‘Fiddler On The Roof’ Star Has Passed Away


Joanna Merlin may be best known for originating the role of Tzeitel in “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1964, but her acting career began long before that. She graduated from UCLA and then studied acting under Michael Chekhov. Her on-screen credits include “The Ten Commandments” and “Weddings and Babies.” Eventually, Merlin left Hollywood for the theater scene in New York.

In 1961, Merlin made her Broadway debut in “Beckett.” She also performed in “A Far Country” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Merlin transitioned from performing on stage to working behind the scenes as a casting director for many projects, including multiple well-known Stephen Sondheim musicals. These musicals include “Follies,” “Into the Woods,” and “Sweeney Todd.”

Just because she was a casting director doesn’t mean she stopped acting. Far from it. She continued her acting career on-screen in movies including “All That Jazz” and “Fame” as well as TV shows including “All My Children” and “Northern Exposure.” Later in her career, she was cast as Judge Lena Petrovsky on the TV show “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”

Now comes the sad news that Merlin’s life and career have ended. She spent the last years of her life working as a professor at New York University’s Tisch graduate acting program, and NYU’s Grad Acting Instagram page was the first to announce her death. In the post, the program describes Merlin as “an actress, master Chekhov teacher, and former casting director for Harold Prince, Stephen Sondheim, Bernardo Bertolucci, and James Ivory.” The post continues, “Joanna will be deeply missed at Grad Acting, by the Chekhov community, and by the many people she touched through her artistry.”

Merlin was a faculty member at NYU for 25 years beginning in 1998. The post did not include a cause of death. She was 92 years old.

She was married twice. Her first marriage was to Martin Paul Lubner from 1950 to 1957 when they got divorced. Her second marriage was to David Dretzin. They tied the knot in 1964 and had two children together. Sadly Dretzin died in 2006.

Merlin is survived by her two children, Rachel Dretzin, a documentary film director and producer, and actress Julie Dretzin.