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.