Theodore Bikel Biography

2 May 1924, Vienna, Austria. Bikel is a prolific stage and screen actor as well as a respected folk singer and musician. He left Austria with his parents in 1937, and was raised in Palestine. Though he was a talented linguist, Bikel opted to join the Habimah Theatre and later co-founded the Israeli Chamber Theatre. In 1946 he entered the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, England. He arrived in the USA in the late 40s. In 1951 he landed his first big film role, appearing as the First Officer in John Huston’s The African Queen. Eight years later he appeared as Captain Von Trapp with Mary Martin in the Broadway production of The Sound Of Music. His other stage appearances have included national starring roles in Zorba and Fiddler On The Roof.

Bikel’s Jewish background enabled him to build up a comprehensive repertoire of Eastern European, Russian and Yiddish songs, and he is also fluent in over half a dozen European and middle eastern languages. One of his first albums for Elektra Records was appropriately titled Folk Songs From Just About Everywhere. Bikel’s versatility stretches to his musical skills, with guitar, mandolin, harmonica and balalaika among the instruments he plays on his folk recordings. Bikel co-founded the Newport Folk Festival, and also presented his own radio show, At Home With Theodore Bikel. He was also a regular on the early 60s television show, Hootenanny. During this decade Bikel established himself as one of Hollywood’s most versatile actors, and though he often played the villain of the movie his mastery of languages and accents prevented his characters from descending into cliché. Ironically he was often cast as a German, but among his most notable roles are General Jouvet in The Pride And The Passion (1957), Sheriff Max Muller in The Defiant Ones (1958), Zolton Karpathy in My Fair Lady (1964), and Rance Muhammitz in 200 Motels (1971). His television appearances have included roles in All In The Family, Murder, She Wrote and Babylon 5.

Despite the success of his acting career, Bikel has maintained a busy performing and recording schedule and continues to campaign for political causes around the world. In 1977, he was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the National Council For The Arts, a position he held until 1982. He currently serves as the president of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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