Bernardi, Herschel

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BERNARDI, HERSCHEL (1924–1986), U.S. actor. Born in New York City, Bernardi was the product of a long-established family of Yiddish performers. On stage from childhood, he made his first on-camera appearances in 1939 in the Yiddish-language films Green Fields and The Singing Blacksmith. Bernardi toured in a one-man program of Shalom Aleichem stories and performed in The World of Sholom Aleichem, 1954. Along with many fellow entertainers, he was blacklisted by Hollywood in the early 1950s for alleged Communist ties. Bernardi's first part on Broadway was in the musical Bajour in 1965. He then played Tevye in the Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof (1966–67), as well as in a revival run at Lincoln Center in 1981. He also performed in the Broadway productions Zorba (1968–69) and The Goodbye People (1979).

In addition to his many television guest appearances and roles in tv movies, Bernardi is well remembered for his characterizations of Lt. Jacoby on the Peter Gunn detective series (1958–61) and Arnie Nuvo in the sitcom Arnie (1970–72). Bernardi also provided voiceovers for hundreds of cartoons and commercials, most notably the wisecracking Charley the Tuna and the laughing Jolly Green Giant. At one point in his career, he had strained his vocal chords so severely that his doctor ordered him not to speak for a full year or he might lose his voice permanently.

He appeared in a number of films over the years, among them Murder by Contract (1958); The Savage Eye (1960); A Cold Wind in August (1961); Irma La Douce (1963); Love with the Proper Stranger (1963); and The Front (1976). Bernardi was one of the main interviewees in the 1984 documentary Almonds and Raisins, written by Wolf *Mankowitz and narrated by Orson Welles. The film examines the dozens of Yiddish-language talking films made in the U.S. and Europe between the release of The Jazz Singer in 1927 and the outbreak of World War ii.


J. Bernardi, My Father the Actor (1971).

[Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]