Fiddler on the Roof, Law & Order actress dies at 92 – .

Joanna Merlin was the original Tzeitel in the first Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” and later became a familiar face to television audiences for her recurring role as Judge Lena Petrovsky on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” 

Joanna Merlin’s legacy 

The Chicago-born Merlin made her stage debut at 11 years old in a community theater production of “Too Many Marys.” After graduating from UCLA, she studied under the legendary acting teacher and stage actor Michael Chekhov, and later continued his teaching legacy at New York University (NYU). Her screen debut came in 1956’s “The Ten Commandments,” but it wasn’t until several years later that she made her biggest mark, playing Tzeitel in the original Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” 

Merlin eventually dropped out before the show’s run ended to take care of her children, but she remained active in show business as a casting director. She served in that capacity for shows like “Company,” “Follies,” “Evita,” and “Sweeney Todd.” Merlin also took those talents to Hollywood, where she was casting director for such films as “Big Trouble in Little China,” “The Last Emperor,” and “Year of the Dragon.” 

Merlin continued to act, opting for television and film rather than the stage. She had several small television roles throughout the 1960s, and later played the dance teacher Miss Berg in the 1980 film, “Fame,” and Mrs. Araújo in 1988’s “Mystic Pizza,” among others. For television audiences, her most notable role might be Judge Lena Petrovsky in “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” appearing in 43 episodes between 2000 to 2011. 

When not acting, Merlin was a teacher in NYU’s graduate acting program. 

Tributes to Joanna Merlin 

Full obituary: Deadline 

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