There’s a lovely piece up on the Jewish Currents blog by L.A.-based Yiddishist Hershl Hartman, who had the privilege of tutoring the late Harold Ramis for a Yiddish-speaking cameo in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
Ramis plays L’Chaim(!), the Hasidic music producer to John C. Reilly’s washed-up titular rock star. In the all-too-brief scene, L’Chaim and Cox revert to Yiddish to avoid being overheard by prison guards. It’s a really zany, delightful Mel Brooks-ish moment.
I provided the producers of Walk Hard with a transliteration of the lines I’d re-written, and they brought me a tape recorder in which to read the lines for the actors, weeks before filming began. Reilly, as the star, had disdained to use those aids, so most of my day on set was devoted to drilling him. To no avail. Finally, director Jake Kasdan had “idiot cards” made to be held off-camera so that Reilly could read his handful of Yiddish phrases during filming.
Ramis, on the other hand, met me in his trailer with the lines already memorized. I had only to correct some slight errors in pronunciation. He explained that, though he didn’t speak Yiddish as a child in his native Chicago, he had heard enough being spoken around him so that the task was not difficult.
Reilly’s accent is abysmal (it sounds like he’s auditioning for the role of Hans Lada in Inglorious Basterds), but it’s worth watching for Ramis. Flawless.