Along with Shakespeare’s money-lending Shylock, it’s Fagin, the leader of a pack of orphan pickpockets in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, who’s most responsible for stereotypes that Jews are greedy and untrustworthy. But whereas actors playing Shylock have largely failed to summon much that is lovable about the usurer, Ron Moody, the actor best known as Fagin, created a character at once villainous, beloved, and utterly indelible. While critics have taken issue with his depiction of the character, arguing that it was a caricature, Moody’s performance made cinematic history—he was nominated for an Academy Award for the role in the 1968 film adaptation, Oliver!.
“Fate destined me to play Fagin,” Moody said in 2005. “It was the part of a lifetime.”
Moody, who was born in London as Ronald Moodnick to Jewish parents (his father was from Russia, his mother from Lithuania), died yesterday at age 91. In 1952 at age 28, while en route to becoming a sociologist, with a degree from the London School of Economics, Moody performed in a musical review which made him rethink his career trajectory, according to his New York Times obituary. Seven years later he appeared in the West End’s first production of Candide, and the next year, he landed the role of Fagin in the musical Oliver!, also in the West End.