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Zero Mostel

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b. Samuel Joel Mostel, 28 February 1915, New York City, New York, USA, d. 8 September 1977, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. After studying art and English at university, Mostel became a manual worker during the Depression, taking any job he could find in factories, mines and on the docks. He then applied his academic qualifications to teach and paint. In 1942 he became a nightclub comedian, playing Barney Josephson’s Café Society Downtown among other venues, worked in vaudeville, and the following year appeared in the film Du Barry Was A Lady. After military service during World War II, Mostel played on the stage in Duke Ellington’s Beggar’s Holiday (1946) and appeared in the films Panic In The Streets (1950), The Enforcer (1951), The Model And The Marriage Broker (1952) and others before being blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Mostel returned to painting and then towards the end of the 50s began to appear again on the stage. Early the following decade he achieved acclaim for his roles in Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros (1961), Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1962) and Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s Fiddler On The Roof (1964), winning Tony Awards for all three performances. In the latter, he introduced the song ‘If I Were A Rich Man’ and, with co-star Maria Karnilova, the duets ‘Sunrise, Sunset’ and ‘Do You Love Me?’. Although his role of Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof made his name on Broadway, Mostel was asked to leave the show because his ad-libbing confused and dismayed his fellow players. He appeared in a non-musical role in Ulysses In Nighttown (1958) and then had his best-remembered film role as Max Bialystock in Mel Brooks’ film The Producers (1967). He made more films, including The Angel Levine (1970), The Hot Rock (1972), Rhinoceros (1974) and The Front (1976), the latter about blacklisting in the 50s of which Mostel had first-hand experience. Also in the 70s he toured in revivals of Fiddler On The Roof, returning to Broadway with the show in 1976. The following year he was in The Merchant but died before the show reached Broadway. Together with his wife, Kate (b. Kathryn Harkin), and lifelong friend Jack Gilford and his wife, Madeline Lee, he wrote a book, 170 Years Of Showbusiness.

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Birth Name:

Samuel Joel Mostel


February 28, 1915 in Brooklyn, NY

Years Active:

'40s, '50s, '60s, '70s