Nehemiah Persoff, veteran character actor, dies

Nehemiah Persoff in Mission: Impossible

Nehemiah Persoff, a character actor who excelled at playing villains, has died at 102, according to Deadline: Hollywood and other outlets.

Persoff, over a career lasting from the late 1940s to almost 2000, played:

–A Blofeld-like villain in the 1961 John Wayne Western The Comancheros;

–A secondary Thrush villain out to kill his former mentor Mandor (Jack Lord) in The Master’s Touch Affair in the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.;

–Three episodes of The Wild Wild West, including the show’s 1965 pilot;

–Two episodes of I Spy, three episodes of Mission: Impossible, an episode of It Takes a Thief, and seven episodes of Hawaii Five-O.

Persoff could play heavies in comedies as well as dramas.

For example, Persoff played gangster Little Bonaparte in 1959’s Some Like It Hot. The mobster was hearing impaired, wearing hearing aids. Little Bonaparte has fellow gangster Spats Columbo (George Raft) and his men gunned down at a party, with the killer coming out of a large cake.

A lawman played by Pat O’Brien enters asking what happened.

“There was something in that cake that didn’t agree with them,” Little Bonaparte replies.

The actor was versatile and didn’t only portray villains.

In a 1975 episode of Columbo, he played a nightclub owner who is blackmailing a former Nazi (Jack Cassidy). Persoff’s character is killed by Cassidy’s magician character during the middle of his act.

In the final episode of Gunsmoke, he played an immigrant father who pressures his eldest son (Robert Urich) to fight him as a rite of passage.

3 Responses

  1. And a traumatized Nazi U-boat commander in the ‘Judgment Night” episode of “The Twilight Zone”

  2. With, IIRC, Patrick Macnee also in the cast.

  3. Good article Bill koening, on a true legendary character actor icon. There’s been so much prime time t v dramas spanning over probably 5 decades he’s apeared in. Hawaii five-o Gunsmoke voyage to the bottom of the sea. Time tunnel mission impossible. Many more. However, you mention the columbo episode with jack cassidy as the magician. The late Nehemiah persoff will always be with us in the classic reruns and our DvD collections. The late Nehemiah persoff R.I.P.

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