Earlier in the week, we lost Ron Moody. He was and will forever be known to many as portraying Fagin in both the screen and stage versions of Oliver! But he graced the stage with his epic talent in so many more roles.
Ron was born in January 1924, in Tottenham England, to Jewish immigrants. His father, Bernard, was a studio executive. When he was young, Bernard and Ron’s mother, Kate, gave Ron a legal name change so that he could Anglicize it; his bproper name was Ronald Moodnick. Ron knew he wanted to act from a young age; at the age of five, he knew, but was held back by a lack of confidence.
Ron’s biggest stage break would come in 1960. Ron would create the role of Fagin in Lionel Bart’s stage version of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. He originated the role in the 1960 original West End production. At one point, Lionel took Ron aside and told him to stick to his first night performance, as Ron kept changing his lines and annoying the other performers. Ron spoke openly about how he preferred the US to England, when it came to the stage. He mentioned of how the RSC and the National Theatre had both shunned him. After a year of playing the role, he would travel to Italy to write a stage musical about Joseph Grimaldi, a Regency entertainer. He wrote the words and music for the show, entitled Joey Joey. By the time the show hit the Saville theatre in London in 1962, the book accompanied. Sadly, the show failed.
Over the course of his career as Fagin, Ron had to tone down his accent, both for the film and stage, as concern was expressed over the American audiences not being able to understand him. The 1984 role on Broadway garnered Ron a Tony nomination. He would lose the award to George Hearn, for George’s role in La Cage aux Folles.
Ron was not the first choice for the film role of Fagin, nor was he the second. At one point, Dick Van Dyke was considered to play Fagin. Only when the first two actors turned the role down was Ron asked to reprise the role in the 1968 film. Ron was had no idea whether or not he had actually been cast in the film until the very first day of filming. He would eventually be nominated for an Oscar for this role.
It was due to the stage that he made his professional career, and many are grateful towards that; many consider Ron the best, and true, portrayer of Fagin. Over the span of his career, Ron had written more than a dozen musicals, which went mostly unperformed. He had also written a handful of novels. Ron considered himself, above all, a writer and composer. The rest of the world may not agree. He’ll be sorely missed.