Larry Frisch: A man who lived life to the full, dead at 91

Veteran filmmaker kept working till he was past his mid-eighties

Larry Frisch (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Larry Frisch
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Veteran filmmaker Larry Frisch passed away in Jerusalem on Sunday. A media man in the full sense of the word, he was a film-maker, producer, director, script writer, cameraman, narrator and actor, as well as a television, radio and print media journalist.
He began working in one or more of these capacities when he was still in high school in Indianapolis, Indiana, where the Jewish population in his boyhood was around 10,000.
In his youth, the tall, straight-backed Frisch was also an athlete.  He managed to look fit for all of his life, and he was a person who had the capacity to make the most of life for all of his 91 years.
He always gave the impression of being much younger because to the very end, he remained one of nature's gentlemen, never sitting if a woman was standing, even if she was much his junior. And if she declined the chair on which he had been sitting, he roamed the room till he found an empty one which he carried back to where the woman was standing.
He kept working till he was past his mid-eighties, when he completed a documentary which he had narrated and in which he explained why Israel loves peace.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post in 2016, Frisch complained that his voice was not what it used to be.
Admittedly, it was not as sharp and dramatic as it was in his younger days, but no one would notice were it not for some of the archive footage from the period in which Frisch was in his prime.

THIS DOCUMENTARY, which is partially autobiographical, opens with Frisch presenting his professional credentials. As a young man and war reporter for United States Television, he worked in several countries before being assigned to Israel to cover the volatile Middle East. He soon became aware of the complex nature of the area’s problems – which, he said, brought pain and misery to all sides of the conflict.
In the documentary, he then talks about the suffering of Jews in Tsarist Russia, and their persecution and murder under the Nazi regime. Frisch reminds viewers that Jews had lived in the Holy Land for centuries prior to the proclamation of the State of Israel.  He then goes into the wars, terror attacks and cycles of violence which have claimed so many lives.
The film, which is full of action shots in both color and black and white, ends with color and shows a more peaceful scene of a dove sitting high in a mountain crevice and looking out at the region with wishful thinking. Given recent developments in the region, Frisch may have been more prescient than he realized at the time, but at least he lived to see some of what he wished come true.
Over the years, he observed the phenomena of war and terrorism and reported on them not only from Israel but also from Beirut and Syria. His American passport enabled him to move easily through the Middle East and other conflict areas of the world.
Countries from which he reported or in which he made documentaries include Egypt, Spain, Africa, Russia, Japan, Germany, China (where he went before the historic visits of President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1971-72), various parts of South America and Yemen, where in 1993 he shot a documentary called ‘The Last Jews of Yemen.’
But what meant most to him both personally and professionally was covering Israel.
 
FRISCH WAS born into a staunchly Zionist family.
His father, Daniel Frisch, who was president of the Zionist Organization of America and the initiator and one of the prime movers and shakers for the establishment of ZOA House in Tel Aviv, unfortunately died before its completion.  It is in fact located at 1 Daniel Frisch Street, and is a multi-purpose complex that includes stage and screen facilities, a gallery and lecture rooms.
The elder Frisch was actually born in the Land of Israel, taken as an infant to Romania and from there to the United States.  So, for his son Larry, coming to live in Israel was in some ways a homecoming more than it is for immigrants without an immediate Israeli background.
As a matter of fact, the first time Larry Frisch came to Israel, not long after the establishment of the state, it was with his father in 1949.
After that he came many times until 1959 when he bought a home in Savyon, where he lived on and off for several years.  He later sold that home and bought a property in Yemin Moshe in 1973, six years after the Six Days War.  Yemin Moshe was not what it is today.  A lot of reconstruction was required, and a good number of properties were completely gutted inside and rebuilt, while the exterior facade remained intact or was repaired and renovated.
The upshot was a truly beautiful home for Frisch and his wife Marilyn, into which they moved in 1981.  Over the course of time, the house became too big for them and they sold it, and found a pleasant walk-up apartment in the capital's Derech Bethlehem area.
It was there that Marilyn Frisch developed Parkinson’s disease. As her condition deteriorated, the couple began to look for alternate accommodations with easier access.  It was obvious that independence was beginning to elude her, so they decided to take up residence in a protected living facility.   After searching around, they settled for the L.A. Mayer retirement home adjacent to the Islamic Museum.
A beautiful complex of small, compact apartments built for academics – on a site deliberately chosen due to its proximity to the museum, the Jerusalem Theater and the Van Leer Institute – the home does not have provisions for chronic nursing care. Under normal circumstances, Marilyn might not have been accepted, but the general manager was away on the day that Frisch and his wife applied, and a kindly doctor who was in charge didn’t ask too many questions.  It also happened to be one of Marilyn Frisch’s good days.
However she had very little time in which to enjoy her new surroundings. After having suffered from Parkinson’s for three years, she died eight years ago, three days after they took up residence.  Larry was devastated.  They had first met at a Jewish youth camp and had been married for 62 years.  A week later, another resident died, Rabbi Jacob Chinitz, and there were daily prayer meetings in the apartment that he had shared with his wife Dolly.
Ever considerate of others, Frisch went to the minyan both as a courtesy and also because he was in mourning for Marilyn and needed a minyan for himself.  Soon after, he and Dolly struck up a warm friendship which blossomed into love.
They were ideal companions, sharing mutual cultural interests, and were frequently seen at various cultural events throughout Jerusalem and beyond, including a week-long trip to the Negev, where Frisch learned things about date palms that he had never known before. He was always excited by anything new.
 
BORN IN 1929, Frisch made his first film while still in high school.  His school was a very special one, with wonderful facilities and very bright pupils. It lent itself quite naturally to a documentary which today, along with other films that he made throughout his life, can be culled from the Steven Spielberg archives and watched on a home computer or cell phone.
Before making films himself, he was a child actor.  He also had his own radio show in 1944, and in addition to that he was a good amateur violinist.  In the 1930s he even did a stint in a circus.
Frisch joined the US Army in 1948 and was assigned to the Army Pictorial Center. He continued working for APC as a reserve officer and as a contract script writer, narrator and director for the army, traveling to many parts of the world – including Saigon in 1966 to make a film about the ten rules of conduct for American soldiers serving there.
Between making films for APC, the last of which was in 1976, Frisch worked in other media in various parts of the world.  Over the years he worked for CBS, UPI, AP, the BBC, Christian Broadcast News, Fox Movietone News and TeleNews Productions, among others.

WHEN HE was still very young, a friend of his died from a drug overdose.  Not long afterward, Frisch saw a letter to the editor in the New York Post signed by a woman with a Jewish sounding name. The woman had written about her son who was a drug addict, and the letter warned other parents to look out for signs that their own children might be drug users.
Frisch managed to secure the woman’s address and got in touch with her.  She sent her son to him and this resulted in Frisch’s anti-narcotics crusade and subsequent film The Story of a Teenage Drug Addict.  He also wrote a book about drug addiction called The Dream Boaters which was published in 1953.
Prior to the iconic Kazablan film directed by Menachem Golan and starring Yehoram Gaon, Frisch directed an earlier version in black and white that was shot in Greece. He also directed Amud Ha’Esh (Pillar of Fire) and Ma’aseh B’Monit (Tel Aviv Taxi).  The latter, released in 1956, was the first Hebrew feature film to be produced entirely in Israel.
Among his other feature film credits are assistant director for Exodus. He also doubled for Charleton Heston in Ben Hur and appeared as an extra in a background shot.
He made numerous documentaries, such as The Last Jews of Calcutta, Hadera Paper Mills, The Israeli Scouts, Vistas of Israel with particular focus on Jerusalem, and much more.  For Beit Hatefutsot (Diaspora Museum), for instance, he made a documentary on Synagogues without Jews.
He credited the period that he spent with the US Army as one of the most significant in his life, because inter alia, it also enabled him to become the youngest member of the Screen Directors Guild.
 
SOME PEOPLE of advanced years begin to lose interest in life and start to vegetate.  Frisch was definitely not in that category. On the contrary, the journalist and the writer within him continued to be racked with curiosity.  He regarded every situation as a potential story or script.  He had no problem striking up conversations with strangers, because he constantly wanted to learn more about what was going on around him.
He went to countless lectures and other cultural and communal events both with Dolly and on his own.
Dolly was not particularly keen on going to films with him, because Frisch was always ahead of the plot – and due to his own film making background, could not resist giving a running commentary on what was going to happen next and how the film would end.
Even after he retired, Frisch kept a finger in the movie pie, acting as an advisor to Community Television which comprises groups of retirees, mainly highly educated white collar professionals, who found a new interest in making documentary films.

FOR MORE than thirty years Frisch played violin with an amateur orchestra. He was the youngest when he joined the orchestra, but with the passing of time, became the oldest. Forever enamored with music, Frisch said that the orchestra gave him a special feeling of spirituality.
In addition to his violin playing, he sang in the choir of the Conservative synagogue. He attended choir practice on Sundays, orchestra rehearsals on Mondays and seminars at the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research on Thursdays.  He also accompanied Dolly to regular meetings of Holocaust survivors.  She is a Hungarian survivor and a cousin of the famous Gabor sisters who rose to fame in Hollywood.
Frisch had a number of attributes other than those already mentioned.
At age 18, he learned to fly a piper plane, and in Israel became friendly with famous peace activist Abie Nathan when the latter was working as a pilot for El Al.  In recent years, Frisch took pride in the fact that he has a grandson who is an F16 navigator.
His unfailing advice to budding reporters and film makers was: “Learn how to eat humble pie.  If you can’t, you can’t stay in the business.”
In January of this year, Dolly, who remains youthful and effervescent, celebrated her 90th birthday at Jerusalem's Inbal Hotel, with a large party for family and friends. It was a four-generation affair with members of both their families making speeches about how happy they were that Dolly and Larry had found each other.