Fyvush Finkel

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Fyvush Finkel
Finkel on the red carpet at the 1994 Emmys
Philip Finkel

(1922-10-09)October 9, 1922
New York City, U.S.
DiedAugust 14, 2016(2016-08-14) (aged 93)
New York City, U.S.
Years active1931–2016
TelevisionPicket Fences
Boston Public
Trudi Lieberman
(m. 1947; died 2009)
AwardsEmmy Award (1994)

Philip "Fyvush" Finkel (Yiddish: פֿײַוויש פֿינקעל; October 9, 1922 – August 14, 2016) was an American actor known as a star of Yiddish theater and for his role as lawyer Douglas Wambaugh on the television series Picket Fences, for which he earned an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series in 1994. He is also known for his portrayal of Harvey Lipschultz, a crotchety history teacher, on the television series Boston Public.

Early life[edit]

Philip Finkel was born at home in Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York City, the third of four sons of Jewish immigrant parents, Mary ("Miryam"), a housewife from Minsk, Belarus, and Harry ("Cwi Hirsh") Finkel, a tailor from Warsaw.[1][2] He adopted the stage name "Fyvush", a common Yiddish given name.[1]


Finkel first appeared on the stage at age 9, and acted for almost 35 years in the thriving Yiddish theaters of the Yiddish Theater District of Manhattan's Lower East Side, as well as performing as a standup comic in the Catskills' Borscht Belt. In 2008, he recalled:

I played child parts till I was 14, 15, then my voice changed. So I decided to learn a trade and went to a vocational high school in New York. I studied to be a furrier, but I never worked at it. As soon as I graduated high school, I went to a stock company in Pittsburgh, a Jewish theater, and I played there for 38 weeks, and that's where I actually learned my trade a little bit as an adult.[1]

He worked regularly until the ethnic venues began dying out in the early 1960s, then made his Broadway theatre debut in the original 1964 production of the musical Fiddler on the Roof, joining the cast as Mordcha, the innkeeper, in 1965.[1][3] The production ran through July 2, 1972. Finkel then played Lazar Wolf, the butcher, in the limited run 1981 Broadway revival,[4] and eventually played the lead role of Tevye the milkman for years[1] in the national touring company.

Shortly afterward, Finkel succeeded Hy Anzell in the role of Mr. Mushnik in the Off-Broadway musical Little Shop of Horrors.[5] Then in 1988, Finkel's work as "Sam" in the New York Shakespeare Festival revival of the Yiddish classic Cafe Crown earned him an Obie Award[6] and a Drama Desk nomination.[7]

Finkel made his movie debut in the English-subtitled, Yiddish sketch-comedy revue Monticello, Here We Come (1950), then after small parts in an episode of the television series Kojak in 1977 and the miniseries Evergreen in 1985, returned to film in the detective comedy Off Beat (1986). That same year saw a role opposite Robin Williams in a PBS American Playhouse adaptation of Saul Bellow's novel Seize the Day, and a role in the film adaptation of Neil Simon's Broadway comedy Brighton Beach Memoirs. An appearance as a lawyer in director Sidney Lumet's Q & A (1990) led TV producer-writer David E. Kelley to cast Finkel as public defender Douglas Wambaugh in the television series Picket Fences (CBS, 1992–1996). For the role, Finkel earned a 1994 Emmy Award, announcing at the televised ceremonies that he had waited 51 years for that moment.[citation needed]

Following the end of Picket Fences, Finkel had a regular role on the short-lived revival of Fantasy Island (ABC, 1998) and then reteamed with writer-producer Kelley to play history teacher Harvey Lipschultz in Boston Public (Fox; 2000–04).[citation needed]

Through the 1990s and 2000s, Finkel appeared in movies including Nixon and The Crew, guested on TV series including Chicago Hope, Law & Order, Early Edition, and Hollywood Squares, and provided voiceovers for episodes of the animated series The Simpsons ("Lisa's Sax") and Aaahh!!! Real Monsters ("Ickis! You'll Be Snorched!") and the animated direct-to-video feature The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars. In 2009, he appeared in the Coen brothers' film A Serious Man, and in 2013 had a guest appearance in Blue Bloods ("Men In Black")

Finkel continued to appear onstage in productions such as Fyvush Finkel: From Second Avenue to Broadway (1997)[8] and Classic Stage Company's historical drama New Jerusalem (2007), by playwright David Ives.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Finkel was married to Trudi Lieberman from March 1947 until her death in 2009.[citation needed] They had two sons: Ian, a musical arranger and xylophonist, and Elliot, a concert pianist.[citation needed]

Finkel died in Manhattan on August 14, 2016, at the age of 93, as a result of heart problems.[2][10] His son Ian died on November 16, 2020, from COVID-19.[11]




Year Title Role Notes
1950 Monticello, Here We Come
1986 Off Beat Vendor
1986 Seize the Day Shomier
1986 Brighton Beach Memoirs Mr. Greenblat
1990 Q&A Preston Pearlstein
1991 Mobsters Tailor
1993 The Pickle Mr. Shacknoff
1993 For Love or Money Milton Glickman
1995 Aaron's Magic Village Narrator English version, Voice
1995 Nixon Murray Chotiner Nominated—Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
1998 The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars Hearing Aid Voice
2000 The Crew Sol Lowenstein
2009 A Serious Man Traitl Groshkover Nominated—Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Cast
2013 The Other Men in Black Moshe
2015 Deli Man Himself
2016 Game Day Max [12] (final film role)


Year Title Role Notes
1977 Kojak Simon Episode: "Kojak Days: Part 1"
1992–1996 Picket Fences Douglas Wambaugh 87 episodes
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Nominated—Viewers for Quality Television Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Quality Drama Series
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Nominated—Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series (1995–96)
Nominated—Viewers for Quality Television Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Quality Drama Series (1993, 1995)
1995 Chicago Hope Douglas Wambaugh Episode: "Small Sacrifices"
1995 Aaahh!!! Real Monsters Jackie Jarr 2 episodes
1995 Great Performances Himself Episode: "Itzhak Perlman: In the Fiddler's House"
1996, 1999 Early Edition Phil Kazakian 2 episodes
1996 Rugrats Shlomo Episode: "Chanukah"
1997 The Simpsons Himself as Krusty the Clown Voice, Episode: "Lisa's Sax"
1998–1999 Fantasy Island Fisher 13 episodes
2000–2004 Boston Public Harvey Lipschultz 70 episodes
2000–2003 Hollywood Squares Himself 10 episodes
2007 The Wedding Bells Saul Finkelstein Episode: "For Whom the Bells Toll"
2011 Harry's Law Abe Gold Episode: "The Rematch"
2013 Blue Bloods Moishe Episode: "Men in Black"


  1. ^ a b c d e Lovece, Frank (January 6, 2008). "Fast Chat: Fyvush Finkel". Newsday (interview). Archived from the original on March 8, 2008. Retrieved April 11, 2017.
  2. ^ a b Berger, Joseph (August 15, 2016). "Fyvush Finkel, Pillar of Yiddish Theater Who Crossed Into TV, Dies at 93". New York Times. p. D11. Retrieved September 22, 2016.
  3. ^ "Internet Broadway Database: Fiddler on the Roof Replacements/Transfers". Archived from the original on February 8, 2012. Retrieved January 9, 2008.
  4. ^ Internet Broadway Database: Fiddler on the Roof (1981 revival)
  5. ^ Internet Theatre Database: Little Shop of Horrors
  6. ^ Infoplease: 1988–1989 Obie Awards
  7. ^ Fyvush Finkel at the Internet Broadway Database
  8. ^ Gates, Anita (December 30, 1997). "Theater Review: Legends of Yiddish Stage Brought to Life". The New York Times.
  9. ^ Press release, "Tony Award-Winner Richard Easton to Star in New Jerusalem", Marc Thibodeau, The Publicity Office, November 19, 2007
  10. ^ "Fyvush Finkel Dies at 93". BroadwayWorld. August 14, 2016. Retrieved August 14, 2016.
  11. ^ "Ian Finkel on Facebook". Facebook. Archived from the original on April 27, 2022.[user-generated source]
  12. ^ Trav, S.D. (March 2, 2016). "Formerly of 'Fiddler,' Finkel, 93, far from final act". The Villager. Retrieved August 4, 2016.

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