Irwin Robert Ziff – Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force

From a contemporary pres report:

Irwin “Irv” Ziff, 70, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who had been a character actor in local theater productions since the 1970s, died of esophageal cancer May 3, 2000, at his home in Fairfax, Virginia.

Appearing at the Kennedy Center and Olney Theatre, among other area stages, he was known for the depth of characterization he could give minor roles.

He was the host in the early 1980s of the half-hour children’s show “The Sunshine Store” on WRC-TV and also appeared in films and such television programs as “Homicide: Life on the Street.”

Colonel Ziff was a New York native and a Brooklyn College graduate. He served in the Navy during World War II and the Air Force during the Korean War.

He joined the Air Force in 1952, becoming a master navigator and an intelligence and public affairs officer. His assignments included a tour as an assistant air attache in Paris in the 1960s. His final assignment, before retiring from active duty in 1973, was as a public affairs officer in the office of the secretary of Defense.

He held the Legion of Merit and Air Force Commendation medals. He was past national executive director of Jewish War Veterans and had been a 1976 consultant to President Gerald Ford on issues concerning the Jewish electorate. He was on a White House advisory panel on veterans affairs during the Ford administration, and he had served on the President’s Commission on the Holocaust Advisory Board, which helped create the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

He was a member of Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax.

His wife, Dr. Selma Ziff, died in 1989. Survivors include a son, David, of Arnold; three daughters, Dr. Melody Ziff of Fairfax and Amy Ziff and Elizabeth Ziff, both of New York; a half-brother; and three grandchildren.

An Actor’s Passion
Tuesday , May 9, 2000

“Passionate” and “eccentric” are two words Melody Ziff uses to describe her father. Irv Ziff died of cancer last Wednesday at the age of 70. Tall and with the countenance of a smiling, twinkly-eyed hawk, the actor could handle anything from vaudeville humor to Arthur Miller, from Mushnik in “Little Shop of Horrors” to Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice.” As a young man, he acted in Yiddish theater in his native New York.

He played at practically every venue in the Washington area and made countless commercials and industrial films. In the basement of his Fairfax house, his daughter recalled, Ziff kept all the pictures and programs from his shows. He would ask, “You want to see the shrine?” and then take visitors downstairs. His final appearance was in Miller’s “Danger: Memory!” at Theater J last fall. At his audition, Artistic Director Ari Roth remembered, Ziff did a serious scene, then walked across the stage as his trousers fell to his ankles. He had rigged them, of course; he couldn’t pass up a laugh. “He knew unerringly how to entertain,” said Roth.

“The man lived one foot in vaudeville and one foot now. He was just beautiful. He made me laugh all the time,” said actor Tim Carlin, who worked with Ziff in “Danger: Memory!” Michael Willis met Ziff when they hung out together during dull shoots as extras on movies. “If I went on a set and I knew Irv was there, I knew I was going to have a good day. He was a sweetheart,” Willis said.

Ziff was passionate about his acting and eccentric as a dad, recalled Melody, an English professor, poet and musician. She described a house full of humor and improvised performances both musical and theatrical. (Her younger sisters, Amy and Elizabeth, are two-thirds of the alternative rock group Betty; brother David works with retarded citizens.) Irv Ziff began acting full time in 1977, after serving in the Air Force from the Korean War until 1973. He retired as a lieutenant colonel and later worked at the Pentagon and in the Ford and Carter White Houses.

His wife, Selma, an education specialist, died in 1989. “They were a perfect match,” said Melody, noting that on her mother’s gravestone, it says “Sweethearts Forever.” After the funeral at 9 this morning at Olam Tikvah Synagogue in Fairfax, Ziff will be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery at 11.

“I’m going to miss the man most awfully,” said actor Rosemary Knower. They did “Things That Break” at Theater of the First Amendment and played a wacky Russian couple on cable’s WWF wrestling show. “He had a wonderful sense of improvisation that made him great to play with,” she said.

“Everybody has a story to tell about Irv, because he was literally bigger than life,” said Carolyn Griffin of MetroStage. She’s in charge of putting together next Monday’s tribute to Ziff at Theater J. The show, at 6:30 p.m. at the D.C. Jewish Community Center (16th and Q streets NW), was intended as a salute to Ziff while he lived, but will now be a memorial. Anyone with material to contribute should call Roth at 202-777-3233.

Melody said that her father had looked forward to a final goodbye to Washington theater colleagues. “He really wanted a chance to say thank you to them,” she said. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to say it for him.”

ZIFF, IRWIN ROBERT, Lt. Col., USAF (Ret.), 70

On Wednesday, May 3, 2000, at home in Fairfax, Virginia. Husband of the late Selma S. Ziff. He is survived by four children, Melody Ziff, Amy Ziff,  Elizabeth Ziff and David Ziff; three grandchildren, Sara Ziff, Jacob Ziff and Samuel Ziff. He graduated in 1951 from Brooklyn College. Colonel Ziff retired from the Air Force in 1973. He was a local actor appearing in many movies, television and radio programs, and local print media. Lt. Col. Ziff was a member of Actor’s equity, SAG and AFTRA. He was an active member of Congregation Olam Tikvah. Funeral services are at Congregation Olam Tikvah, Tuesday, May 9, 2000 at 9 a.m., with interment immediately following at Arlington National Cemetery. In lieu of flowers,  memorial contributions may be made to Northern Virginia Hospice; or the American Cancer Society.


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