Zero Mostel Biography

Theater Actor, Actor, Film Actor (1915–1977)
Stage, television and screen actor Zero Mostel won a Tony Award playing Tevye in Jerome Robbins' Fiddler on the Roof, and starred in Mel Brooks' film The Producers.


Zero Mostel was born February 28, 1915, in New York City. In 1942, he debuted as a comedian. In 1947, he appeared in his first feature film. He was blacklisted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1951. In 1964, he landed the role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. Mostel continued to perform on stage, screen and TV until his death on September 8, 1977, in Philadelphia.


Early Years

Zero Mostel was born Samuel Joel Mostel on February 28, 1915, to a family of Jewish orthodox immigrants in New York City's Lower East Side. As a child, he took art classes at the Educational Alliance.

After high school graduation, Mostel attended the City College of New York. He also spent a year at New York University. In 1937, Mostel was hired as an art teacher as part of the Works Project Administration's Federal Art Project. In addition to teaching classes at the local Jewish Y, Mostel gave comical lectures at a number of New York art museums.

Comic and Actor

Mostel's entertaining lectures soon led to invitations to perform at parties and supper clubs. In 1942, he debuted as a standup comedian at Café Society. It was during this time that he was nicknamed Zero, as in a guy starting from nothing. That same year, Mostel debuted on Broadway in Keep 'Em Laughing.

In 1943, Mostel took a break from show business to serve in the Army in World War II. Three years later, he appeared in his first feature film, DuBarry Was a Lady. Mostel went on to perform in a steady stream of plays and movies until 1951, when he was blacklisted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. As a result, Mostel struggled to finding acting work until the early 1960s. Shortly following his comeback, Mostel's leg was seriously injured when he was hit by a bus. After a year spent recovering, Mostel earned his first Tony Award for his performance in the Broadway play Rhinoceros. The next year, Mostel brought home a second Tony for his starring role in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. In 1964, Mostel landed one of the most famous roles of his career, as Tevye in Jerome Robbins' musical Fiddler on the Roof. Mostel's memorable performance earned him yet another Tony. During the late 1960s, Mostel also starred in the Mel Brooks' comedy The Producers and had his own variety TV show called Zero Hour.

During the 1970s, Mostel continued to make stage, TV and film performances. The last time he appeared on TV was in a 1977 episode of The Muppet Show. His last stage performance also took place in 1977, as Shylock in The Merchant. After just one performance of the play, Mostel died suddenly of a heart attack on September 8, 1977, in Philadelphia.

Personal Life

Mostel was a husband and father as well as an actor and artist. He married his first wife, Clara Sverd, in 1939. The couple separated in 1941 and divorced three years later. Mostel's second marriage, to an actress and former Rockette named Kate, yielded two sons, Tobias and Josh Mostel.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!