Best known for his portrayal of con man and theater producer Max Bialystock in the original film of Mel Brooks’s The Producers, Zero Mostel was an iconoclastic artist who nevertheless created one of the most iconic roles on Broadway when he first played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof in 1964. Admired for his stance against the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1955, Mostel was nonetheless blacklisted for several years before his way back to the stage door via contemporary theater off-Broadway through the curious success of such modern stage plays as Rhinoceros and Ulysses in Nightown.
Mostel had not been a stranger to musical theater before originating the role of Tevye. In the mid-1940s, he had first appeared on Broadway in three vaudeville/variety shows, including Keep ’em Laughing (1942), Top-Notchers (also 1942), and Concert Varieties in the summer of 1945.
Zero Mostel got his first starring role as Hamilton Peachum opposite Alfred Drake’s MacHeath in 1946 in Duke Ellington and John La Touche’s Beggar’s Holiday. Between the blacklisting and stage plays, Mostel would not return to the musical form on Broadway until 1962, when he played Pseudolus in the original run of Stephen Sondheim’s musical farce, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Mostel earned a Tony® in 1963 for the role.
In 1964, Mostel originated Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and won the Tony® for that as well. His performance has defined the role ever since.