“Papa Can You Hear Me” …Precious Moments With Nehemiah Persoff

By Steve Vertlieb: Here is, perhaps, the most exciting moment of my recent pilgrimage to Los Angeles and Hollywood, California. I’ve been a huge fan of character actor Nehemiah Persoff for some sixty years. We’d begun a degree of correspondence in May 2019. I was watching an episode of tv’s The Untouchables during a televised weekend retrospective in the late Spring and there, of course, was the great Nehemiah appearing as a guest in three separate episodes of the classic television series.

I began to wonder whatever became of this marvelous actor and so, before retiring for the evening, I started to research Mr. Persoff’s whereabouts on my computer. As luck would have it, I found him and wrote him a rather hasty letter of personal and lifelong admiration. To my shock and utter astonishment, he responded within five minutes.

I told him that I was coming West in a few months, and wondered if there was even the most remote possibility that I could personally pay my respects. Born in Palestine (now Jerusalem) on August 2nd, 1919, this gifted actor was about to turn one hundred years old.

Mr. Persoff generously consented to a visit and so, on Wednesday, August 28, 2019, my brother Erwin and I commenced our long drive to his home. We spent two hours at the feet of this remarkable human being, and shared a virtual Master Class on the art and history of screen acting. He spoke reverently of working with Marlon Brando at The Actor’s Studio, and in On The Waterfront, as well as studying with Elia Kazan in the late nineteen forties.

When Billy Wilder was casting Some Like It Hot, he’d chosen Edward G. Robinson to play Little Bonaparte, opposite George Raft and Pat O’Brien. When the two had a falling out, however, someone suggested Nehemiah Persoff for the part. The rest, as they, is history. When Barbra Streisand sang the moving “Papa, Can You Hear Me” in Yentl, she was singing to Nehemiah Persoff in a performance that, I’d like to believe, most effortlessly captured this remarkable actor’s gentle soul.

I shall remain forever grateful to have spent such joyous hours with this blessed soul … and for the gift of your friendship, dearest Nehemiah, I can only express my heartfelt gratitude. God Bless and Keep You.

The Original William Shatner ‘Star Trek’ Fanzine Interview Origin

By Steve Vertlieb: It was fifty years ago this month that I interviewed William Shatner for the British magazine L’Incroyable Cinema in July1969 (later re-printed in The Monster Times in early 1972) at The Playhouse In The Park. Star Trek was still in the final days of its original network run on NBC.

My old friend Allan Asherman, who joined my little brother Erwin and I for this once in a lifetime meeting with Captain James Tiberius Kirk, astutely commented that I had now met all three of our legendary boyhood “Captains,” which included Jim Kirk (Bill Shatner), Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers (Larry “Buster” Crabbe), and Buzz Corry (Ed Kemmer). It’s funny how an often charmed life can include real life friendships with childhood heroes.

Steve Vertlieb, William Shatner, and Erwin Vertlieb (1969).

L’Incroyable Cinema Issue 3 Centre Spread for what may have been the first fanzine interview ever conducted with William Shatner while “Star Trek” was still airing over the NBC Television Network.

L’Incroyable Cinema No. 3 Wrap round cover for their special Star Trek interview issue.

Here is the cover for The Monster Times 1972 “Star Trek issue featuring my published 1969 interview with William Shatner from L’Incroyable Cinema Magazine.