That Time Julie Andrews Sang In Yiddish – Kveller
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That Time Julie Andrews Sang In Yiddish

Is the Jewish wedding scene from the 1967 musical "Thoroughly Modern Millie" a little problematic? Sure, but we're kind of glad it exists.


via YouTube

The year was 1967. Lyndon B. Johnson was president. The Vietnam War was raging. The Doors released their first album. And Julie Andrews, three years after starring in “Mary Poppins,” sang a random Yiddish song in an otherwise completely non-Jewish film that may or may not be racist. (OK, definitely racist by modern standards, with two roles dubbed as Oriental #1 and Oriental #2 and a white character in Yellowface.)

“Thoroughly Modern Millie,” a period rom-com that takes place in the roaring ’20s, centers Millie (Andrews) a young flapper from a small town in Kansas who tries to live her big city dreams in New York City. Said dreams entail working as a stenographer and catching herself a wealthy husband. Yet Millie finds herself caught in the middle of a human trafficking scheme, when her friend Dorothy (Mary Tyler Moore) boards at the hostel of Mrs. Meers, who pretends to be Chinese in order to smuggle slaves to China.

In the middle of the movie, for some reason, Millie finds herself singing a Yiddish song at a Jewish wedding. After the breaking of the glass, Millie sings “Chussen kalle mazel tov” (“groom and bride, mazel tov!”) and then urges all to dance and drink to life in Yiddish. The song itself is titled “Jewish Wedding Song (Trinkt Le Chaim),” and is mostly a wedding medley, which Andrews’ character seals with some chiri chiri boms. At some point, Mary Tyler Moore’s character helpfully notes about the singing that “it’s Jewish,” in case the rabbi officiating the ceremony didn’t give it away. Is this scene maybe mildly offensive? Probably. Is it kind of delightful to see Andrews singing Yiddish? Yes, yes it is.

I don’t believe the scene is at all necessary in this movie (a Times reviewer, who gave the movie a positive review, called it “phony and gratuitous,”) and I doubt a girl from small-town Kansas would be well-versed in Yiddish. But watching this clip for “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” I must say I’m glad that it exists — and I’m kind of impressed with Andrews’ Yiddish pronunciation!

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