Mostel, Zero

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MOSTEL, ZERO (Samuel Joel Mostel ; 1915–1977), U.S. actor. Born in Brooklyn, n.y., into an Orthodox Jewish family, Mostel graduated from City College in 1935, then taught painting and drawing and made extra money entertaining. Working as a comedian at a jazz club called Café Society, Mostel was nicknamed "Zero" by the club's press agent, who said, "Here's a guy who started from nothing." A successful career as a comedian followed in Hollywood and on Broadway, mostly in portrayals of corpulent villains. His leftist views, however, led to his blacklisting, and it was not until 1958, when the political climate had changed, that he resumed full-scale activity. He appeared as Leopold Bloom in an off-Broadway production, Ulysses in Nighttown (1958), which was followed by stage successes in such plays as Ionesco's Rhinoceros (1961), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), Fiddler on the Roof (1964, and a revival in 1977). Fiddler won nine Tony Awards in 1965 and a special Tony in 1972 for the longest-running musical in Broadway history. Mostel won three Tony Awards: Best Actor in a Drama for Rhinoceros (1961) and Best Actor in a Musical for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1963) and Fiddler on the Roof (1965). He was also nominated in 1974 as Best Actor in a Drama for a revival of Ulysses in Nighttown.

Mostel appeared in a number of movies, including Panicin the Streets (1950), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), The Producers (1968), The Angel Levine (1970), The Hot Rock (1972), Rhinoceros (1974), Journey into Fear (1975), Mastermind (1976), and The Front (1976).

Mostel co-authored Zero Mostel's Book of Villains (with Alex Gotfryd and Israel Shenker, 1976) and 170 Years of Show Business (1978). His son Josh Mostel is an actor.

[Raphael Rothstein and

Jonathan Licht /

Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]