Harvey Forbes Fierstein
June 6, 1954
New York City, U.S.
|Education||Pratt Institute (BFA)|
Harvey Forbes Fierstein (// FIRE-steen; born June 6, 1954) is an American actor, playwright and screenwriter, known for his distinctive gravelly voice. He is best known for his theater work in Torch Song Trilogy and Hairspray and movie roles in Mrs. Doubtfire, Independence Day, and as the voice of Yao in Mulan and Mulan II. Fierstein won two Tony Awards, Best Actor in a Play and Best Play, for Torch Song Trilogy. He received his third Tony Award, Best Book of a Musical, for the musical La Cage aux Folles and his fourth, the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, for playing Edna Turnblad in Hairspray. Fierstein also wrote the book for the Tony Award-winning musicals Kinky Boots, Newsies, and Tony Award-nominated, Drama League Award-winner A Catered Affair. He was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2007.
For his role on the television show Cheers, Fierstein was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.
Harvey Fierstein was born in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York City, the son of Jacqueline Harriet (née Gilbert), a school librarian, and Irving Fierstein, a handkerchief manufacturer. Fierstein has a brother, Ronald Fierstein. Prior to puberty, Fierstein was a soprano in a professional boys' choir.
Fierstein graduated from the High School of Art and Design and received a BFA from the Pratt Institute in 1973.
As one of the first openly gay celebrities in the United States, Fierstein helped make gay and lesbian life into a viable subject for contemporary drama "with no apologies and no climactic suicides".
Fierstein has authored op-eds for The New York Times and the PBS series In the Life.
Fierstein began working in the theater as a founding member of The Gallery Players of Park Slope before being cast in Andy Warhol's only play, Pork. Fierstein's other early roles included "a transvestite in his own Flatbush Tosca...a 300-year-old woman, Lillian Russell, and 26 other parts in Ronald Tavel’s My Fetus Lived on Amboy Street". Fierstein also performed his own drag routine in Greenwich Village, including an impersonation of Ethel Merman singing "You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun".
Fierstein is best known for the play and film Torch Song Trilogy, which he wrote and starred in both off-Broadway (with a young Matthew Broderick) and on Broadway (with Estelle Getty and Fisher Stevens). The 1982 Broadway production won him two Tony Awards, for Best Play and Best Actor in a Play; two Drama Desk Awards, for Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Actor in a Play; and the Theatre World Award. Fierstein is the first openly gay actor to win a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play. The film adaptation of Torch Song Trilogy earned him an Independent Spirit Award nomination as Best Male Lead.
Fierstein also wrote the book for La Cage aux Folles (1983), winning another Tony Award, this time for Best Book of a Musical, and a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Book. During his Tony Award acceptance speech, Fierstein acknowledged his male lover; according to Entertainment Weekly, this was "not a first", but was "still startling to many viewers".
Fierstein narrated the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), for which he won a News & Documentary Emmy Award.
Fierstein's playwriting credits include Spookhouse (1984), Safe Sex (1987), and Forget Him (1988).
Legs Diamond, his 1988 collaboration with Peter Allen, was a critical and commercial failure, closing after 72 previews and 64 performances, but the songs live on in Peter Allen's biographical musical, The Boy from Oz.
Fierstein was praised for his 1990 role as the voice of Karl, Homer Simpson's assistant, in the "Simpson and Delilah" episode of The Simpsons.
Fierstein portrayed Mark Newberger in Cheers, receiving an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 1992 for his performance.
In 1993, Fierstein co-starred with Mara Wilson, Lisa Jakub, Matthew Lawrence, Sally Field, and Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire.
In 1994, Fierstein became the first openly gay actor to play a principal gay character in a television series when he appeared as fashion designer Dennis Sinclair in the short-lived CBS series Daddy's Girls.
Fierstein voiced the role of Yao in Disney's animated feature Mulan, a role he later reprised for the video game Kingdom Hearts II and the direct-to-DVD sequel Mulan II.
Fierstein voiced the character of Elmer in the 1999 HBO special based on his children's book The Sissy Duckling, which won the Humanitas Prize for Children's Animation.
Fierstein's Broadway acting credits include playing the mother, Edna Turnblad, in Hairspray (2002), for which he won a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. He later replaced Alfred Molina as Tevye in the 2004 revival of Fiddler on the Roof.
In 2007, Fierstein wrote the book to the musical A Catered Affair; he also starred in the production. After tryouts at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre in September 2007, the show opened on Broadway April 17, 2008. It received 12 Drama Desk Award nominations and won the Drama League Award for Distinguished Production of a Musical.
Fierstein returned to the theater when he reprised the role of Tevye, replacing an injured Chaim Topol, in the national tour of Fiddler on the Roof starting in December 2009.
On February 15, 2011, Fierstein replaced Douglas Hodge as Albin/Zaza in the Broadway revival of La Cage aux Folles. The show closed on May 1, 2011, after playing 433 performances and 15 previews.
Fierstein wrote the book for the stage musical Newsies, along with Alan Menken (music) and Jack Feldman (lyrics). The musical opened on Broadway in March 2012. Fierstein was nominated for the Tony Award for Book of a Musical.
Fierstein wrote the book for a stage musical version of the film Kinky Boots with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. After a fall 2012 run at the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago, it opened at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on Broadway in April 2013. The musical was nominated for thirteen 2013 Tony Awards and won six, including best musical.
Fierstein's play Casa Valentina was produced on Broadway by the Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. The play opened in April 2014. It was directed by Joe Mantello, with a cast that featured Patrick Page, John Cullum, and Mare Winningham.
Fierstein wrote the teleplay for the December 3, 2015 NBC TV broadcast of The Wiz Live!, featuring Stephanie Mills as Aunt Em, Queen Latifah as The Wiz, and David Alan Grier as the Lion. The teleplay is an adaptation of The Wiz, which ran on Broadway from October 1974 until January 1979.
Fierstein then wrote the teleplay for, and starred in, the 2016 NBC TV broadcast of Hairspray Live! with Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, Kristin Chenoweth, and Martin Short.
In April 2016, Fierstein, along with his Kinky Boots collaborator Cyndi Lauper, was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Fierstein wrote and starred in Bella Bella, a solo monologue play about New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug. It premiered at Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage One at City Center on October 1, 2019, directed by Kimberly Senior.
Fierstein's I Was Better Last Night: A Memoir was released in 2022 and quickly became a New York Times Bestseller.
Fierstein is openly gay. He reportedly dated journalist Ted Casablanca from 1987 to 1992.
Fierstein is Jewish. In 2005, he said that although he does not believe in God, he prays three or four times each day.
Fierstein's distinctive gravelly voice is a result of an overdeveloped vestibular fold in his vocal cords, essentially giving him a "double voice" when he speaks.
Fierstein has struggled with alcohol abuse. In a 2022 interview, he stated that he stopped drinking alcohol following a 1996 suicide attempt.
Speaking with People magazine in February 2022 to promote his memoir I Was Better Last Night, Fierstein stated, "I'm still confused as to whether I'm a man or a woman," and that as a child he often wondered if he'd been born in the wrong body. "When I was a kid, I was attracted to men. I didn't feel like a boy was supposed to feel. Then I found out about gay. So that was enough for me for then." The interview also noted his ease at playing both Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and Edna Turnblad in Hairspray. He avoided identifying as non-binary in the interview, saying he had thought about it a lot and "it's the term that bothers me", but concluded that "I don't think I've missed anything by not making up my mind". On the LGBTQ&A podcast the following month, Fierstein said, "I'm comfortable being me and if I ask myself, 'Would you want to transition?' The answer's no."
|1982–1985||Torch Song Trilogy||Arnold Beckoff||Little Theatre||Broadway|
|1986||Albery Theatre||West End|
|1987||Safe Sex||Ghee||Lyceum Theatre||Broadway|
|2002||Hairspray||Edna Turnblad||5th Avenue Theatre||Regional|
|Neil Simon Theatre||Broadway|
|2004–2006||Fiddler on the Roof||Tevye||Minskoff Theatre|
|2008||A Catered Affair||Winston||Walter Kerr Theatre|
|2009–2010||Fiddler on the Roof||Tevye||American tour|
|2011||La Cage aux Folles||Albin||Longacre Theatre||Broadway|
|2019||The Little Mermaid: An Immersive Live-to-Film Concert Experience||Ursula||Hollywood Bowl||Concert|
|2019||Bella Bella||Bella Abzug||Manhattan Theater Club||Off-Broadway|
|2022||Guys and Dolls||Joey Biltmore (prerecorded voice, uncredited)||The Kennedy Center||Washington, D.C.|
|1984||Garbo Talks||Bernie Whitlock|
|The Times of Harvey Milk||Narrator||Voice role|
|1988||Torch Song Trilogy||Arnold Beckoff||Also the screenwriter (adapted his own play)|
|1992||The Harvest||Bob Lakin|
|1993||Mrs. Doubtfire||Francis "Frank" Hillard|
|Bullets Over Broadway||Sid Loomis|
|1995||Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde||Yves DuBois|
|1996||The Celluloid Closet||Himself||Interview about LGBT movies|
|Independence Day||Marty Gilbert|
|Everything Relative||The Moyle|
|Elmo Saves Christmas||Easter Bunny|
|1997||White Lies||Art Hoarder|
|Kull the Conqueror||Juba|
|Three Little Pigs||The Big Bad Wolf||Voice role (short film)|
|2000||Playing Mona Lisa||Bennett|
|2000||Kingdom of the Sun||Huaca||Voice role; unreleased|
|2002||Death to Smoochy||Merv Green|
|2004||Mulan II||Yao||Voice role; Direct-to-video|
|2006||Farce of the Penguins||Sheila|
|2012||Foodfight!||Fat Cat Burglar|
|2014||Russian Broadway Shut Down||Book Writer||Short film|
|2017||Animal Crackers||Esmerelda||Voice role|
|2020||Disarm Hate||Narrator||Voice role (documentary)|
|1983||The Demon Murder Case||Demon||Voice role (television film)|
|1986||Miami Vice||Benedict||Episode: "The Fix"|
|Apology||The Derelict||Television film|
|1990||The Simpsons||Karl||Voice role (Episode: "Simpson and Delilah")|
|1991||ABC Afterschool Specials||Andrew||Episode: "In the Shadow of Love: A Teen AIDS Story"|
|1992||Cheers||Mark Newberger||Episode: "Rebecca's Lover... Not"|
|Murder, She Wrote||Stan Hatter||Episode: "The Dead File"|
|1994||Daddy's Girl||Dennis Sinclair||Series regular (3 episodes)|
|1997||The Larry Sanders Show||Harvey Fierstein||Episode: "The Matchmaker"|
|Fame L.A.||Jeremy Pinter||Episode: "Do or Die"|
|Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child||Mrs. Leaperman||Voice role (Episode: "Thumbelina")|
|1998||Ellen||Himself||Episode: "It's a Gay, Gay, Gay, Gay World!"|
|Hercules||Argus Panoptes||Voice role (Episode: "Hercules and the Bacchanal")|
|Stories from My Childhood||Grambo||Voice role (Episode: "Alice and the Mystery of the Third Planet")|
|1999||Double Platinum||Gary Millstein||Television film|
|1999||The Sissy Duckling||Elmer||Voice role (television film)|
|2000||Common Ground||Don||Television film|
|Behind the Music||Himself||Episode: "1984"|
|2004||Biography||Episode: "John Waters"|
|2004–07||Sesame Street||Recurring role (3 episodes)|
|2006||The Year Without a Santa Claus||Heat Miser||Television film|
|2008||Family Guy||Tracy||Voice role (Episode: "The Former Life of Brian")|
|2009||How I Met Your Mother||Lily's smoking voice (voice)||Episode: "Last Cigarette Ever"|
|2010||Nurse Jackie||John Decker||Episode: "Monkey Bits"|
|2011||The Good Wife||Judge Francis Flamm||Episode: "Feeding the Rat"|
|2012||Submissions Only||Auditioner #5||Episode: "Another Interruption"|
|2013||Smash||Himself||Episode: "The Fallout"|
|Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen||Episode: "Harvey Fierstein & Kim Zolciak"|
|2014||Saturday Night Live||Episode: "Bill Hader/Hozier"|
|2015||Family Guy||Buster Keaton||Voice role (Episode: "Stewie Is Enceinte")|
|The Wiz Live!||—||Television special (teleplay writer)|
|2016||Hairspray Live!||Edna Turnblad|
|2017||BoJack Horseman||Himself||Voice role (Episode: "Commence Fracking")|
|2018||Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen||Episode: "Jane Curtin & Harvey Fierstein"|
|2018–20||Big Mouth||Jerome||Voice role (Episode: "Guy Town", "Horrority House")|
|2019||The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance||The Gourmand||Recurring voice role (7 episodes)|
|1998||Disney's Animated Storybook: Mulan||Yao|
|Mulan Story Studio|
|2005||Kingdom Hearts II||English version|
|2007||Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix+|
|1982||New York Drama Critics' Circle||Best American Play||Torch Song Trilogy||Nominated|
|1983||Tony Award||Best Play||Won|
|Best Actor in a Play||Won|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Play||Won|
|Outstanding Actor in a Play||Won|
|Theatre World Award||Theatre World Award||Won|
|1984||Tony Award||Best Book of a Musical||La Cage aux Folles||Won|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Book of a Musical||Nominated|
|1992||Primetime Emmy Award||Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series||Cheers||Nominated|
|2003||Tony Award||Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical||Hairspray||Won|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Actor in a Musical||Won|
|Outer Critics Circle Award||Outstanding Actor in a Musical||Nominated|
|Drama League Award||Outstanding Performance||Won|
|2008||Drama League Award||Outstanding Production of a Musical||A Catered Affair||Won|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Book of a Musical||Nominated|
|2012||Tony Award||Best Book of a Musical||Newsies||Nominated|
|Outer Critics Circle Award||Outstanding Book of a Musical||Nominated|
|2013||Tony Award||Best Book of a Musical||Kinky Boots||Nominated|
|Outer Critics Circle Award||Outstanding Book of a Musical||Nominated|
|2014||Tony Award||Best Play||Casa Valentina||Nominated|
But for Harvey Fierstein, Bibby's partner from 1987 to 1992, the difference between the two is clear.