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Theodore Bikel

Theodore Bikel is an actor, singer, songwriter, musician, photographer, writer, lecturer, political activist, and union leader.

His major motion picture credits include, The African Queen, The Defiant Ones, and The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming.

On stage he created the role of Captain Von Trapp in the original 1959 Broadway cast of The Sound of Music, and later, frequently played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.

Theodore Bikel
Theodore Bikel
Biographical fast facts

Full or original name at birth: Theodor Meir Bikel*

Date and place of birth: May 2, 1924, Vienna, Austria**

Date, place and cause of death: (Alive as of 2012)

Sons: Robert Simon Bikel and Daniel Martin Bikel

Father: Joseph Bikel (b. Josef Hasenfratz - d. January 1979, Tel Aviv, Israel, of lung cancer) (a clerk and insurance salesman)
Mother: Miriam Bikel (b. Maria Gisela Riegler, 1898 - d. 1995)

Error corrections or clarifications

* The original spelling of his first name came about as a result of the fact he was named after Theodor Herzl, journalist and founder of the modern, political Zionist movement. He also happens to share his May 2nd date of birth with Herzl as well.

** Theodore Bikel was not born "March 2, 1924" as a couple of sources erroneously report, nor was he born "May 24, 1924" as the 1994 edition of Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia reports. Bikel confirms his May 2nd, 1924 birth several times in his autobiography.

Contrary to what many sources report, Theo's first marriage to Ofra Ichilov did not take place in 1942, nor did his divorce from her occur in 1943. His marriage to her took place after his arrival in America in the mid-fifties. (Theo Bikel arrived in the U.S. for the first time on December 11th, 1954) Their marriage took place at City Hall in New York City. It was a short-lived union, with a Juarez, Mexico divorce bringing it to an official end.

NOTE: Several sources erroneously report Bikel moved to the U.S. in the forties. As noted above, he didn't arrive in the U.S. until 1954. Mr. Bikel confirms this fact in his autobiography.

Biography - Credits

Born in Vienna, Austria, Theodore Bikel spent his teenage years in Palestine. It was there that he began acting, and even helped found a local theater. In 1946, he entered the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. By the time he graduated two years later, he'd also developed a passion for folk music and the guitar.

When Theo first arrived in America on December 11th, 1954, he already had an impressive list of stage credits. He quickly became known for his mastery of several languages, his acting versatility, and singing. His guitar was never far away, and his skill as a singer/musician was utilized in numerous stage, television and film roles.

Notable films include The African Queen (1951), The Enemy Below (1957), and The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966). Star Trek fans may remember him as Worf's adoptive father in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Bikel also created the role of Captain Von Trapp in the original 1959 Broadway cast of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music. Later in his career, the stage role that he became most identified with, was Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. He surpassed his thousandth performance as Tevye in 1990, and eventually went on to appear in that role more than 2000 times.

Bikel received a 1958 Academy award nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his role as the Southern Sheriff in The Defiant Ones. He was the recipient of two Tony Award nominations: in 1958 as Best Supporting or Featured Actor in a dramatic role for The Rope Dancers, and two years later, as Best Supporting or Featured Actor in a musical for The Sound of Music. On more than one occasion, this versatile actor/singer even tried his hand at opera. As had been the case with most of his stage and screen roles, his reviews were quite respectable.

In 1957, with Herb Cohen as his partner, Theo opened the first folk music coffeehouse in Los Angeles. The Unicorn on Sunset Boulevard proved so popular with the folk music crowd, they opened a second venue. Cosmo Alley offered a more traditional club atmosphere, presenting not only folk music, but poetry readings and comedy acts as well. Theodore Bikel himself, Lenny Bruce, Glenn Yarbrough, and Maya Angelou were among the performers appearing there.

On the personal front, he and his second wife Rita suffered through two miscarriages before the birth of their first son Robert Simon Bikel in 1969. Son Dan Bikel soon followed. Though his second son, Dr. Daniel M. Bikel, is better known for his work in the computer field, he also inherited some of his father's musical talent.

Theo Bikel was a prominent civil rights activist, co-founder of the Newport Folk Festival, and host of his own radio show back in the late fifties, and early sixties. He served as vice president of Actors' Equity (a union for stage performers) from 1964-73, then as president from 1973-82. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the National Council on the Arts, a position he held until 1982. Theo: The Autobiography of Theodore Bikel, was published in 1994.

He divided his time between Los Angeles and New York City until 1971, when he moved his family to Connecticut.

In 2002, Bikel hosted the wedding of his eldest son, Robert, at his Connecticut home. He was finally able to deliver the lines he'd so often sung on stage as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, saying, "I've been waiting a long time to do this," and began singing:
"They look so natural together
Just like two newlyweds should be
Is there a canopy in store for me?
Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears."

Selected film credits:
The African Queen (1951) (his motion picture debut)
Moulin Rouge (1952)
A Day to Remember (1953)
Desperate Moment (1953)
The Little Kidnappers (1953)
Never Let Me Go (1953)
Melba (1953)
Betrayed (1954)
The Love Lottery (1954)
The Divided Heart (1954)
The Colditz Story (1955)
The Pride and the Passion (1957)
The Vintage (1957)
The Enemy Below (1957)
Fraulein (1958)
I Want to Live! (1958)
A Dog of Flanders (1959)
The Angry Hills (1959)
The Blue Angel (1959)
Woman Obsessed (1959)
My Fair Lady (1964)
Sands of the Kalahari (1965)
The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966)
My Side of the Mountain (1969)
Darker Than Amber (1970)
200 Motels (1971)
The Little Ark (1972)
Very Close Quarters (1986)
Dark Tower (1987)

Selected stage credits:
Tevye, the Milkman (his stage debut, in the role of the Constable)
The King of Lampedusa
A Servant of Two Masters
The Insect Play
Blood Wedding
Charley's Aunt
You Can't Take It with You
A Streetcar Named Desire
The Love of Four Colonels
The Thistle and The Rose
Dear Charles
The Lark
The Rope Dancers
Fiddler on the Roof
Cafe Crown
Pousse Cafe
Brecht on Brecht
Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris
The Rothschilds
The Marriage-Go-Round
I Do, I Do
The Sunshine Boys
The Chosen
The Inspector General
Threepenny Opera
Sholom Aleichem: Laughter Through Tears
Lies My Father Told Me
Visiting Mr. Green

Selected TV-movies/Miniseries/Pilots/Miscellaneous TV:
The Diary of Anne Frank (1967)
Murder on Flight 502 (1975)
Victory at Entebbe (1976)
A Stoning in Fulham County (1988)

Selected TV guest appearances:
The DuPont Show of the Month
Play of the Week
Studio One
Appointment with Adventure
Naked City
The Twilight Zone
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Wagon Train
Dr. Kildare
Mission: Impossible
The Mod Squad
Hawaii Five-O
Ellery Queen
Little House on the Prairie
Police Woman
Fantasy Island
Trapper John, M.D.
Knight Rider
All in the Family
The Paper Chase
Charlie's Angels
Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer
Falcon Crest (recurring role)
The Equalizer
Dynasty (recurring role)
Murder, She Wrote
Star Trek: The Next Generation
L.A. Law
Law & Order
Babylon 5

Selected recordings:
Folksongs of Israel (his debut album in 1955)
An Actor's Holiday (1958)
A Young Man and a Maid (a collaboration with Cynthia Gooding) (1958)
Theodore Bikel Sings Jewish Folk Songs (1958)
Songs of a Russian Gypsy (1958)
Folk Songs From Just about Everywhere (a collaboration with Geula Gill) (1958)
Songs of a Russian Gypsy (1958)
More Jewish Folk Songs (1959)
Bravo Bikel! (Live From Carnegie Hall) (1959)
Songs of Russia Old And New (1960)
From Bondage to Freedom (1961)
A Harvest Of Israeli Folk Songs (1962)
The Poetry and Prophesy of The Old Testament (1962)
Theodore Bikel on Tour (1963)
A Folksinger's Choice (1964)
The King and I (1964)
Songs of the Earth (a collaboration with The Pennywhistlers) (1967)
Theodore Bikel Is Tevye (1968)
A New Day (1970)
Silent No More (1972)
Theodore Bikel for the Young (1973)
Theodore Bikel Sings Jewish Holiday Songs (1987)
A Passover Story (1991)
A Chanukah Story (1992)
A Taste Of Passover (1998)
A Taste of Chanukah (2000)
In My Own Lifetime: 12 Musical Theater Classics (2006)


The most in-depth of more than two dozen sources consulted in preparing this profile, was his 1994 autobiography, Theo: The Autobiography of Theodore Bikel.

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