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(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
When you've made over a hundred movies and played next to some of the brightest stars in Hollywood, how on earth do you settle down to life in Ra'anana, possibly one of the most boring towns on earth? That's the question I tried to answer when I met with larger than life actor Paul Smith,70, and his wife Eve, who had moved into their penthouse in Ra'anana only two weeks before.
While it's not possible to list them all, some of his best-known roles were Bluto in Robert Altman's Popeye, the sadistic prison guard Hamidou in Midnight Express and prominent roles in Gene Wilder's Haunted Honeymoon and the Coen brothers' Crimewave. While Eve served iced herbal tea, Paul talked about his extraordinary career.
His grandparents immigrated to the US from Russia in 1889. The name Smith was given to them by the Irish immigration officer who couldn't deal with the Cyrillic alphabet.
"Five hundred families got off that boat, all called Smith," says Paul.
At birth Paul weighed 17 pounds and was 350 at the last count. He didn't discover acting until after he graduated from Brandeis University with a bachelor's degree in philosophy and psychology and a master's degree in motivational psychology from Harvard. As a student at Florida State University, he was persuaded to act the part of Yank in Eugene O'Neill's alienation drama, The Hairy Ape.
"The play ended and there was a deathly silence for a moment. Then suddenly the audience went bananas, applauding wildly," he recalls. "I really liked the feeling and that's when I decided to become an actor."
He studied acting in New York and, in 1959, a chance meeting at a party led to his first film part, in Otto Preminger's Exodus, then being filmed in Israel. It was his first visit here and later he was to come back for seven years, starting as a volunteer in the Six Day War when he drove trucks and supplies to the Sinai desert. He stayed on to act and met Eve, a kibbutznik originally from England who had immigrated in 1949. During those years they lived in a small Tel Aviv apartment and Paul made five Israeli films, including They Call Me Shmil.
"I loved being here but it's impossible to make a living as a film actor," he says.
He also played with Burt Lancaster in the mini-series Moses filmed here and, in the TV play on Sadat, made in the '80s, was cast as King Farouk.
For several years they were based in Italy and made films all over the world.
"I never went anywhere without Eve," he says. "That was always one of the conditions of the contract."
In 1977, they settled down in Hollywood, and finally made aliya in February 2006.
They rented an apartment in Tel Aviv near where they had lived 30 years before and started to look for their dream home, a Tel Aviv rooftop.
"Then someone told me that there were 450,000 parking spaces in Tel Aviv and 950,000 cars and I decided it was too crowded, too dirty and too expensive." Friends told them about Ra'anana and they came to take a look, found it a "nice little town" and switched their search for a rooftop to there. They also liked the fact that the town has several universities.
It's right in the heart of the town near the cultural center and has enormous balconies - one is 135 square meters and another is 85 square meters - and they also have another 85 square meters of roof. They were still living out of packing cases when I visited, but they had given top priority to setting up the shelves of hundreds of film videos. Paul is one of the 3,000 members worldwide of the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences and sees every new movie. The voting for the Oscars is something he takes very seriously.
Most of the friends they had in their previous sojourn here live in Tel Aviv and many are connected in some way with the world of theater and film. They know some local Israelis and hope to get to know more as time goes on. They also plan to spend time with their family, Eve's daughter from a previous marriage who lives on kibbutz with their two grandchildren. Paul has a son and grandchildren from an early marriage living in the US.
"No problem," says Paul. "We didn't live in Malibu and run six cars; we lived modestly - in Sherman Oaks - and always saved, as we knew the day would come when I would not be working as much."
"We both feel very Jewish without being observant," says Paul. "My grandparents were Orthodox and founded the first synagogue in Malden, Massachusetts. We see things through a Jewish perspective and how events affect the Jewish world. When I was filming in Taiwan, I called the shul and they came to fetch me for services."
"Our nationality is Israeli. When we became citizens we changed our name and on the doorbell we have the names Aviva and Adam Eden. We feel very strongly about that."
Paul speaks a fluent and almost accentless Hebrew and is very talented in languages altogether. In Midnight Express, he spoke Turkish so well that viewers thought he was a Turkish native, and in Maverick he plays with a convincing Russian accent. He plans to polish up on his Hebrew reading and writing at home.
"I would like to give something back to the community and I have 50 years of experience in the film world. I plan to offer my services free to any university or film school, perhaps lecturing or giving workshops."
LIFE IN HOLLYWOOD
You can't live all your life in Hollywood and not have some great inside information about the world's celebrities. It's not name-dropping; Paul is a mine of information about a side of his co-stars we don't know. For example, he played opposite Robin Williams in Popeye and I wondered if the actor was as manic as he appears.
"He's very funny when he's in the spotlight," says Paul. "But most of the time he's rather quiet."
Even as a young man Paul never played romantic leads, but played just about anything else. When he started his film career he asked Lee J. Cobb, "should I take parts unlike me?"
He answered, "Paul, an actor is like a diamond. Every part you do, you polish another facet."
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