With one phone call, Fyvush Finkel went from entertaining seniors in Florida to seniors in high school.
After a four-year stint as attorney Douglas Wambaugh on “Picket Fences,” for which he won the 1993 supporting actor Emmy, Finkel had a few guest spots in various series and films while reveling in performing his song-and-dance routine with sons Ian (a xylophonist) and Elliot (a pianist-composer) in South Florida for the retiree crowd.
Then his old friend and “Picket Fences” creator David E. Kelley called in March 2000 about a role in what became “Boston Public.”
“He said he was writing a new series and told me about the character (of Harvey Lipshultz),” Finkel recalls. “And then I told him, ‘Why are you talking so much? I’ll do it!’ If not for Mr. Kelley, I’d still be taking cabs.”
Comparing Wambaugh to Lipshultz, both blustery characters who get a certain satisfaction of razzing anyone in sight, Finkel says the former “took over the whole courtroom. He didn’t care about the law. Harvey is more subdued. He thinks everyone loves him.”
At 78, Finkel’s path — from Brooklyn’s Jewish Vaudeville circuit to Broadway to Manhattan Beach, Calif., where “Public” is filmed — is filled with stories that the actor, trust me, loves to expound upon. His expansive legit resume includes 12 years in “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Little Shop of Horrors” for five years.
But one subject he never talks about is retirement.
“Why should I retire?,” asks Finkel, married for 54 years to his wife, Trudi. “To play checkers or chess or sit at the park?”
So what does the man who has had a remarkable career really enjoy? How about a meal at the Second Avenue Deli in New York, where Finkel lives when not shooting “Boston Public.” But in a way, the actor is there all the time.
“They put a star with my name on it right at the door,” Finkel exclaims. “If you go in there, you have to step on me!”