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In The Godfather (1972), Alex Rocco played Moe Green. The character was Jewish, although the actor was not. Coppola directed The Godfather.

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He recalled saying: “I’m Italian. I wouldn’t know how to play a Jew.” Coppola, he recalled, suggested hand gestures that could differentiate the two ethnic groups. “Greatest piece of direction I ever got,” Rocco said.

-The Boston Globe

The gesture involved holding the palms of the hands together, in something like the attitude of prayer, and then moving the hands apart. When you look for it, it stands out in his performance.

I thought of this performance the other day, while watching Soylent Green (1973). In that film, Edward G. Robinson played Sol Roth. This time both the character and the actor were Jewish. But again in Soylent Green, the Jewishness of the character was conveyed partly through gesticulation. He did not make the same gesture that Rocco made; instead he moved one hand around while holding it open, something like a dismissive wave or like someone wiping a window. Robinson did it a good deal during the meal he shares with Heston involving old-fashioned fresh ingredients.

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And I wonder about this.

I’m Jewish, and although I thought both portrayals were fine, I’ve never noticed any actual Jews waving their hands around like these characters. Is this a film tradition, like-a putting the letter "a" after words to suggest an Italian accent very quickly? These two films (The Godfather and Soylent Green) were made at around the same time; was this a momentary perception of Jewish mannerisms?

Where did this idea get started?

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    First phone operator explain how to use it to Jewish person: You take the speaker and put it to your ear. Then with the other hand you crank the handle and you scream to this tube to whom you want to speak. - Ay way, speaker in one hand, handle in the other. How I'm supposed to say anything? - This is a joke from a 1932 reprint of a 1922 jewish joke book. It's a trope older than movies. Jan 5 at 8:55
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    I'd be more inclined to ask when did it stop? Sure, we get that it's a bit edgy racially stereotypical, but these things all have roots in truth. Look particularly at the old folks, grandparents who were born in Europe rather than young, modern Americans & you will see it, quite plainly. The younger ones didn't so much stop doing it, as never did it in the first place. How many kids still say Oy Vey!… about none. My partner says Yoy Ishtanem instead, which isn't even Jewish (or Yiddish), it's Hungarian.
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 5 at 10:41
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    @Paulie_D These days every reaction at the Stack Exchange mystifies me, including yours. I'm asking when movies adopted a certain convention. What do you mean that it's not on topic at Movies &TV?
    – Chaim
    Jan 5 at 15:02
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    You have started with an unproven premise and expect us to find out when it started. First prove your premise and your examples don't do that. Regardless, as I said, this is pure trivia and that is off-topic.
    – Paulie_D
    Jan 5 at 15:12
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    @Paulie_D So every question about when films began to handle a certain message in a certain way (such as my previous question about the path-on-the-map device at the beginning of Casablanca) is off-topic? Should I have proven something first in that question too? Or what is the criterion? And what would be the proper proof in the current case?
    – Chaim
    Jan 5 at 19:54

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