Theodore Bikel (1924-2015)

Theodore Bikel

Theodore Bikel

Actor Theodore Bikel, creator of the role of Baron von Trapp in the Broadway production of The Sound of Music, and a constant presence on American TV over five decades, passed away July 20.

In his most famous genre TV role, Bikel played the adopted Russian father of the Klingon character Worf in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Family” (1990).

He was the voice of Aragorn in the Bass/Rankin animated TV production of The Return of the King (1980; John Huston voiced Gandalf, Orson Bean was Frodo, and Roddy McDowell was Sam.) He appeared in other made-for-TV movies Dark Tower (1989) (unrelated to the Stephen King work), and Babylon 5: In The Beginning (1998).

He acted in episodes of The Twilight Zone, “Four O’Clock” (1962), Knight Rider, “Chariot of Gold” (1983), Beauty and the Beast, “Chamber Music” (1988), Babylon 5, “TKO” (1994), and The Burning Zone, “St. Michael’s Nightmare” (1996).

Bikel was always on call whenever somebody needed a character with a Russian or German accent (he joked about being “the poor man’s Peter Ustinov”). He worked on many of American TV’s top-rated drama series from the 1950s ‘til his last appearance on JAG in 2003.

Bikel also performed the lead in thousands of stage performances of Fiddler on the Roof and was one of the world’s most popular folksingers.

Bikel’s top screen roles included the Southern Sheriff in The Defiant Ones (1958), which earned him an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor, and the Soviet submarine captain in one of my personal favorite movies, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966).

8 thoughts on “Theodore Bikel (1924-2015)

  1. My favorite Bikel roles were the submarine captain in The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, and the small role of Zoltan Karpathy in My Fair Lady (“He said she was Hungarian!”). I heard him live in concert once, in Burlington VT in the late 1960s.

  2. Don’t forget that he played “Bando” in the (somewhat lackluster Canadian) movie adaptation of Jean C. George’s book “My Side of the Mountain”.

  3. I thought he was the original Tevye on Broadway too. I had thought that he had been the original Jolly Green Giant as well, but my research says that was Hershel Bernardi. I love The Russians Are Coming; very under rated movie.

  4. Decades ago, my brother, who also passed this year, was at a small party with Bikel, and said that he was just incredibly nice! (Bikel was a particular favorite of our Mom’s). An acquaintance of mine played one of Tevye’s daughters in one of the national tours, and said that he was just terrific. And… if you watch the GOLDFINGER special edition DVDs, you can see his screen test, to play “the man with the Midas touch”! (By the way, it was Zero Mostel, of course, who was FIDDLER’s original Tevye on Broadway…. And also memorable from Mr. Bikel was a lovely and touching guest shot on ALL IN THE FAMILY.)

  5. I knew Mostel played the original Tevye and that Burt Convy was the original Perchik, but I didn’t realize until I just looked it up that Bea Arthur was the original Yente.

    Topol, of course, played Tevye in the film.

  6. To me, he will always be the man who played “Opal, The Hot Little Bitch” (AKA The Devil) in Frank Zappa’s movie 200 Motels. It takes a real actor to do that.

    The “poor man’s Peter Ustinov” remark works both ways, false modesty aside.

  7. He was also in one of my favorite Columbo episodes from the 70s–the one about the murder in the MENSA club.

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