‘Oliver’ star dies at 91: Ron Moody

Published: June 11, 2015

‘Oliver’ star dies at 91: Ron Moody, Ron Moody, the British character actor who rose to prominence in the role of Fagin, Dickens’s guru of thievery, in “Oliver!,” the stage and movie versions of “Oliver Twist,” died on Thursday. He was 91.

His wife, Therese Blackbourn, confirmed his death to Variety.

Mr. Moody was a spindly, long-faced man with a prominent nose and often, in performance, an effervescent sparkle, as those who recall his Fagin will attest.

He wanted to be an actor from an early age and was always the class joker, he said in interviews, but he came into acting late; he had planned on becoming a sociologist and studied at the London School of Economics.

But while writing a thesis, he took time off to perform in a musical comedy revue and was asked afterward if he would care to pursue such a thing for a living. He would, he said. His first professional stage appearance, in a revue called “Intimacy at Eight,” came in 1952. He was 28.

Mr. Moody became a revue regular in London but did not appear in a full-fledged theatrical musical until 1959, when he took the role of the governor of Buenos Aires in the first West End production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide.” The show was not a hit in London. But the next year he landed the role of Fagin, and everything changed.

He would never find another character that earned him anywhere near the attention that Fagin did, though from then on he was able to work in television, in movies and on the stage on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Oliver!,” based on Dickens’s rags-to-riches tale of an orphan boy who escapes the hardscrabble life of the street, was adapted for the musical stage by Lionel Bart without many of the darker, more threatening elements of the 1830s novel. Mr. Moody’s Fagin, as a misguiding underworld mentor to the young hero, was delivered in that cheerier spirit. Instead of villainy, he projected curmudgeonliness; instead of wickedness, raffishness.

In musical numbers like “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two” and “Reviewing the Situation,” Mr. Moody’s revue background was evident. He was physically deft, vocally supple and charismatically self-deprecating – a scenery-chewing audience pleaser.

Dickens’s Fagin, a Jew, has often been perceived as an anti-Semitic characterization, but Mr. Moody, who was also Jewish, steered clear of stereotype. “Although Dickens describes Fagin as a merry old Jew, there’s no sign of him being a Jew in his language and actions,” Mr. Moody explained.

Others, however, saw his portrayal differently. Writing about the film in The New Yorker in 2012, David Denby said Mr. Moody had played Fagin “in a way that parodies Jewish stereotypes by slightly exaggerating them.”

'Oliver' star dies at 91: Ron Moody


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