the schmooze
Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Syosset, New York
Joel Grey, American actor (“aktyor”), singer, dancer, and photographer, is best known for portraying the Master of Ceremonies in both the stage and film versions of the musical, “Cabaret.”  He has been called the “comic comet” by some newspapers.

“DINGEN” (to hire)
Director, Bob Fosse, did not want to hire Grey for the screen version of “Cabaret.”  He even toyed with the idea of casting Ruth Gordon.  Fortunately, producers insisted he be cast and his performance won Grey an Oscar.

 Grey has a new memoir titled, “Master of Ceremonies:
A Memoir.”  Carol Burnett says, “Joel’s story comes straight from the heart (“harts”) into yours.”

E. Bukowsky wrote, “In ‘Master of Ceremonies’ we learn that Joel Grey was a short Jewish kid with a moody and dominating mother who dressed ‘her prized possession’ in flamboyant outfits.  Unsurprisingly, his peers bullied him.”

As a boy, he performed with his father, Mickey Katz, a clarinetist who performed Yiddish novelty versions of pop songs. 

Grey said, “I never learned to speak Yiddish, ever.  It was just something that was learned by rote and I guess my deep background.”  The audience believed him; they just bought it. BTW, he sang, “Roumania, Roumania” on his album called “Songs My Father Taught Me.”

“ASIMILIRN” (assimilate)
When Grey’s father performed, there were those people who didn’t want to have Yiddish spoken on the radio or even in the theater because they were trying to assimilate.

Grey uses many Yiddish words in the book:  “faygelech,” “shanda,” “freilach,” “kvelling” and more.  Enjoy his love of the Yiddish language. 

Grey’s “Save the Tree Story” is “vunderlekh”:  (Note:  The Yiddish has been added by the writer.)

  When Joel Grey’s mother (born Joel David Katz) was   giving birth to me, she had terrible difficulties.  After 16   hours of excruciating labor, the obstetrician entered the   waiting room to report to my father and grandma Fanny   that the baby’s head was too large to get through the   birth canal.  It looked like only one of us would survive   (“blaybn lebn”).

  “Who should we save?” the doctor (“dokter”) asked.  “The mother or the baby (“beybi”)?”

  My father fainted, but Fanny answered without hesitation,  “Save de tree.  There’ll be more branches.”

Luckily the doctor’s prognosis turned out to be wrong.

His mother would hum and half-sing the Yiddish song,“Vos geven iz geven iz dito.”  (What was, was, and is no

In the early 1950s, sociologist, Herbert Gans, wrote of Grey’s father, Mickey Katz, that he “moved away from his orthodox origins to assume the peculiar marginality called Yinglish.”
  (Source:  Book review by Rokhl Kofrissen, JewishBook

“Yinglish” is another way of referring to Yiddish words and expressions that have become anglicized and are easily recognizable.  (Source:  “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Yiddish” by Rabbi Benjamin Blech.)

Joel Grey discusses “faygelehs” (the Yiddish word that meant little birds was derogatory slang for the flittery- fluttery outcasts with lisps and limp wrists).  He had to protect himself from queer or faygeleh being leveled at him.  He had to conceal the closeness and comfort he had with certain boys.

Grey spoke about the word “faygeleh”:  “…it was a derogative word, dismissive, too, that Jewish people would use, a Yiddish word to put down people who were gay…You were afraid you’d be called that.”

Grey says that when he went to kindergarten (“kinder- gorton”), he told the teacher that his name was Yausel.
The teacher said the name of Yausel sounds like a shlemazl. From Yausel, his name became Joel Grey.

   Grey’s book  includes a Yiddish parody of “Home on the  Range”:

Oy geb mir a haim
(oh, give me a home)
Mit a viable sain
(with a pretty wife)
Vu de sheps und die
tziggelach lafen
(Where the sheep and the lambs run)
Oy, geb mir a hois
(oh, give me a house)
Mit gezündte cowboys
(with healthy cowboys)
Und a por hundred cattle tzu far kafen
(and a couple of hundred cattle to sell)

“ZINGT” (sing)
Grey’s father did a parody of the hit songs of the day— such as “Shrimp Boats” (it became “Herring Boats”) and “Kiss of Fire” (“Kiss of Meyer”).

Joel writes that “In Borsht Capades women swooped over a handsome tenor singing “Ich hob dir tzu fil leibt: (I love you much too much); men laughed at the ventriloquist Rickie Layne and his Yiddish-speaking dummy, Velvel.”

Grey wrote that “In ‘Cabaret’ there was some controversy (“sikhsekh”)  about the lyric, “She wouldn’t look Jewish at all,” in the number “If You Could See her Her” (the Gorilla Song.)  During previews, some Jewish groups, totally misunderstood its true significance, opposed the last line, the punch line in the show.”  Rather than endanger the life of the whole show, during previews they replaced the original line with, “She isn’t a meeskite at all.”  Meeskite is Yiddish for ugly or funny looking.

Grey writes about “schwarze jab" (black frog).  Note:
“shvarts” means “black.”  His aunt had a darker skin than the rest of the family.

Grey uses the expression, “faygelech in bosom”—
(flutterng birds in her breasts or unrealistic dreams.)
Note:  In Yiddish, “the bosom” is “der buzem.”

NOZ (nose)
At the recommendation of his agent, Grey got a nose job.

“MISTERYE GAST” (mystery guest)
Joel Grey was the first (“ershter”) mystery guest on the syndicated revival of “What’s My Line?”

Michael Schulman wrote about Joel Grey:  “I tried to call him on the phone to talk about his new book and the message said, “Allo!  Who’s dis?”  (He realized it was Grey with his farkakte accent.)

KHAVEYRIM (friends)
Grey writes about his showbiz friends:  “My great good friend,  Beverly Sills, “the great soprano” and “Larry Hagman, my next-door neighbor in the Malibu Colony and one of my cherished friends for years.”


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N O P Q R S T U V W   Y Z
Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of
two books:
yiddish for dog and cat loversbook
"Yiddish for Dog & Cat Lovers" and
"Are Yentas, Kibitzers, & Tummlers Weapons of Mass Instruction?  Yiddish
Trivia."  To order a copy, go to her

NU, what are you waiting for?  Order the book!

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