Jewish ‘Pop’ Culture: A look at Jewish fathers in film and TV

Quintessential Jewish dad? Topol as Tevye in the film version of ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

For better or for worse, Jewish mothers have captured most of the attention in modern-day American popular culture. Today, we’re not going to delve into the reasons why this is the case. Rather, in honor of Father’s Day on Sunday, we (as in me and colleague and consummate dad Bob Cohn) turn our attention to Jewish fathers of note in pop culture. Bear in mind that these 10 examples aren’t necessarily fathers who we would have wanted to grow up with, but ones who certainly left an indelible mark. So without further ado:

1. Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof.” The role has been played by many (Zero Mostel and Herschel Bernardi, among others, on Broadway; Topol in the 1971 film version), but in all incarnations this father is clearly one who loves and is devoted to his family, though in the end, he cannot reconcile one of his daughters marrying out of the Jewish religion.

2. Cantor Rabinovich (played by Laurence Olivier) in the 1980 Neil Diamond version of “The Jazz Singer” wants his pop singer son to follow in his footsteps as a Cantor despite his son’s wish to be an  entertainer.

3. Dustin Hoffman has played three different kinds of Jewish fathers in “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979), “Meet the Fockers” (2004) and “Barney’s Version” (2010). Of the three, it’s his role in the latter as retired cop Izzy Panofsky, a mensch of a dad if there ever was one, who stands by his son no matter what, that we most admire.

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4. As portrayed by Jeremy Piven in HBO’s “Entourage,” Ari Gold is a pit bull in his job as Hollywood entertainment agent. But there’s no doubt Ari loves his children, even if they’re not always convenient. As an aside, Piven played a similarly driven Jewish dad in the 2006 film “Keeping Up with the Steins.” His Adam Fiedler yearns to be a better dad to son Benjamin (Daryl Sabara) largely because his own father (Garry Marshall) walked out on him and his mother (Doris Roberts).

5. In the 1963 film “Come Blow Your Horn,” lady’s man Alan Baker (Frank Sinatra) strives to please his dad (Lee J. Cobb) who is convinced his son is a “bum” because he has no wife or regular job. Then again, Alan’s mother (Molly Picon) is no walk in the park, either.

6. As played by Nancy Walker, Ida Morgenstern was the quintessential Jewish mother to her daughter Rhoda on the 1970s TV comedies “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and its spinoff “Rhoda.” But to father Martin Morgenstern (Harold Gould), Rhoda was the light of his life and he was her voice of reason.

7. Lawyer Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher) on TV’s erstwhile “The O.C.” was a firm but fair dad who enjoyed bagels and celebrating “Chrismukkah” with the kids.

8. As owner of the pharmacy that bears his name, Mort Goldman (from TV’s “The Family Guy’) is the kind of Jewish dad given to conversations about rather depressing, and often grotesque, topics that often have to do with the details of his customer’s health problems.

9. Nobody puts Baby in the corner, least of all her dad Dr. Jake Houseman (Jerry Orbach) in the 1987 film “Dirty Dancing.” Both of the good doctor’s daughters idolized him, but it was Baby (Jennifer Grey) who taught her dad a thing or two about loving someone for who he is.

10. As episodes on TV’s long-running “The Simpsons” go, few are more memorable than “Like Father, Like Clown.” Leave it to Bart and Lisa to try to reunite Krusty the Clown with his father, Rabbi Hyman Krustofski, who disowned Krusty for pursuing a career in comedy rather than going to the yeshiva.

We invite readers to submit others to add to the list in the commenting feature below.