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Ron Moody, Who Played Fagin In 'Oliver!' Dies At 91


Some actors don't like to be defined by one role, but Ron Moody didn't mind. Moody was Fagin in the musical "Oliver!" on stage in London and New York and in the Oscar-winning movie. He died this week at the age of 91 in a London hospital, and NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this appreciation.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: With that scruffy beard and devilish twinkle in his eye, Ron Moody owned Fagin.


RON MOODY: (As Fagin) (Singing) In this life, one thing counts - in the bank, large amounts. I'm afraid these don't grow on trees. You've got to pick a pocket or two. You've got to pick a pocket or two. You've got to pick a pocket or two.

BLAIR: As "Oliver's!" charming scoundrel, Ron Moody was nominated for an Oscar for the role and a Tony for a revival of "Oliver!" on Broadway years later in 1984. In the novel "Oliver Twist," Charles Dickens calls the greedy Fagin the Jew. At first, Ron Moody, who was Jewish, wasn't sure he could play the part, as he told an audience in 2012 at the British Film Institute.


MOODY: He's a monster in the book. He's a corrupter of children. I thought, you can't make a musical out of a monster.

BLAIR: But when he saw the humor in Lionel Bart's lyrics for "Oliver!," he changed his mind.


MOODY: I realized the way to play Fagin was to forget Dickens and to create a clown, and I used every trick that I could think of to take Fagin away from Dickens' concept.


MOODY: (As Fagin) (Singing) I'm reviewing the situation. Can a fellow be a villain all his life? All the trials and tribulation - better settle down and get myself a wife.

BLAIR: Ronald Moodnick was born in London. He went to the London School of Economics and wanted to be a sociologist until the lure of acting took over. Throughout his career, he played a variety of roles - small parts in British and American TV shows. He played the stage manager in the movie "Murder Most Foul..."


MOODY: (As H. Driffold Cosgood) No, I simply meant you have a lot to offer the theater, Ms. Marple.

BLAIR: ...And a Russian aristocrat in Mel Brooks' cult favorite "Twelve Chairs."


MOODY: (As Vorobyaninov)What happened to the furniture?

DAVID LANDER: (As Tikon) The furniture?

MOODY: (As Vorobyaninov) Yes, the furniture. What happened to the furniture?

BLAIR: As a comedic actor with experience in musical theater, Moody was an irresistible performer, says Shani Wallis, who played Nancy in the movie "Oliver!".

SHANI WALLIS: He had this phenomenal musical sense. He could move like a gazelle, and he was - and he also had a crazy personality.


MOODY: (As Fagin) (Singing) Fare thee well, but be back soon. Who can tell where danger's lurking? Do not forget this tune. Be back soon.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing) How could we forget? How could we let our dear, old Fagin worry?

BLAIR: Ron Moody married late in life at age 61. He's survived by his wife and their six children. His agent told me they were a close family. He was, she said, like the pied piper, with all the children around him.


MOODY: (As Fagin) (Singing) Cheerio, but be back soon. I don't know. Somehow, I miss you. I love you. That's why I say cheerio, not goodbye.

BLAIR: Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.
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