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Sam Jaffe Biography

  • Profession: Actor
  • Born: Mar 10, 1891
  • Died: Mar 24, 1984
  • Birth Name: Shalom Jaffe

Nature obviously intended for Sam Jaffe to spend much of his screen career playing eccentric scientists and peppery little old men. As a child, Jaffe appeared in Yiddish stage productions with his mother, a prominent actress. He gave up the theater to study engineering at Columbia University, then served for several years as a mathematics teacher in the Bronx. He returned to acting in 1915 and never left, despite efforts by the more rabid communist-hunters of the 1950s to prevent the gently liberal-minded Jaffe from earning a living. Jaffe's now-familiar shock of wild, white hair was first put on view before the cameras in 1934's [[Feature~V43090~The Scarlet Empress~thescarletempress]], in which he played the insane Grand Duke Peter (several critics compared Jaffe's erratic behavior and bizarre appearance to [[Performer~P46157~Harpo Marx~harpomarx]]). Still only in his mid-40s, Jaffe went on to play the centuries-old High Lama in Capra's [[Feature~V30150~Lost Horizon~losthorizon]] (1937). In 1939, he essayed the title character in [[Feature~V21156~Gunga Din~gungadin]], though Hollywood protocol dictated that top billing go to [[Performer~P28204~Cary Grant~carygrant]], [[Performer~P47783~Victor McLaglen~victormclaglen]] and [[Performer~P89298~Douglas Fairbanks Jr~douglasfairbanksjr]]. Jaffe was Oscar-nominated for his performance as Doc, the "brains" in the 1950 crime film [[Feature~V3102~The Asphalt Jungle~theasphaltjungle]]. His resemblance to Albert Einstein (minus the bushy moustache, of course) led to Jaffe being cast in Einsteinlike roles in [[Feature~V19402~Gentleman's Agreement~gentlemansagreement]] (1947) and [[Feature~V12638~The Day the Earth Stood Still~thedaytheearthstoodstill]] (1951). Jaffe was the lifelong best friend of [[Performer~P60775~Edward G. Robinson~edwardgrobinson]], with whom he appeared in the made-for-TV film [[Feature~V127907~The Old Man Who Cried Wolf~theoldmanwhocriedwolf]] (1971). TV viewers with long memories will recall Sam Jaffe as snowy-haired father-figure Dr. Zorba on the 1960s TV series [[Feature~V84807~Ben Casey~thebensonmurdercase]], in which Jaffe was co-starred with his second wife, [[Performer~P182~Bettye Ackerman~bettyeackerman]]. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi