Chaim Topol: A Multifaceted Israeli Talent
Chaim Topol, born on September 9, 1935, was a versatile Israeli artist, excelling in various creative domains such as acting, television hosting, film production, illustration, painting, writing, poetry, dubbing, and singing. He was a two-time Golden Globe Award winner and a nominee for both the Academy Awards and Tony Awards. In 2015, Topol was honored with the Israel Prize for his exceptional contributions to society and the nation.
Chaim Topol was born, raised, and educated in the Florentine neighborhood of Tel Aviv, Israel. His kindergarten teacher was the renowned author Yemima Avidar-Tchernovitz. He attended the Tachkemoni School and was a member of the religious Zionist youth movement "HaTzofim HaDatiim" (Religious Scouts) in the Shapira neighborhood. During his youth, he worked at the printing house of the newspaper "Davar."
Topol served in the Israeli Defense Forces as a member of the Nahal entertainment troupe during its second cycle. It was during this period that he met his future wife, Galia, and Uri Zohar, who would become his stage partner for many years. In the Nahal troupe, Topol portrayed the character of "Salach Shabati" in sketches written by Ephraim Kishon. This character later served as the basis for the film "Salach Shabati."
In 1956, Topol married Galia, and in 1957, together with Uri Zohar, Gabi Amrani, and others from the Nahal troupe, he formed the entertainment group "Betzal Yarok" (Green Onion). The group achieved significant success, appearing in five shows before disbanding in 1961.
In 1960, Topol was one of the founders of the "Haifa Municipal Theater" and performed as Petruchio in "The Taming of the Shrew" and Jean in "The Visit" in 1962. In the same year, Topol portrayed Azdak in "The Caucasian Chalk Circle" alongside Zaharira Harifai, a performance that garnered critical acclaim and was featured at the Venice Film Festival.
His first role in cinema came in 1960 in the film "I Like Mike" directed by Peter Frye. In 1963, he appeared in "Eldorado" alongside Gila Almagor.
In 1964, Topol played one of his most iconic roles in Israeli cinema, the lead role in "Sallah Shabati," directed by Ephraim Kishon. The film depicted the challenges faced by a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe and his family in Israel during the early 1950s. The film was a tremendous success in Israel and also found an audience in the United States. In 1965, Topol won the Golden Globe Award for "New Star of the Year," and the film itself won the Golden Globe for "Best Foreign Language Film." It was also nominated for an Academy Award in the "Best Foreign Language Film" category. The song "Mashiach HaZaken," sung by Topol in the film, became a major hit in Israel.
In 1966, Topol made his English-language film debut in "Cast a Giant Shadow" alongside Kirk Douglas, portraying the life of Israeli hero David Marcus during the War of Independence. In 1967, he began performing in London in his most famous role, Tevye the Milkman, in the musical "Fiddler on the Roof." He continued to star in the role on Broadway and in the West End for many years. The musical's songs, including "If I Were A Rich Man," became widely recognized.
In 1967, Topol starred as the charming rogue in another film by Ephraim Kishon, "Iznogoud," which was filmed in 1966.
In 1971, the film adaptation of "Fiddler on the Roof" was released, with Topol reprising his lead role. For this performance, he won the Golden Globe Award for "Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy" and was also nominated for the Academy Award for "Best Actor" in 1971. Following the film's success, Topol became an international star and continued to appear in numerous films. In 1972, he starred in "The Public Eye," a British romantic film directed by Carol Reed, opposite Mia Farrow. His performance earned him the Best Actor award at the San Sebastián International Film Festival. Other notable appearances include the role of Galileo Galilei in "Galileo" (1975), "Flash Gordon" (1980), and the James Bond film "For Your Eyes Only" (1981). In 1985, he appeared in the Israeli film "Roman Za'ir" alongside his wife, Galia, and their daughter, Anat.
Topol also appeared in English-language television series for the BBC, including "Z-Cars" and "Israel According to Topol." He featured in miniseries such as "Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance," based on the novels by Herman Wouk.
Topol provided the voice for Bagheera the Panther in "The Jungle Book" and its sequel, "The Jungle Book 2." He also dubbed the character of Rubeus Hagrid in the Israeli versions of "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" and "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," later replaced by Arik Czerniak.
In 1993-1994, he hosted the show "Chaim Will Arrange It," where he fulfilled the dreams of viewers. In the same year, he participated in a children's recording titled "Tomorrow is Shabbat" alongside Chani Nachmias.
In 1998, Topol reprised his role as Tevye the Milkman in an Israeli production of "Fiddler on the Roof," with his daughter Adi playing one of Tevye's daughters. In 2001, he performed at the Geshur Theater in "The Devil in Moscow."
His autobiography, titled "Topol by Topol," was published in London, while in Israel, it was released as "Chaim Talks about Topol." He illustrated about 20 books and published his book "The Treasury of Jewish Humor."
In 2008, Chaim Topol hosted the Israel Prize ceremony alongside Miri Aloni.
In June 2008, Topol participated in a London production of the play "Gigi," and in early 2009, he embarked on a tour of the United States with a production of "Fiddler on the Roof," which ran until May 2010.
Topol is also known for his philanthropic efforts. He founded and served as the chairman of the board of directors of "Kfar Nahar HaYarden," a vacation village for children suffering from severe illnesses located in the Lower Galilee. He currently serves as the president of the Kfar Nahar HaYarden Foundation. Topol is also a passionate amateur painter. A series of stamps featuring his detailed portraits of Israeli presidents was issued by the Bolivian postal service in 2013, with proceeds going to Kfar Nahar HaYarden.
Awards and Honors
Chaim Topol received two Golden Globe Awards for his performances in "Sallah Shabati" and "Fiddler on the Roof." He was awarded the Kinor David Prize in 1964.
In May 2008, he was honored with the Israel Festival Award for his contributions to Israeli culture. The award was presented during the "Voice from the Movies" event, a tribute to Israeli film songs, held at the Sultan's Pool in Jerusalem.
In 2014, Chaim Topol was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Haifa and Bar-Ilan University.
In 2015, he received the Israel Prize for his outstanding contributions to society and the nation.
In 2016, Chaim Topol was granted the Key to the City of Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
During his service in the Nahal troupe, Chaim Topol met Galia (née Pinkelstein), whom he later married. The couple had three children: daughters Anat and Adi, who followed in their father's footsteps in the entertainment industry, and son Omer, who is a neurophysiologist.
Throughout his extensive career, Chaim Topol released several albums. Many of them were dedicated to children's stories, such as "Bimbo and Bimba," "Yossi and Anat," and "Shulita the Magician," recorded for various radio programs. In addition to these albums, Topol released several recordings featuring Israeli songs, songs from the musical "Fiddler on the Roof," and wartime songs.
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