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Zero Mostel

Zero Mostel
Zero Mostel - Fiddler.JPG
In the Broadway play Fiddler on the Roof (1964)
Born Samuel Joel Mostel
(1915-02-28)February 28, 1915
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Died September 8, 1977(1977-09-08) (aged 62)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Cause of death Aortic aneurysm
Occupation Actor, Comedian
Years active 1941–1977
Spouse(s) Clara Sverd (1939–1944; divorced)
Kathryn Celia Harkin (1944–1977; his death; 2 children)

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 in the original film version of The Producers. Mostel was a student of Don Richardson, using an acting technique based on muscle memory. He was blacklisted during the 1950s, and his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee was well-publicized. He was an Obie Award and three-time Tony Award winner.

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.

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.

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.



Each director has a favorite in his cast, . . . my favorite this time was Zero Mostel—but 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."
  • Zero Mostel's Book of Villains [with Israel Shenker, photographs by Alex Gotfryd] (Doubleday, 1976)
  • Zero Mostel: a Biography (1989), Jared Brown, Atheneum, NY ()
  • Isenberg, Barbara (2014). Tradition!: The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-to-Hollywood Story of Fiddler on the Roof, the World’s Most Beloved Musical. New York: St. Martin’s Press. .
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