Miriam Laserson Weiser Varon, an actress and poet who worked on stage, film, radio, and television on four continents in six languages and helped her husband establish and operate two Israeli embassies, died at age 102, on July 2, 2021, at her home in Brookline, Massachusetts, in the company of loved ones.
She was born May 23, 1919 in a horse-drawn carriage in Moscow, Russia, en route to the hospital. Her father, engineer Leon Laserson, fainted when she made her accelerated appearance. Her mother, Dr. Frieda Orkin Laserson, one of the first two women accepted to medical school in Russia, calmly delivered her third child.
From there, life continued eventful and surprising, and took her all over the world. Her family moved for a time to their native Riga, Latvia, and subsequently to Vienna, Austria. As a grade school student in Vienna, she was the only girl on a boys’ soccer team and became an ardent Zionist and avid mountain-climber, running away from summer camp at age 15 to summit the Grossglockner with three boys from her Zionist youth group. Her other great passion was for acting, which she studied at the Theatre de l’Atelier in Paris, France, while skipping lectures at the Sorbonne. World War II broke out while she was visiting her parents at their second residence in Bucharest, Romania, and she made her way to Palestine, where she lived in Tel Aviv from 1939 to 1947. She was an apprentice with the Habima Theater, later to become the national theater of Israel, and co-founded a new theater, Ha Teatron Ha-Hadash. She supported herself and eventually her widowed mother through a combination of day jobs and acting work.
She was cast in the movie “My Father’s House,” written and filmed in Palestine by American author Meyer Levin, and traveled to the United States to promote the film. She then settled in New York City, where she worked on Wall Street while performing off-Broadway and regionally and on live television. For CBS, she produced and starred in her own adaptation of Argentinean playwright Alejandro Casona’s “The Lady of the Dawn.” In New York, she met Benno Weiser, a journalist, Zionist activist, and fellow Viennese, and after an on-again/off-again romance and a break-up trip across Canada in his convertible, top down all the way, married him on Armistice Day, 1956, when he “unconditionally surrendered.” Together they wrote a play, A Letter to the New York Times, which they subsequently produced in Latin America.
In 1960, she and her husband moved their family to Israel, for which her husband had obtained key votes in favor of the United Nations partition resolution from various South American countries. After four years in Jerusalem, her husband was appointed an ambassador and tasked with establishing the first Israeli embassy in the Dominican Republic. At this time, to represent their nation abroad, they chose the Hebrew surname Varon. As ambassador’s wife, she arranged and supervised the various ceremonial and entertaining aspects of the job, and was evacuated together with her two young children to Puerto Rico during a civil war in which the deposed President was rumored to be living in her embassy. The family returned to New York in 1966 when her husband joined the Israeli delegation to the United Nations, and in 1967, moved to Asuncion, Paraguay, where her husband and she again opened the first Israeli embassy. During their diplomatic years she coped with war, terrorism, hurricanes, and earthquakes. She continued acting, mostly in Spanish, during her postings, and led her family in outdoor adventures on five continents on epic vacations.
Following her husband’s retirement from diplomacy, they settled in Brookline in 1972. While he wrote, raised funds for Israel, and taught at Boston University, she acted with Boston area theater companies including the Lyric Stage, Worcester Foothills, and the Nickerson Theater in roles that included Mrs. Alving in Ghosts, Esther in The Price, Jocasta in Oedipus Rex, Edith Frank in Meyer Levin’s adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank, the Grand Duchess in You Can’t Take It With You, Bubbie in Crossing Delancey, and many roles in new plays and new play readings. She appeared in locally shot films, industrials and commercials, and worked as a print model. During these decades she also wrote three volumes of poetry, Thoughtprints, Wind Chimes and Late Harvest, worked as a translator (she was fluent in English, Spanish, German, Hebrew and French, and capable in Russian, Yiddish and Guarani), and traveled the world.
She is survived by her son, Leonard (Amy Woodward), of Hingham, Massachusetts, daughter Daniela of New York City, grandchildren Aaron (Gail Rosewood) and Anna, nieces Ruth Ullman, Nina Dunn, Lillian Laserson, nephews Henry and Michael Hirschhorn, with their families, and by Sarah Nakato Luke, who from 2004 was a live-in caregiver first for her husband and then for her, allowing them to live out their lives in their home as was their fervent wish. She was predeceased by her parents and her siblings Michael, Renata, and Gregory.
Funeral services will be at Bigelow Chapel, Mt. Auburn cemetery, 580 Mt. Auburn St., Cambridge on July 6, 2021 at 1:30 p.m. Interment to follow at the cemetery. Donations may be made to The Actors Fund or Appalachian Mountain Club.
To view the livestream of Miriam’s service, please click here.