Before he turned to performing, Zero Mostel intended to be a painter, but by his late 20s he had begun appearing in nightclubs and on radio. A few Hollywood films followed: Du Barry Was A Lady (1943), Panic in the Streets (1950), and The Enforcer (1951), among other early '50s films. Unfortunately, his career was amputated when he became a victim of Hollywood's McCarthy-era blacklisting, and he would not work again until the end of the decade. His talent was rewarded when he won three Tony Awards for his Broadway appearances in Rhinoceros, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which he repeated for the screen in 1966, and Fiddler on the Roof. He followed Forum with one of the classic comedy performances of all time, producer Max Bialystock in Mel Brooks' The Producers (1968). Almost all of Mostel's performances are worth watching, but especially The Angel Levine (1970), The Hot Rock (1972), and his poignant, heart-rending performance as a blacklisted TV comic in The Front (1976). Mostel's final appearance was in the Academy Award-winning documentary Best Boy (1979). His son is actor Josh Mostel.
- Wanted to be a painter as a child and worked as an artist during the Depression (he continued painting throughout his life).
- Worked as a longshoreman, a factory worker and a miner before making it in show business.
- Worked as a museum tour guide, and his improvisations as a guide led to work as a nightclub comedian, which in turn led to early appearances on Broadway.
- Was given the nickname Zero by a nightclub press agent, because he was a man who "started from nothing."
- Briefly served in the U.S. Army in 1943.
- Was blacklisted in Hollywood after he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1951.
- Was hit by a bus in 1960 and severely injured his left leg.
- Was the first performer to win Tonys in both the musical and dramatic acting categories.
- Was known for frequently ad-libbing on stage.