Broadway’s ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ star Theodore Bikel dead at 91

23 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Broadway great Theodore Bikel dead.

Theodore Bikel, a prolific performer and political activist who created the role of Captain Georg Von Trapp in the original Broadway production of The Sound of Music and defined the role of Tevye the Milkman during more than 2,200 performances of Fiddler on the Roof, has died.Theodore Bikel, the Tony- and Oscar-nominated actor and singer whose passions included folk music and political activism, died Tuesday morning of natural causes at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, said his agent Robert Malcolm. Bikel, for whom Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the musical’s famous song Edelweiss, died at the UCLA medical centre on Tuesday, his publicist, B Harlan Böll, confirmed. Internationally renowned and respected as one of the most versatile actors of his generation, Bikel received an Academy Award nomination as best supporting actor for The Defiant Ones (1958), where he played a Southern sheriff.

The Austrian-born Bikel was noted for the diversity of the roles he played, from a Scottish police officer to a Russian submarine skipper, Jewish refugee, Dutch sea captain and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Born in Vienna in 1924, Bikel fled the 1938 invasion of Austria by Nazi Germany, heading for the Middle East, where his acting career began a few years later at the Habima Theatre in Tel Aviv. Often playing authority figures, the native of Vienna starred as a Dutch doctor in The Little Kidnappers (1953); a Germany submarine officer in The Enemy Below (1957); a French general in The Pride and the Passion (1957); Russian military men in in Fraulein (1958) and The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1965); and a Hungarian phonetics expert in My Fair Lady (1964). He co-founded the Israeli Chamber Theatre before leaving in 1946 for London, where he studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and took early West End roles, including A Streetcar Named Desire with Vivian Leigh.

Other memorable feature credits include The African Queen (1951), I Want to Live! (1958), See You in the Morning (1989), Crisis in the Kremlin (1992) and Shadow Conspiracy (1996). He has left an indelible mark on generation of members past and generations of members to come,” Actors’ Equity Association, which Bikel led as president from 1973-1982, said in a statement. He also appeared on numerous television shows, recorded books on tape, appeared in opera productions and issued more than 20 contemporary and folk music albums. The musical also starred Mary Martin as Maria. (Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer took their parts in the 1965 version, which won the Oscar for best picture.) On television, Bikel made hundreds of appearances, co-starring as Henry Kissinger in the 1989 ABC miniseries The Final Days and guesting on shows as diverse as The Twilight Zone, Gunsmoke, All in the Family, Law & Order, JAG, Columbo and Star Trek: The Next Generation. From the 1950s he began recording albums of folk songs, and in 1959 co-founded the Newport folk festival where he sang alongside a young Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.

A lifelong unionist and activist, he was president of Actor’s Equity from 1977 and 1982, and later president of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America. I don’t believe in retirement, really.” “From the time he joined Equity in 1954, Bikel has been an advocate for the members of our union and his extraordinary achievements paved the way for so many,” their statement read. “No one loved theatre more, his union better or cherished actors like Theo did.

Late into his life, Bikel wrote and starred in numerous performances of the play and musical Sholom Aleichem: Laughter Through Tears, which had its world premiere in Washington in 2008. Bikel, who jokingly referred to himself as “the poor man’s Peter Ustinov,” was 80 when he received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame in 2005. He spent much of his youth in Palestine and was fiercely devoted to supporting Jewish causes, as well as the Democratic Party and human rights groups. He was one of six leaders of the American Jewish Congress arrested while protesting in 1986 outside the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C. over that government’s restrictions on letting Jews leave the country.

While living on a kibbutz there, he discovered his love for drama. “I often stood on heaps of manure, leaning on a pitchfork, singing Hebrew songs at the top of my voice _ songs that extolled the beauty of callused hands and the nobility of work, which I was not doing too well,” he wrote in his 1994 autobiography. As a folk musician, Bikel made his concert debut in 1956 at the Carnegie Recital Hall, and went on to write, perform and translate lyrics to music for the next several decades.

His father, an insurance salesman and ardent Zionist, soon moved his family to Palestine (later Israel) and became director of the public health service. When he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture in 1997, Bikel said: “In my world, history comes down to language and art. No one cares much about what battles were fought, who won them and who lost them — unless there is a painting, a play, a song or a poem that speaks of the event.”

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