Category Archives: House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)

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.

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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.

 

 

 

“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.

 

 

 

“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.