Zero Mostel

Zero Mostel


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Samuel (Zero) Mostel was born in Brooklyn, New York City, on 28th February, 1915. The son of Jewish immigrants, Mostel attended art classes at the Educational Alliance with Ben Shahn.

After graduating from high school, Mostel enrolled in the City College of New York. This was followed by a year at New York University.

In 1937 Mostel joined the Federal Art Project (part of the Works Projects Administration) and taught art at the 92nd Street Young Men and Young Women's Hebrew Association. He also gave lectures at various museums. Mostel talks were very humourous and he was soon being invited to perform at private parties and local clubs. It was during this period that a press agent at one of the clubs gave him the nickname Zero because he was a "guy who's started from nothing".

Mostel joined the United States Army in 1943 but was discharged because of an unspecified physical disability. For the rest of the Second World War Mostel entertained American troops overseas.

After the war Mostel continued to work as a standup comedian in nightclubs. He also started acting and appeared in the film Panic in the Streets in 1950. This was followed by Sirocco (1951), The Guy Who Came Back (1951), The Enforcer (1951) and The Model and the Marriage Broker (1951).

Mostel held left-wing political views and when the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began an investigation into the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry it was not long before he was called to give evidence. Mostel denied he was a member of the Communist Party but he refused to provide information about the political opinions of his friends.

Mostel was now blacklisted and this made it very difficult for him to work in the entertainment industry. Around 320 artists, including Larry Adler, Stella Adler, Leonard Bernstein, Marc Blitzstein, Joseph Bromberg, Charlie Chaplin, Aaron Copland, Hanns Eisler, Edwin Rolfe, Carl Foreman, John Garfield, Howard Da Silva, Dashiell Hammett, E. Y. Harburg, Lillian Hellman, Burl Ives, Arthur Miller, Dorothy Parker, Philip Loeb, Joseph Losey, Anne Revere, Pete Seeger, Gale Sondergaard, Louis Untermeyer, Josh White, Clifford Odets, Michael Wilson, Paul Jarrico, Jeff Corey, John Randolph, Canada Lee, Orson Welles, Paul Green, Sidney Kingsley, Paul Robeson, Richard Wright and Abraham Polonsky, were also blacklisted.

For the next few years Mostel found it difficult to find work in clubs and theatres and had to supplement his income by trying to sell his paintings. In 1958 a friend managed to get him the part of Leopold Bloom in the Off-Broadway production of Ulysses. He was a great success and won an Obie.

With the blacklist over Mostel returned to work in TV. In January 1960 Mostel was involved in a serious road accident and spent over five months in hospital. After his recovery he appeared in several hit Broadway shows including Rhinoceros, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Fiddler on the Roof.

Mostel also appeared in the films A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), The Producers (1968), The Great Bank Robbery (1969), Rhinoceros (1973), Once Upon a Scoundrel (1973) and Journey Into Fear (1975). In 1976 Mostel appeared in The Front, a film about the Hollywood Blacklist. Zero Mostel died of a heart-attack on 8th September 1977.


Zero Mostel

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.


Zero Mostel

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Zero Mostel, byname of Samuel Joel Mostel, (born February 28, 1915, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.—died September 8, 1977, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), American actor, singer, and artist who was best known for his physically and emotionally expressive comedic acting. He appeared on the stage, in movies, and on television but won his greatest acclaim in theatre.

Mostel grew up in New York City and Connecticut. He aspired to be an artistfrom an early age. After graduating (1935) from the City College of New York, he briefly studied art at New York University. He took various jobs, including teaching art, while pursuing a career as a serious painter. Mostel gave entertaining art lectures at various museums, which led to invitations to entertain at parties. He made his nightclub debut in 1942, and that year he also appeared in his first Broadway production, the comedy Cafe Crown. This was followed by other stage appearances, radio work, and his first film role, in the musical comedy Du Barry Was a Lady (1943).

After briefly serving in the armed forces during World War II, Mostel resumed his acting career, appearing on Broadway in Concert Varieties (1945) and Beggar’s Holiday (1946–47). He also became a dramatic film actor. He played a thug in Elia Kazan’s thriller Panic in the Streets (1950) and later was cast in The Enforcer and Sirocco (both 1951). He also performed in the Broadway drama Flight into Egypt (1952) under Kazan’s direction. Mostel’s career was suspended, however, because his support for leftist causes led to rumours that he was a member of the Communist Party. His refusal to cooperate during an appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955 kept him on the Hollywood blacklist.

Theatre remained open to Mostel, however, and in 1958 he earned acclaim and an Obie Award for his performance as Leopold Bloom in the Off-Broadway play Ulysses in Nighttown, based on an episode in James Joyce’s Ulysses. He played a man who gradually becomes a rhinoceros in the 1961 Broadway production of Rhinoceros by Eugène Ionesco, and his transformation brought him a Tony Award. This was followed in 1962 by the lead role in the successful musical comedy A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, a performance that earned him a second Tony Award. Mostel’s greatest triumph was his indelible creation of the role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof in 1964. He won a third Tony, and later actors in the part based their performances on his.

These successes brought Mostel once more into motion-picture work, first with a reprise of A Funny Thing (1966). His best-known film performance was as the amoral Max Bialystock in the Mel Brooks comedy The Producers (1968). His later movies included The Great Bank Robbery (1969), Once Upon a Scoundrel (1973), and Rhinoceros (1974). He also played a major role in The Front (1976), a serious film about the blacklisting era in Hollywood, and he returned to Broadway in revivals of Ulysses in Nighttown (1974) and Fiddler on the Roof (1976–77). Mostel continued to paint throughout his career.


Early Life and Family:

Before he was famous, As a boy, he developed his talents for painting and drawing through the Educational Alliance and would go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to copy paintings. His relationship status is single.

Family Information
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Age, Height & Measurements

Zero Mostel has been died on Sep 8, 1977 ( age 62). He born under the Pisces horoscope as Zero's birth date is February 28. Zero Mostel height 5 Feet 9 Inches (Approx) & weight 158 lbs (71.6 kg) (Approx.). Right now we don't know about body measurements. We will update in this article.

Height7 Feet 10 Inches (Approx)
Weight331 lbs (150.1 kg) (Approx)
Body Measurements
Eye ColorDark Brown
Hair ColorBald
Dress SizeM
Shoe Size6 (US), 5 (UK), 39 (EU), 24.5 (CM)

Zero Mostel Dies of Heart Failure at 62

Zero Mostel, the elephantine actor who became a legend on Broadway with his poignant portrayal of the woebegotten dairyman Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” died of cardiac arrest, last night at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. He was 62 years old.

Mr. Mostel, who lived on ‐Central Park West, was in Philadelphia for 1‐Broadway performances of Arnold Wesker's new play, “The Merchant,” The show, based on Shakespeare's “The Merchant of Venice,” was to have moved to the John F. Kennedy Center for the’ Performing’ Arts in Washington on Sept. 28 and to have arrived at the Imperial Theater on Broadway on Nov. 15.

The Actor's Actor

However, the opening of the show,.in which Mr. Mostel had the part of Shylock, was postponed after the star entered the hospital last weekend suffering from a viral infection described as an upper respiratory’ disorder.

A spokesman for the hospital said Mr. Mostel took a turn for the worse late yesterday, developed a cardiac arrest, and died as 7:47 P.M.

Marvin Krauss, general manager of “The ‘Merchant,” said later that no decision had been made on the future of the show.

“It's just a numbness now,” he said, as tributes began pouring in ‘from around the nation.

Mr. Mostel was the actor's hctor, the critic's actor and, perhaps most important, the theatergoer's actor. He made, audiences roar with laughter and cry with a sense of human frailties. He could look like a pile of tires or an elephant tiptoeing across a stage with pants on.

He had sagging jowls and a throbbing paunch, but his movements could be as elegant as a dancer'S and his face seemed to be made of rubber, flexing from toothy grin to terrible grimace, from pensive scowl to roaring lion faster than the eye could follow

He could gulp, chirp, bleep, shout lifteril thunder and whimper‐all in a singlet.. line.

His career spanned nearly four decades. starting as standup comic in Manhat:. tan nightclubs and encompassing: radio: fromthe smallest time to the biggest.

His career had many mishaps. He was miscast in a number of his early films, like “DuBarry Was a Lady” and “Mr Belvedere Rings the Bell,” in the 1940’s But his hits were big, especially “The Producers,” in which he portrayed.la deny perate, scheming Broadway entrepreheie out to make a flop. He also repeated his stage role for the film version Of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” and appeared in “Panic in the Streets,” “The Enforcer,” “Sirocco”, and “The Model and the Marriage Broker.'

But it was as Tevye, the earthy‐Rus sian‐Jewish dairyman in the Sholom Aleichem‐based play “Fiddler on. the Roof,” that Mr. Mostel won his greatest acclaim. The shim, which opened in 1964 went on to the lorigest Broadway run in history It played in 32 countries, in 16 languages, and, though there Were many Tevyes, Over the years in the various production versions, all were exten sions of the one created by Mr. Moati as tributes began pouring in from around the nation.

Mr. Mostel was the actor's actor, the critic's actor and, perhaps most important, the theatergoer's actor. He made audiences roar with laughter and cry with a sense of human frailties. He could look like a pile of tires or an elephant tiptoeing across a stage with pants on. He had sagging jowls and a throbbing paunch, but his movements could be as elegant as a dancer's and his face seemed to be made of rubber, flexing from toothy grin to terrible grimace, from pensive scowl to roaring lion faster than the eye could follow

He could gulp, chirp, bleep, shout like Thunder and whimper—all in a single sine.

His career spanned nearly four decades, starting as a standup comic in Manhattan nightclubs and encompassing radio, television, the movies and theater from the smallest time to the biggest.

His career had many mishaps. He was Miscast in a number of his early films, like “DuBarry Was a Lady” and “Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell,” in the 1940's. But his hits were big, especially “The Producers,” in which he portrayed a desperate, scheming Broadway entrepreneur Out to make a flop. He also repeated his stage role for the film version of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” and appeared in “Panic in the Streets,” “The Enforcer,” “Sirocco,” and The Model and the Marriage Broker.”

But it was as Tevye, the earthy Russian‐Jewish dairyman in the Sholom Aleichem‐based play “Fiddler on the Roof,” that Mr. Mostel won his greatest acclaim. The show, which opened in 1964 went on to the longest Broadway run in history. It played in 32 countries in 16 languages, and, though there were many Tevyes over the years in the various production versions, all were extensions of the one created by Mr. Mostel.

Won Tony Awards

Mr. Mostel won Tony Awards—Broadways highest honors—for his performances in three plays: “Rhinoceros,” in 1961, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” in 1963 and “Fiddler,’ in 1964.

He played Tevye only one year after he left, the play continued for seven gears on Broadway. But because he was indelibly identified as the star, he was naturally tapped for a revival that played to packed houses for 16 weeks last year on Broadway.

In an interview at the time of the revival, Mr. Mostel talked about the challenge of Tevye. “He's one of those characters who's bottomless. In the darkest moments, he has a lightness in the lightest moments, a darkness.”

Mr. Mostel might have been talking about himself rather than the full‐bearded milkman who carries on one‐sided dialogues with God about the problems of his family and life in an impoverished village called Anatevka in Czarist Russia.

‘Money Is Vulgar’

Mr. Mostel was believed to have been paid $30,000 a week on his 10‐city tour with “Fiddler” last year, a tour that grossed $5.2 million, but he always sidestepped talk of money. “I don't know what money is,” he once told an interviewer. “I think money is vulgar.”

He much preferred to talk about plays, characters and technique.

“I never memorize a role,” he said on another occasion. “I let the part lay in me.”

Letting the part lay in him had a special significance in his last movie role, in Woody Allen's “The Front,” which came out last year.

Mr. Mostel played a blacklisted entertainer trying to make a comeback during the McCarthy era. In despair, the character down a bottle of liquor and lumps out a hotel room to his death. To a degree, the role revealed something of the real turbulence that beset Mr. Mostel's own life and show business career.

During the early 1950's. Mr. Mostel was subpoenaed to testify before the House Committee on Un‐American Activities. He denied that he was a member of the Communist Party, but political witch hunters noted that he had sponsored the National Negro Congress and the Spanish Refugee Appeal of the Joint Anti‐Fascist Refugee Committee, and he soon found himself on entertainment blacklists.

A Hollywood film contract was canceled, doors were slammed in his face and for several years Mr. Mostel devoted himself to what he called his real loves, painting and art. He worked in a little studio on West 28th Street and produced hundreds of canvasses in what he later recalled as one of the most artistically productive periods of his life.

By 1958, he was back on Broadway and was soon soaring to critical successes.

His 1958 portrayal of Everyman in “Ulysses in Nighttown,” which was derived from James Joyce's novel “Ulysses,” won high praise but low pay.

He electrified audience in 1961 with his role in Eugene Ionesco's drama “Rhinoceros,” in which he created the illusion of changing himself from a man into a rhinoceros with such realism that theatergoers gasped.

After the success of “Fiddler,” Mr. Mostel was ranked by many critics with such greats as Bert Lahr, Groucho Marx and two of his own idols—Charlie Chaplin and W. C. Fields.

The buffoon and the savant, he could, in a grand sweeping gesture in a restuarant, butter a roll and the sleeve of his $400 suit and declare: “The freedom of any society varies proportionately with the volume of its laughter.”

Born Samuel Joel Mostel in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn—ɺ poor and cride‐ridden neighborhood'—on Feb. 28, 1915, he was the son of Celia (Druchs) and Israel Mostel. The next year, the family—he had five brothers and two sisters—moved to a farm in Moodus, Conn., where they “tilled the soil” for almost 10 years.

According to Mr. Mostel years later, an unyielding bank president with fierce mustache and a long whip foreclosed the mortgage on the farm and the family came back to New York, settling on the Lower East ‘Side.

His father, a rabbi, wanted the boy to be a rabbi, but his mother sympathized with his ambition to be an artist. She is said to have dressed him in a velvet suit and sent him to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to copy masterpieces.

Origins of Name

The boy attended public schools, including Seward Park High School, where he graduated near the ‘bottom of his clasi’ in 1931. The origin of the name Zero are in dispute. Some say it was a nickname acquired in school as a description of his academic performance others say it was given to him year slater by a press agent.

In any case, he attended City College, majored in fine arts and English, was member of the swimming team and, b⟊use art courses were limited in the curriculum, took the sames ones over and over, passing freshman art eight times before graduating in 1935.

He studied briefly for a masterɾ degree at New York University in 1936 but quit to find work. He wandered around the country and took numerous jobs as a factory worker, longshoreman, tutor, and mine worker.

For a time, he was a W.P.A. lecturer and spoke on art at the Museum of Modern Art, the Frick Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry. All the while, however, he continued to paint, sharing bathless, heatless studios with other struggling artists.

His first jobs in entertainment were often unpaid of $1‐1‐night appearances at neighborhood parties, where he did standup comic routines. His professional debut, however, came in 1942, when at the age of 27, he turned up at a Manciattan nightclub called Cafe Society Downtown and did impressions, such as the following.

Charles Boyer—'Let me run through your hair, Hedy—barefoot.”

Senator Polltax T. Pellegra, an isolationist—'What the hell was Hawaii doing in the Pacific Ocean, anyway?”

Within three weeks of his first nightclub appearance, Mr. Mostel was signed up for a radio program, “The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basic Street,” and soon was on Broadway in a vaudeville show, “Keep ‘em Laughing.” Audiences howled and critics cheered.

In the summer of 1942, he went to Hollywood and made a couple of films, which brought him huge earnings but no critical acclaim.

The following year, he was drafted into the Army. After World War II, he played nightclubs, had theater roles, went on the radio and on Television and made some movies, moving from one medium to another in a wide variety of roles.

He was earning as much as $5,000 week when the Red scare interrupted his career in the 1950's. “It was so goddam stupid,” he said of his blackballing. “My politics are my business. Besides, what sabotage could actors be accused of—giving acting secrets to the enemy?”

Mr. Mostel and his wife, Kathryn, former Radio City Music Hall Rockette who he married in 1944, had two sons, Joshua and Tobias. The couple lived for years in a 10‐room apartment overflowing with books and art work.

When hi returned to Broadway in the revival of “Fiddler” last year, critics did not merely review his performance. They celebrated it.

“Mr. Mostel has no real right to be charming,” said Clive Barnes’ The Times. “But he could charm te birds off the’ trees in a deserted aviary. He is the kind of monster you would unavailingly search Loch Ness for, and, in passing, make into a legend.”

1‐Abeles Zero Mostel in Eugene lonesco's “Rhinoceros,” in 1961

Friedman‐Abeles In “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” 1963.

Graphic Host Inc. Appearing as Tevye In “Fiddler on the Roof,” a 1965 musical


ZERO MOSTEL - DOCUMENT SIGNED 07/18/1945 - HFSID 279746

ZERO MOSTEL
Zero Mostel signs a document about hiring William Morris Agency, Inc. to represent him.
Document Signed: "Zero Mostel", signed in ink, 1p, 8½x11. New York, New York, 1945 July 18. To Mr. Nat Lefkowitz, William Morris Agency, Inc., New York, New York. Agreement with William Morris Agency to represent him. Zero Mostelwon three Tony Awards for his Broadway appearances in Rhinoceros, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which he repeated for the screen in 1966, and Fiddler on the Roof. He followed Forum with one of the classic comedy performances of all time, producer Max Bialystock in Mel Brooks' The Producers. Mostel's final appearance was in the Academy Award-winning documentary Best Boy (1979). Fold creases not near signature. Staple holes at upper left. Received stamp at upper right. Lightly toned. Pencil note (unknown hand) at upper left. Otherwise, fine condition.

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Zero Mostel Early Life Story, Family Background and Education

Mostel was born in Brooklyn, to Israel Mostel, who was of Eastern European Jewish origin, and Cina “Celia” Druchs, a Polish Jew who was raised in Vienna. The two immigrated to the United States separately – Israel in 1898 and Cina in 1908 – where they met and married. Israel already had four children from his first wife he had four more children with Cina. Samuel, later known as Zero, was Israel’s seventh child.[ citation needed ]

According to his brother, Bill Mostel, their mother coined the nickname “Zero”, noting that if he continued to do poorly at school, he would amount to a zero.[5]

Initially living in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, the family moved to Moodus, Connecticut, where they bought a farm. The family’s income in those days came from a winery and a slaughterhouse. The farm failed, and the family moved back to New York, where his father obtained work as a wine chemist. Mostel was described by his family as outgoing and lively, and with a developed sense of humor. He showed an intelligence and perception that convinced his father he had the makings of a rabbi,[6] but Mostel preferred painting and drawing, a passion he was to retain for life. According to Roger Butterfield, his mother sent him to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to copy paintings while dressed in a velvet suit. Mostel had a favorite painting, John White Alexander’s Study in Black and Green, which he copied every day, to the delight of the gallery crowds. One afternoon, while a crowd was watching over his velvet-clad shoulder, he solemnly copied the whole painting upside down, delighting his audience.[6]

Facts You Need to Know About: Samuel Joel “Zero” Mostel Bio Who was Zero Mostel

On WikiInformer, Zero was ranked in the list of most popular Actor,s. Also, ranked in the list with that person who was born in 1915. Have to Position Among the list of Most Popular Actor.


Zero Mostel

Samuel Joel "Zero" Mostel (February 28, 1915 – September 8, 1977) was an American actor and comedian of stage and screen, best known for his portrayal of comic characters such as Tevye on stage in Fiddler on the Roof, Pseudolus on stage and on screen in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Max Bialystock in the original film version of The Producers. Mostel was a student of Don Richardson, using an acting technique based on muscle memory.[1][2][3] He was blacklisted during the 1950s, and his testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities was well-publicized. He was an Obie Award and three-time Tony Award winner.

Contents [show] Early life[edit] Mostel was born to Israel Mostel, an Ashkenazi Jew of Eastern European origin, and Cina "Celia" Druchs, a Polish Jew who was raised in Vienna. The two emigrated to the United States (separately: Israel in 1898 and Cina in 1908), where they met and married. Israel already had four children from his first wife he had four more children with Cina. Samuel, later known as Zero, was Israel's seventh child.

The name "Zero" was created by press agent Ivan Black when Mostel began his career as a nightclub comic. The name was created at the behest of Barney Josephson, proprietor of the Café Society nightclub, who felt that "Sam Mostel" was not appropriate for a comic.[4]

According to his brother, Bill Mostel, their mother coined the nickname "Zero", noting that if he continued to do poorly at school, he would amount to a Zero.[5]

Initially living in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, the family moved to Moodus, Connecticut, where they bought a farm. The family's income in those days came from a winery and a slaughterhouse. The farm did not do well. When, according to Zero, an unyielding bank president with fierce mustache and long whip foreclosed the mortgage on the farm, the ten Mostels trekked back to New York and settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where the boy attended public school, his character was shaped, and his father was employed as a wine chemist. While not at poverty level, the family struggled financially. As a child, Mostel was described by his family as outgoing and lively, and with a developed sense of humor. He showed an intelligence and perception that convinced his father he had the makings of a rabbi however, Mostel preferred painting and drawing, a passion he was to retain for life. According to Roger Butterfield, his mother made a practice of dressing the boy in a velvet suit and sending him to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to copy masterpieces. Zero had a favorite painting, John White Alexander's Study in Black and Green, which he copied every day, to the delight of the gallery crowds. One afternoon, while a crowd was watching over his velvet-clad shoulder, he solemnly copied the whole painting upside down, delighting his audience.

Already at a young age he developed the duality of character that baffled critics years later: when alone he was studious and quiet, but when observed he felt he had to be the center of attention, which he invariably did through use of humor. The fact that at home he spoke English, Yiddish, Italian and German helped him reach out to audiences of many ethnicities in New York.

He attended Public School 188, where he had been an A student. He also received professional training as a painter through The Educational Alliance. He completed his high school education at Seward Park High, where his yearbook noted: "A future Rembrandt… or perhaps a comedian?".

Mostel attended the City College of New York, a public college that allowed many poor students to pursue higher education. He later claimed that he was on the swimming team and the Reserve Officers Training Corps, though the claim is dubious.[6] As only beginner classes were available in art, Mostel took them repeatedly to be able to paint and receive professional feedback. During that time he worked odd jobs, and graduated in 1935 with a bachelor's degree. He then continued studying towards an MA, and also joined the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), which paid him a stipend to teach art.

In 1939 he married Clara Sverd, and the couple moved to an apartment in Brooklyn. The marriage did not last, however, since Clara could not accept the many hours Mostel spent in his studio with his fellow artists, and he did not seem to be able to provide for her at the level to which she had been accustomed. They separated in 1941 and divorced in 1944, Clara only agreeing to the divorce in return for a percentage of Mostel's earnings for the rest of his life. The arrangement lasted until the mid-1950s.[7]

Career[edit] Early comic routines[edit]

Performing in 1959 Part of Mostel's PWAP duty was to give gallery talks at New York's museums. Leading groups of students through the many paintings, Mostel could not suppress his comedic nature, and his lectures were noted less for their artistic content, but more for his sense of humor. As his reputation grew, he was invited to entertain at parties and other social occasions, earning three to five dollars per performance. Labor Union Social Clubs followed, where Mostel mixed his comic routine with social commentary. These performances would play a large role in his eventual blacklisting in the next decade.

In 1941, the Café Society𠅊 downtown Manhattan nightclub𠅊pproached Mostel with an offer to become a professional comedian and play a regular spot. Mostel accepted, and in the next few months he became the Café Society's main attraction. It was at the Café Society that he adopted the stage name Zero (Zee to his friends). The press agent of the night club prevailed upon Mostel to adopt this stage name, hoping that it would inspire the comment: "Here's a man who made something out of nothing." Thus, at the age of 27, Mostel dropped every other job and occupation to start his show business career.

Rise[edit] Mostel's rise from this point on was rapid. In 1942 alone his salary at the Café Society went up from $40 a week (equivalent to approximately $577 in today's funds[8]) to $450 he appeared on radio shows, opened in two Broadway shows (Keep Them Laughing, Top-Notchers), played at the Paramount Theatre, appeared in an MGM movie (Du Barry Was a Lady), and booked into La Martinique at $4,000 a week. He also made cameo appearances at the Yiddish theatre, the style of which influenced his own. In 1943 Life magazine described him as "just about the funniest American now living".

In March 1943, Mostel was drafted by the Army. Although Mostel gave varying accounts of his Army service, records show he was honorably discharged in August 1943 because of an unspecified physical disability. He subsequently entertained servicemen through the USO until 1945.[9]

Mostel married Kathryn (Kate) Cecilia Harkin, a Chez Paree club chorus girl, on July 2, 1944, after two years of courtship, an act that ruined his relationship with his Orthodox Jewish parents as his new wife was a gentile. The marriage was shaky at times, again mostly due to Mostel's spending most of his time in his art studio. Their relationship was described by friends of the family as complicated, with many fights but having mutual adoration. The couple stayed together until Mostel's death, bearing two children: film actor Josh Mostel in 1946 and Tobias in 1948.

After Mostel's discharge from the army, his career took off again. He appeared in a series of plays, musicals, operas, and movies. In 1946 he even made an attempt at serious operatic acting in The Beggar's Opera, but received lukewarm reviews. Critics saw him as a versatile performer, who was as adept at a Molière play as he was on the stage of a night club.

Mostel made notable appearances on New York City television in the late 1940s. He had his own show in 1948 called Off The Record on WABD with comedian partner Joey Faye. Simultaneously, Mostel had a live TV show on WPIX in called "Channel Zero". He also appeared in the May 11, 1949 Toast of the Town broadcast hosted by Ed Sullivan.

Blacklist years and HUAC testimony[edit] Mostel was a leftist as a college student, and his nightclub routine include political jabs at right-wingers. His MGM contract was terminated, and his role at Du Barry Was a Lady was truncated, because studio executives were upset that he participated in protests against another MGM film, Tennessee Johnson, which protesters believed had soft-pedaled the racism of former U.S. President Andrew Johnson.[10] According to biographer Arthur Sainer, "MGM blacklisted Zero Mostel way before the days of the blacklist":[11]:186

During his Army service he was under investigation for alleged Communist Party membership. The Military Intelligence Division of the U.S. War Department said it was "reliably reported" that he was a Communist Party member.[12] The Post Intelligence Officer at the Army's Camp Croft, where Mostel served, believed that Mostel was "definitely a Communist." As a result of that, his application to be an entertainment director with the U.S. Army Special Services unit was denied. Mostel had lobbied hard to transfer to Special Services, at one point traveling to Washington to request a transfer.[13]

It was not until 1950 that Mostel again acted in movies, for a role in the Oscar winning film Panic in the Streets, at the request of its director, Elia Kazan. Kazan describes his attitude and feelings during that period, where,

Each director has a favorite in his cast, . . . my favorite this time was Zero Mostel𠅋ut not to bully. I thought him an extraordinary artist and a delightful companion, one of the funniest and most original men I'd ever met. . . I constantly sought his company. . . He was one of the three people whom I rescued from the "industry's" blacklist. . . For a long time, Zero had not been able to get work in films, but I got him in my film."[14] Mostel played supporting roles in five movies for Twentieth Century Fox in 1950, all in films released in 1951. Fox then abruptly cancelled his contract. Mostel learned this after he was loaned out to Columbia for a film role but not permitted on the set. The studio may have received word that he was about to be named as a Communist in Congressional testimony.[15]

On January 29, 1952, Martin Berkeley identified Mostel to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) as having been a member of the Communist party. After the testimony he was effectively blacklisted. He was subpoenaed to appear before HUAC on August 14, 1955. Mostel declined to name names and jousted with the members of Congress, invoked the Fifth Amendment, while standing up for his right to the privacy of his personal political beliefs.[16]

His testimony had won him admiration in the blacklisted community, as in addition to not naming names he also confronted the committee on ideological matters, something that was rarely done. Among other things, he referred to Twentieth Century Fox as "Eighteenth Century Fox" (due to their collaboration with the committee), and manipulated the committee members to make them appear foolish.

Segment of Zero Mostel’s testimony before HUAC MR. JACKSON: Mr. Chairman, may I say that I can think of no greater way to parade one's political beliefs than to appear under the auspices of Mainstream, a Communist publication.

MR. MOSTEL: I appreciate your opinion very much. but I do want to say that -- I don't know, you know -- I still stand on pay grounds, and maybe it is unwise and unpolitic of me to say this. If I appeared there, what if I did an imitation of a butterfly at rest? There is no crime in making anybody laugh . I don't care if you laugh at me.

MR. JACKSON: If your interpretation of a butterfly at rest brought any money into the coffers of the Communist Party, you contributed directly to the propaganda effort of the Communist Party.

MR. MOSTEL: Suppose I had the urge to do the butterfly at rest somewhere.

MR. DOYLE: Yes, but please, when you have the urge, don't have such an urge to put the butterfly at rest by putting money in the Communist Party coffers as a result of that urge to put the butterfly at rest.

HUAC Hearing, Oct. 14, 1955. The admiration he received for his testimony did nothing to take him out of the blacklist, however, and the family had to struggle throughout the 1950s with little income. Mostel used this time to work in his studio. Later he would say that he cherished those years for the time it had afforded him to do what he loved most. Mostel's appearance before the HUAC (as well as others') was incorporated into Eric Bentley's 1972 play Are You Now or Have You Ever Been…?

Ulysses in Nighttown and career revival[edit] In 1957, Toby Cole, a New York theatrical agent who strongly opposed the blacklist, contacted Mostel and asked to represent him. The partnership was to have the effect of reviving Mostel's career and making him a household name. Mostel accepted the role of Leopold Bloom in Ulysses in Nighttown, a play based on the novel Ulysses, which he greatly admired in his youth. It was an Off-Off-Broadway play produced in a small Houston Street theater, but the reviews Mostel received were overwhelmingly favorable. Most notably, Newsweek's Jack Kroll compared him to Laurence Olivier, writing, "Something unbelievable happened. A fat comedian named Zero Mostel gave a performance that was even more astonishing than Olivier's." Mostel received the Obie award for best Off Broadway performance of the 1958� season.

After the success of Ulysses, Mostel received many offers to appear in classic roles, especially abroad. However, artistic differences with the directors and the low salaries he was offered prevented these from ever materializing. By this time the blacklist was beginning to crumble, and in 1959 he appeared twice on TV's The Play of the Week.

1960s and height of career[edit]

In the Broadway play Fiddler on the Roof (1964) On 13 January 1960, while exiting a taxi on his way back from rehearsals for the play The Good Soup, Mostel was hit by a number 18 (now the M86) 86th Street crosstown bus, and his leg was crushed. The doctors wanted to amputate the leg, which would have effectively ended his stage career. Mostel refused, accepting the risk of gangrene, and remained hospitalized for four months. The gamble paid off, but the injury took a toll regardless for the rest of his life, the massively-scarred leg gave him pain and required frequent rests and baths. After incurring his injury, he retained the famous Harry Lipsig (the 5'3" self-described "King of Torts") as his attorney. The case was settled for an undisclosed sum. From this time forward Mostel would carry a cane whenever he attended the Metropolitan Opera, to go along with the cape that he also favored.

Later that year Mostel took on the role of Estragon in a TV adaptation of Waiting for Godot. In 1961, he played Jean in Rhinoceros to very favorable reviews. The New Republic's Robert Brustein said that he had "a great dancer's control of movement, a great actor's control of voice, a great mime's control of facial expressions." His transition onstage from man to rhinoceros became a thing of legend he won his first Tony Award for Best Actor, even though he was not in the lead role.

In 1962 Mostel began work on the role of Pseudolus in the Broadway musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which was to be one of his best-remembered roles. The role of Pseudolus was originally offered to Phil Silvers, who declined it, saying he did not want to do this "old shtick". Mostel did not originally want to do the role either, which he thought below his capabilities, but was convinced by his wife and agent. The reviews were excellent, and, after a few slow weeks after which the play was partially rewritten with a new opening song, "Comedy Tonight", which became the play's most popular piece, the show became a great commercial success, running 964 performances and conferring on Mostel a star status (he also won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for this role). A film version was produced in 1966, also starring Mostel𠅊nd Silvers.

On September 22, 1964, Mostel opened as Tevye in the original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof. Mostel's respect for the works of Sholem Aleichem made him insist that more of the author's mood and style be incorporated into the musical, and he made major contributions to its shape. He also created the cantorial sounds made famous in songs such as "If I Were a Rich Man". In later years, the actors who followed Mostel in the role of Tevye invariably followed his staging. The show received rave reviews and was a great commercial success, running 3242 performances, a record at the time. Mostel received a Tony Award for it and was invited for a reception in the White House, officially ending his political pariah status.

In 1967, Mostel appeared as Potemkin in Great Catherine, and in 1968 he took the role of Max Bialystock in The Producers. Mostel refused to accept the role at first, but director Mel Brooks persuaded him to show the script to his wife, who then talked Mostel into doing it. His performance received mixed reviews, and was not a great success at first, but the film has achieved cult status since.

He lived in a beautiful and sprawling rented apartment in The Belnord on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.[17]

Last years[edit] In his last decade, Mostel showed little enthusiasm for artistic theatrical progress. Rather than choosing roles that would bring him critical acclaim or that he wanted to do, he seemed to be available for any role that paid well. The result was a succession of movies for which, for the first time since he had established himself as a performer, reviews were mixed at best. Such endeavors were The Great Bank Robbery, The Angel Levine, Once Upon a Scoundrel, and Mastermind. This caused the devaluation of his star power: once a top-billing actor, he now had to make do with featured billing, and his appearance in a movie or play no longer guaranteed success.

There were a few exceptions, however: a successful revival tour of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the movie version of Rhinoceros, The Front (where he played Hecky Brown, a blacklisted performer whose story bears a similarity to Mostel's own, and for which he was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor), and theatrical revivals of Fiddler and Ulysses in Nighttown. Mostel would satirize President Richard Nixon in John G. Avildsen's Fore Play. He also made memorable appearances in children's shows such as Sesame Street, The Electric Company (for which he performed the Spellbinder in the Letterman cartoons), and gave voice to the boisterous seagull Kehaar in the animated film Watership Down. He also appeared as a guest star during Season 2 of The Muppet Show,[18] filmed during the summer of 1977. Mostel would have the distinction of being the only guest in the show's history to die before his appearance was broadcast.

Death[edit] In the last four months of his life, Mostel took on a nutritionally unsound diet (later described by his friends as a starvation diet) that reduced his weight from 304 to 215 pounds. During rehearsals for Arnold Wesker's new play The Merchant (in which Mostel played a re-imagined version of Shakespeare's Shylock) in Philadelphia, he collapsed in his dressing room and was taken to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. He was diagnosed with a respiratory disorder and it was believed he was in no danger and would be released soon. However, on September 8, 1977, Mostel complained of dizziness and lost consciousness. The attending physicians were unable to revive him, and he was pronounced dead that evening. It is believed that he suffered an aortic aneurysm. Wesker wrote a book chronicling the out-of-town tribulations that beset the play and culminated in Zero's death called The Birth of Shylock and the Death of Zero Mostel.

In accordance with his final requests, his family did not stage any funeral or other memorial service to mark his death. Mostel was cremated following his death the location of his ashes is not publicly known.

Professional relationships[edit] Mostel had often collided with directors and other performers in the course of his professional career. He was described as irreverent, believing himself to be a comic genius (many critics agreed with him) and showed little patience for incompetence. He often improvised, which was received well by audiences but which often left other performers (who were not prepared for his ad-libbed lines) confused and speechless during live performances. He often dominated the stage whether or not his role called for it. Norman Jewison stated this as a reason for preferring Chaim Topol for the role of Tevye in the movie version of Fiddler on the Roof. Mostel took exception to these criticisms: "There's a kind of silliness in the theater about what one contributes to a show. The producer obviously contributes the money… but must the actor contribute nothing at all? I’m not a modest fellow about those things. I contribute a great deal. And they always manage to hang you for having an interpretation. Isn’t [the theater] where your imagination should flower? Why must it always be dull as shit?"[19]

Other producers, such as Jerome Robbins and Hal Prince, preferred to hire Mostel on short contracts, knowing that he would become less faithful to the script as time went on. His exuberant personality, though largely responsible for his success, had also intimidated others in his profession and prevented him from receiving some important roles.

In his autobiography, Kiss Me Like A Stranger, actor Gene Wilder describes being initially terrified of Mostel. However, just after being introduced, Mostel got up, walked over to Wilder, and planted a big kiss on him. Wilder claims to be grateful to Mostel for teaching him such a valuable lesson, and for picking Wilder up every day so that they could ride to work together. He also tells the story of a dinner celebrating the release of The Producers. Mostel switched Wilder's place card with Dick Shawn's, allowing Wilder to sit at the main table. Mostel and Wilder would later go on to work together in Rhinoceros and the Letterman cartoons for the children's show The Electric Company. The two remained close friends until Mostel's death.


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