Equipped with a crooked, leering smirk and devilish gleam in his eye, the homely, yet beautifully expressive mug of actor Ron Moody will be most assuredly remembered for one signature role, despite the fact that the talented comedian had much, much more to offer. Carol Channing may have had her Dolly Levi and Yul Brynner his King of Siam, but Moody would become the most delightfully mischievous, engagingly musical villain of all time.
The son of a plasterer born in London in 1924, Ron never gave much of a look at pursuing the acting field until age 29. Prior to that he had entertained thoughts of becoming an economist or sociologist (trained at the London School of Economics). But, changing his destiny on the way, he became a top stand-up and improv revue artist in England (from 1952), making an inauspicious film bow in 1957 in an unbilled bit. It was the British musical stage that offered him his first taste of stardom with the London company of Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide” in 1959. Although it was not a great success, however, it did lead to the role of a lifetime the following year as Fagin, the loveable, rapscallious pickpocket in the musical version of “Oliver Twist” simply entitled Oliver!.
The heavily balding Moody later bandied about in other roguish roles too in such TV series as The Avengers (1961) and in the comedies The Mouse on the Moon (1963) and Murder Most Foul (1964), both starring Margaret Rutherford. But in 1968, Ron was given the opportunity to transfer his Dickensian stage thief to film. Oliver! (1968) allowed him to steal a well-deserved Golden Globe trophy and Oscar nomination in the process, not to mention Hollywood interest. Although he never again matched the success of Oliver! (1968), Moody’s portrayal of Uriah Heep in a TV version of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield (1970) became another a great success. Other offbeat cinematic roles, both dramatic and sharply comic, included such films as The Twelve Chairs (1970), Flight of the Doves (1971), Legend of the Werewolf (1975), Dogpound Shuffle (1975), Unidentified Flying Oddball (1979) (aka: Unidentified Flying Oddball, as Merlin), Wrong Is Right (1982), Where Is Parsifal? (1984), Emily’s Ghost (1992), A Kid in King Arthur’s Court (1995) (as Merlin), The 3 Kings (2000), Revelation (2001), Paradise Grove (2003) and Lost Dogs (2005).
Despite his fine work elsewhere, the role of Fagin would be Moody’s long-lasting claim to fame. He reprised the part at a 1985 in a Royal Variety Performance at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, before Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh. Throughout his TV career, Moody’s presence and/or voice graced several children’s series including the adaptations of Into the Labyrinth (1981) and The Telebugs (1986), and he was occasionally on TV here in the U.S., including 80s episodes of “Hart to Hart,” “Highway to Heaven” and “Murder, She Wrote.”
The endearing Ron Moody died at age 91 in London.
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