Zero Mostel

American actor (1915-1977)

Zero Mostel (February 28, 1915September 8, 1977) was a Brooklyn-born stage and film actor best known for his portrayal of comic characters such as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, Pseudolus in the Broadway production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (and in the film version), and Max Bialystock in The Producers. He was blacklisted during the 1950s, and his testimony before HUAC was well publicized. He was a Tony Award and Obie Award winner.

Performing in 1958


  • Mostel: If I appeared there, what if I did an imitation of a butterfly at rest? There is no crime in making anybody laugh. I don't care if you laugh at me.
    Congressman Jackson: If your interpretation of a butterfly at rest brought any money into the coffers of the Communist Party, you contributed directly to the propaganda effort of the Communist Party.
    Mostel: Suppose I had the urge to do the butterfly at rest somewhere?
    Congressman Doyle: Yes, but please, when you have the urge, don't have such an urge to put the butterfly at rest by putting some money in the Communist Party coffers as a result of that urge to put a butterfly at rest.
    • Testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), October 14, 1955, regarding Mostel's appearance at a Communist Party fundraiser.
  • There's a kind of silliness in the theater about what one contributes to a show. The producer obviously contributes the money... but must the actor contribute nothing at all? I’m not a modest fellow about those things. I contribute a great deal. And they always manage to hang you for having an interpretation. Isn’t [the theater] where your imagination should flower? Why must it always be dull as shit?
    • From Michael Kantor and Laurence Maslon Broadway: The American Musical (Bulfinch Press), as cited in "Stars Over Broadway", PBS.
    • Responding to criticism that his performances dominated over the material. Ellipsis in the cited source
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