The "Sunrise, Sunset" scene was not lit by electric light but by hundreds of candles.
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Director Norman Jewison was brought into the project by executives at United Artists who thought he was Jewish. His first words to the executives upon meeting them were, "You know I'm not Jewish, right?"
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Final film of Norma Crane; she was suffering from breast cancer during production, and died less than 2 years later.
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The film was a surprise hit in Japan, where its obvious love for crumbling tradition struck a chord with Japanese audiences.
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The title comes from a painting by Russian artist Marc Chagall called "The Dead Man" which depicts a funeral scene and shows a man playing a violin on a rooftop. It is also used by Tevye in the story as a metaphor for trying to survive in a difficult, constantly changing world.
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To get the look he wanted for the film, director Norman Jewison told director of photography Oswald Morris, who was famous for shooting color films in unusual styles, to shoot the film in an earthy tone. Morris saw a woman wearing brown nylon hosiery, and thought; "that's the tone we want," and asked the woman for the stockings on the spot (and shot the entire film with a stocking over the lens). The weave can be detected in some scenes.
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Before production, Norma Crane was diagnosed with breast cancer, which would eventually kill her. She told only director Norman Jewison, co-star Topol and associate producer Patrick J. Palmer, all of whom kept her secret.
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The cart-horse, nicknamed "Shmuel" by the cast, was purchased from a lot destined for a Zagreb glue factory. After production Norman Jewison paid a local farmer to keep him for the rest of his natural life, which was another three years.
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It was only because President Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia was a huge movie fan that he allowed the film to be made in his country. His Russian counterparts were less pleased, as the film is openly critical of the pogroms.
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Every time Topol talks on camera to God, he's talking to a white ball on the end of a stick held out of camera range.
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The first time this was shown on US TV it garnered 40 million viewers.
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Topol was only in his mid-30's when he performed the role of an older Tevye.
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To make Topol look older, the makeup team clipped 15 white hairs from director Norman Jewison's beard and applied them to Topol's eye brows (seven on the left, eight on the right).
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Several times during the film, people touch a box on the door frame of a house. This is a Mezuzah; a case which contains a passage from the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and and 11:13-21), which Jews traditionally affix to the door frames of their houses as a constant reminder of God's presence.
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Topol was nominated for the 1991 Tony Award (New York City) for Actor in a Musical for "Fiddler on the Roof" for recreating his film role of Tevye and is still performing the role in regional theater (2009). Rosalind Harris, who plays Tevye's oldest daughter, Tzeitel, in the film, played Tevye's wife, Golde, in a touring production with Topol.
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Director Norman Jewison eschewed the levity of the stage production, as he felt the material dealt with serious themes. This is why he adopted a more natural, realistic approach to the production.
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To create the correct air of authenticity, production designer Robert F. Boyle studied the plans of over 100 turn-of-the-century Ukrainian synagogues before designing the one which appears in the film.
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Director of Photography, Oswald Morris was unable to attend the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles as the producers of the film he was currently working on would not give him any time off. He was awakened in the early hours of the morning in London by a telephone call from producer Walter Mirisch who told him he had just won the 'Oscar ' for Best Cinematography.
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Lillian Michelson, an uncredited movie researcher, who on previous projects could track down pictures of historical items needed for recreation in movies, met a challenge because there were no photos of 'Jewish girls' underwear from the 1890s'. She went to a Jewish restaurant and asked some older women from the time if anybody remembered what they looked like, one woman told her to stay right there, she was going to go to her apartment, 'And cut you out a pattern, because we had to sew our underwear back then'.
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Many devotees of the Broadway show were annoyed that Zero Mostel (who originated the role so famously on the Broadway stage) was not cast as Tevye in this film. The filmmakers decided the film needed to be more realistic, so a more "believeable" actor was hired, with Norman Jewison explaining: "one reason I liked Topol's performance so much on the stage was that he projected his sense of destiny as, and pride in being, a Jew. His Tevye never loses dignity and strength; he is a man who knows who he is and where he's going."
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The production design department scoured Europe for a location which was similar to what pre-Revolution Russia looked like. Because the filmmakers' weren't allowed to shoot in the Soviet Union (specifically in Ukraine, where the story takes place in a pre-Revolution shtetl - village south of Kiev) the producers eventually found what they required in rural Yugoslavia (now Croatia). Most of the villages had been destroyed by 1919, after the Russian civil war, during which hundreds of thousands of Jews were displaced and massacred, thus the end of shtetl life.
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"Tevye's Dream" is presented in a desaturated image rather than full color to make it look like a black-and-white dream sequence. There is a full-color version of the song, however, which can be viewed on the Special Edition DVD.
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Norman Jewison considered Hanna Maron for the part of Golde but, when she lost a leg in a terrorist attack in Munich, had to give the part to Norma Crane. Other candidates for Golde included Anne Bancroft (who turned it down on the grounds that Golde was too small next to Tevye's), Anne Jackson, Claire Bloom, Geraldine Page, and Colleen Dewhurst.
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Great care was taken to ensure the Jewish customs were portrayed as accurately as possible.
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Director Norman Jewison made blue-eyed actor Paul Michael Glaser wear brown-eyed contacts, even though Glaser is in fact Jewish.
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The Broadway stage production of "Fiddler on the Roof" opened at the Imperial Theater in New York on September 22, 1964, and ran for 3,242 performances, setting a record for the longest-running show on Broadway, passing "Life With Father", which held the record for 25 years. In the original cast as Tevye was Zero Mostel. Bea Arthur, best known to audiences as Maude Findlay from the series Maude (1972) as well as portraying Dorothy on TV's The Golden Girls (1985), played Yente. "Fiddler on the Roof" won the 1965 Tony Awards (New York City) for Best Musical, Best Author, and Best Score. The original Broadway production is the 15th longest running show ever.
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Topol had already played the role of Tevye in the original London production of the stage musical.
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Topol had a severe toothache during the filming of the "If I Were a Rich Man" number.
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Marble dust was used to represent snow.
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Zero Mostel, who created the role of Tevye on Broadway, was reportedly bitter he did not play the role in the movie. Years later, when his son Josh Mostel received a phone call offering him the role of Blotto in the TV series Delta House (1979), he reportedly yelled; "tell them to ask Topol's son if he wants the job!"
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While the film's script remained very close to the original stage musical, it also capitalized on the vast possibilities offered by the medium itself. "In the theater, it is easier to accept a stylized, unreal atmosphere; film introduces the real world, with real scenery and real sounds," director Norman Jewison explained. "In film today it is very difficult to use music and poetry and to suspend audiences' disbelief, as The Wizard of Oz (1939) once did so perfectly."
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Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
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By the early 1970s Hollywood roadshow presentations (especially musicals) were now no longer popular with critics and audiences. Recent musicals, including Camelot (1967), Doctor Dolittle (1967) were not as captivating, realistic,, as the film adaptations of Broadway musicals, had been. Those successful film adaptations, include; West Side Story (1961), The Music Man (1962), Mary Poppins (1964), were in the 1960s, so Norman Jewison, Walter Mirisch and United Artists were worried how the film would do once it got released. When it was released in 1971 it defied naysayers and received critical acclaim and became the highest-grossing film of the year, besting films like Shaft (1971), Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971), and the Academy Award-winning The French Connection (1971).
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Adverse weather in Croatia meant some scenes had to be completed at Pinewood Studio, outside London.
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Director Norman Jewison had Tutte Lemkow--the actor who plays the fiddler--try seven different instruments until he found the one which fit right.
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Orson Welles, Anthony Quinn and Marlon Brando were among the many actors who turned down the lead role of Tevye. Frank Sinatra and Danny Kaye both wanted the role and were passed over.
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You can see the panty hose that was put over the lens while filming during the "Matchmaker" number. Specifically at the 21:03 mark in the film.
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Rosalind Harris, who plays Tzeitel, understudied for Tzeitel in the original Broadway production in the 1960s for Bette Milder.
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Casting director Lynn Stalmaster recommended Paul Michael Glaser for the role of Perchik. Glaser thought that at 27 he was too old for it, but at Stalmaster's request he met with producer Norman Jewison anyway. Jewison initially agreed with Glaser but spent some time with him, and in the end Glaser was cast.
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During the record-setting original Broadway run (3,242 performances) and the need to replace cast members from time to time, those who appeared in the original stage production include Bea Arthur, Adrienne Barbeau, Herschel Bernardi, Bert Convy, Leonard Frey, Maria Karnilova, and Bette Midler.
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At a cost of $9 million, this was United Artists' most expensive production of 1970.
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The film version omits two songs from the stage production: "Now I Have Everything" and "The Rumor".
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Paul Michael Glaser recorded a song called "Any Day Now" which did not appear in the stage version and was written especially for this film. However, it was cut in the interest of time and content.
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According to the Casting Notes on the special edition DVD, Richard Dreyfuss, Scott Glenn and John Ritter all had appointments (probably for auditions, as character names were listed) for various roles including Motel, Perchik, and Fyedka. Also listed for probable auditions are Rob Reiner for Motel; Leland Palmer for Hodel and Tzeitel; Richard Thomas for Fyedka; Katey Sagal for an unspecified role; and Talia Shire (listed on the appointment sheet as Talia Coppola) for Hodel and Tzeitel. As the auditions were held in January 1970, most were very early in their careers.
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The film originally began with the 1968 United Artists logo, accompanied by a timpani piece, composed by John Williams. It was also seen on early television broadcasts, as well as on the RCA CED VideoDisc version in early 1981. It has been lost to the ravages of time, due to Transamerica Corporation no longer being associated with United Artists.
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Assi Dayan was cast in the part of Perchik but couldn't handle the English dialogue and was replaced by Paul Michael Glaser.
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Leonard Frey, who plays Motel, had previously been in the original Broadway production of the show as Mendel, the Rabbi's son. Similarly, Zvee Scooler, who plays the Rabbi here, was in the original play as Mordcha, the innkeeper.
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Molly Picon and Zvee Scooler were both well-known stars of the Yiddish theater in New York in the early 20th century.
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Barry Dennen, who played Mendel, the rabbi's son, also worked with director Norman Jewison on Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) two years later, in which Dennen played Pontius Pilate and Josh Mostel, the son of Zero Mostel, who originated the role of Tevye on Broadway, played the psychedelic King Herod.
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