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Philip “Fyvush” Finkel (born October 9, 1922) is an Americanmarker actor best known as a star of Yiddish theater and for his role as lawyer Douglas Wambaugh on the television series Picket Fences, for which he earned an Emmy Award in 1994. He is also known for his portrayal of Harvey Lipschultz, a crotchety U.S. history teacher, on the TV series Boston Public.

Early life and career

Finkel was born at home in the Brownsville section of Brooklynmarker, New York Citymarker, the third of four sons of Jewish immigrant tailor Harry Finkel, from Warsaw, Polandmarker, and housewife Mary, from Minskmarker, then part of Russiamarker. Born Philip Finkel, with no middle name, he adopted the stage name "Fyvush", the Yiddish translation of Philip.

Finkel first appeared on the stage at age 9, and acted for almost 35 years in the thriving Yiddish theaters of Manhattanmarker's Lower East Sidemarker, as well as performing as a standup comic in the Catskill's Borscht Belt. In 2008 he recalled that,

He worked regularly until the ethnic venues began dying out in the early 1960s, then made his Broadway theatremarker debut in the original 1964 production of the musical Fiddler on the Roof, joining the cast as Mordcha, the innkeeper, in 1965. The production ran through July 2, 1972. Finkel then played Lazar Wolf, the butcher, in the limited run 1981 Broadway revival, and eventually played the lead role of Tevye the milkman for years in the national touring company.

Shortly afterward, Finkel succeeded Hy Anzell in the role of Mr. Mushnik in the Off-Broadway musical Little Shop of Horrors. Then in 1988, Finkel's work as "Sam" in the New York Shakespeare Festival revival of the Yiddish classic Cafe Crown earned him an Obie Award and a Drama Desk nomination.

Later career

Finkel made his movie debut in the English-subtitled, Yiddish sketch-comedy revue Monticello, Here We Come (1950), then after small parts in an episode of the television series Kojak in 1977 and the miniseries Evergreen in 1985, returned to film in the detective comedy Off Beat (1986). That same year saw a role opposite Robin Williams in a PBS American Playhouse adaptation of Saul Bellow's novel Seize the Day, and a role in the film adaptation of Neil Simon's Broadway comedy Brighton Beach Memoirs. An appearance as a lawyer in director Sidney Lumet's Q & A (1990) led TV producer-writer David E. Kelley to cast Finkel as public defender Douglas Wambaugh in the television series Picket Fences (CBS, 1992-1996). For the role, Finkel earned a 1994 Emmy Award, announcing at the televised ceremonies that he had waited 51 years for that moment.

Following the end of Picket Fences, Finkel had a regular role on the short-lived revival of Fantasy Island (ABC, 1998) and then reteamed with writer-producer Kelley to play history teacher Harvey Lipschultz in Boston Public (Fox, 2000-2004).

Through the 1990s and 2000s, Finkel has appeared in movies including Nixon and The Crew, guested on TV series including Chicago Hope, Law and Order, Early Edition, and Hollywood Squares, and provided voiceovers for episodes of the animated series The Simpsons ("Lisa's Sax") and Aaahh!!! Real Monsters ("Ickis! You'll Be Snorched!") and the animated direct-to-video feature The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars. In 2009, he appeared in the Coen brothers' film A Serious Man.

Finkel has continued to appear onstage in such productions as Fyvush Finkel: From Second Avenue to Broadway (1997) and Classic Stage Company's historical drama New Jerusalem (2007), by playwright David Ives.


  • American Comedy Award, Picket Fences 1993.
  • Emmy Award, Supporting Actor in a Dramatic Series, Picket Fences 1993-1994.
  • Obie Award: Performance, Cafe Crown 1988-1989.


  1. "Fast Chat: Fyvush Finkel" (interview), Newsday, January 6, 2008
  2. Internet Broadway Database: Fiddler on the Roof Replacements/Transfers
  3. Internet Broadway Database: Fiddler on the Roof (1981 revival)
  4. Internet Theatre Database: Little Shop of Horrors
  5. Infoplease: 1988–1989 Obie Awards
  6. Gates, Anita. "Theater Review: Legends Of Yiddish Stage Brought To Life". The New York Times, December 30, 1997]
  7. Press release, "Tony Award-Winner Richard Easton to Star in New Jerusalem", Marc Thibodeau, The Publicity Office, November 19, 2007

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