Mostel, Zero, 1915-1977

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1915-02-28
Death 1977-09-08
Americans

Biographical notes:

Actor and artist Zero Mostel was born Samuel Joel Mostel on February 28, 1915 in Brooklyn, N.Y.

He attended Seward Park High School and earned a B.A. in art from the City College of New York in 1935. After a series of jobs, he worked with the WPA art project teaching and lecturing at museums. His lectures were so entertaining that he was often booked at union halls, Catskills hotels, and various benefits. It was at one such event that radio director and producer Hyman Brown saw Mostel and arranged an audition with Café Society's Barney Josephson. He was hired, opened on February 16, 1942, and was an immediate success. It was Ivan Black, Café Society's press agent, who gave him the name Zero.

1942 was a turning point for Mostel. Not only did he open at Cafe Society, he also debuted on Broadway in KEEP 'EM LAUGHING, completed his first motion picture DUBARRY WAS A LADY, and met Kathryn Harkin, his future wife. Following his success in KEEP 'EM LAUGHING, Mostel appeared in BEGGAR'S HOLIDAY, FLIGHT INTO EGYPT, THE GOOD WOMAN OF SETZUAN, GOOD AS GOLD, and ULYSSES IN NIGHTTOWN, to name a few, and won Tony Awards for his performances in RHINOCEROS, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, and FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. Mostel's film career included roles in PANIC IN THE STREETS, THE ENFORCER, THE GUY WHO CAME BACK, SIROCCO, MR. BELVEDERE RINGS THE BELL, THE MODEL AND THE MARRIAGE BROKER, RHINOCEROS, and THE FRONT, among others. However, he is best known for his roles in A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM and THE PRODUCERS.

Mostel was also an accomplished artist. Throughout his life he maintained a studio for his painting. When he was blacklisted in the 1950s and worked sporadically in the theater, his painting became an important creative outlet. His work was exhibited during his lifetime and posthumously as well.

Kathryn Cecilia Harkin Mostel was born in Philadelphia on October 8, 1918, the youngest of eight children. Her first professional experience was in the children's act "Broadway Varieties". After graduating from high school, Kate joined a ballet company started by her dance teacher Catherine Littlefield. Leaving the company a few years later, she danced in nightclubs in Chicago, New Jersey, New York, and Rio de Janeiro. In 1940 Kate became a Rockette. It was while working at Radio City Music Hall that she met Zero Mostel. They were married in 1944 and had two sons, Joshua and Tobias.

Leaving her dance career behind, Kate worked as an actress appearing in THE BIRD CAGE, THE LADIES OF THE CORRIDOR, and THREE MEN ON A HORSE. She also starred with her husband in his adaptation of THE IMAGINARY INVALID. After Mostel's death, she continued to act and with her friend Madeline Lee Gilford co-authored 170 YEARS OF SHOW BUSINESS, a book which recounts the lives and careers of the Mostels and the Gilfords. Zero Mostel died in 1977 in Philadelphia during a pre-Broadway run of THE MERCHANT. Kate Mostel died in New York City in 1986.

From the description of Zero and Kate Mostel papers, 1915-1986. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122580767

Actor and artist Zero Mostel was born Samuel Joel Mostel on February 28, 1915 in Brooklyn, N.Y. He attended Seward Park High School and earned a B. A. in art from the City College of New York in 1935. After a series of jobs, he worked with the WPA art project teaching and lecturing at museums. His lectures were so entertaining that he was often booked at union halls, Catskills hotels, and various benefits. It was at one such event that radio director and producer Hyman Brown saw Mostel and arranged an audition with Café Society's Barney Josephson. He was hired, opened on February 16, 1942, and was an immediate success. It was Ivan Black, Café Society's press agent, who gave him the name Zero.

1942 was a turning point for Mostel. Not only did he open at Café Society, he also debuted on Broadway in Keep 'Em Laughing, completed his first motion picture DuBarry Was a Lady, and met Kathryn Harkin, his future wife. Following his success in Keep 'Em Laughing, Mostel appeared in Beggar's Holiday, Flight into Egypt, The Good Woman of Setzuan, Good as Gold, and Ulysses in Nighttown, to name a few, and won Tony Awards for his performances in Rhinoceros, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Fiddler on the Roof .

Mostel's film career included roles in Panic in the Streets, The Enforcer, The Guy Who Came Back, Sirocco, Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell, The Model and the Marriage Broker, Rhinoceros, and The Front, among others. However, he is best known for his roles in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and The Producers .

Mostel was also an accomplished artist. Throughout his life he maintained a studio for his painting. When he was blacklisted in the 1950s and worked sporadically in the theater, his painting became an important creative outlet. His work was exhibited during his lifetime and posthumously as well.

Kathryn Cecilia Harkin Mostel was born in Philadelphia on October 8, 1918, the youngest of eight children. Her first professional experience was in the children's act " Broadway Varieties ". After graduating from high school, Kate joined a ballet company started by her dance teacher Catherine Littlefield. Leaving the company a few years later, she danced in nightclubs in Chicago, New Jersey, New York, and Rio de Janeiro. In 1940 Kate became a Rockette. It was while working at Radio City Music Hall that she met Zero Mostel. They were married in 1944 and had two sons, Joshua and Tobias.

Leaving her dance career behind, Kate worked as an actress appearing in The Bird Cage, The Ladies of the Corridor, and Three Men on a Horse . She also starred with her husband in his adaptation of The Imaginary Invalid . After Mostel's death, she continued to act and with her friend Madeline Lee Gilford co-authored 170 Years of Show Business, a book which recounts the lives and careers of the Mostels and the Gilfords.

Zero Mostel died in 1977 in Philadelphia during a pre-Broadway run of The Merchant . Kate Mostel died in New York City in 1986.

From the guide to the Zero and Kate Mostel papers, 1915-1986, (The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.)

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Subjects:

  • Theater--United States
  • Dancers
  • Dancers--United States
  • Blacklisting of entertainers
  • Motion picture producers and directors
  • Flower arrangement, Japanese
  • Actors as artists
  • Theater
  • Comedians--United States

Occupations:

not available for this record

Places:

  • United States (as recorded)