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.
Biographical fast facts
Full or original name at birth: Theodor Meir Bikel*
Date and place of birth: May 2, 1924,
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
** 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
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?
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 Zorba 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 Combat! Gunsmoke Mission: Impossible Cannon The Mod Squad Ironside Hawaii Five-O Ellery Queen Little House on the Prairie Columbo Police Woman Fantasy Island Trapper John, M.D. Knight Rider All in the Family The Paper Chase Charlie's Angels Hotel 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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