Another more recognized than well known character actor has departed the planet with the passing of the apparently born-middle-aged Lou Jacobi at the age of 95. In a town full of Jewish actors and behind-the-camera talent, Jacobi and the late Ned Glass, who was as skinny as Jacobi was chubby and who made a recent cameo appearance here, were mid-century Hollywood’s central casting Jews, male division.
Appropriately enough, he began his career in the Broadway cast of “The Diary of Anne Frank” and appeared in George Stevens’ 1959 film version. From then on, he played an endless string of both fathers and uncles who were explicitly Jewish or, as they say in film classes, “coded” as Jewish, in innumerable TV and film roles. The one major exception was his role as the worldly wise bartender, Moustache, in Billy Wilder’s “Irma la Douce.” Still, within or without his usual niche, he was as reliable as comedic clockwork as you’ll see in these two rather amazing scenes.
First, a sketch from Woody Allen’s utterly loose 1972 non-adaptation of Dr. David Reuben’s huge and now ultra-dated bestseller, “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex *But We’re Afraid to Ask.” The book was originally seen as the height of sexual rationality but quickly became passe in more enlightened quarters with, among other issues, its assumption that homosexuality was a disease. (At the time, Gore Vidal commented that Reuben was “not a man of science but a moderately swinging rabbi.”) The question behind this scene reflects those attitudes but, right up until it goes soft right at the last second, it’s mostly pure comedy greatness with Jacobi’s utterly sympathetic portrayal of a garden variety hetero transvestite who gets in just little over his head.
And here is a scene penned by another great seriocomic writer of the alienated Jewish variety, cartoonist-turned playwright Jules Feiffer. In a scene from 1971’s “Little Murders,” Jacobi is a bombastic judge who has a thing or fifteen to say about being asked by Elliot Gould and Marcia Rodd to remove any mention of God from a wedding ceremony.
Jacobi was someone I already missed seeing, and though he was no spring chicken, it’s sad to see him go. Edward Copeland has more.