​Fyvush Finkel: A character actor who's a real character

"I remember it very well," he said, remembering his audition: "'My friends, we are gathered here together to share in the joy of the newlyweds, Motel and Tzeitel. And everybody says, 'Amen.' And then [tearing up] I have the, 'Let's all sing and think of the people that couldn't attend the wedding.' And they all cry. And I go, 'Enough tears!'"
Fyvush Finkel in "Fiddler on the Roof." CBS News

He got the part. The one-time star of Second Avenue moved uptown, and reinvented himself on Broadway. It was a good run, until the parts dried up.

"When I finished the tour with 'Fiddler,' I auditioned for 12 shows; I didn't get any," said Finkel. He was 52 at the time. "I said, 'There's something wrong. I'm going to school.' My family laughed: 'You're going to school, a man of 52?' I said, 'Yes. I wanna know what's wrong.'"

He learned his lessons well -- learned how to perform for the camera -- and in his fifties reinvented himself again, as a movie actor.

It was his role in the 1990 film "Q&A" as attorney Preston Perlstein that led to his role as attorney Douglas Wambaugh in "Picket Fences" and that Emmy Award.

"Lotta people fight for this," he laughed. "They'd sell their mother-in-law for an Emmy!"

These days his costars are his sons. Each Finkel has his time on the spotlight, but when we sat down with them at Fyfush's favorite haunt, the Second Avenue Deli (of course), the sons knew their roles -- and their father's

"We're not in competition," said Ian. "We try, the two of us, to make the music, you understand? But when he's introduced, he comes on, we fade to the back."

Schlesinger asked Fyvush, "Do you want them to go back?"

"No," he said. "They are not an opening act. It's a family act. We are the Jewish Trapp Family!"

Finkel & Sons perform at the nightclub 54 Below. CBS News

And they sold out when they played together, which is nice.

"I'm 91 years old. Of course, with this audience it's no big deal."

But one columnist might have seen the real reward for Fyvush Finkel. He wrote, "Here was a slightly-hunched-over 91-year-old man with pants buttoned up to his chest who, as soon as the spotlight fell onto him, transformed into a 30-year-old."

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