A “One-Hit Wonder” is a singer who has one hit… and that’s it.
But we would like to tell you about “One-Show Wonders.” These are actors— in this case, Jewish actors— who are really best known for one memorable role on one show. While some of them had other roles, these are the ones they are most known for… some of the most famous and best-loved characters in all of TV history!
In most cases, the shows are more famous than they are, so that’s how we listed them. Do any of your favorite shows have Jewish actors?
The Addams Family
Carolyn Jones played the morbid matriarch, Morticia.
Barney himself was played by Jewish actor Hal Linden. His staff of detectives included Detective Arthur Dietrich, played by Steve Landesberg… and Fish, played by Abe Vigoda (who also had a memorable part in the Godfather movies). Fish’s wife, Bernice, was played by Florence Stanley on that show and its spin-off, Fish.
Mabel Albertson played Phyllis Stephens, Darrin’s mother. And the Kravitzes, their neighbors, were Gladys and Abner, who were played by Sandra Gould and George Tobias.
This 1990s classic show starred Mayim Bialik as a girl who lived in a house full of guys. Her first name is the Hebrew word for "water," and her last name is the same as a great Israeli poet, Chaim Nachman Bialik. As you might guess, they were related; Chaim was her great-great-grandfather's uncle! Today, Mayim is a neuroscientist-- a brain specialist! And she plays one, too, on Big Bang Theory.
Rhea Perlman played the irrepressible (that means you can’t keep her down) Carla Tortelli, one of the bar’s waitresses. In real life, she was married to Danny DeVito!
Rita Karin played Bea Fisher, Jackie’s mom on Chicken Soup. And Jackie was stand-up comic Jackie Mason, basically playing himself. The short-lived show was about his dating a non-Jewish woman.
Jack Albertson played Ed Brown, the “Man” in the title, and later Grandpa Joe in the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie! But who was Chico? Freddie Prinze… yes, the real dad of Freddie Prinze Jr.!
The Dukes of Hazzard
Sorrell Booke played the portly, rich county commissioner, who always dressed in a white suit—
like Colonel Sanders of KFC— and had the very un-kosher name of Boss Hogg.
Everybody Loves Raymond
This is a very Jew-ful show. Raymond’s mother is played by Doris Roberts. His brother is played by Brad Garrett. That character’s girlfriend is played by Monica Horan… who is the real-life wife of Phil Rosenthal, the show’s producer!
The Facts of Life
Mindy Cohn starred as Natalie Green, one of the students who were loosely based on the characters in the classic children’s novel Little Women. And Jewish actress Charlotte Rae was in charge of dorm at their all-girls school.
Tracy Pollan played Ellen Reed. Yes, this is how she met the man she married… that series’ star, Michael J. Fox.
Scott Weinger played Steve, DJ Tanner’s boyfriend, on this long-running series gave us Bob Saget, John Stamos, and of course the inescapable Olson twins.
Ginger, the spice, is kosher… and so was Tina Louise, who played Ginger, the “movie star” stranded on the island with enough clothes for years for just a “three-hour tour.”
This show was about a nanny named Nell Harper, played by Nell Carter, an African-American woman who converted to Judaism. She could even sing Jewish songs gospel-style! You can hear her sing in the movie of the musical Hair.
Don Adams starred as Maxwell Smart, secret agent, in this James Bond spoof created by Mel Brooks. (Don was also the toon voices of the robot agent Inspector Gadget… and a penguin named Tennessee Tuxedo!)
The Golden Girls
Estelle Getty was Sophia Petrillo, the sharp-tongued mother of Dorothy, played by Bea Arthur (see this Bonus). Betty White, suddenly famous again now, was a star, too.
Aside from its star, Henry “Fonzie” Winkler, as Ron “Richie” Howard’s cool biker-dude friend, the show featured Jewish actors Tom Bosley as Richie’s dad and Don “Ralph Malph” Most and Anson “Potsie” Williams as his two nerdy friends. This meant that most of the starring cast was Jewish!
This was a show which would never be on today! It was about some American soldiers captured by the Nazis and how they used their position behind enemy lines to help the American army. The Nazi chief of their prison camp, Colonel Wilhelm Klink, was played by Werner Klemperer… his commander, Nazi General Albert Burkhalter, was played by Leon Askin… and the most famous character, the not-so-bright Nazi Sergeant Hans Schultz (“I know nothink!”) was played by John Banner. Yup! All the major Nazi roles were played by Jewish actors! Alongside the Americans was Corporal LeBeau, a French prisoner of war played by Jewish actor Robert Clary.
Mary Tyler Moore
Harold Gould played Martin Morgenstern, Rhoda’s dad here and on her spin-off, Rhoda. And Mary’s boss, of course, was played by Ed Asner. You know Betty White? This was her first hit show.
Bill Macy was Walter Findlay, Maude’s husband. And Maude was Bea Arthur (see this Bonus).
From the black-and-white days of TV. Al Lewis was Grandpa, the elderly vampire whose daughter and grandson were also vampires. His son-in-law was a Frankenstein monster… and their pet was a dragon!
The two bailiffs were always the too-tall Richard Moll and a much shorter woman. For while, that was Selma Diamond, as Selma Hacker (way before, she was on the writing team of Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows with Woody Allen, Neil Simon, and Mel Brooks! Which is why she has a cameo in the movie My Favorite Year, based on that group of writers.). For a few seasons, the short bailiff was Florence Halop, as Florence Kleiner. Then it was comedian Marsha Warfield.
One Day at a Time
Bonnie Franklin was Ann Romano, the mom. Valerie Bertinelli, now on Hot in Cleveland (with Betty White!), was her daughter.
If you think the title character of this 1980s show had an unusual name, she was played by an young actress named Soliel Moon-Frye! "Soliel" (say: so-LAY) is French word for "Sun." So, yes, her name means "Sun Moon!" The show was about a spunky foster child, and was sort of a modern remake of Little Orphan Annie. (Here's some trivia we bet even those who saw the show don't know: Punky's real name was Penelope!)
Saved by the Bell
Elizabeth Berkley was Jessie Spano, the class president… and at the other end of the popularity ladder, Dustin Diamond was Screech, the klutzy classmate.
Welcome Back, Kotter
Marcia Strassman played Julie Kotter, Mr. Kotter’s wife (she was also the mom in the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids movies!). Gabe Kotter, a teacher who came “back” to teach at his old high school, was played by comedian Gabe Kaplan (see this Bonus). And one of his students was named Juan Epstein, probably the first Hispanic-Jewish character ever!
Rebecca Schull played Fay Cochran on this show about a one-airplane airline. Its breakout stars included Tony Shaloub, now star of TV’s Monk… Thomas Hayden Church, most recently Sandman in the Spider-Man films… and Steven Weber, who was in the great series Studio 60.
This actioner is one of the most Jew-ful shows ever. See this Bonus.
This classic Western show starred Lorne Greene (see this Bonus) and Michael Landon (see this Bonus). In fact, there were Jews who were real-life Wild West settlers and even cowboys. Yippie-ki-oy!
Buffy, The Vampire Slayer
Another one of the most Jew-ful shows ever! See this Bonus.
Jaclyn Smith was Kelly Garrett, one of the Angels who was there was the whole series. And Tanya Roberts, now a regular on That '70s Show, was on for a season.
Yaphet Kotto, as Lieutenant Giaradello, runs this police department, which includes Detective Munch, played by Richard Belzer. The show is set in Baltimore, so of course Barry Levinson created it. Yaphet later played Idi Amin, the brutal dictator of the African nation of Uganda, in a movie about how Israeli commandos saved a planeload of Jewish hostages from terrorists in the 1970s. True story!
Michele Lee played Karen Cooper Fairgate MacKenzie (she was also in the original version of Disney’s The Love Bug!) and Claudia Lonow played Diana Fairgate. This was a night-time drama about a rich family and their, um, dramatic lives.
Michael Tucker was Stuart Markowitz, a loveable lawyer (he was also in two of Barry Levinson’s films and in Woody Allen’s Radio Days ). He was really married to the woman who played his wife on the show!
The Love Boat
Bernie Kopell played Dr. Adam Bricker, the ship’s doctor. The show, which had guest stars every episode, was about stuff (mostly romantic) that would happen during a luxury cruise.
The West Wing
The presidential family lives in the East Wing of the White house, and works in the West Wing, see. Richard Schiff was Toby Ziegler, White House Communications Director. In real life, some of the people with that job have been Jewish, too! Josh Malina was one of the show's stars, and the show was created by Jewish producer Aaron Sorkin. You can read more about Richard and Aaron on Josh's Bonus, too.
Mira Furlan played Minbari Ambassador Delenn on Babylon 5 (and more recently Danielle Rousseau on Lost) and Stephen Furst played Centauri diplomatic attaché Vir Cotto (He was also in Animal House!). The show is very Jewish for its futuristic setting; one of the regular characters is a rabbi!
Lost in Space
This show goes back to the black-and-white days of TV! Jonathan Harris played Dr. Zachary Smith, the evil mad scientist who kept trying to escape the planet the family was stranded on. But one of the most famous characters was the tractor-footed, claw-handed, bubble-headed robot who warned of danger by actually yelling “Danger! Danger!” and swinging his arms around!
Walter Koenig was Ensign Pavel Chekov. Of course, he was one of a few Jewish actors on that crew. Sharing the command deck of the Enterprise were William Shatner as Capatin Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock.
Luckily, we lived through that year without anyone getting stranded on the Moon! But in this show from the 1970s, Martin Landau and his real-life wife, Barbara Bain, had that fate. To be fair, these two aren't One Show Wonders; in fact, they had another hit show together, Mission: Impossible.
Of course, lots of Jewish actors are stars of their shows, and they have their own pages. But we thought it was only fair to pay notice to some of the amazing Jewish actors who left us some of the most famous, iconic characters of our TV-watching lives. Just think of how many actors spend their lives in Hollywood and never even have one memorable role!
Like the saying goes, “There are no small parts.” This means that even the most off-to-the-side characters can become center stage in our minds in the hands (and faces) of great actors. And if you’ve ever seen these characters, you have never forgotten them!
Want to know if your favorite show has a Jewish actor? Or did we miss one? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know!