George Segal Dies; Jews of a Certain Age Grieve

Clips from our most ‘That Guy From Temple’ movie star

When news of the death of George Segal hit the wires yesterday, my phone blew up with grieving texts. That’s because all my friends are aging Jews who went to the movies a lot in the 1970s. Many Tweets bidding goodbye to George Segal said, “I loved him in The Goldbergs,” to which a friend replied, “that’s like posting photos from Labyrinth when David Bowie died. Those who knew George Segal only from his sitcom work are George Segal amateurs.

Segal was a movie star in an age where male movie stars looked like the people who threw a bagel brunch at their house after Saturday services at the synagogue. Walter Matthau, Elliott Gould, Alan Arkin, even Gene Wilder: These were not your conventional leading men and romantic heroes. Compared with the average man on the street, they had charisma, but compared with Paul Newman (Jew-ish), Warren Beatty, and Robert Redford, they were the average man on the street.

And no one embodied That Guy From Temple as a movie star more than George Segal. He was the cinematic hero of your parents friends with The New Yorker subscription, who went to New York for a month every year to see the shows. George Segal was our chopped liver protagonist.

I went back and looked at Segal’s filmography. Al Pacino, he is not. George Segal was in some lousy films in his time, including The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox, The Terminal Man, Bye Bye Braverman, The Last Married Couple In America, and the wretched Me, Myself, and I, where he plays a screenwriter who a woman with multiple personalities seduces. There’s a reason why he moved into the sitcom realm. But Segal also moved into the sitcom realm because he was an excellent comic actor with impeccable timing. He had an everyman quality to him. Every Man From Temple, that is. The following are clips and trailers from some of his best films. George Segal, RIP. The buffet won’t taste the same without him.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966)

Segal received his only Oscar nomination for one of his first roles, as a hopeful young graduate student drawn into the wicked dysfunctional web of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, in this legendary Mike Nichols adaptation of the Edward Albee play.

The Owl and the Pussycat (1970)

Segal acts out every Jewish man’s dream as he plays an aspiring writer who a part-time prostitute, played by Barbra Streisand, thinks is a genius. This film contains a classic screwball turn by Streisand, who wears some ridiculous getups. Re-releases of the film deleted the above scene because Streisand says “fuck”.

Where’s Poppa (1970)

Every good Jewish boy has a complicated relationship with his mother. Carl Reiner’s absurd black comedy Where’s Poppa? embodies this principle. Segal is at his most hilarious as the put-upon son of a 90-year-old mother. But Ruth Gordon, as the crazy old lady, out-hilariouses him. The above trailer is one of the more annoying ones put out by that era of Hollywood, but the movie is very funny.

A Touch Of Class (1973)

Glenda Jackson was often a great comic foil for The Guys From Temple. She and Walter Matthau were a huge draw together back in the 1970s day. But she also made a couple of movies with George Segal. In this scene, Segal throws out his back while trying to doink her in a hotel. Very relatable for anyone of a certain age and background.

California Split (1974)

Probably Segal’s best movie other than Virginia Woolf, California Split is a classic early Robert Altman movie about upper-middle-class Jews who become degenerate gamblers. Segal and the other great Guy From Temple movie star, Elliott Gould, seem like they know their way around a card table.

Who Is Killing The Great Chefs Of Europe? (1978)

A wonderful dark comedy that satirizes the white-tablecloth fine-dining scene of the 1970s. Segal tries to solve the title mystery. More importantly, he takes a heroic late-70s bath with Jacqueline Bisset.

Carbon Copy (1981)

By no means a great movie, Carbon Copy is significant because it was the “and introducing…” moment for Denzel Washington, maybe the greatest movie actor in American history. But in 1981, he was George Segal’s second banana. I remember this movie as being more racist than the trailer makes it seem. “Maybe God is Black,” Segal says, after his evil wife says “God will never forgive you for having a Black child”. That’s just the kind of decent, tolerant thing a Guy From Temple would say.

George Segal, RIP.

 

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 11 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. He's written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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