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Fyvush Finkel is an Emmy Award–winning actor of television, film and stage known for his work in Fiddler on the Roof, Picket Fences, Nixon and A Serious Man.
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Born on October 9, 1922, in Brooklyn, New York, Fyvush Finkel became an actor, singer and comedian who worked in Yiddish theater for decades, later starring in Fiddler on the Roof. He won an Obie Award before landing a major role in the TV series Picket Fences, for which he won an Emmy. He has also starred in Boston Public, Nixon and A Serious Man, in addition to his own live shows.
"I love people. I keep telling performers: 'Not only do you owe them a good performance, you also owe them love. If you love them, they love you 10 times more.'"
"Yiddish theater contains heart. It is feelings. It is fun. Even when you go to the synagogue, people are not somber. It's uplifting. Same with the theater."
"Wambaugh is an intellect. He knows the law. He might be eccentric, but only in the courtroom. At home he's a good father, a good husband, but when he enters that courtroom he's a madman sometimes." [on his 'Picket Fences' character]
Award-winning actor Fyvush Finkel was born Philip Finkel on October 9, 1922, in Brooklyn, New York. The son of European immigrants, he started acting in productions when he was 9 years old, and went on to become an icon of the Yiddish theater community on Manhattan's Second Avenue.
Though he studied in high school to become a furrier, Finkel opted to continue in the performing arts, also establishing himself as a comedian who played the Borscht Belt in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. He adopted the stage moniker "Fyvush," as it is a Yiddish translation of his first name.
He married playwright Gertrude Lieberman in 1947, and continued to work in Yiddish theater until he was in his 40s. He then joined the touring cast of Jerome Robbins' classic Fiddler on the Roof, playing other parts before landing the lead role of Tevye the Milkman in the musical's Broadway incarnation.
He continued his theater work, portraying store owner Mr. Mushnik in the Off-Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors. Finkel later starred in the 1989 revival of Cafe Crown, for which he won an Obie Award.
By the mid-1980s, Finkel had started to make his way in the world of television and film as well. He appeared in the 1985 NBC miniseries Evergreen and the 1986 PBS movie Seize the Day (based on the Saul Bellow novel), and had roles in big-screen features like Off Beat and the film version of Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs (both 1986).
TV producer and screenwriter David E. Kelley saw Finkel's portrayal of an attorney in the Sidney Lumet film Q&A (1990), and thought the actor would be perfect to portray public defense lawyer Douglas Wambaugh in the 1992 TV drama Picket Fences. The acclaimed series based in a Wisconsin town ran for four seasons, and Finkel was nominated for a 1993 supporting actor Emmy for his work, going on to win the award the following year at the age of 71. Finkel also received Screen Actors Guild nominations as well as a Golden Globe nod.
With roles in big-screen projects like For Love or Money (1993) and Oliver Stone's Nixon (1995), Finkel also lent his voice to the cartoon series Rugrats and The Simpsons, and starred in the 1998 relaunch of Fantasy Island. He and Kelley reunited for the show Boston Public, in which Finkel portrayed history teacher Harvey Lipschultz; like Picket Fences, the show ran for four seasons, from 2000-2004. Finkel also appeared in the 2002 documentary The Komediant and later in Joel Coen and Ethan Coen's 2009 film A Serious Man, as well as guest-starring on the NBC drama Harry's Law.
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