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November 08, 1985 - Image 112

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-11-08

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112

Friday, November 8, - 1985 THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Since he was 3 and appearing
with his parents' Yiddish theater
troupe, Mike Burstyn has made
the stage his home.

BY HEIDI PRESS
Local News Editor

Don't let Mike Burstyn's youth-
ful countenance fool you. That young
face has shown in front of Yiddish
theater audiences, Israeli and Dutch
TV audiences, on Broadway and in -
front of movie audiences around the
world.
Yet for all the recognition he
has received — two Harp of David
awards, the equivalent of the Oscar,
first prize in the Israel Song Contest
and 25 record albums to his credit —
Burstyn has found that being an
entertainer has its down side too.
His younger son, age 13, still
suffers psychological scars from
Burstyn's being away from home so
much, and his absence due to an as-
signment with a Dutch television
show was hard on his wife. To pre-
vent these long absences, Burstyn
said he'd like to do a TV series so
that he, his wife and children can
have a "normal" family life.
Perhaps that wish will come
true. He has auditioned for and won
a part in a forthcoming sitcom, The
Spiegelbergs of Nebraska, created by
former Barney Miller producer
Danny Arnold, scheduled to debut
this winter.
The native New Yorker, who
considers himself an Israeli since
making aliyah in 1962, counts his
sons among his greatest achieve-
ments, as well as getting the lead
role in the Broadway musical Bar-
num, which he played for eight
months. He won the Harp of David
(Kinor David) awards for two Israeli
films, Kuni Leml (1966) and Her-
shele (1976). He has recently com-
pleted filming in Egypt for the third
Kuni Leml film, Kuni Leml in Cairo.
"It's the first time I visited
Egypt," he says, "as a tourist." His
previous visit was as a soldier at-
tached to the entertainment corps of
The Israel Defense Forces. He also

served in 1982 with the entertain-
ment unit in Lebanon.
At the time of the Six-Day War,
he escorted his idol, entertainer
Danny Kaye, on a tour of Israeli
army bases. In addition to Kaye, he
idolizes his parents, Pesach'ke
Burstyn and Lillian Lux, leaders of
their own Yiddish theater troupe
since the 1930s. Burstyn also ad-
mires ABC newsman Ted Koppel.
"He (Koppel) epitomizes every-
thing I respect in a communicator,
especially his professionalism. He's
the best in his field."
Professionalism means a lot to
Burstyn. He has fired accompanists
who were not up to his standards.
Honesty, beauty, modesty, simplic-
ity, fairness — and Mozart and Al
Jolson — these are the things that
are important to Burstyn. And the
turnoffs? Lack of professionalism,
prima donnas (especially among
entertainers), loudness, falseness, in-
sincerity, Yassir Arafat and Louis
Farrakhan.
Asked why he chose Jolson as a
favorite, Burstyn said he always
wanted to "play him." But he has
another secret desire — to play
Tevye the dairyman from Fiddler on
the Roof.
He told a recent Israel Bond
dinner audience as he introduced a
song from Fiddler, "I'm not old
enough to play this musical, but
someday . . ."
What he is old enough to do is
entertain, and he does it with a
smile on his face and a sparkle in
his eyes. And his talents are not of
recent vintage either.
At age 3, he was "pushed on
stage," with his parents' Yiddish
theater troupe, and subsequently
"stole the show from my father." He
appeared with his twin sister, now a
housewife, and the troupe became

Burstyn includes Hebrew and Yiddish songs in his shows.

known as the Four Burstyns. He
says young people were a rarity on
the Yiddish stage, and as his parents
aged he and his sister took over
their roles.
The family traveled around the
world — Burstyn's Polish-born par-
ents were married in South America
— and the young Burstyn "loved it
at the time." But as he got older, he
found making friends difficult be-
cause the family was always on the
road. He doesn't want his own fam-
ily to have the same experience.
"I don't want to do to them (his
sons) what was done to me."
His first visit to Israel was in
1954, and while attending school
there, he decided that someday he
would make Israel his home. In 1962
he made aliyah. "I got the feeling
that I came home," Burstyn recalls.
It was in his new "home" that
he achieved his greatest success. He
has appeared in Israeli films and
hosted two Israeli TV shows, one a

variety show, the other a talent
show. He performed for the Israel
Children's Song Festival and in 1967
won first prize • in the adult Israel
Song Festival. In addition, he ap-
peared on Israeli talk shows.
When not on TV, Burstyn ap-
peared in clubs and it was in a Jaffa
nightclub that he got his big break.
A TV correspondent asked him
about doing a special on Dutch TV
about the 30th anniversary of Israel.
The program was a Catholic show,
and the producers did not want any
entertainment. While he was de-
liberating taking the assignment,
the head of the Dutch TV network, a
Jew, called him to discuss a 45-
minute special."
"It was the one phone call that
changed my life," Burstyn said. The
studio built a replica of an Israeli
nightclub and the show was aired.
It was so successful, Burstyn re-
calls, that the network offered him

Continued on Page 64

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