Tony Award winner Maria Karnilova was born in 1920 in Hartford, CT, to Russian immigrant parents. As a youngster, Karnilova took up ballet and dance, and by age 7 was dancing at folk festivals, before becoming a student at the ballet school of the Metropolitan Opera. After appearing in ballets by Antony Tudor, Michel Fokine, and Agnes de Mille (and becoming a charter member of the American Ballet Theatre when it began in 1939, during which she began working with choreographer Jerome Robbins), Karnilova began appearing in musicals during the '30s. In 1946, she left the Ballet Theatre to dance in the Broadway revue Call Me Mister, but eventually returned to the Ballet Theatre for two seasons in the '50s. Robbins directed Karnilova in the 1959 musical Gypsy, as she played the role of stripper Tessie Tura and for which she received rave reviews. But it was for her Tony Award winning portrayal of Golde in the original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof (also directed by Robbins) in 1964, for which Karnilova is best-known. In 1969, she was nominated for a Best Actress Tony for her role in Zorba. Over the years, Karnilova has also appeared in such productions as Miss Liberty, Two's Company, The Beggar's Opera, Kaleidoscope, and Bravo Giovanni. On April 20, 2001, Karnilova passed away in Manhattan at the age of 80.
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