Theodore Meir Bikel was born in Vienna, Austria, on May 2, 1924. His family fled to Palestine after the Nazi Anschluss in 1938. After a lifetime of accomplishments, he died of natural causes in Los Angeles on July 21, 2015. He was 91 years of age.
Broadway and Hollywood: Theodore Bikel was a lecturer, author, and raconteur; an actor on screen, stage and television; folksinger, composer, musician, arts advocate, and political activist. He was twice nominated for the Tony award, for his work in The Rope Dancers (1958) and for creating the role of Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music (1959). He made his film debut in The African Queen (1951) and was nominated for a supporting actor Oscar for his role in The Defiant Ones (1959). In fact, his full filmography is too lengthy to be listed here.
Activism: He was a vocal advocate for financial stability and better working conditions for actors. He co-founded the Actors Federal Credit Union in 1962, served as the president of Actors’ Equity from 1973-1982, and had been president of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America since 1988. Theodore Bikel Remembered provides a video of Bikel discussing his various political interests. “One thing that is absolutely clear in my mind is that human beings cannot be treated like cattle,” Bikel said in a 2014 extended interview. Though Bikel closely identified with Israel and with Jewish life, he was also an outspoken critic of Israeli policy, especially a pending measure to forcibly relocate some 40,000 Bedouin Arabs from their ancestral lands.
Folk Music: Bikel recorded the folk album Songs of a Gypsy in 1958. Unexpectedly, the album was a hit and became Elektra Records’ best selling album at the time. Information about the album and streams of the songs are found here. He released many other albums, usually featuring Bikel as he performed Jewish folk songs on guitar or a variety of other instruments. He co-founded the Newport Folk Festival with Pete Seeger and often performed with Seeger, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez., and Peter, Paul, & Mary.
Trivia: Bikel was fluent in six languages. He sang folk songs in nearly 20 languages, and could accompany himself on the harmonica, mandolin, balalaika, and guitar. He appeared as a member of a MENSA-like society in Colombo: the Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case, and was in real life a member of MENSA. He performed the role of Tevye (Fiddler on the Roof) more than 2,000 times. He was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1968. He was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005. He was never short of quotable remarks, either.