Monday, June 15, 2015

R.I.P. Ron Moody (1924-2015)

Ron Moody
On June 11, actor Ron Moody passed away in a London Hospital. He was born Ronald Moodnick in 1924 and legally changed his name to Ron Moody in 1930. He was related to director Laurence Moody and Clare Lawrence. He has also said of himself to be 100% Jewish. Having had a career in the Royal Air Force, his initial dreams of being a technician were sidetracked when he found his new love: theater. While he was a versatile actor who participated in various genres, he will always be remembered as the character Fagin in the stage and film adaptation of Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist." In both cases, he received award nominations and considered it fate that he would play the character on and off between 1960 and 1984. 

Many would praise his long face and scraggly features that made his role of Fagin quite so memorable. This is best witnessed in Oliver!, the 1968 film version by director Carol Reed. In the film, he leads a gang of orphan youths through London as they pickpocket and make their way through questionable means. He was a despicable character with an alluring, sinister vibe. He was also someone with a flawed and deep past that reflected in the characters' very actions. Witness  his performance in action during the iconic song number "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two.":

Much like Moody's insistence that he was 100% Jewish, he claimed that the character of Fagin was also very much Jewish. While there's no deliberate indication of this in the film, it does inform the character's inflection. With a slight Yiddish accent, Fagin immediately is given personality and makes his scraggly appearance into something other than repulsive. He would go on to receive a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role in the film and Oliver! would win Best Picture. He would go on to play the role on stage in 1984 at Theater Royal, Drury Lane for Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh. It was a character that defined him and one that he happily played.

While he didn't have a character quite as iconic as Fagin, he did keep busy. Among his credits includes the early Mel Brooks film The Twelve Chairs. He was also offered, but rejected the lead role on Doctor Who - a move that he ultimately ended up regretting, though he eventually got to record as part of an audio book. Among his later achievements includes returning in 2010 to the 50th anniversary of Oliver!'s stage version. While he didn't perform, he made a humorous joke about it before performing a rendition of "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two." 

While not one of the biggest named actors, it is hard to imagine the role of Fagin as done in 1968 by anyone other than Moody. As indicative by his choice to continually play him, Moody had a certain affinity for the character and cemented his place in British theater history. He also solidifies himself in Oscar history with a performance that is so lively and memorable that it radiates off of the screen every time it comes on. 

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