Popular Articles

Jerry Stiller: American Jewish Style, and the Schlemiel

Most fondly remembered as Frank Costanza, the iconic father of the schlemiel, George Constanza

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Click an icon above to share, email, or save this article

Jerry Stiller playng George Costanza's father

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Click an icon above to share, email, or save this article

Thanks to TV’s Seinfeld, Jerry Stiller embodied what would become one of America’s most enduring and famous Jewish dads – even if his character’s last name was more stereotypically Italian (Costanza) than Jewish.

Born to Jewish immigrant parents from Poland, and raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Jerry (Yizchak) Stiller passed away May 11, 2020, a month shy of his 93rd birthday.

In Stiller’s acting roles throughout the decades, you find something that always includes schlemielsschlimazels and nudniks: from Anne Meara and Stiller on the Ed Sullivan Show, to Stiller as Frank Costanza on Seinfeld, to Arthur Spooner on The King of Queens in more than 200 episodes, he gave life to all of these comic characters.  

He is, however, most fondly remembered as Frank Costanza, the iconic father of the schlemiel, George Constanza, from the sitcom Seinfeld.

Speaking about himself in a five-part interview, Stiller notes that when he was a child, he was inspired to become an actor when he saw Jewish comic actor, Eddie Cantor.

Get thej.ca a Pro Israel Voice by Email. Never miss a top story that effects you, your family & your community

Stiller discloses that Cantor showed him how, even in America, a Jew (who only insiders knew was Jewish) can become famous. He realized that he, too, could make it in America and his “American Jewish” style took a lot from Cantor’s.

After his service in World War Two, Stiller attended Syracuse University. Afterward, he played on the theme of “American Jewish style” in performances with Anne Meara (who became his wife), that comically riffed on the contrast between the Jewish and the Irish American. His comical jaunts with her on the Ed Sullivan Show were always mixed with Yiddishisms. His Jewishness, though concealed, was craftily revealed through his body, speech play, and gestures.

In another interview, Stiller disclosed that a key moment in his career happened when he performed with Robin Williams in the film Seize the Day (1986). Unlike other roles, he played a Jewish surrogate father of sorts, a street smart businessman, who teaches Williams’ character to be independent. On set, Stiller recalled how they were shooting on Yom Kippur. When Jews going to synagogue saw him, they asked why he wasn’t also going to services.

He confessed to Williams how ashamed he was, but Williams told him – in the most American way – that he is “free” and that “work” is more important. Stiller understood this to mean that he is an American first, a Jew second.

Notwithstanding his own perceptions, his acting legacy demonstrates how he was, in fact, very much a Jewish American, through mannerisms, language and idiosyncrasies

Menachem Feuer has a PhD in Comparative Literature and a Masters in Philosophy. Feuer currently teaches Jewish Studies at the University of Waterloo and is the CEO of Adaleg IT, a community-based organization that trains and places members of the Jewish community in Coding, Data Science, Machine Learning, Cloud Computing, etc in three countries. Feuer is the author of Schlemiel Theory – a blog dedicated to the Jewish comic character otherwise known as the schlemiel.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Click an icon above to share, email, or save this article

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Click an icon above to share, email, or save this article

Read More

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

cOMING SOON…….

Breaking News

Recent

Features

News

Current Events

Opinions

Politics

Religion

Culture

Memoriam and Obituaries

PodcastS

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

About Us

Advertise with us

contact 

Subscribe Now

Receive the latest in community & international Jewish news direct to your inbox

© 2020 THEJ.CA, All Rights Reserved

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

About Us

Advertise with us

contact 

Subscribe Now

Receive the latest in community & international Jewish news direct to your inbox

© 2020 THEJ.CA, All Rights Reserved

Subscribe Now

Receive the latest in community & international Jewish news direct to your inbox

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

About Us

Advertise with us

contact 

© 2020 THEJ.CA, All Rights Reserved

Previous
Next