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Joseph Stein

AKA Joseph Allen Stein

Born: 30-May-1912
Birthplace: New York City
Died: 24-Oct-2010
Location of death: New York City
Cause of death: Accident - Fall

Gender: Male
Religion: Jewish
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Playwright
Party Affiliation: Democratic

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Fiddler on the Roof librettist

Joseph Stein was a social worker in New York until a chance meeting with comedian Zero Mostel, and began his show business career writing Mostel one-liners. He wrote for The Henry Morgan Show on radio and Sid Caesar's classic Your Show of Shows on television, but came to fame for authoring the libretto (spoken text) of Fiddler on the Roof, based on Tevye and his Daughters, Sholem Aleichem's collection of stories of poverty and religious persecution among Russian Jews.

He had great difficulty finding financial backing for Fiddler, as Broadway producers saw no box office prospects for such an "ethnic" project. Harold Prince produced the play in 1964 after Mostel agreed to play the lead (though Chaim Topol is now more identified with the role, since he starred in the 1971 motion picture). The play's title was based on a Marc Chagall painting, which inspired Stein's memorable opening monologue, spoken by Tevye the milkman:

"A fiddler on the roof ... Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof. Trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck."
With music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, several of the play's tunes became standards, but Stein's script was almost as lyrical as the songs, helping to make Fiddler on the Roof one of the most beloved plays of all time. Its first run lasted almost eight years, and with four revivals through 2010 Fiddler has been performed on Broadway 4,484 times. Stein's other major stage hits included Plain and Fancy, Take Me Along, and Carl Reiner's Enter Laughing, each of which ran more than a year in New York.

Father: Charles Stein (handbag maker)
Mother: Emma Rosenblum Stein
Wife: Sadie Singer Stein (public relations, d. 1974, three sons)
Son: Daniel
Son: Harold (author)
Son: Joshua
Wife: Elisa Loti (psychologist, m. 1976, one son, one daughter)
Daughter: Jenny Lyn Stein (stepdaughter)
Son: John (stepson)

    University: BS, City College of New York (1935)
    University: MA Social Work, Columbia University (1937)

    Tony 1965 Best Author of a Musical, for Fiddler on the Roof
    Tony 1965 Best Musical, for Fiddler on the Roof
    New York Drama Critics Circle Award 1965 Best Musical, for Fiddler on the Roof
    DGA Lifetime Achievement Award 2008
    Theater Hall of Fame 2008
    Dramatists Guild of America
    International PEN
    Jewish Ancestry
    Polish Ancestry
    Risk Factors: Prostate Cancer

    TELEVISION
    Your Show of Shows Writer (1952-53)

Wrote plays:
Mrs. Gibbons' Boys (1949, with Will Glickman)
Plain and Fancy (1955, with Will Glickman)
Mr. Wonderful (1956, with Will Glickman)
The Body Beautiful (1958, with Will Glickman)
Juno (1959, based on Juno and the Paycock by Sean O'Casey)
Take Me Along (1959, with Robert Russell; based on Ah, Wilderness by Eugene O'Neill)
Enter Laughing (1963, based on the novel by Carl Reiner)
Fiddler on the Roof (1964, based on Tevye and his Daughters by Sholem Aleichem)
Zorba (1968, based on Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis)
Irene (1969, with Hugh Wheeler; based on a play by James Montgomery)
So Long, 174th Street (1976, based on Stein's Enter Laughing)
King of Hearts (1978, based on a screenplay by Maurice Bessy, Philippe De Broca, and Daniel Boulanger)
Carmelina (1979, with Alan Jay Lerner)
Rags (1986)
All about Us (2007, based on Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder)


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