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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Yiddish-Speaking Tito Suarez

Toward the end of Dirty Dancing, Max Kellerman is watching his staff performing the song "Join Hands and Hearts and Voices", and the Black character Tito Suarez comes up behind him. The two characters talk, using at least three Yiddish words. Some of the first part of the dialogue is unintelligible. After listening to it many times and reading an amateur transcript, my best guess is that they said something like this:
Hello, Landsman, what's the hot tip for the day?

We're finished. You and me, Tito, we've seen it all -- Bubbe and Zayde serving the first pasteurized milk to the boarders -- through the war years, when we didn't have any meat -- through the Depression, when we didn't have anything.

Lots of changes, though, Max.

It's not the changes so much this time. It's that it all seems to be ending. You think kids want to come with their parents and take fox-trot lessons? Trips to Europe, that's what the kids want. Twenty-two countries in three days. It feels like it's all slipping away.
The Yiddish word Landsman means a fellow Jew from your home town.

The Yiddish word Bubbe means grandmother. (The German word is Oma.)

The Yiddish word Zayde means grandfather. (The German word is Opa.)

Frankly, I cannot actually hear the phrase what's the hot tip for the day or the phrase we're finished. I really think they might be speaking Yiddish to each other, as follows:
Hello, Landsman, [something in Yiddish]

[Something in Yiddish]. You and me, Tito, we've seen it all. Bubbe and Zayde serving the first pasteurized milk to the boarders -- through the war years, when we didn't have any meat -- through the Depression, which we didn't have anything  ....
Max's reminisces with Tito go backward in time:

1) After World War Two, Bubbe and Zayde served the first pasteurized milk to the boarders.

2) During World War Two, Bubbe and Zayde did not have any meat to serve to the boarders.

3) Before World War Two -- during the Depression -- Bubbe and Zayde did not serve any food to the boarders.

Max and Tito supposedly both remember back to the Depression, when "we didn't have anything".


The character Tito Suarez has a name that is quite non-Yiddish.

The name Tito is a nickname for Titus, a disciple of Paul in the Christian New Testament. Titus was not a Jew, but rather was a Gentile who had been converted by Paul to the Christian religion.

In general, the nickname Tito is Spanish, and the surname Suarez is Spanish (or Portuguese).

The character is played by African-American tap-dancer Charles "Honi" Coles, who was born and raised in Philadelphia. Here is a video of Coles dancing as a young man (he is the taller dancer).

Here is another video.

Here is another video about Coles.

In Dirty Dancing, Coles plays a band conductor, which was not a job that he ever did in his actual life. We can suppose that the movie's choreographers arranged for him to play the movie role as a respectful favor.
The character Tito Suarez in the movie "Dirty Dancing",
played by the tap-dancer Charles "Honi" Coles.
The character Tito Suarez conducts a band comprised of White musicians. Since the character has a Spanish name and because the movie takes place in 1963, when Cuban big-band music still was rather popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s, we can suppose that Suarez and his musicians all are supposed to be Cuban immigrants -- like the Desi Arnaz Band:

Arnaz was the husband of actress Lucille Ball, and their television series about their life -- I Love Lucy -- was popular during the 1950s. Many of the episodes includes scenes of Arnaz performing with his Cuban big band in a nightclub. A band featuring this kind of music would have been enjoyed by the vacationers at a resort hotel in the year 1963.


I speculate that the original screenplay included a Jewish character who was a long-time employee of the Kellerman family and indeed did know Bubbe and Zayda Kellerman as far back as the Depression years. In order to give Coles a speaking part, however, the producers made a late decision to put Coles into this scene, replacing the Jewish long-time employee. When the producers did so, they neglected to remove the Yiddish words and the Depression-period reminiscences from the dialogue.

Then both Coles and Kellerman garbled the Yiddish part of the dialogue so badly that practically nobody watching the movie can understand them, even if they replay the scene and listen carefully dozens of times.


I will speculate further about this particular bit of dialogue.

I speculate that in the original script, the Jewish long-time employee and Max Kellerman did not speak any Yiddish words at all. During some later point in the script's development, a producer or script-doctor decided to insert a few Yiddish words so that the movie would include at least a tiny indication that the movie was about Jews. But then Coles was substituted for the Jewish actor, which made the Yiddish-flavored dialogue totally absurd.


Another absurdity in that bit of dialogue is the reminiscence about "serving the first pasteurized milk to the boarders". There are no Kosher rules about pasteurized milk, so this statement would puzzle even Orthodox Jews watching the movie.

The reminiscence seems to be that several years after the war, the Kellermans' business had prospered so much that the cows could be sold and instead pasteurized milk could be purchased.

Even at that post-war moment when pasteurized milk was served for the first time, the Kellermans' business still was a boarding house for boarders. The business did not became a large resort hotel until years later, perhaps in the late 1950s.


Because of my above reasoning, the Yiddish words do not change my mind that the Kellerman family had descended from German Jews.

Another explanation for the Yiddish words would be that the characters Max Kellerman and Tito Suarez had picked up a few Yiddish words from the East European Jews who stayed at the hotel, and the two characters used those words in a jocular manner when talking with each other.


See also my article Tito Suarez really does speak Yiddish.


  1. This is, what they say in Yiddish:
    Tito Suarez: Hei, Landsman, vos hert zikh mit dir? (How's it going?)
    Mister Kellerman: freg nisht. (Don´t ask)
    Look here:

  2. Thanks for that information. I have used it in an article I published on September 4, 2017.