Movies and tv: ethnic versatility (Nouri)

(Only a little about language — but one in a series on movies and tv and on race and ethnicity.)

Watching an NCIS re-run recently, I reflected, not for the first time, on the actor Michael Nouri in the role of Eli David, director of Israeli Mossad, thinking, “Wait! Isn’t Nouri Lebanese?” So, it turns out, he is, though his Wikipedia page and his own website don’t mention this, providing only minimal personal information about the man (his birthdate and place), concentrating otherwise entirely on his acting career.

In any case, another chapter in the great story of Ethnic Versatility: one actor of Mediterranean ancestry (or looking like such a person, as many Latins do, or simply having a dark complexion) can play the role of any other. Lebanese-American? Hey, you’ll be fine as an Israeli Jew, with some dialect coaching. You already look the part.

Previous history  on this blog:

from 4/1/15, “Movies and tv: ethnic versatility (Savalas)”: “Actors of Mediterranean ancestry, in particularly, are (within limits) often cast in roles of other Mediterranean ancestries (or, by an extension from this practice, in Mexican roles). Here’s the case of Greek-American Telly Savalas” in a variety of ethnic parts

from 4/1/15, “Movies and tv: ethnic versatility (Shalhoub)”: Lebamese-American Tony Shalhoub in a variety of ethnic roles (notably: Italian), plus an ethnically neutral, just-plain-American, role as Adrian Monk

On Nouri, from Wikipedia:

Michael Nouri (born December 9, 1945) is an American television and film actor.

He may be best known for his role as Nick Hurley, in the 1983 film Flashdance [in his late 30s]. He has had recurring roles in numerous television series, including NCIS as Eli David, [Director of Mossad and] the father of Mossad officer (now Special Agent) Ziva David

Nouri in his late 30s, being smolderingly handsome opposite Jennifer Beals in Flashdance:


Note on Beals: “Jennifer Beals (born December 19, 1963) is an American actress and a former teen model. She is best known for her role as Alexandra “Alex” Owens in the 1983 romantic drama film Flashdance, and starred as Bette Porter on the Showtime drama series The L Word.” (link)

And with Coté de Pablo (as Ziva David) on NCIS, both actors firmly in their roles, looking stressed rather than glamorous (Nouri is now 70):


Latina de Pablo is yet another instance of Ethnic Versatility. “María José de Pablo Fernández, known professionally as Coté de Pablo (born November 12, 1979), is a Chilean-American actress and singer. Born in Santiago, Chile, she moved to the United States at the age of 10” (link).

Shalhoub and Nouri, then Jamie Farr. From Wikipedia:

Jamie Farr (born Jameel Joseph Farah, July 1, 1934) is an American television, film, and theatre actor. He is of Lebanese descent. He is known for playing a cross-dressing Corporal (later Sergeant) from Toledo, Ohio, bucking for a Section 8 discharge, in the role of Maxwell Q. Klinger in the CBS television sitcom M*A*S*H.

Klinger’s (large) family were identified as Arabs, but Klinger himself was identified as a Roman Catholic. As far as I know, the character Klinger wasn’t identified as of Lebanese descent.

And Danny Thomas. From Wikipedia:

Danny Thomas (born Amos Muzyad Yakhoob Kairouz; January 6, 1912 – February 6, 1991) was an American nightclub comedian, singer and television and film actor and producer, whose career spanned five decades.

… [Born] in Deerfield, Michigan, to Charles Yakhoob Kairouz and his wife Margaret Taouk. His parents were Maronite Catholic immigrants from Lebanon.

… Thomas enjoyed a successful 13-year run (1953–1965) on Make Room For Daddy, later known as The Danny Thomas Show.

As far as I know, Thomas’s character Danny Williams (a nightclub singer) was not enthically identified on the show, but was Just Plain American. Thomas himself was proudly Lebanese-American and Roman Catholic. On Maronite Christianity, from Wikipedia:

The Maronite Church is an Eastern Catholic sui iuris particular church member of the [Roman] Catholic Church, with self-governance under the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. It is part of the Syriac Churches by liturgy and heritage and headed by the Patriarch of Antioch. Bachara Boutros has served in that position since 2011. Officially, it is known as the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch

The U.S. has a huge Lebanese diaspora, almost all of it originally Maronite Christian (now mostly, like Danny Thomas, Latin Catholics). Meanwhile, over the years, the Catholic presence in Lebanon has been steadily eroded by emigration, under pressure from Lebanese Arabs (roughly equally divided between Shias and Sunnis).

Shalhoub, Farr, and Nouri are probably also of Maronite Christian descent, though I have no direct evidence on that point.

(Side point: Lebanese and lesbian are sometimes confused by English speakers — to the enjoyment of others —  but most often Lebanese is used to refer to lesbians in lame jokes, which tend to be stringenty objected to Americans of Lebanese descent.)

Some male actors of Lebanese descent above. But there are women as well. Obviously, Marlo Thomas, daughter of Danny:

Margaret Julia “Marlo” Thomas (born November 21, 1937) is an American actress, producer, and social activist known for starring on the sitcom That Girl (1966–1971) and her award-winning feminist children’s franchise, Free to Be… You and Me. (link)

And Salma Hayek, with a Lebanese grandfather (and proud of it):

Salma Hayek (born [Salma Hayek Jiménez] September 2, 1966) is a Mexican-American film actress, producer and former model. She began her career in Mexico starring in the telenovela Teresa and starred in the film El Callejón de los Milagros (Miracle Alley) … In 1991 Hayek moved to Hollywood and came to prominence with roles in movies such as Desperado (1995), Dogma (1999), and Wild Wild West (1999). Her breakthrough role was in the 2002 film Frida as Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (link)

And Kathy Najimy:

Kathy Ann Najimy (… born February 6, 1957) is an American actress and comedian, best known as Olive Massery on the television series Veronica’s Closet, Sister Mary Patrick in Sister Act, Mary Sanderson in Disney’s Halloween comedy-drama film Hocus Pocus, and the voice of Peggy Hill on the animated television series King of the Hill. Prior to her film work, she was best known for two Off Broadway shows with Mo Gaffney working as the duo Kathy and Mo. (link)

Wikipedia has two Lebanese-American sites: a general one, with information, statistics, and maps, and a site listing prominent Lebanese-Americans. These are, in part, pride sites, displaying for the world the achievements of X-Americans; there are similar sites for Basque-Americans, Swiss-Americans (no, I’m not on it; my modest and parochial academic achievements scarcely merit a mention), and many others.

Yes, Michael Nouri is on the Lebanese-American list. under “Entertainment personalities”.


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