Category Archives: Hollywood Blacklist

John Gavin Primes Himself For “Psycho”

In 1958, Universal Studios hired my father, Jeff Corey, to work with John Gavin on his leading role in A Time To Love and a Time to Die, a film about a German soldier on the Russian front during WWII. Gavin was one of those up and coming stars who was tall, dark, and sexy in that 1950s stilted sort of way and not a particularly good actor. Universal was hoping Gavin would be the next Rock Hudson. Hedda Hopper, the red baiting gossip columnist, found him charming and predicted he would be the “new white hope” of Hollywood (words that further pushed Hopper into the arena of racism and bigotry that defined her columns).

The reviews for A Time To Love and a Time to Die were weak. While it was generally agreed the acting wasn’t bad the script was deemed “abysmal” and Bosley Crowther, the New York Times reviewer wrote the film had, “an air of studied contrivance and artificiality.” In spite of the negative reviews, Universal remained loyal to Gavin and sent him once again to work with my father, this time on his role as Sam Loomis in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

A bit straight-laced himself, Gavin told my father he was disturbed by the sex and violence of the film. Dad tried to help him find ways to reconcile his private beliefs with what was called for in his public role. Without making accusations or judging Gavin’s morality, my father showed him that even the most prim and proper characters have a bit of the devil and destruction lurking somewhere inside of them. The trick, he said, was to play the “rich, multi-layers” that are always available to an actor.

One afternoon, out of the blue, Gavin said to my father, “Jeff, I appreciate and respect the way you work with me but I’d be less than candid if I did not tell you that I deeply disapprove of your intransigence in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee.“ Dad looked at Gavin for a moment and said, very simply, “You’re entitled to your opinion” and left it at that. The two men never spoke about politics again.

When Psycho was done filming Gavin asked dad if he could join one of his weekly classes. Dad said yes, demonstrating clearly that admission to class only had to do with an actor’s enthusiasm and interest in learning and nothing to do with celebrity, personality, or political leanings.

Note: John Gavin died this week at the age of 86.

Getting Ice-T’s Autograph

When my father, Jeff Corey, was filming Surviving the Game with rapper turned actor, Ice-T, the two men spent hours on the set talking about art, politics, and history. These diverse personalities easily found common ground and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. Dad found Ice-T to be a lovely man with deep sensitivities and concerns for the future of African-Americans. My father told Ice-T that his music reminded him of the Theatre of Action in the 1930s, when performers took to the streets of New York and performed agit-prop plays for free. I believe Ice-T found dad to be a wise elder and certainly had great respect for my father’s resistance to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in the 1950s.

One day at lunch on the set, Ice-T pulled his shirt and showed dad his scars from the streets. He told my father about his buddies who were either dead or in prison and that the memory of these “lost souls” kept him determined to do good work in the world. My father told him about political writers from the 1930s and 40s who had worked to make the world a better place­­–Langston Hughes, Muriel Rukeyser, Alfred Hayes, and Richard Wright who had their works performed by a narrator and were often backed up by a mass chorus. As dad and Ice-T talked, my father continued to frame Ice-T’s art and social justice into a political outcry that reached back to my father’s early days as an actor in New York during the Depression. Dad told me he thought Ice-T rather liked the idea of having his work linked to the history of social and political resistance. 

In all the years of working with hundreds of celebrities my father never asked any of his students for an autograph—not James Dean, not Kirk Douglas, not Sandy Koufax or Mark Spitz, even after he won seven Gold Medals at the Munich Olympics. It wasn’t indifference to their achievements. Regardless of their standing in Hollywood, my father respected everyone he worked with as a fellow artist. I believe that’s why so many celebrities enjoyed working with him. He gave them space to just be themselves. Asking for an autograph would have shifted that balance.

The only time my father broke his autograph rule was when he was working on Surviving the Game. At the wrap party, he asked Ice-T to sign the Call Sheets for the last day of shooting–one for my son, Ryland and one for my son, Jed. While I know my father thought his grandsons would enjoy having an autograph from the illustrious rapper (which they did), his asking Ice-T to inscribe his name to paper was truly a sign of the high regard he had for the man and the work he was doing in the world.

It had everything to do with respect and nothing at all to do with celebrity.

 

 

Thank You, Leonard Maltin

A huge thank you to film critic, Leonard Maltin, for including “Improvising Out Loud: My Life Teaching Hollywood How To Act” by Jeff Corey with Emily Corey and Foreword by Leonard Nimoy in his “New and Notable Film Books” list. As Maltin says, “So many books, so little time! I haven’t had a chance to fully read each of these books, which have piled up in recent months, but they are all worthy of your attention, which is why I’m happy to spread the word.”

I am deeply grateful this icon of the film world believes my father’s amazing life story, his deep understanding of the art of acting (which he shares freely with his readers), and his resistance to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) is “worthy of your attention.” I am honored that Jeff Corey’s memoir is part of this prestigious list of books. 

To read Maltin’s entire blog—and see all the notable and wonderful new release about your favorite actors and film personalities (along with Jeff Corey are books about John Wayne, John Ford, Sophia Loren, the Marx Brothers, and more), please visit: http://leonardmaltin.com/new-and-notable-film-books-january-2018/

As The World Crumbles

“Motivation in drama always leans toward the irrational.” This was something my father, Jeff Corey, was fond of saying about acting but I’m beginning to think it applies perfectly to our current political environment. In his recently published memoir, “Improvising Out Loud: My Life Teaching Hollywood How To Act” he writes, “

“The tragic flaw, according to Aristotle, is derived from Hamartia [the error in judgment of an erstwhile heroic character] and from Hubris [arrogant self-assuredness]. In the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides the function of the chorus is to underscore that there is no second chance and no redemption. The ego, to sustain itself, embraces a system of beliefs compatible with itself and validates that system through all manner of experience. We literally see what we have come to believe. In real life that can cause trouble. In theater it begets drama.”

Over the past year, it has often occurred to me that Trump and the GOP would be better off if they had read the Greeks and had an even vague understanding of the power of Hamartia and Hubris. But sadly, America is not theater and the Greeks are long gone. Instead we have our own Attic tragedy playing centerstage in American politics, saturated in arrogant self-assuredness and aligned with so many errors in judgment it is impossible to keep up. 

In 1951 when my father made the decision to resist the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), he did so understanding that eventually these men who postured and positioned themselves as righteous Americans would one day be viewed as dross—garbage floating on a sea of Hubris and Hamartia. It took ten years for the Hollywood blacklist to end but ultimately, my father was the one who was victorious.

Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Paul Ryan, and Mike Pence, led by the mother of all Hubris, Mitch McConnell, will be judged by history. In the meantime, America has a voice. We are the Greek chorus that alerts the audience that there are no second chances. While I leave redemption to the fates, it is our patriotic duty to make sure anyone who colluded with Russia or laundered money slinks into the dark annals of the history books while we, like my father and his resistance to the Hollywood blacklist, stand strong. It’s the very least this tragedy should do for us.

The Insider’s View of Hollywood – A Perfect Gift For The Holidays

A number of people have asked me to repost the book trailer for “Improving Out Loud: My Life Teaching Hollywood How To Act” by Jeff Corey and Emily Corey with a Foreword by Leonard Nimoy, so here it is. It talks about my father’s early life as an actor in New York and Hollywood, the theater cooperative he founded with his friends Lloyd Bridges, Morris Carnovsky, and other actors from The Group Theatre, his career as a successful character actor in Hollywood and then, the Hollywood blacklist which forced him to give up his acting career and teach the craft he was banished from. Overnight he became THE acting teacher to study with and his list of students is an A-list of the Hollywood elite: Jack Nicholson, Jane Fonda, Rob Reiner, Leonard Nimoy, Cher, James Dean, Harry Belafonte, Carol Burnett and hundreds more who made their way to his acting classes to discover, as Jack Nicholson put it, “How to live life as an artist.”

“Improvising Out Loud: My Life Teaching Hollywood How To Act” is the perfect gift for anyone interested in the history of Hollywood, learning how to act from one of Hollywood’s most respected acting teachers, or how the Joseph McCarthy witch-hunts upended lives and careers in Hollywood.

BUY NOW

For The Love Of A Dog

The revolving door of young men the Hollywood studios sent to our house to study acting with my father, Jeff Corey, moved through our lives like a sweet summer rain. These were the about-to-be-heartthrobs of the teen idol world who were chosen for their looks but were sent to my father on the off-hand chance they might also be able to learn how to act as well.

Gardner McKay was one of these handsome men. Under contact to MGM, Dominick Dunne sent Gardner to work with my father before casting him in the lead role of “Adventures in Paradise. ” The television show was produced by James Michener and ended up running successfully on ABC for three years with Gardner at the helm.

I was eight years old and playing in the front yard the day Gardner came to see my father for the first time. I was unsuccessfully trying to hone my cartwheel skills, which were never any good. I was down on the lawn for the count, splayed out in a rather inelegant position when Gardner drove up to the house in a baby blue Cadillac convertible. The top was down and the white leather seats gleamed in the sunlight. Next to him, on the front seat, was a gray and white English sheepdog.

Gardner jumped out of the car. He was wearing cream-colored slacks, cream-colored bucks, and a baby blue V-neck sweater. He gave the dog a quick pat on the head and then turned to me and said, “I’m looking for Jeff Corey.”

I was having trouble keeping my eyes off the car and the dog but pointed Gardner down the driveway. “Go through the gate and knock on the studio door. My dad’s in there,” I said, automatically reciting the directions I always gave to my father’s students. Gardner bounded down the driveway and I was left staring at the gray and white dog who sat with his eyes locked in the direction that Gardner had gone.

Much as I wanted to I knew I couldn’t go and pet the dog. Instead, I sat on the stoop with my hands on my knees and took it all in. Never mind the grass stains on my pants or the scratches on my arms. Life was good.

A while later Gardner came out. He looked happy so I assumed it had gone well. The dog barked, glad to see him. Gardner gave me a wave and jumped into the front seat. As the key turned and the motor hummed, he carefully steered the car away from the curb. His baby blue sweater melted into the gleaming fins of the Cadillac and the white leather seats sparkled in the afternoon sun. Next to him, the long, silky hair of the English sheepdog waved goodbye to me in the wind as, together, they disappeared into the streets of Hollywood.

To this day, it is still one of the most magnificent sights I have ever seen.

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 brewing 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.

 

 

 

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.