Roosevelt was good for the Jews or not good for the Jews. That was a big issue. For the most part, my memory was that people really -- that 26:00Jewish people really admired him and thought highly of him. And then, later, we began hearing that he wouldn't bomb the crematoria, he wouldn't stop the concentration camps from operating. And the feeling was that if he did that, he would be accused of being too pro-Jewish -- taking effort away from the war effort to -- simply to try to help the Jews, as opposed to beating the Germans. So, there was that controversy. Those kinds of issues, I remember hearing about, yeah. Anti-Semitism was readily available in Boston. You could find it if you wanted -- you were exposed to it all the time, pretty much, yeah. "Jew bastard" was one word in some communities. So, you wanted to kind of live with that, deal with it.
CW: Was that something that you experienced personally?
LN: Once in a while. I had Italian friends who I considered good friends.27:00But once in a while, you'd run into a situation where you weren't wanted and weren't liked.
CW: And you said once in something you wrote or in an interview about feelinga little bit like your community were a new generation of settlers, a sort of -- that there was a sense of -- still of pilgrim-ness in Boston. Can you talk about that if you feel like that?
LN: I'm not sure what I can add to that. We were a village. I didn'tbecome part of a larger community until I left Boston. I was very -- it was a very insular life. I did get out a little bit more than my parents did, and my 28:00brother and I were pretty active with B'nai B'rith, AZA -- Aleph Zadik Aleph -- organization. And during the Second World War, I was pretty active in being involved in various kinds of shows that were fundraisers to sell war bonds to help finance the war. So, that got me out, and -- out and about into the larger community, the larger Boston, and not just -- outside the West End, which was a very tight-knit society. I got out of the West End that way. There was a temple in Dorchester, it was the Mishkan Tefila on Seaver Street in Dorchester -- was a pretty prominent shul. And there was a fairly active theater program there run by a guy who came to be a friend. A man named Elliot Silverstein was directing plays there. He was also directing radio shows for B'nai B'rith, 29:00radio shows which he wrote and directed, and they were about -- they were Jewish stories that were broadcast on local Boston radio. So, I was involved in some of that, and that got me out of the -- gradually out of the community somewhat. And there was a -- there were two settlement houses in my neighborhood. One was the Elizabeth Peabody House, the other was the West End House. The Elizabeth Peabody House was a -- had a broad range of programs. There was a science program, there was an athletic program, which was not major, but there was an athletic program, and there was a wonderful theater, small theater that had -- that did productions fairly regularly. There were classes, a lot of little classrooms, where people could come -- it was designed to help immigrants find their way into the culture, into the society, into 30:00citizenship. So, they would have a class for women on how to keep a sanitary kitchen, the proper way to brush your teeth, how to open a bank account: the things that an immigrant would not know when they arrived in the United States. And they had this wonderful science program, which my brother became very interested in. He became a scientist. He became a chemical engineer. And I was interested in the theater program, and I did plays there from the time I was eight years old. And it was there that I acted in a production of "Awaken and Sing!" by Clifford Odets when I was seventeen and decided -- made me decide. This is what I have to do with the rest of my life. I'm gonna be an actor. I want to do this kind of work. So, they had great influence on me. And then, there was the West End House, which was more social, for guys to do -- play basketball and be involved in track meets and marathons and follow the Red 31:00Sox and that kind of stuff. Much more sports oriented. And I'm -- I got involved with some of that. It was a good place to go, a good healthy program, and they were very helpful to me, and -- to become a social person, to be socialized rather than this kind of inbred life that was -- that our apartment offered. Nineteen forty-eight, approximately, or early '49, I was acting in a play at the -- at Mishkan Tefila temple, a play called "John Loves Mary," a comedy, directed by Elliot Silverstein, and he was a student at Boston College. Nice, good Jewish boy in a Catholic school, Jesuit school. I don't know why he chose Boston College. He was a very bright guy. Anyway, he invited the head of the school, Jesuit priest, to come and see the play, which 32:00he did. And after the performance, he came to the -- came around to meet the cast and shook hands all around. When he got to me, he said, "What are your plans this summer?" This would have been around spring of '49. And I said, "I don't have any plans." He said, "Well, you do now. I want you in school at Boston College. We have a summer program. You should come with us." "Oh." Was a very nice thing to be validated by a professional theater person. So, what was involved -- it was a seventy-five dollar tuition for the school, and he offered me a half scholarship: 37.50. He said, "If you can raise the other 37.50." I went to a man named Jack Burns, who ran the West End House, and I told him the story. And he said, "We'll give you the other 37.50," and that's how I got my tuition paid for to go to Boston College for the summer of 1949. Was a wonderful theater program. It was a very intense eight 33:00weeks of theater. Acting, classes, helping build sets, learn how to design a set, how to light a set. It was a -- wonderful training for eight weeks. That was -- it was thrilling. And it was while I was there that I applied to the Pasadena Playhouse school of the theater. I had saved up some money from selling vacuum cleaners, and that's how I paid for my tuition to come out here to California.
CW: So, I know you said you worked as -- selling newspapers.
CW: And also, you just said you sold vacuums. Can you --
CW: -- tell me a little bit about the jobs you had growing up?
LN: Well, we started with the newspapers, first on the Boston Common. I --my -- I have vivid memories of December 7th, 1941. We were in the habit of going down to a newspaper office, a publishing company, downtown Boston, picking up -- there was a tabloid, came out every Sunday called "The Record." We would 34:00buy twenty-five copies for about thirty-five cents and sell 'em for about three cents apiece and make about thirty-five or forty cents and go home. And you'd be yelling the headline, walking through the Boston Common. People sitting there feeding the pigeons would buy a newspaper. And on that particular day, we're yelling, "America Attacked! Japs Attack Pearl Harbor!" I had no idea what I was talking about. Papers were going fast. Thought, Well, this is good -- (laughs) big day for newspapers. And it was Pearl Harbor Day. I remember that vividly. And the newspaper business became very big as a result of the war, because people wanted war news. That's how they got their news, mostly, 'cause you only -- you didn't have round-the-clock CNN. You had a nightly news broadcast, but the newspapers were very important to people, to get the news. So, we sold newspapers at various corners around the city of -- downtown Boston, all through the war years. And then, around 1944, I guess, 35:00about a year before the war ended, I went to work for this cousin, Sam [Golob?], who had a greeting card shop on Bromfield Street. I went to see him. I needed a job, and my mom said, "Why don't you go see Sam Golob? Maybe he'll give you a job. And I did. I went and sought him out on Bromfield Street and I introduced myself. He said, "Yeah, come with me." Put me to work. I was making about ten to twelve dollars a week for the last year that I was in -- the last year of the war. And then, a neighborhood friend, Abe Greenstein, good guy, was working for a vacuum cleaner company, selling vacuum cleaners. And he (phone rings) convinced my parents and me --
CW: Let's stop for one sec. Is that going to ring -- (phone rings) yeah.
LN: That'll be picked up in just a minute, all right. He convinced us that-- Abe Greenstein convinced us that I could make some money selling vacuum 36:00cleaners. So, he got me a job with a company called Ace Vacuum, and it was on Boylston Street, downtown Boston. I must have been seventeen by then. I went to work for them for about a year, and my folks bought me a new car, a 1948, I guess, Ford, 'cause I needed a good car to drive. I was a -- I drove it up into New Hampshire regularly for two or three-day visits, selling vacuum cleaners. I did pretty well, saved up some money, and then, when it was time to leave, we sold the car, got back most of the money that we'd paid for it, and I had the money to pay for school. 'Cause my parents didn't want me to study acting. They wanted me to do either law or medicine or scien-- any of the sciences. I just wasn't interested. I didn't want to do it. I was -- very bad student in high school. I didn't want to do the homework. I wanted to be 37:00about doing other kinds of stuff at night. So, I just scraped by. I got my first college degree fifteen years later, when I went -- decided to go back to school to get a degree when I was in my mid-thirties. But those were the kinds of jobs that I did. And then, when I got out here, I did all kinds of work. I worked in an ice cream parlor, I worked in a -- I worked in a pet shop. I delivered newspapers. I sold life insurance, whatever I had to do, because I had a family to support.
CW: Were you exposed to Yiddish theater growing up?
LN: Ah. That was a great adventure. There was a very good director namedBoris Sagal who directed this production of "Awake and Sing!" that I was in. He was really -- interesting guy. Wonderful director and a very vital, 38:00passionate guy about theater and the work. And when I did "Awake and Sing!" directed by him, I was really inspired. It was not just something to do, it was a vocation, it was a calling. He -- when I first met him, he was directing plays at the Elizabeth Peabody House, which had the theater that I mentioned, and living there in a guest room, where they gave him room and board. And he earned that by directing plays in the building. So, a friend who knew that I was interested in that kind of thing. Said, "I'm in a" -- he said, "I'm in a production of a play called 'Awake and Sing!', they need a young guy like you, go see this guy." So, I went and I met Boris Sagal, and I was given this job. And I played the part of Ralphie, the son in the family. The family in "Awake and Sing!" was very much like my own. Three generations, living in an apartment together. Jews. In this case, the grandfather was the barber in 39:00the family. (laughs) And the kid that I was portraying was reflecting my own life: his frustrations, his concerns, his needs, his longings, his confusion was all mine. I felt so totally at home in this thing, I thought, wow! If I could do this kind of work for the rest of my life, I've found a home. Boris then was a law student at Harvard. And he switched to a theater program at Yale. He gave up the law and studies and went to Yale to become a theater major, and eventually directed movies and television out here in Los Angeles, became very good at it. Was killed, unfortunately, in a helicopter accident on one of his movie sets. And his daughter, Katey Sagal, became a very successful actress out here. Anyway, after I had been out here a while, I bumped into 40:00Boris. There he was. I was walking on one of the lots one day, and there was Bor-- "Hey, Boris!" "Hi, hello." We kind of picked up again on our friendship, and I used to see him periodically. He was struggling to get started. I acted in a play that he directed at the Pasadena Playhouse. He started directing some television, and then one day he called me and he said, "There is a guy coming out from New York from the Yiddish Theatre to do a weekend of production, performance at a theater here in Los Angeles called the Wilshire Ebell, and they're looking for a guy like you that can speak some Yiddish." I said, "Great." I was looking for anything to do, either make a little money or act or both. So, I went and I met the man. His name was Mikhl -- Mikhl [Lesko?]. Mr. Mikhl Lesko and his wife were in this production. I think the play was called "Di freylekhe kaptsonim [The happy 41:00paupers]." It was a silly musical, and I was playing a silly young kid, and he's my older brother who has to save me -- have -- save me from making serious mistakes. (laughs) So -- and it was three performances, sketchy rehearsal schedule, and then three performances, and the pay was thirty-five dollars for the job. And I was so happy to get it and so happy to be working with these people around the Yiddish language, with a Yiddish-speaking audience, acting and getting paid. It was all -- everything was great! I had a wonderful time with him. He was a sweet man. He was kind of a Chevalier kind of guy. There was always a scene in the middle of the play where he would come onstage in a tux and a top hat, and he would do a number, a drinking song of some kind that -- and he had choruses that could last a half hour. (laughs) You didn't know when he was going to finish. As long as the audience was applauding and cheering, he'd keep going. (laughs) It was a showcase for him. And through 42:00that production, I met a man named [Oscar Asheroff?], who had been a Chicago presenter, theater presenter, and was now out here in Los Angeles. So, when these people came from New York or wherever they came from, the Yiddish theater stars, they contacted Asheroff and he would help them get set up with a production here. So, he next contacted me and called me 'cause Maurice Schwartz was coming to town to do some theater here. And I thought, whoa! That was a name to reckon with in the Yiddish theater, the founder of the Yiddish Art Theatre, yidish kunst-teater in New York. So, I went to meet him. He was doing "Shver tsu zayn a yid" in English -- "Hard to be a Jew," a Sholem Aleichem comedy, and -- which he had done very successfully in New York. And the role that was open was a role that had originally been played by Muni Weisenfreund -- Paul Muni had done the role with Schwartz in New York, in the Yiddish theater. So, I was excited. Theater was on La Cienega Boulevard, 43:00and I went to see him by appointment. And I came into the theater on an afternoon, and there was something going on on stage and he was standing -- I recognized -- he was standing in the aisle with his wife. I later learned she was his wife. And I walked down the aisle to meet them. She says -- she turns to Schwartz and she said, "Er kikt oys vi der goy in 'Shver tsu zayn a yid' -- he looks like the Gentile in 'Hard to be a Jew'." They didn't know I spoke Yiddish. So, I thought, Oh, this is great. I think I'm going to get a job, yeah. (laughs) So, I got the job and I had to bleach my hair, 'cause I was playing a blonde goy, a blonde gentile who makes a bet with a -- his Jewish friend. Jewish friend says, "It's tough being a Jew." And the guy said, "Oh, what's so tough about it?" So, he said, "Well, try it." (laughs) So, I become the goy who's posing as a Jew to see what it feels like to be in a Jewish community. And we ran for sixteen weeks, which was a long run in Los 44:00Angeles. I got to know Mr. Schwartz and his stories and his history and his work very -- I admired him greatly. He was a wonderful theater man. He could create magic. He was brave onstage. He was big, he was bold, he was theatrical. Everything about him was theatrical. He was one of those old theater actor managers who really knew how to deliver the goods. (laughs) And given an opportunity onstage, like Mikhl Lesko, he would get hold of it and chew it. (laughs) So, I learned bravura acting from him, and we had great times together. He did a couple of other productions that I acted in that didn't go so well. "Shver tsu zayn a yid" was a big hit, the others were not, yeah.
CW: What was he like offstage?
LN: He was a very smart man, very dedicated to the Yiddish. He wrotearticles frequently for the "Forverts" and other Yiddish publications. He 45:00wrote a letter in Yiddish to my parents, who were very worried about me at the time, 'cause I wasn't exactly tearing up Hollywood. He wrote to them and said that he wanted to be my theatrical father and that I was doing okay, I was a nice kid, and I was responsible, and everything would be all right. And they cherished that contact from him, 'cause they knew, of course, who he was and his reputation. But at the same time, there was a sense of -- a kind of a tragic quality about what was happening with him, because the Yiddish audience was diminishing. And he had hopes and dreams of moving over into an English-speaking audience. The audience that came to our theater every night was all grey-haired Yiddishists who -- some of them were very angry at him for working in English, that he wasn't working in Yiddish. And he would lament the fact that he would watch the cars pull up outside the theater, the young people 46:00sitting in the front seats and the parents in the back seats -- the parents would get out and come into the theater, the young people would drive away. And they'd come back and pick up the parents after the show. They would not come to see him. It was their -- the old -- the generation that came to see him was disappearing. So, he was forever trying to find a way to break into the English-speaking audience, and it wasn't happening. So, he was destined to move from city to city to find his Yiddish audience that was still there and do some performances and make a living. But the glory days of the Yiddish theater were over when he could -- he did a production of a play called "Yoshe Kalb" based on a book by Yud Yud Singer that was an enormous hit in New York. Ran forever. And he'd get bored. And he closed it -- it was a big hit. He'd close it, put on something else, because he had an audience. And then, if things got slow, he'd bring back "Yoshe Kalb," do it again. (laughs) Oh, as a 47:00matter of fact, some years later, quite a number of years later, maybe about fifteen years ago, I picked up a copy of "Yoshe Kalb" in English, English translation, and read it for the first time, and -- because I wanted to know what that big success was all about. And it was an interesting story. And then, because I missed the Yiddish, I found a woman here in Los Angeles who was a psychiatrist but who was a master of the Yiddish language. And I went to her and spent an hour every week or two, paid for the -- a psychiatric fee to have somebody to speak to in Yiddish (laughs) and to help me with questions about the language, because I missed it. So, I learned to do a little bit of Shakespeare, "Zayn, or nisht zayn: ot vos iz di frage. S'iz eydler fun gemit 48:00fartrogn shtil der shlaydershteyn un fayl fun broyzn mazl, oder zikh bavarfn es antkegn yam un endikn dayn kapf? [To be, or not to be: that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them.]" "Hamlet." (laughs) And after Schwartz, there was one more experience with a Yiddish theater actor named Chaim Tauber. Mr. Tauber, I guess, had been a successful Yiddish actor in radio, mostly radio in New York, and he had some audience. I acted in a play for him and he sang a song that burned itself into my brain, and I just fell in love with this song because I felt so identified with it, a song called "Oyfn veg shteyt a boym [By the road stands a tree]" by -- oh, his name is gonna come back to me. Well, I'll think about it. "On the 49:00road" --
CW: Isn't that Manger?
LN: -- "stands a tree." What was his name? Written in Poland, 1939.
CW: Isn't that Manger? No?
LN: Itzik Manger. Manger, yeah, thank you. Yeah. So, that song meant alot to me, and I learned the lyric, talked about it often at various events where I spoke about my Yiddish background, because it spoke of a boy who says to his mother, "There's this tree on the road, and ale feygl funem boym zaynen zikh tsefloygn -- all the birds have flown away from the tree. Dray keyn mizrekh, dray keyn mayrev [Three toward the east, three toward the west], un dem boym gelozt aleyn hefker far dem shturem -- the tree is standing alone and there's a storm coming." Zog ikh tsu der mamen, "Her" -- I say to my mother, "Look, 50:00mame, eyns un tsvey bald a foygl vern -- in a moment, I want to become a bird and I want to go fly to that tree and sit on its branches and sing to it to keep it company during the winter." And she says -- zogt zi, "Nite, kind, kenst kholile oyfn boym mir far froyrn vern -- you can get frozen on that, heaven forbid, on that tree." And the little boy says, "No, I'm going to go, and I'll become a bird." And she says, "Well, if you're gonna go, at least dress warm," you know. (laughs) So, what does she say? Zi hot veynt mit trern -- my mother cried with tears, "Kenst kholile oyfn boym mir far froyrn vern." Zog ikh, "Mame, s'iz a shod, dayne sheyne oygn. Un eyder vos un eyder ven, bin ikh mir a foygl." I say, "Mama, it's a waste of your lovely eyes, because before you know it, I'll be a bird." Veynt di mame, "Itsik, kroyn [My mother cries, "Itzik, my crown], nem um gotes viln, nem khotsh mit a shalikl, zol zikh nisht farlikn -- take at least a scarf so you shouldn't catch a cold. Put on your 51:00hat and put on your galoshes," and so forth. And then, he says, "Kh'heyb der fligl, s'iz mir shver, tsu fil, tsu fil zakhn, hot di mame ongeton ir feygele dem shvakhn -- I can't fly, my mother put on too many clothes." Kuk ikh troyerik mir arayn in mayn mames oygn [I look tearfully into my mother's eyes]. Zi hot ir libshaft nisht gelozt vern mir a foygl -- her love prevented me from becoming a bird. And I so identified with it. I got away, but it was tough. It was really tough. I remember my mother crying at the train station when I left. And I was like my grandfather, I was the adventurer, taking off for another world, for all they knew. And to be an actor, no way that that was going to work. (laughs) So, I identified with the kid in that song, about the tearing away from family, tearing away from the mother and the family and the 52:00love of -- and the safety of home. I wasn't scared. I was excited. But it was tough, it was tough. And so, that song became kind of an anthem for me, and -- of who I was and what I was trying to do.
CW: But zeyde [grandfather] sort of supported you. He was supportive of your career?
LN: Yeah, because he was -- he believed in trying and going and doing. Andthere were often situations where I would declare some interest in something or other and my parents would say, "No, no, no," and he'd say, "Go do it. Just go do it. Here. Here's a dollar. Go do it." (laughs) And he was quietly supportive, because he admired that sense of try. Try something. Try something. Go out and do it. When I told my father that I was planning to be an actor -- to this day, it fascinates me. His response was amazing. He 53:00said, "You'll be hanging around with gypsies and bums." And I took that with a big grain of salt. I didn't take it seriously, because I understand that his vision of what actors were, who the actors were, were the people who came into Zaslav, into the village -- town -- as a company, and they did a performance in the town square and passed the hat, and then maybe steal a loaf of bread and make love to the mayor's daughter and leave in the morning. (laughs) So, there was no future there for -- that he could see. You'd be a vagabond! You'd be a gypsy, bumming from town to town. And then, he said to me -- the one piece of advice that he offered, he said, "Learn to play the accordion," 'cause he said, "with an accordion, you could always make a living. You could play bar 54:00mitzvahs and weddings. You'll make a living." That was his -- the future that he saw for me. Said, "Okay, Dad," and I never took his advice. (laughs) I didn't -- wasn't interested in the accordion at all, yeah. (laughs) But that's -- I was okay about that. I mean, I understood him. I understood what his thoughts were. He was a very careful man. My mom and dad were extremely careful people. Everything they did was colored by fear, what could happen if you do this or that. So, be safe, just be safe was their watchword.
CW: I want to go back and ask a little bit about the shul. Do -- what do you-- can you describe the shul that you went to as a kid, the --
LN: There were two. There was this one that was three or four doors away,and for a reason that I never did learn, we moved to the other shul, which was two or three blocks away. It was a much newer, much nicer building. But that 55:00wasn't the issue. There was some kind of a -- there was some kind of a confrontation about the original shul, and probably had to do with seating or something at the High Holidays. Maybe my grandfather didn't get his usual bench or wasn't being treated respectfully or something happened and, "We're moving," which reminds me of the great old story of the guy who's found -- he's been living on an island for years and years. And finally, the rescuers come and find him, and he proudly shows all the things that he's accomplished. "This is the house that I built, this is where I did -- take care of this, this is where I do my washing. And this is a shul and this is shul." And they say, Well, why do you need two shuls? He says, "This one, I wouldn't go in -- this is where I pray. The other one, I wouldn't go in there if they paid me a million dollars." (laughs) It's the old story. And that's what we had. We had a shul they would no longer walk into. And I remember when the -- when the second one, the larger, the newer one had the big celebration when they were burning the mortgage and they had paid off the mortgage on the building. Big 56:00celebration -- they're burning the mortgage tonight. (laughs) And I sang in a choir there, and they had enough money to hire a pretty good cantor every year. And sometimes, the word would get out they were bringing somebody from New York. "A cantor is coming from New York to sing at the North Russell Street Shul," and that was a big deal. And we had a -- I got to tell you about [Tabachnik?]. There was a guy named Tabachnik-- that was the only name I knew him by -- who had a glorious voice. Tenor. He could sing like a bird, and was very frum. He wore a black sort of cape, kapote [long coat traditionally worn by observant Jewish men] kind of thing with a rope around his waist, and sneakers. No leather. And he was quite mad. I don't know whether he was 57:00alcoholic -- or mental problems, I don't know. But he would come down the street sometime, in the middle of the street, in Chambers Street, in the West End, singing and shouting at the top of his lungs. And the kids would all tease him. "Here comes Tabachnik!" And kids would rush out at him, he's -- (growls) and he had a staff like a prophet just come down off the mountain with his staff. And he'd scare the kids and we'd all go running into the hallways and hide, and he'd go on singing down the street. There was a very small shul on Beacon Hill called the Joy Street Shul. Had a very small congregation, not much money to work with. But they would hire Tabachnik to sing for the High Holidays. Had a glorious voice and he knew the material. He was a brilliant student. I think he maybe had studied for the rabbinate, I'm not sure. They could hire him, because if he didn't show up, it was okay. They had 58:00congregants who would take over the service. Was no big deal. But if he showed up, they had a glorious voice singing to them. They paid him five hundred dollars for the High Holiday services. And the story was that there was a local, very successful liquor store, a merchant owner, who would finance him, subsidize him through the course of the year. He would go to that store -- Tabachnik would go to that store every week, and they would give him maybe ten dollars to pay his room rent and his food needs and whatever else he needed to get through the week. And next week (UNCLEAR) another ten dollars. Then when he sang for the High Holidays, he'd get that five hundred dollars. He'd walk in there and pay off his debt. That's the way it worked, which was a lovely local legend. So, when the High Holidays came around, if we heard that Tabachnik was singing, we would go. We'd sneak in to the Joy Street Shul, 'cause it was really something. It was like -- operatic tenor. He was wonderful, wonderful to listen to. So, we had that kind of shul experience in the West End. There were three that I knew of. There was another -- oh, the 59:00Vilna Shul, up on Beacon Hill, too, which I kind of gave some support to later. I think I narrated a documentary for them. But the three that I was -- that I remember being in during my youth were the Chambers Street Shul, the North Russell Street Shul, and the Joy Street Shul.
CW: And there's a famous story about a shul that influenced your later careerand character, the Spock --
CW: -- character.
CW: Which --
LN: Yeah. Wow, yeah. Well, that got into the culture, got into ourAmerican -- worldwide culture, for that matter. I think -- my first memory of it was in the North Russell Street Shul, which was Orthodox. We only knew Orthodoxy at the time. There was no Reform or Conservative movement yet. There was a Conservative movement starting, but we didn't have it in my neighborhood. And so, I'm with my father and my grandfather and my brother, 60:00sitting in the bench seats. Women were upstairs. And there comes a point where these -- my memory was there were maybe five or six guys got up on the bima, on the stage, and they'd -- facing the congregation. They get their talit over their heads and they start this chanting. I think it's called "dukhening [muttering the priestly benediction, with arms raised in ritual fashion]." And my father said to me, "Don't look." So, everybody's got their eyes covered with their hands and they've got their talit down over their faces, or turned away, turn their back to these guys, and I hear this strange sound coming from them. They're not singers. They were shouters, and dissonant. It was all discordant. And they were doing, like, (chants) that kind of 61:00wailing, and all discordant. Not together, not in unison. And then, the leader would shout out, "Yeborechecho [Hebrew: The Lord bless thee]." And the rest of them would respond, "Yeborechecho adonai v'yishmerecho [Hebrew: The Lord bless thee, and keep thee]!" It was chilling, you know -- whoa! Something -- something major is happening here. So, I peeked, and I saw them with their hands stuck out from beneath their talit like this towards the congregation. I thought, Wow! Something really got hold of me. I thought, This is un--" -- I had no idea what was going on, but the sound of it and the look of it was magical. So, I learned how to do it. I don't know -- I just thought, Well, that's an interesting thing, to be able to do that. And I -- it came fairly 62:00easily. I learned how to do it. So, much later, I learned that this is the shape of the letter shin. Hebrew alphabet, shin. Very interesting letter in the language, and it's the first letter of the word "Shaddai [Hebrew: God Almighty]," the first letter in the word "shalom [Hebrew: peace," first letter in the word "Shechinah," which is the name of the feminine aspect of God, who supposedly was created to live amongst humans, the Shechinah. And why you're not supposed to look came to me much, much later. Much later. My wife, Susan, has a cousin who's a rabbi here in Los Angeles at Temple Israel. And I was telling him the story, and he said the reason you don't look is the legend is that during that benediction, "Yeborechecho," the Shechinah comes into the 63:00sanctuary to bless the congregation. And you don't want to see that, because it's so powerful it could -- you could really get -- be seriously injured, or it could be fatal. So, that's why you protect yourself by hiding your eyes. Don't look. I survived. (laughs) Anyway, I never dreamed that I would do that someday or be involved with it in some way. But sure enough, one day, we're making the "Star Trek" series, television series, and we come to a very lovely script called "Amok Time," where my character, Spock, who comes from the Vulcan planet, has to go home to fulfill a marriage betrothal, to be married. And the lady who's going to conduct the service is a lady named T'Pau, played by a wonderful Viennese -- Jewish Viennese actress named Celia Lovsky. And I'm 64:00supposed to meet her when we arrive at the planet. And we exchange hellos, and I thought we should -- I was looking for anything -- it was the first time we're seeing other Vulcans, other people of my race. So, I was hoping to find some touches that could develop the story of the Vulcan sociology, history, whatever -- ritual. So, I said to the director, "I think we should have some special greeting the Vulcans do, because we" -- he said, "What do you mean?" I said, "Well, you know, humans, we have these rituals that we -- things that we do. We shake hands, we nod to each other, we bow to each other. We salute each other. What do Vulcans do?" So, I suggested this. He said, "Okay." And that's how we did it as a greeting, a Vulcan greeting. And boy, that just took off through the culture. It was amazing. Within days after it was on the 65:00air, I was getting it on the street, people doing this to me, waving to me in this Vulcan gesture. I thought, That's interesting. And it's been that way to this day. It's almost fifty years later, people are still doing it.
CW: How did people on the set react to that?
LN: It just touched the magic chord. Most people, to this day, still don'tknow what it's all about. A lot of people do, 'cause I've talked about it a lot. I've been asked the question, "Where did that come from?" And I have very readily put out the story. But it doesn't matter. The people don't know what it is. There's just something intriguing about it. It's sort of a -- like a secret handshake or something that people enjoy -- to exchange with each other, as if to say, "I'm in on it. I know the joke. 'Star Trek', right? Hey, 'Star Trek'!" It's great. It's weird, people don't realize they're blessing each other with this. (laughs) It's great, yeah. 66:00
CW: Were there any other aspects of your Spock character that came from --that were Jewish?
LN: I'm not sure that I could point to anything specific, except -- well,yeah, yeah, there is, a very -- shouldn't neglect this. A very large aspect of the character that touched me was that Spock is an alien wherever he is, because he's not Vulcan and he's not human. He's half-and-half. He's a half-breed, what we used to call a half-breed, a mixed breed. Vulcan father, human mother. So, he's not totally at home in the Vulcan culture, not totally accepted in the Vulcan culture because he's not totally Vulcan. Certainly not totally accepted in the human culture, 'cause he's part Vulcan. And that alienation was something that I had learned, in Boston. I knew what it meant 67:00to be a member of a minority, and in some cases an outcast minority. So, I understood that. I understood that aspect of the character, and I think it was helpful in playing it.
CW: You talked about this a little bit, but looking back on your childhood andgrandparents, parents, was there -- do you have a sense of Jewish values or practices that they wanted to pass on to you?
LN: I always saw my parents as being very ethical people. I was proud of thefact that my dad was trusted to be the money figure in this -- in the Zaslava Society, that people trusted him with the money and the accountings, and that he was held accountable by the banking commission, whoever it was, 'cause they had to have a license, I guess, to operate this sort of mini-bank. They were 68:00ethical people, and I'm -- I always admired that and I always -- I took that to heart. I thought it was important to be an ethical person, to be responsible, just to try to give something to the community. That whole idea of putting together packages to give to other people, stuff that you would give away of yours to somebody else who needed it more than you did was something that I picked up at home. Responsible citizenship.
CW: When you got here to California, what Jewish community did you findhere? What --
LN: The very first year that I was here -- I arrived here in September 1949,and my first High Holidays that came around, I found an ad in one of the 69:00newspapers of a synagogue that was having an open service that you could buy a ticket to. I think it was at Shrine Auditorium. I bought a ticket and I went. I wanted to be there for the High Holiday services. Oh, I was unhappy. I was so unhappy. I left very quickly. It was just this massive hall, hundreds and hundreds of people. No sense of community whatsoever. Just people buying the ticket and walking in. The stage was dressed with lots of bouquets of flowers, which I'd never seen at a shul. And the very first thing I remember was a fundraising pitch to help pay for something or other. I 70:00got up and walked out. I was so disillusioned. It didn't have that sense of smell, community, sensation, spirituality, none of it. None of it. I got up and walked out. And it wasn't 'til years later that I found my way back to a service that would -- made sense to me. A shul, a place where there was a community, where some people came together because they wanted to be together to worship together or learn something about each other or have some relationship or -- to carry on some rituals. This was a kind of a commercialization of the process, and I found it very unappealing. Disheartening. Much, much later, I got in touch with some much more meaningful community.
CW: Did you find other Yiddish speakers here?
LN: No. No, not until Boris introduced me to the Yiddish acting companies71:00that came out, yeah.
CW: What -- you talked about sort of coming back to Yiddish much later andmissing it.
CW: Can you tell me more about that?
LN: It was a strange way to do it. I think maybe I -- Janet Hadda was hername. Janet Hadda, H-A-D-D-A. Good lady. I think I was -- I think I got in touch with her because I was doing some recordings of -- voluntary recordings for one of the radio stations here that was doing readings of Jewish short stories. And I did some of those for them. And then, talking to one of the 72:00producers one day, I asked if they knew someplace where I could pick up some Yiddish. And I think they sent me to her, to Janet Hadda. So, (laughs) was an expensive way to speak a little Yiddish. Had to pay for a psychotherapy hour. (laughs) But I did it for a while, until I kind of got back at -- and I -- and she suggested, and I did, I bought a copy of -- you would -- you could help me with this. Uriel --
LN: Yes, Weinreich -- Weinreich, was that -- yeah. His dictionary. And Ispent a lot of time with that, looking up words. I could read enough of the Yiddish to English translations that I could find the Yiddish word, and the -- 'cause the characters were still familiar to me. And I kind of helped my 73:00Yiddish along that way. And then, I had a lot of pleasure talking about my Yiddish and my Judaism, talking to Jewish audiences, which I was very well paid for at times, but it was a great pleasure for me to do that. I spoke at various congregations around the country, maybe twenty or thirty times, different events. Talked about some of the things that we've talked about here.
CW: What did you miss about Yiddish?
LN: What do you miss about matzo ball soup? (laughs) It's somethingingrained. It's something that's part of your sense of being. I still love matzo ball soup. (laughs)
CW: What aspects of being Jewish have been important to you in your adult life?74:00
LN: I think we've pretty much covered that. I consider myself a veryresponsible person. When I was first married -- I was in the army, 1954. I went into the army in December '53, and I was in for two years. And I had been in for a couple years, a couple of months, excuse me, a couple of months when I got married. I was stationed up at Ford Ord in Northern California, and I got married here in Los Angeles during a two-week break, and then went back to duty. And I had -- my daughter was born in March of the next year. And by the time I came out of the service, we were expecting another child, my son, who was born in '56. And when I came out of the army, I had a couple hundred dollars separation pay. I had to support three-and-a-half people by then: my 75:00wife and myself and my daughter, and my son was coming, so -- and I'd -- having been away for two years, there wasn't much of an acting career. There wasn't a heck of a lot of career when I left. There was very little at all -- there was a -- maybe a connection to an agency when I came back. So, I knew that I had to go to work immediately to start supporting a family. First thing I did was take a job driving a taxi, in this neighborhood, where I live now. And I did that for about six months, the first six months that I was out, and did that for two reasons. One, because -- well, it was a very quick job that I knew I could get. They were always hiring cab drivers. And I could work nights and be available for auditions and day work. And very important to me, I was non-essential. If I didn't show up on a given night or whatever, they weren't gonna miss me. I didn't want to take a responsible job where somebody depended 76:00on me, because I wanted to be free to go to do an acting job. And I did that kind of work for a long time, work where I could leave. And if I took a job where there was any dependency on me, I would let them know, "I could leave. I'm an actor. This is what I do. I'm here to work for you and I'll do the best I can, but I'm an actor, so be prepared for the fact that I might be up and gone one day." And, in fact, when I was -- when I heard about the job with Schwartz, Maurice Schwartz, I was working as a sales manager for a company that was selling freezers, food freezers, making about 150 dollars a week. And the job with Schwartz offered fifty a week, and I couldn't do both. And I quit the 150-dollar job, easily. I had no problem doing that at all. I knew where my priorities were. I went right to work for Schwartz at fifty bucks a week, and happy to do it. So, responsibility, family responsibility, take care of 77:00yourself, be responsible for yourself.
CW: So, that community that you grew up in, the West End, doesn't really existanymore. I mean, the actual buildings.
CW: Did you -- were you aware of sort of when that neighborhood was changing,and --
LN: Yeah, very much so. Yeah. I -- it was a very sad loss. Economically,it made a lot of sense, because there was great land value and very little tax revenue coming from this low-rent neighborhood. And some very smart people, from a financial point of view, did what they had to do. They tore it all down, put up some very expensive high-rise buildings in a very desirable area, and where people had been paying thirty bucks a month for rent, now the rents were three or four hundred dollars a month. Ten times as much as what they had 78:00been paying. The theory was that these people could move back in, but they couldn't afford to. So, they all were scattered. People that moved back in were medical people who were connected to Mass General Hospital, which is in the -- right in the neighborhood. People who worked for the government, who -- which were -- three or four blocks away. Law offices, three or four blocks away. Very valuable. From a social aspect, it was a tragedy, because a wonderful, tight community was destroyed. And to this day, there are ill feelings about it in Boston, and there's a West End Museum that I visited not long ago to kind of keep the memory alive of what it was, because it was a very powerful influence in a lot of people's lives. Lot of people still consider themselves West Enders. Kind of proud heritage. So, I was very much aware -- 79:00and I saw footage of the buildings being destroyed, these giant wrecking balls crashing into these buildings and the buildings coming down. And when I was growing up in that neighborhood, it was horse and wagons, and there was a -- guy came through with pushcarts down the street, yelling, "Vayber! Mir hobn du vos m'darf hobn! Vayber, vayber!" Calling out to the wives, "We have thread and we have needles and we have cloth and we have ribbon and we have -- what do you need? It's all here on the pushcart!" And there was a guy who came around selling crabs. "Abedigabedi! Abedigabedi!" People would come out to buy a crab. A nickel for a crab. (laughs) Oysters, clams on the half-shell, ice. The iceman came through with a horse and wagon. In the building that I lived in, 87 Chambers Street, the downstairs was a storefront that had once been a credit union. Had gone out of business, but the sign and the lettering on the 80:00window still said, "Harry [Reuben?] Credit Union" -- no longer there. And that space was rented now by a man who sold linoleum off a wagon. So, he kept the linoleum in the front and he lived with his wife in the back. And he would go pick up his horse and wagon, and they'd come around to the front of the building, park there with the wagon, load the linoleum onto the back of the wagon, and drive away with his horse, selling the stuff door-to-door through the various neighborhoods, selling linoleum. That was the kind of life it was. It was like a little shtetl life. (laughs) Gone. All gone. The only thing that remained, interesting and ironically, was the Catholic church, which was right in the middle of the neighborhood. That was left untouched. The Cath-- St. Joseph's Catholic Church was left untouched. It's still there to this day. Everything else around it changed. All the streets, the configurations, 81:00totally changed. The buildings, all gone.
CW: Do you consider yourself a West Ender?
LN: Oh, yeah. I have a house in Lake Tahoe that we call West End. I have aboat up there that's named "West End." (laughs) I'm very sentimental about the West End.
CW: I know that you came back to Boston to do some acting, right, in theater,and one of the roles was Tevye?
CW: How -- what was that like, to play Tevye?
LN: Thrilling. It was thrilling. Thrilling. First time I came -- evercame back to Boston as a featured performer, star, was in this production of "Fiddler on the Roof." We were playing not in the city, but North Shore and South Shore. We played at Beverly, Massachusetts, North Shore, and we played at the Cape Cod Musical [sic] Tent, at Hyannis. And I think the very first 82:00performance was in Hyannis. Did a week there and then went to Beverly to play a week. I was thrilled to be there. I was a little sad that it wasn't right in the heart of the city. I did that much later, played the Wilbur Theater, downtown Boston. But it was very exciting to come back to the area in that wonderful role in a won-- we had a wonderful production. Wonderful production. And it was thrilling. Thrilling every night. And (laughs) my folks came, and they didn't understand what "Star Trek" was all about. They just didn't get it, which I understood. It's not their cup of tea, they don't understand about science fiction, that whole milieu. What they knew was that I was making a good living, I was a success. They knew that. Kids would come around to my father's barbershop and ask for a Spock haircut, and he had a picture of me as Spock hanging on a mirror so he could -- he gave them a bang 83:00cut. But it was thrilling for them to -- thrilling for me to have them there, family, to come and see this production. And I was pretty good. I was a good Tevye. I think I surprised a lot of people, 'cause I had a sense of what it was. I really understood the material. It was -- this is a -- pretty much the story of my own family. The only difference being that, in "Fiddler on the Roof," the family is ordered to leave their village. They're ordered to leave Anatevka. And in my story, our family snuck out of Zaslav. They weren't ordered to leave. They snuck out readily. So, that was the only difference. But the rest of it, the lifestyle and the ethics and the social pressures and needs and so forth and the culture was the same as what I grew up with. So, I was totally at home in "Fiddler on the Roof." I did an eight-week tour in that particular production. I did it again some months 84:00later in a production in Atlanta, Georgia. Totally at home. And that started an interesting aspect of my career. As a result of the success in that production, I was later cast as Fagin in "Oliver." I was cast as King Arthur in "Camelot." I was cast as -- I was cast in "My Fair Lady" as Professor Higgins. I had a great run with musicals during the summers in the 1970s, I had a wonderful time. I came back to Boston much later in a production of a play that I wrote, a play called "Vincent" -- story about Vincent van Gogh. One man show. About Vincent van Gogh. The character that I come onstage as is Vincent's brother, Theo, talking about Vincent. And I played it at the Wilbur Theater, which was a great thrill for me, 'cause I'd been to the Wilbur Theater as a kid, watching some great performances by wonderful people, many years earlier. 85:00
CW: And then, you have been to Russia.
CW: How did that come about?
LN: Nineteen eighty-six, I think that's when we did it. I made a film -- Idirected a couple of the "Star Trek" films, and one that I did was called "Star Trek: The Voyage Home," and it had to do with humpback whales. Story had to do with the potential extinction of humpback whales, and what we did to save the species. So, I was contacted by the World Wildlife Fund, who told me that they would like me to come to Russia to show the film, because the Russians were declaring a moratorium on whale hunting. And the World Wildlife Fund wanted to celebrate that event, and they wanted me to help with that celebration by showing this film about the humpback whales. I'd had an earlier confrontation 86:00on the issue of a Russian visit. I was directing something at Universal Studios in the early '70s. Russian ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin, came on the set as a visitor with Henry Kissinger. Kissinger had a teenage son who wanted to meet me. So, they came to my set, and I met the boy, I met Kissinger, and Anatoly Dobrynin, and I said to him, "My parents come from Russia." He was a classic Russian bear kind of guy. Big voice, booming personality. He said, "Have you ever been to Russia?" I said, "No." "Have your parents been back to Russia?" Said, "No." "You should go to Russia, you should take your parents back for a visit." "Okay." (laughs) So, I came home and I told my folks what I just told you and they laughed at me. They said, You're crazy. They snuck out. They wouldn't set foot in that country again for fear they'd be grabbed and thrown into jail. (laughs) So, that didn't work out. But 87:00then, when this offer came along to go to Russia as a guest, I told them, the World Wildlife Fund, "I will go, but you must get me to Zaslav. I want to see this place that my -- I had heard so much about and was a big part of my life. The legend of Zaslav. I wanted to see what it was all about." They said, We'll get you there. My parents had a very old letter that they had held from family in Russia. They translated it for me. I gave that translation to our congressman friend, Tony Beilenson, who was on the Foreign Relations Committee. He gave the letter to the International Red Cross. They did some research and they came back and said, We have found a Nimoy in Khmelnytskyy, about a two hour drive from Zaslav. So, with that information, we contacted or 88:00they contacted for me the Khmelnytskyy Nimoys and told them we're coming. Susan and I -- I was -- when all this was going on, I was directing -- shooting "Three Men and a Baby" -- that I was directing. The night we finished shooting -- the very next morning, we were on a plane to Europe. And we arrived in Moscow, spent about a week there, showed the film a couple times, once at the American embassy and once at the Russian Directors Union, which was another story in itself, very funny. (laughs) The Russians had a reputation for claiming that they had discovered and invented everything. (laughs) It was a funny joke, so we showed this film at the Directors Union. We're having this very interesting discussion about the content, and one guy says, "You know, this is not new story. This story was told by Boris Tomashevsky in 1917. Wonderful film called 'The Eight Veils of the'" whatever, and I almost laughed 89:00at him. (laughs) I thought that's perfect. Anyway, we finished with that, and they assigned a guide to us who was an American, who was -- who made a business in Moscow of helping Americans deal with Russian businesspeople and the Russian government to do business together. So, he was assigned as a guide to us. He spoke Russian, fluently, and English, of course. He was from Massachusetts, and the three of us got on a plane from Moscow and flew to L'vov, got off the plane and went across town to the train station, where we got a train which traveled for about four or five hours across Ukraine to Khmelnytskyy. We got to Khmelnytskyy -- my recollection was around midnight, and we got off the train and there's nobody -- we thought there was going to be somebody to meet us. Nobody there. Finally, a guy showed up, and he was not 90:00a relative. He was an Intourist guide. I think he was part of the government. And he took us to a local hotel, and he said, "You'll meet your relatives tomorrow." So, we spent this night in the hotel, and -- where they spoke no English, not a word of English, and no Yiddish. It was a very non-Jewish environment. And was kind of tough. In the morning, early, knock on the door, six o'clock in the morning. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. Open the door and here's this guy who introduces himself, he says, "My name is Boris Nimoy" -- in Yiddish -- "I'm your cousin." Wow. So, he's, like, "Get dressed, get ready. We got the car downstairs. You get in the car and we're going to go to Zaslav." He drove us to Zaslav, about a two-hour drive. When we get there, there were about a dozen people standing outside a very modest -- it was a very rural environment. There were still farmers with horse and 91:00wagon, up and down the cobblestone streets. And a very modest stucco house. About a dozen people standing outside, waiting for us. A very tense atmosphere. I learned later that they were suspicious of us. They'd been told that some important people are coming from the United States to see them, and they didn't believe a word of that. They thought, Why would important people be coming to look for us? They thought it was some kind of a spy thing going on. They were very paranoid. Anyway, they invited us inside. They had some food on the table, some fruits and some beer, some vodka. Had a couple drinks. And I established the fact that I could speak some Yiddish, so the head of the household, after a little time, left the room, comes back with a couple of envelopes. US postage stamp. And I immediately recognize my mother's handwriting on the envelope. And he opens up this envelope, in 92:00pristine condition. Opens it up and pulls out two photographs, about this size, four-by-five photographs, black and white. Snapshots of kids. And he asked me if I knew who these people were. I said, "Di, zey zanen mayne kinder, di, zey zanen mayn briders kinder [These are my children, these are my brother's children]." "Ah!" And that opened the door. What was amazing about that was that the kids in those photographs were maybe seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven years old. This was in 1986, thereabouts. So, the -- my kids, by then, who had been born in the mid-'50s were in their thirties. So, these photographs had been in that envelope in that drawer for over twenty years, kept as a treasured object from another world. No other contact. There'd been a couple of letters exchanged and it stopped for -- I don't know why. Stopped. 93:00But they held onto these -- this envelope with this these photographs. Once I told them who they were and who we were in relation to these kids, then we could build -- begin to build a family tree. "You are the grandson of so-and-so and your grandfather was -- grandmother was such-and-such, and they met here and so forth." We talked a little bit about the war. Zaslav took a bad beating. It was very close to the Polish border. The Germans were in Poland and massed on the Polish-Russian border during the war, and when war was declared against Russia, three days later, the Germans were in Zaslav, and they stayed for three-and-a-half years. And they told me the men who survived in Zaslav were men who were away in the Russian army, who were in service, 'cause the men in the town were obliterated. So, that was the experience. That was the trip, and they -- many of them emigrated to the United States after that. They came 94:00to the US. But that was my Russian Zaslav experience. They took us to the graveyard, which they were very proud of. It was very neatly kept. The gravestones were kept, carefully kept. The grounds were kept nicely. A gated cemetery, small, gated cemetery. And they showed me the headstone of my father's father, my paternal grandfather, with a picture of him that -- they have these on their headstones, they -- the pictures of the deceased on the headstone. I recognized the picture from family pictures that I'd seen. So, we had that contact. Spoke a little Yiddish, and we went home.
CW: How'd it match up with your idea of the place from family stories?
LN: The stucco house was kind of a shock, 'cause I'm sure they didn't havestucco houses when -- they probably had wooden -- some wooden frame buildings. That was kind of shocking. But the rest of it was pretty much what I 95:00expected. It was very pastoral, and in a way very pretty. There was a lovely river, ran through the town. The riverbanks. And it made me think about -- what's the song? "Belts -- zint ir a mol geven in belts, mayn shteytele belts, mayn heymele -- yedn shabes fleg ikh leyfn dort -- zitsn unter dem kleynem boymele, leynen bay dem taykh [Belz -- once upon a time you lived Belz, my little town of Belz, my little home -- every Shabbos I would run there -- sit under the little tree, read by the river]" -- and I could see the tree on the banks of the river, and the whole thing, from "Belts." So, it was pretty much what I expected. And the funny thing was that I took a picture of that. There was a horse standing by the river, drinking from the river. It was perfect. A few leaves strewn around. Showed the picture to my mother and she said, "Oh, it used to be so beautiful. Look at this." (laughs) Said, "It's not even clean anymore." (laughs) I said, "Mom." "It was so gorgeous. No, it was beautiful." So, her memory of it was it was more beautiful than that -- 96:00as a child. It's funny how -- what memory does. (laughs)
CW: So, how did your parents react when you went there? I mean --
LN: Well, we couldn't -- we didn't deal very much with that, unfortunately.I recorded -- I had a tape recorder, and I had them record messages to my parents. But it was a mixed experience. It was a great blessing to be able to be there and be in touch with them, all these Nimoys. "Nyemoy" in Russian. We left Moscow, we got back to Moscow and flew to Paris. I was exhausted and my wife, Susan, was exhausted. I had just finished directing a movie and we were looking forward to a week or more in Paris to rest and have a vacation. Got to Paris and there was a message waiting for me that my father was terminal in the hospital here in Los Angeles. And, "Come home." We spent 97:00one night in Paris. The next morning, we were on a plane to Los Angeles. I went to see my father in the hospital. He was already on morphine. Barely conscious. And I played him these recordings, and then stayed there three or four days until he passed away. So, there wasn't a lot of celebration about Russia, yeah. It was all about my father's passing and my mother becoming a widow. And shortly after he died, she revealed that she was having stomach pains. She died six months later. (pause) Yeah. I was so blessed to be 98:00able to close that circle, just before they passed. (pause) I still have my brother. He's four-and-a-half years older. He's eighty-seven next month.
CW: Biz hundert un tsvantsik [May he live to be 120].
CW: Biz hundert un tsvantsik.
LN: Biz hundert un tsvantsik -- (nodding) right, take. Yeah, yeah. It's along story, isn't it?
CW: Yeah. (laughter) Well, I'm wondering, can you just explain what thesethings are that you brought with --
LN: Oh, yeah. This is a photograph of my mother and her two brothers. Can99:00you see it here?
CW: Yeah, maybe the --
LN: Or here?
CW: -- up here, yeah.
LN: Yeah? In their traditional Russian clothes, taken as little kids -- Idon't know where it was taken. I assume it was taken in Russia, 'cause they're wearing very Cossack-y clothes, (laughs) yeah, with the three little kids. My -- I knew the two uncles. My mother's two brothers, [Meyer and Pini?]. And Meyer was stopped on his way to the US because when he arrived at -- I guess Ellis Island, they discovered that he had -- eye infection, whatever it was that was common at that time. They sent him back to Europe. He went back, I think, to Belgium for about -- for some months to be healed, and then came over. And they both lived not far from us, in Boston. This is the photograph of the grandfather, my maternal grandfather, my mother's father that I talked 100:00about, [Sam Spinner?] was his name. Great man. He had a charm and a love of life and a joie-de-vivre, and he was helpful to me. A very loving man. And he worked in a leather factory cutting the patterns for leather luggage. In those years, in the '30s and '40s, leather was what luggage was made from, and he made -- they made good leather suitcases. They allowed him to take the scraps, the leftover, unusable pieces -- to take them home, where he made key cases and wallets. There was always the smell of leather in our apartment. And he made things like this: simple, very crude but efficient. Put the zipper in and he would put together a dozen of these and take them to stores, downtown Boston, jewelry stores or whatever, and sell them for a buck a piece and bring home ten or twelve dollars extra from his homework. (laughs) So, I still have 101:00this -- I don't remember how I got it, but I treasure it, this piece of his work. When I would come home for a visit, sitting next to him, the first thing he would do would be reach down and examine my shoes, the leather of my shoes. Somehow, I had the feeling that he was trying to determine how well I was doing or how poorly I was doing depending on the condition of the leather of my shoes. (laughs) All right, so if the leather was in good shape, I was okay. (laughs) He was great. Meant a lot to me to have him in my life.
CW: Were you able -- were -- or with your own kids, was there -- were therethings from your past that you wanted to pass on to them?
LN: I'm very pleased with my kids. They have a very strong sense of family,and they're ethical people. Hard-working, striving, ethical people. They 102:00have kids of their own who they work with diligently to try to keep 'em on track. They have a very strong sense of connection to each other, my son and daughter. And my son has now undertaken to do a video of my early years in Boston, which he wants to have for the family. There's no commercial interest that he has in mind. I don't know where it'll go, but he's very -- we already spent three or four days -- which was a wonderful experience, for him and me to walk around Boston. And I said, "This is where I learned how to sail, this is where I learned -- this is where I stacked chairs after the Arthur Fiedler Boston Pops concerts in the summer, in front of the Hatch Shell. This is where I sold the vacuum cleaners. This is where I sold newspapers." And he's a director, by training and profession. So, he's shooting a very -- certainly 103:00interesting to us, as a family -- something that the family can see of my story before I left Boston and my first eighteen years of my life. So, there is that sense of a loving relationship, that we care about each other a lot. Makes me feel good.
CW: When do you get to use Yiddish, if ever, these days?
LN: Very rarely, very rarely. I did some readings of short stories, for --there is a -- there's a theater in New York that my wife and I helped rehabilitate, the theater that was known as the Thalia Theatre at Ninety-fifth and Broadway. The Thalia was a movie house, and very popular movie house, particularly during the '40s and '50s, I guess into the '60s, maybe, where -- it 104:00was the place where all the Upper West Siders went to see their foreign films. All the great films by Fellini and the rest, the Italians and the Swedes. Bergman films and so forth were at the Thalia. In fact, Woody Allen showed the theater in one of his movies as a place that people went to see those films. It was known as the Thalia. The Thalia closed and was shut down for about twelve years, out of business. Next door to it is a place called Symphony Space, which was revived by a couple of enterprising gentlemen, one of whom was Isaiah Sheffer. And Isaiah approached me once at an event and introduced himself and said, "We do a series of short story readings called 'Selected Shorts'. Actors and actresses come and read short stories for us. Would you 105:00be interested?" And I said, "I would be interested in doing that." We became friends, and I did several of these short story readings for him in New York and here, at Symphony Space in New York and at the Getty Theater here. And some of them are broadcast on NPR and so forth, and was a very nice experience. I got to do "Gimpel the Fool," which was a great treat. I enjoyed doing it -- and a number of other short stories. Anyway, he was here at my house -- (coughs) excuse me, a while back to discuss a short story that I was going to read for him, and was talking about the hopes to rehabilitate the Thalia, which is adjacent to, connected to the Symphony Space -- that they wanted to take over the Thalia and make it part of the Symphony Space complex. And they needed some money to revive the place. It was in shabby shape. It needed quite a bit of money. Susan and I agreed to give them the money to revive the Thalia Theater. It's now known as the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater in New York. 106:00(laughs) It's a nice thing. Anyway, Isaiah had a background very similar to mine. He acted in Yiddish theater, and he knew Schwartz and he had been in that whole milieu. So, whenever I would work with him to do one of these short story readings, we would eventually -- lapsed into Yiddish, and I would give him a little Shakespeare in Yiddish and he would give me a little of this or that, whatever. And we enjoyed each other with our Yiddish connection. Isaiah's gone. He passed away a year ago. And I spoke at his memorial and talked about this Yiddish connection that I had with him. But other than that, I don't have any Yiddish-speaking friends. I don't have a Yiddish-speaking contact. My brother and I just -- I don't know, we just don't do it. We just don't speak -- every once in a while, I'll ask him about a Yiddish word. "Do you remember this word or that?" And he has -- he still has good vocabulary. But it's just not something we do. I was shocked to discover just a couple 107:00years ago, I hadn't realized it, that his first language was Yiddish. He was born in Boston, but his first language was Yiddish. I didn't know that, I -- and that -- I didn't get that, and then I realized, Of course! When he was born, my folks were newly arrived in the United States. They'd only been in the United States a short time. And their language was still Yiddish, so he learned Yiddish to get along with his parents. I learned it to get along with my grandparent-- by the time I came along, four-and-a-half years later, their English was pretty good, so English was my first language and Yiddish was my second. But his first language was Yiddish. But I don't -- we don't speak it, and don't have the occasion to --
CW: Are there any sayings that you remember from your grandparents?
LN: Any what?
CW: Yiddish sayings?
LN: "Biz hindert un tsvantsik yor [May you live to be 120 years old]," "Zolstnor vaksn vi a tsibele, mitn kop in dr'erd un di fis arif [May you grow like an onion, with your head in the ground and your feet up]," "Gey klog zikh der kop in vant -- go bang your head against the wall," when you say, "I'm bored, I got 108:00nothing to do." Terrible stuff. "Hak mir nisht keyn tshaynik -- don't bang me a tea kettle." (laughs) Those expressions I remember. Oh, my grandmother, often from her, I'd -- "Oy, reboyne shel-oylem, reboyne shel-oylem! Tell me, O, God, where are things going? (laughs) Master of the universe, tell me, what's going on here?" (laughs)
CW: Yeah. Well, what do you think is the future of Yiddish?
LN: I don't see it being -- surviving as an active language. Who's going tospeak it? I don't know. I think my generation, at best, has a smattering of it. I still understand some. Not a lot. But my kids don't know any 109:00Yiddish, and their generation isn't going to be studying it, I don't think. Maybe an occasional student here or there wants to learn the language, like yourself. But I think it's going to be -- it's just going to go away. Going to become a historical reference fact, not something that's in the culture, alive. I don't see it being an alive language. I don't know where's -- who's going to speak it.
CW: How do you feel about that?
LN: Sad. Sad. That's the mame-loshn [mother tongue]. Very sad, sure.
CW: Do you have an eytse, a piece of advice for --
LN: For who?
CW: For -- sort of about what we've been talking about today. Future generations.110:00
LN: The culture that I came from has always been a very important part of me,and I'm very grateful for it. I'm very grateful to Boston, because Boston was where we had that culture, that cultural rooting. And it's been very meaningful to me to -- as a part of my life and a part of who I am. I think it's been a terribly important, meaningful part of my work. I was always thrilled and always have been thrilled when I've been able to get in touch with some root element that came from Boston or my Yiddish or Jewish cultural life that -- to be -- to find its way into my work in some way. The "Fiddler on the Roof" was one example, but there have been others. I played Golda Meir's husband in the television movie, "A Woman Called Golda." And one of the great 111:00thrills of my life, acting with a couple of brilliant actresses, Judy Davis and Ingrid Bergman, playing Morris Meyerson, the husband -- Golda Meir's husband. I was nominated for an Emmy. And I produced and starred in a television movie called "Never Forget," which was a great thrill for me, to be able to get that done. I was very passionate about the story, a story about a man here in Southern California, Mel Mermelstein, who filed a suit against Holocaust deniers, people who were arguing that the Jews were never gassed by the Nazis, as Jews claimed. And he filed suit against them and won the lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court. So, I was able to get that produced, that story told. I think -- an important story -- that the Holocaust, as a result of that 112:00case -- the Holocaust entered into American jurisprudence, American law for the very first time, in 1959, I think, or '69. I've forgotten the year. It's been some time since I did it. But it was many years after the war that it became legal fact. The Holocaust became a legal fact. So, being able to tap into my ancestry and my culture and my Jewish experience, to bring that into the work, is a great blessing to me, to be able to find my way into that cohesion, that collection of ideas and experiences and values.
CW: Well, a sheynem dank [thank you very much].
LN: You, too. A sheynem dank.
CW: Thanks so much.
LN: Good luck, zay gezunt [farewell].
CW: (laughs) Biz hundert un tsvantsik, zayt mir gezunt un shtark [be well andhealthy]. (laughs) Thanks for -- it was a great pleasure for me and also for 113:00the Yiddish Book Center.
[END OF INTERVIEW]