Samuel Mostel supposedly got his nickname from his mother; if he didn’t do better in school, he would amount to a zero. He did do better — an A student, a linguist who spoke four languages, an accomplished painter – but Zero Mostel made his name as the class clown of twentieth century American theater. A classy clown as comfortable with Beckett and Brecht as with his own personal brand of Burlesque
He worked as standup comic and nightclub entertainer before launching into film and television — a screen career interrupted because he was blacklisted.
He had made his Broadway debut at the age of 26, in 1942, but his career took off with his tenth role in 1961, in the absurdist play by Eugene Ionesco, “Rhinoceros” (pictured above) for which he won the first of his three Tony Awards. He is now best-known for his other two Tony winning roles, as Pseudolus in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and, above all, the original Tevye in “Fiddler on The Roof” He played the Jewish milkman for only the the first year of the show’s phenomenally successful nearly eight-year run, but he reportedly set the mold for all the Tevyes to follow. He played the role again in a Broadway revival in 1977, which ended its run four months before Zero Mostel died at the age of 62 while out of town rehearsing for another Broadway-bound show.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To The Forum, 1962
The opening number, A Comedy Tonight, from the 1966 movie
Fiddler on the Roof 1964
If I Were A Rich Man sung at the Tony Awards
He performed in Waiting for Godot on television in 1960. Below is the entire broadcast