The papers, spanning the years 1915-1986, document the personal and professional lives of Zero and Kate Mostel: Zero as nightclub performer, actor, and artist and Kate as dancer, actress, and writer. The collection is arranged in two sub groups: the Zero Mostel Papers which include personal papers, correspondence, production files, some of Mostel's lectures and writings, scripts, photographs, his sketches and drawings, and clippings; and the Kate Mostel Papers which include personal papers, correspondence, production files, photographs, her hobby of Japanese flower arrangement and materials related to her book 170 Years of Show Business written with Madeline Gilford.
Of particular note are Zero's sketch books, letters from Zero to Kate written while he was working in different parts of the world, correspondence from Zero's close friends Sam Jaffe and Phil Loeb, a letter from writer Dalton Trumbo to Adrian Scott telling his side of the story of the rift between him and Edward G. Robinson precipitated by the blacklist, and a copy of Mostel's testimony before the Committee on Un-American Activities. Also of interest are the personal and professional photographs of both Mostels. Included are many candid snapshots of family and friends, publicity and nightclub performance photographs of Zero as well as photographs of his art and art collection. Photographs of Kate include childhood performances, traveling with Catherine Littlefield's ballet company, and nightclub publicity shots.
The collection also houses annotated scripts for many, but not all, of Mostel's performances. Stage scripts include FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, GOOD AS GOLD, and ULYSSES IN NIGHTTOWN. Film scripts are THE FRONT, ONCE UPON A SCOUNDREL, THE PRODUCERS, and RHINOCEROS. Missing from the collection are extensive materials for major productions i.e., contracts and production-related correspondence, except for the 1976 revival of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF which includes lighting, prop, and financial information.
Actor and artist Zero Mostel was born Samuel Joel Mostel on February 28, 1915 in Brooklyn, N.Y. He attended Seward Park High School and earned a B.A. in art from the City College of New York in 1935. After a series of jobs, he worked with the WPA art project teaching and lecturing at museums. His lectures were so entertaining that he was often booked at union halls, Catskills hotels, and various benefits. It was at one such event that radio director and producer Hyman Brown saw Mostel and arranged an audition with Café Society's Barney Josephson. He was hired, opened on February 16, 1942, and was an immediate success. It was Ivan Black, Café Society's press agent, who gave him the name Zero.
1942 was a turning point for Mostel. Not only did he open at Cafe Society, he also debuted on Broadway in KEEP 'EM LAUGHING, completed his first motion picture DUBARRY WAS A LADY, and met Kathryn Harkin, his future wife. Following his success in KEEP 'EM LAUGHING, Mostel appeared in BEGGAR'S HOLIDAY, FLIGHT INTO EGYPT, THE GOOD WOMAN OF SETZUAN, GOOD AS GOLD, and ULYSSES IN NIGHTTOWN, to name a few, and won Tony Awards for his performances in RHINOCEROS, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, and FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. Mostel's film career included roles in PANIC IN THE STREETS, THE ENFORCER, THE GUY WHO CAME BACK, SIROCCO, MR. BELVEDERE RINGS THE BELL, THE MODEL AND THE MARRIAGE BROKER, RHINOCEROS, and THE FRONT, among others. However, he is best known for his roles in A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM and THE PRODUCERS.
Mostel was also an accomplished artist. Throughout his life he maintained a studio for his painting. When he was blacklisted in the 1950s and worked sporadically in the theater, his painting became an important creative outlet. His work was exhibited during his lifetime and posthumously as well.
Kathryn Cecilia Harkin Mostel was born in Philadelphia on October 8, 1918, the youngest of eight children. Her first professional experience was in the children's act "Broadway Varieties". After graduating from high school, Kate joined a ballet company started by her dance teacher Catherine Littlefield. Leaving the company a few years later, she danced in nightclubs in Chicago, New Jersey, New York, and Rio de Janeiro. In 1940 Kate became a Rockette. It was while working at Radio City Music Hall that she met Zero Mostel. They were married in 1944 and had two sons, Joshua and Tobias.
Leaving her dance career behind, Kate worked as an actress appearing in THE BIRD CAGE, THE LADIES OF THE CORRIDOR, and THREE MEN ON A HORSE. She also starred with her husband in his adaptation of THE IMAGINARY INVALID. After Mostel's death, she continued to act and with her friend Madeline Lee Gilford co-authored 170 YEARS OF SHOW BUSINESS,a book which recounts the lives and careers of the Mostels and the Gilfords. Zero Mostel died in 1977 in Philadelphia during a pre-Broadway run of THE MERCHANT. Kate Mostel died in New York City in 1986.