Fyvush Finkel, Emmy-winning actor of ‘Picket Fences,’ dies at 93

Emmy winner Fyvush Finkel peers through a window at the Radisson Hotel in Los Angeles on May 27, 1995.
(Michael Caulfield/Associated Press)

Veteran stage and screen actor Fyvush Finkel, best known for his Emmy-winning role as the expressive and often bombastic attorney Douglas Wambaugh on the comedy-drama “Picket Fences, has died. He was 93.

The New York-based Yiddish Artists and Friends Actors Club said in a statement that the actor, who had a career that spanned 80 years, died Sunday in his New York apartment.

Other notable roles for Finkel, who won the Emmy in 1994 for “Picket Fences,” included eccentric teacher Harvey Lipschultz on “Boston Public” and attorney Murray Chotiner in the 1995 bio-drama “Nixon.”


A son of East European immigrants, Finkel was born Oct. 9, 1922, in Brooklyn. He began his show business career at age 9, when he won a role as a boy soprano in a Yiddish theater production around the corner from his house. He formally joined the Yiddish theater circuit when he graduated from high school.

Known for his 6-foot-3 stature and often expected to play villains, Finkel leaned more toward comedic roles, and he often appeared onstage with his white socks showing. The socks would eventually become his trademark.

From the archives: Fyvush Finkel - Mensch for the modern masses »

He stayed in the Yiddish theater scene until he was 43, when he decided to explore more mainstream roles. He joined a touring company of the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” and eventually moved into the lead role of Tevye.

He starred in the musical “Little Shop of Horrors” off-Broadway for five years in the 1980s, and in both off-Broadway and Broadway productions of “Cafe Crown,” a revival about Yiddish theater. Finkel won an Obie, or Off-Broadway Theater Award, in 1989.

When he landed the “Picket Fences” role in 1992 — without an audition — he was 70.

“It’s the biggest miracle in the world, getting a TV series at my age,” Finkel said in a 1994 interview with The Times, a week after his Emmy win. “It’s happened for other actors, but I’m talking of myself -- that’s the point. I waited a long time for recognition.”


Finkel was well-loved in the Jewish community. Corey Breier, president of the Yiddish Artists and Friends Actors Club, said Finkel was the “the No. 1 resource for questions about the Yiddish theater in America and the actors, producers, directors and theater owners who were part of its history.”

“He knew them all,” Breier wrote on the public Facebook page for the group. “His passing is a tremendous loss for our ‘teater velt’ (theater world). To know him was to love him.”

Finkel and his wife, Trudi, married in March 1947 and remained together until her death in 2008. They had two sons: Ian, a musical arranger, and Elliot, a concert pianist.

According to Breier, a funeral service for Finkel will take place Wednesday in New York.

Follow me on Twitter: @TrevellAnderson.


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