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Zero Mostel was born Samuel Joel Mostel in Brooklyn, New York in 1915. His father was an Orthodox Jew, and Sammy was one of eight children. After buying a farm and going broke, his father took his family to the Lower East Side, where Sammy grew up. Sammy was very artistic, and showed talent at painting, but there was no money in that, and he went to City College, and got a job giving tours of art museums. It was on that job he showed his talent at doing "stand-up comedy". He got a job as a comic in a night club (changing his name to Zero), and that led to some small theater and movies. He was drafted by the Army, but when he got out he resumed entertaining in plays, musicals, operas and movies. His star kept rising, but unfortunately he had joined Communist groups, and he was swept up in the McCarthy blacklists. Unlike many others, he refused to "name names", and he was one of the few performers to question the government's right to do what it was doing while he was testifying. He worked little through the mid-1950s, but in 1957 he got a starring role on Broadway, and he won the Obie Award for Best Actor. Since the blacklists were starting to end, it seemed he was poised to be a leading star. But fate intervened when he was hit by a bus in New York City, and his leg was crushed, and it took him a long time to recover to where he could act again, and he was in pain the rest of his life (the City settled with him out of court). When he recovered he got major parts on Broadway, and then in 1962 he got the lead role of Pseudolus the slave who wants his freedom in the Broadway musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. He won the Tony Award, and starred in the movie version in 1966. In 1964, he starred as Tevye the milkman in the original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof. He again won the Tony Award, but this time he was NOT allowed to re-create the role in the movie version, a grievious mistake. In 1968, he was Max Bialystock in perhaps the funniest movie ever made, The Producers. The movie failed at the box office, but over time has achieved a massive cult following. He had a few more memorable appearances, among them as Morris Mishkin in The Angel Levine in 1970, as Abe Greenberg in The Hot Rock in 1972, and as Hecky Brown, a victim of blacklisting, in The Front, in 1976. He passed away in 1977 at the age of 62. Mostel had a wonderful career filled with wonderful performances, but one wonders how much more he might have achieved had he not been blacklisted and had a serious accident that cost him some of his most productive years?
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