ZERO MOSTEL by Jared Brown


A Biography
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From the author of The Fabulous Lunts (1986), a well-done and highly readable life that highlights the intellectual and artistic side of Mostel that was never seen publicly. Mostel's Jewish family and background is richly worked up here. Born Samuel in a warm brood of eight children on Manhattan's Lower East Side, Zero was distinguished early by his drawing ability and wild humor. His humor, however, was endemic to the loud Mostels--but Zero was the only sibling who got paid for it. He started out to be a painter, did well in his art classes, graduated from City University, taught art, became an art guide at various museums and mixed his spiels there with outlandish humor. Deeply influenced by Yiddish theater, he broke into show biz at Greenwich Village's Cafe Society and later at the Yiddish hotels in the Catskills. When alone with someone, Mostel was restrained. But he was manic at all times in public, like the Marx Brothers boiled down, and was especially boisterous in restaurants--all restaurants. As Brown discovers, no two people knew the same Mostel, and any two friends would have fully opposite views of him. There is no one Mostel to write about here, but Brown does marvelously at capturing as many as possible. One comes to love the Mostel who could change himself from a brilliant Moliäre figure in The Imaginary Invalid to Leopold Bloom for Ulysses in Night-town, into an incredibly believable rhinocerous for Rhinocerous, into a tender expositor of world art, and so on. He had three tremendous comebacks, one following his blacklisting after his heroic appearance at a HUAC investigation, another as the definitive Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof another as Max Bialystock in Met Brooks' cult favorite The Producers (which is not to ignore his Pseudopolus in a Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum). A man of gargantuan virtues and flaws, caught as accurately as report allows. Should do Mostel's memory much good.

ISBN: 689-11955-0
Publisher: Atheneum
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