Though he has logged many impressive credits as an actor, Vienna-born Theodore Bikel prefers to think of himself -- and bill himself -- as a folksinger. Emigrating to Palestine in the 1930s, Bikel supported himself with his music, and also acted with Tel Aviv's Habimah Theatre in Sholem Alecheim's Tevye the Milkman. A quick study in several languages, Bikel honed his acting skills with Britain's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Three years after his London stage debut, Bikel made his first film, playing a German naval officer (the first of many villainous roles) in The African Queen (1951). In 1958, he was nominated for an Oscar for his supporting appearance in The Defiant Ones. One year later, he costarred with Mary Martin on Broadway, originating the role of Captain Von Trapp in Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music. Active in many political causes ranging from Jewish relief to the Democratic Party, Bikel served as president of Actor's Equity from 1973 until 1982. In a mid-1980s interview, Theodore Bikel noted with amusement that, in spite of his many stage and screen appearances, many fans remembered him best for his brief unsympathetic appearance as a Russian officer in the otherwise forgettable 1957 film Fraulein.
by Hal Erickson biography