Mostel, Zero, 1915-1977

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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.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Jaffe, Sam, 1891-1984. Sam Jaffe papers, 1915-1991 (bulk 1925-1984). Library of Congress
referencedIn Mostel, Zero : [miscellaneous ephemeral material]. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas J. Watson Library
referencedIn Ivan Black papers, 1887-1979, 1937-1978 The New York Public Library. Music Division.
creatorOf Mostel, Zero, 1915-1977. Artist file. Brooklyn Museum Libraries & Archives
referencedIn Black, Ivan, d. 1979. Ivan Black papers, 1887-1979 (bulk 1937-1978) New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Brochu, Jim. Zero hour : a play in two acts / by Jim Brochu, 2009. New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Zero and Kate Mostel papers, 1915-1986 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn Dolbin, Benedikt F. Caricatures of performing artists, 1938-1965 and n.d. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Actors Studio (New York, N.Y.). Recordings [sound recording], 1956-1969. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn Lucille Lortel papers, 1902-2000 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
creatorOf Mostel, Zero, 1915-1977. Zero and Kate Mostel papers, 1915-1986. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Actors' Fund of America Records, 1880-2005 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
referencedIn Alix Jeffry additional papers, 1935-1993. Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
referencedIn Cole, Toby, 1916-. Archives, 1950-1979. University of California, Davis, Shields Library
referencedIn Earl Browder Papers, 1879-1990 Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
referencedIn Sam Jaffe Papers, 1915-1991, (bulk 1925-1984) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Abbott, George, 1887-1995 person
associatedWith Actors' Fund of America. corporateBody
associatedWith Actors Studio (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Adrian Scott person
associatedWith Barkentin, Marjorie person
associatedWith Barkentin, Marjorie. person
associatedWith Behrman, S. N. (Samuel Nathaniel), 1893-1973 person
associatedWith Bentley, Eric, 1916- person
associatedWith Bernardi, Herschel person
associatedWith Black, Ivan, d. 1979. person
associatedWith Bock, Jerry. person
associatedWith Brochu, Jim. person
associatedWith Browder, Earl, 1891-1973 person
associatedWith Cafe Society (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Catherine Littlefield Dance Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Chayefsky, Paddy, 1923- person
associatedWith Chevalier, Maurice, 1888-1972 person
associatedWith City College corporateBody
associatedWith City University of New York. City College. corporateBody
associatedWith Cohen, Alexander H person
associatedWith Cole, Toby, 1916- person
associatedWith Committee on Un-American Activities corporateBody
associatedWith Conte, Richard, 1911-1975 person
associatedWith Dalton Trumbo person
associatedWith Dexter, John, d. 1990 person
associatedWith Dolbin, Benedikt F. person
associatedWith d'Usseau, Arnaud, 1916- person
associatedWith Edward G. Robinson person
associatedWith Ellington, Duke, 1899-1974 corporateBody
associatedWith Ellington, Duke, 1899-1974. person
associatedWith Emily Strunsky Paley person
associatedWith Equity Library Theatre (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Fierstein, Harvey, 1954- person
associatedWith Gardner, Herb, 1934- person
associatedWith Gelbart, Larry person
associatedWith Gershwin, Ira, 1896- person
associatedWith Gilford, Jack person
associatedWith Goodman, Benny, 1909- person
associatedWith Hale, Barbara, 1922- person
associatedWith Harkin family family
associatedWith Harvard University corporateBody
associatedWith Henson, Jim person
associatedWith Hirt, Al person
associatedWith Holm, John Cecil, 1904- person
associatedWith Ingels, Marty person
associatedWith Ionesco, Eugène. person
associatedWith Ionesco, Eugène person
associatedWith Jack Gilford person
correspondedWith Jaffe, Sam, 1891-1984. person
associatedWith Jeffry, Alix. person
associatedWith Joan McCracken person
associatedWith Jo Mielziner person
associatedWith Joseph Haber person
associatedWith Joyce, James, 1882-1941 person
associatedWith Kanin, Garson, 1912- person
associatedWith Kaplan, Sol person
associatedWith Kate Harkin Mostel person
associatedWith Kate Mostel person
associatedWith Kathryn Harkin person
associatedWith Kazan, Elia person
associatedWith Kiley, Richard person
associatedWith La Guardia, Fiorello H. (Fiorello Henry), 1882-1947 person
associatedWith Lardner, Ring, 1915- person
associatedWith Lee, Madeline person
associatedWith Lewin, Albert, 1894- person
associatedWith Littlefield, Catherine person
associatedWith Logan, Joshua person
associatedWith London Palladium (England) corporateBody
associatedWith Lortel, Lucille person
associatedWith Lou Paley person
associatedWith Madeline Lee Gilford person
associatedWith Malden, Karl person
associatedWith Marshall, E. G., 1910- person
associatedWith McCracken, Joan person
associatedWith McCracken, Joan. person
associatedWith Meehan, Danny, d. 1978 person
associatedWith Middlebury College corporateBody
associatedWith Molière, 1622-1673 person
associatedWith Mostel, Joshua. person
associatedWith Mostel, Kate. person
associatedWith Mostel, Tobias. person
associatedWith National Cartoonist Society. corporateBody
associatedWith National Cartoonists' Society corporateBody
associatedWith Office of War Information corporateBody
associatedWith Osato, Sono, 1919- person
associatedWith Patrick, John, 1907- person
associatedWith Philadelphia Ballet corporateBody
associatedWith Philadelphia Ballet. corporateBody
associatedWith Phil Loeb person
associatedWith Raines, Ella person
associatedWith Redack, Jay person
associatedWith Rice, Ed person
associatedWith Ring Lardner, Jr. person
associatedWith Robeson, Paul, 1892-1976 person
associatedWith Robinson, Edward G., 1893-1973. person
associatedWith Root, Lynn, 1905- person
associatedWith Saddler, Donald person
associatedWith Sam Jaffe person
associatedWith Schisgal, Murray, 1926- person
associatedWith Scott, Adrian person
associatedWith Seward Park High School corporateBody
associatedWith Simon, Neil person
associatedWith Sondheim, Stephen. person
associatedWith Stack, Robert, 1919- person
associatedWith Stern, Isaac, 1920- person
associatedWith Strunsky family family
associatedWith Tabori, George, 1914-2007. person
associatedWith Tamiroff, Akim, 1899-1972 person
associatedWith Theater Hall of Fame corporateBody
associatedWith The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Committee on Un-American Activities. corporateBody
associatedWith U.S.O. corporateBody
associatedWith Ustinov, Peter person
associatedWith Vanbrugh, John, Sir, 1664-1726 person
associatedWith Wesker, Arnold, 1932- person
associatedWith Wilson, Teddy, 1912- person
associatedWith Women's Army Auxiliary Corps corporateBody
associatedWith Works Progress Administration corporateBody
associatedWith Young, Gig, 1919-1978 person
associatedWith Zero Mostel person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
Subject
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
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1915-02-28

Death 1977-09-08

Americans

Information

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