Though never a prominent film or television actress, Maria Karnilova found her true calling as a performer with her Tony-winning performance opposite Zero Mostel in the Broadway hit Fiddler on the Roof. In addition to creating the role of Golde in Fiddler, she also appeared in such Broadway mainstays as Gypsy and earned another Tony nomination for her performance in John Kander and Fred Ebb's Zorba.
The daughter of Russian immigrants, Karnivola was born in Hartford, CT, and spent the majority of her childhood studying ballet and dancing at folk festivals. Later training with the Metropolitan Opera's ballet school, Karnilova crossed over from ballet to musicals in the 1930s, though she would become a charter member of the American Ballet Theatre in 1939. Her film roles separated by more than two decades, Karnilova appeared in both the film adaptation of The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) and Married to the Mob (1988).
On April 20, 2001, Maria Karnilova died of natural causes in Manhattan. She was 80.