All posts by Emily Corey

When The FBI Knocks At Your Door

I saw the Hollywood blacklist through a child’s eye and I clearly remember the day the FBI came to our house looking for my father, Jeff Corey. My mother opened our heavy oak front door a crack and then just as quickly shut it, leaving the two men in hats and overcoats standing on the porch. Without saying a word to me she made a beeline toward the backyard where my father was preparing for the acting class he would teach that night. I scurried along behind her. When we got to the backdoor, she looked at me and with an uncharacteristic sternness, said, “Wait here.” This made absolutely no sense to me. I was four and a half and underfoot was where I lived. But at that moment, with two FBI agents standing at our door, nothing about my mother was normal.

I waited in silence until my parents emerged from my father’s studio. I still have a very clear memory of what they looked liked that day, walking toward the house together. It wasn’t until I was much older that I could unpack that image. They had become one: two people perfectly merged together into a single pledge to do whatever it took to weather the potential storm that was waiting on our front porch.

They barely noticed me except for another uncharacteristically odd moment when, as I attempted to follow my father out the front door, I was told once again to stay where I was. My father went out alone and my mother went into the kitchen and banged pots and pans around. I stood sentry. Eventually, I felt bold enough to open the side window to the right of the front door. It was long and narrow and gave me a full view of the front porch. Dad was sitting on one of our wooden porch swings and the two men in hats and coats had settled onto the wide cement wall that edged our front lawn.

I watched them for a while. Their conversation meant nothing to me and finally, with a courage my parents were secretly proud of even though it made me willful at times, I opened the front door, slipped across the porch, and crawled up into my father’s lap. I nestled down as deeply as I could into his arms and didn’t budge. He didn’t tell me to leave. I do not remember what was said. I do not remember their faces. But I do remember how safe I felt in my father’s arms.

Forty years later when, through the Freedom of Information Act, my father received his FBI file, I read about that meeting. The agents described their talk with him as friendly and concluded that in spite of his refusal to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), in spite of his refusal to name names, my father, in fact, was not at all a threat to the United States government.

They did not mention me at all.

 

 

 

Jeff Corey: Improvising Out Loud BY PAUL BUHLE

Thank you to Paul Buhle and the “Hollywood Progressive” for their wonderful article about “Improvising Out Loud.”

“Jeff Corey may properly be regarded as personal disproof of the slander, so often heard during the 1950s-60s, that Hollywood film lost nothing important in the blacklist. Film actor Corey’s memoir, “Improvising Out Loud,” completed, edited and prepared for publication by his daughter, Emily Corey, is a tribute to what a left generation accomplished, and not only in front of the camera.

What might seem a most unlikely personality, Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek fame, hails not the actor Corey, but the teacher. In a crisp three-page tribute that recalls the younger actor’s preparation for leading part in Jean Genet’s “Deathwatch,” essentially a career breakthrough, the power and scope of Corey is suggested. If Corey, in a family backyard and a refurbished Los Angeles garage (his own, in fact), trained a generation of screen, television and stage artists, this remarkable saga begins with…the blacklist.

Well, not quite. The larger story is, of course, Method. British theater had been based upon actors as physical automatons who needed to have body and voice move skillfully. “Method,” a theatrical revolution with revolutionary intent (that is, Russian and other European visions of a world transformed) turned the concept of preparation around. The actor would become an intelligent contributor, a shaping influence with the director, by virtue principally of understanding, feeling, the part.  So much fun has been made of the egotistic actor who demands an internal, almost intestinal sensation, that the shaping power of Method has been almost forgotten. Stanislavsky’s command, “talk to the eye, not the ear” of the audience, is the essence of Corey’s own command to the young actor: learn to communicate.

Adolescent Corey had such a boyhood tic that his mother, rising above the Orthodox Judaism of domestic life, took him from Brooklyn to a Manhattan psychoanalyst. Gaining self-confidence, he became a star actor in high school, and on graduation in 1932, threw himself into the theater.  Corey was a real intellectual, unlike so many actors, making it inevitable in the Red Decade that he would find the Left or it would find him.

By 1937, that meant a play about the Abraham Lincoln Brigade then fighting fascists in Spain. Soon, he would be involved in productions with other young radical actors including Martin Ritt and Will Lee, writers, directors and writers Albert Maltz, Phil Stephenson and Ben Bengel among others.  Corey does not say so, but by 1950, all of them were to go on the blacklist. He insists that his own entry into politics was based on family poverty, but his own keen intellectualism, the breadth of his reading, could not have been absent, or missing Marxism entirely.

Who did he meet when he got to Hollywood in 1939? More of same, including Lee J. Cobb (a later sorrowful Friendly Witness), Jules Dassin and Clifford Odets, among many others. He changed his name at this moment, from Arthur Zwerling, and success followed shortly with supporting roles in film after film, often little comedy parts. Meanwhile, he and friends founded Actors Lab, or The Actors’ Laboratory Theater, the leading Method outlet in Tinseltown. A brilliant career as actor and teacher was interrupted by military service in the Navy, Corey personally filming and photographing as he went along, sometimes emceeing shows on the battleship Yorktown.

Success followed success when Corey returned to Hollywood. He makes no point of it, but he must have been proud of the crossover into real drama including Home of the Brave, where as an Army psychologist, he counsels a black serviceman who is under racist attack. His film career ahead looked splendid. Then came the shadow of the Blacklist. The Hollywood Ten, not only the men but their families, were his friends, in the deepest sense, but the shadow did not actually creep over him for a few years. His last film in Hollywood until his return was one that I enjoyed as a kid, and now seems crypto-radical: Superman and the Mole Men (1951) in which Supe defends the little creatures (midgets with rubber baldness) from a redneck mob. He returned with The Balcony (1963), the Genet theatrical whose filmic appearance was itself a phenomenon.

He had, as the blacklist fell, already added radio acting to his repertoire, in the years when radio drama hit a high point, including adaptations of many popular films, but mainly dramatic originals like “Philip Marlowe” and “Suspense.” Corey, with his marvelous radio voice, seemed to get all the jobs he wanted. And then he was “Named.” Not that he remained in the same political space as the Communist Party, long since disillusioned with Russia, but to name his friends and associates would be literally unthinkable. Alternatives? He opened an acting studio of his own, in his Los Angeles backyard.

The rest of the story is, perhaps, a little too straightforward. He is a teacher, he has important students, and then he begins to get film work again, shortly before 1960. He had some lame parts, but he also had an abundance of very good ones, in film and television. After The Balcony, the avant-garde Mickey One, Cincinnati Kid (with other blacklistees), True Grit and a lot of other mainstream work, nearly always as supporting actor.

Television turned out to be a better venue, with several dozen parts, in shows ranging from Barney Miller and Night Court to Picket Fences, as the decades rolled on. Those of us who saw him in many parts were amazed most of all, perhaps, at his adaptability. He was an actor’s actor and for good reason: he had trained himself. Indeed, the book closes with Recommended Reading for his students and any acting students.

He was, despite and because of being a very fine actor, above all a great teacher. When I finally met him, at the memorial service of Abraham Polonsky, I felt honored. We mourned the victimized generation together, but also the wonderful contributions that the blacklistees had made and would make so long as they lived.”

Paul Buhle
www.hollywoodprogressive.com

Improvising Out Loud: My Life Teaching Hollywood How to Act. By Jeff Corey with Emily Corey. Foreword by Leonard Nimoy. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2017, 320pp. $40.00.

 

 

 

 

 

Through The Eyes Of James Wong Howe

When my father, Jeff Corey, was hired for the role of Mr. Ruby in the film, Seconds, he asked me if I wanted to go to the set with him. I immediately said, “Yes.” I was thirteen years old and was just getting used to my father working again as an actor after being blacklisted for twelve years. Going to the set with him helped make up for all the lost time I didn’t get to see him act when I was younger.

Seconds was directed by the darkly artistic John Frankenheimer and starred Rock Hudson. A brooding,  film noir thriller, Seconds was a far cry from the Doris Day Pillow Talk genre Rock was famous for but there he was in all his handsome glory, laughing with the cast and crew and making it all look easy.

That day on the set of Seconds I did not want to get in anyone’s way. As I was trying to make myself as small as possible, James Wong Howe, the film’s cinemaphotographer, appeared out of nowhere and motioned for me to come with him. Although I did not know it at the time, James was one of the most well respected cinematographers in Hollywood and had already won two Academy Awards for his work on The Rose Tattoo and Hud.

I followed James over to his camera at the edge of the set. With his eyes shinning and a huge grin on his face, he pointed to his seat and said, “Sit up there.” He then instructed me to look through the crosshairs of his viewfinder at the scene they were about to shoot.

It was amazing to see the scene through that lens. Without warning, James swung the camera up and over so that I could see what it would look like when he followed the actors as they moved through their dialogue. His camera loader and a host of underlings stood there smiling, thoroughly enjoying my ride. I was so shy back then I’m quite certain I was blushing pale pink if not bright red.

I finally pulled my eye away from the viewfinder and mutter a hushed, and hopefully, audible “Thank you.” James grinned at me one more time and helped me down off my perch. I walked as quietly as I could back to my hiding place behind a wall of the set.

It was thrilling to look through that camera but what I remember most about that day are James’ twinkling eyes and the kind generosity of that master cinematographer who took the time to invite a young, teenage girl to look at the world through his eyes.

“True” Grit

John Wayne and my father, Jeff Corey, hardly lived on the same political spectrum. But they did make two movies together: “Wake of the Red Witch” and then years after the Hollywood blacklist ended for my father, the original “True Grit.” Dad played the villain, Tom Chaney, and the “Duke” delivered his Academy award-winning performance as Rooster Cogburn.

When they arrived on the set of “True Grit” the two men had not spoken in twenty-one years and plenty of water had flowed under their respective bridges. Wayne, a notorious redbaiter, had actively gone after many of Hollywood’s best and brightest when he was president of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, a group founded on hate. My father, a decorated war veteran and a strong believer in the integrity of the First Amendment, had refused to name names when asked to do so by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Wayne went on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars. My father spent twelve years blacklisted by the Hollywood studios.

When the two men met again on the set of “True Grit” the “Duke,” as if absolutely nothing had ever happened, affectionately put his arm around my father and said, “Jeff, it’s been too fucking long.” No mention was made of politics or red baiting or of the careers lost to the witch-hunts of the 1950s. Instead the two men dug in, as the professionals they both were, and made a brilliant movie. During filming, Henry Hathaway, the director of “True Grit” confided to my father that not since he had made “Trail of the Lonesome Pine” with Henry Fonda and Fred Mac Murray in 1936 had he felt as good about a film as he did about “True Grit.”

I cannot speak to what it took for Wayne to navigate his personal and professional actions to save his career in the 1950s. I certainly cannot speak to why he was comfortable ruining the careers of so many of his colleagues in Hollywood.

What I can speak to is the integrity it took for my father to walk away from a thriving career and to refuse to cooperate with scoundrels when asked to name names to save his career. 

I know for a fact, that act of decency took true grit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Was In Love With Tab Hunter

I was seven-years old and I have to admit it. I had a huge crush on Tab Hunter. I came by this naturally. Tab was one of the many heartthrob contract players Warner Bros. sent to my father, Jeff Corey, to learn how to act. Tab and dad were working on Tab’s upcoming role in “Damn Yankees!” so he often came to the house. To further complicate matters, Tab had recently released “Young Love” which had rocketed to number one on the Billboard charts. Tab gave dad a promotional copy of the LP, which made me feel extra close to him and stoked the fires of my passion even further.

The fact that Tab was a gloriously beautiful, gay man totally escaped me. I’m quite certain it did not escape my father and I am equally certain dad could not have given a damn. Part of the reason my father refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was his deep belief in personal freedom. Anything that would have smacked of sexual prejudice would have made his blood boil. Many of dad’s students were gay–or homosexual as they were called back then. As challenging as it might be to be part of the LBGTQ community today, dad knew many of his students had been forced by the Hollywood studios to hide their sexual identities and had been subjected to vice squad stings, including Tab, and I know it horrified him. But in the ignorance of my seven-year-old passion, none of that mattered. I was smitten.

When “Damn Yankees!” came out, Dad took us to see it, which in itself was an anomaly. During the blacklist it was too hard for my father to see films he should have been starring in. It was just too painful. My sisters and I were allowed to see movies with our friends but in the entire twelve years he was blacklisted by Hollywood, my father only took us to two movies: “Damn Yankees!” and “Spartacus.” Dad had worked with Kirk Douglas on his leading role in “Spartacus” and his friend, blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, had written the script, so that gave us entrée into the movie theater. I think we went to “Damn Yankees!” because dad was proud of the work Tab had done and how he had gown as an actor.

Eventually I got over my crush on Tab but I’ve never forgotten how much fun it was to sit in a dark movie theater next to my father eating popcorn and watching a movie.

That is a love that will last forever.

 

 

Home of the Brave

Race relations in Hollywood movies have a difficult history. From the early days of silent film, African-Americans were cast as caricatures that smacked of discrimination and racism. Sadly, Hollywood was comfortable with that until 1949 when a group of rouge artists made a small film called Home of the Brave, the first Hollywood movie to depict an African-American as a protagonist. The film stars my father, Jeff Corey in the role of Doc, Lloyd Bridges as Finch, and James Edwards, a talented African-American actor in the lead role of Moss.

Filming Home of the Brave was not easy. Afraid the studios would shut down production, the cover of my father’s script for Home of the Brave says High Noon. Dad told me this was done so the cast could go to the commissary for lunch and work on their parts without drawing attention to the film. The director, Mark Robeson, shot Home of the Brave in a rapid-fire thirty days to make certain all the footage was “in the can” before the studio could stop production. And in a rather remarkable and almost hard to believe act of misdirection, Stanley Kramer, the film’s the producer, told the studio bosses James Edwards had been hired as a janitor to clean the set.

These rouge film makers prevailed and when Home of the Brave was released, it was hailed as a masterpiece. Time Magazine called the film “Exciting!” Cosmopolitan wrote it as “Brilliant!” And Parents Magazine announced Home of the Brave was, “A must for everyone.” Even Walter Winchell, the conservative newspaper columnist weighed in when he wrote, “Home of the Brave fingerprints your conscience.”

The progressive thinking that contributed to the great reviews also made Home of the Brave a lightening rod for conservatives in Congress. Within two years of its box office success my father and Carl Foreman, the screenwriter, were both blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

For me personally, Home of the Brave played an important role in my childhood. Because of the blacklist there were absolutely zero paparazzi following my father around (all we got was the FBI at our door–but that’s for another post). But what did happen, over and over again was African-American men of all ages stopping my father on the street and saying, “Doc, I just want to shake your hand.” That was my introduction to my father’s celebrity–as a revered icon of the African-American community. Years later dad told me he wished Home of the Brave had gone even further and was concerned that some of the language in the film meant to reveal racism, was a bit too clichéd.

Yes, there are stilted parts of the film. Yes, there is an uncomfortable syntax to some of the dialogue. But when you view the film through the lens of what was going on in America in 1949 and the deep rivers of prejudice and Jim Crow that defined the African-American experience, Home of the Brave stands out as just that: brave.

Kudos to my father and all the brave artists who made this film.

Memories of a Patriot

During WWII, my father, Jeff Corey, spent over two years in the Pacific as a Navy combat photographer on the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown. He was in over thirty major engagements and received multiple citations for his service under fire including one that reads, “(Corey’s) sequence of a kamikaze attempt on the carrier Yorktown, done in the face of grave danger, is one of the great picture sequences of the war.” I have been told by a number of people in Hollywood that his footage is used in almost every movie about the war in the Pacific.

In 1951, a few years after the war ended and in the midst of a thriving acting career in Hollywood, my father was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). During the hearing Republican congressmen grilled him about his private political beliefs but refused to hear anything about his war service, his citations, or risking his life for his country. It was a witch-hunt and HUAC only wanted him to give them the names of more people they could go after. He refused and was instantly blacklisted. He didn’t work in movies again for almost twelve years.

My father refusal to cooperate with HUAC had nothing to do with protecting his political affiliations. He understood what the founding fathers were doing when they put the First Amendment into place. He refused to cooperate with HUAC because he did not believe his government had the right to ask him the question in the first place.

There are many ways to serve your country. My father served his in a war. He also served his country with every ounce of his devotion by standing up to Congress and taking a stand for freedom and democracy. I thank him for his patriotism. I thank him for his service.

 

 

 

The Age of Film

After the Hollywood blacklist ended and my father, Jeff Corey began working in movies again, I had to get used to having a father who was a working actor. It was always exciting when a studio messenger delivered a script to the house. Dad would disappear for an hour or so then come out and ask me if I wanted to run lines with him. I loved it. I got to play all the parts that weren’t his and quickly learned how to be good at it. I knew when to prompt him when he couldn’t remember a line and when to give him a little more time to come up with the words. He always marked up his scripts in his unintelligible handwriting but I learned to read his notes and slowly began to understand where he was going with a character.

One evening when I was thirteen, after dad had spent the day at Paramount working on Lady In A Cage with Olivia de Havilland, Ann Sothern, and James Caan, we were in the living room before dinner. Dad was sitting in one of our vintage Lincoln rockers reading the newspaper. He had on a white Brooks Brothers V-neck undershirt and a pair of baggy brown corduroy pants (his standard attire for relaxing around the house). I watched him out of the corner of my eye and suddenly, a wave of sadness came over me. Without my realizing it, my father had gotten old. His hair, which had once been dark brown was scattered with grey. How had I missed it? How had I not seen that passage of time? My heart was heavy at this realization, so much so I started to cry.

I tried to hide my tears from him but I couldn’t. “What’s wrong?” he said. I didn’t want to tell him. It felt rude to announce to someone you just noticed that he had aged. “Emily,” he said, this time alarmed. “What’s going on?” I took a deep breath and told him what I had observed.

Dad laughed out loud. “It’s makeup,” he said. “I washed my face when I got home but I haven’t washed my hair yet.” He explained that for his role as the Wino in Lady in a Cage the director, Walter Grauman, wanted him to look a little older so Nellie Manley, the hairdresser on the set, and the great makeup artist, Wally Westmore, had worked together to turn his hair “grey.”

I can attest. They did an excellent job. I was so relieved I didn’t even feel foolish.

 

 

 

 

“Improvising Out Loud” Book Trailer Hits The Silver Screen

I’m delighted to announce the book trailer for Improvising Out Loud: My Life Teaching Hollywood How To Act by Jeff Corey with Emily Corey is now available for viewing on the book’s website: www.improvisingoutloud.com.

My father’s good friend and colleague, actor Leonard Nimoy, wrote the Foreword for the book and the Afterword is written by Janet Neipris, Adjunct Instructor; Professor at the Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing at the NYU Tish School of the Arts. Thank you to them and to to Lee Redman for her wonderful voice over and to Randy Hale for his exquisite music.

Improvising Out Loud: My Life Teaching Hollywood How To Act is a wonderful memoir about my father, Jeff Corey, his life in film and theater, his unique approach to teaching the craft of acting, what he did to maintain his creative ballast and integrity during the dark days of the Hollywood blacklist, and how he became the first actor to break through that treacherous prohibition when he began working in film and television again in the 1960s, something he did often and beautifully until his death in 2002.

I invite you to watch the trailer so you can see how this remarkable man turned political adversity into grace under fire and artistic integrity into magic.

Improvising Out Loud: My Life Teaching Hollywood How To Act is published by the University Press of Kentucky and will be released May 5, 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

Acting Like Bruce Lee

When Bruce Lee was working on the television show “The Green Hornet,” Twentieth Century-Fox sent to him study acting with my father, Jeff Corey. The show’s producer, William Dozier, only wanted Lee for his Gung Fu skills and refused to give him any lines. Lee and my father believed he was capable of doing much more. In a letter to Dozier Lee said, “Jeff Corey agrees, and I myself feel, that at least an occasional dialogue would certainly make me feel more at home with the fellow players.” Lee prevailed and continued to study with my father for many months.

Dad was able to show Lee how be himself on camera and discover ways to approach his role. “Leave the performance alone,” was the advice my father often gave his students. Lee understood this when he wrote, “Simplicity–to express the utmost in the minimum of lines and energy–is the goal of Gung Fu and acting is not much different.”

One day, Lee offered to give my father gung fu lessons. For reasons I will never understand, dad turned him down. He was probably incredibly busy–but it is not every day one gets an offer from a Master. Nonetheless, dad and Lee got along famously. I know dad found him charming and talented and was happy when Lee was given the “active partnership” he had requested from Dozier. Lee felt the same way about dad. In an interview given at the height of “The Green Hornet,” Lee told a reporter, “Jeff Corey is the best in Hollywood.” It was simplicity in action.

Improvising Out Loud: My Life Teaching Hollywood How To Act by Jeff Corey with Emily Corey, Foreword by Leonard Nimoy, Afterword by Janet Neipris –  BUY NOW!