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!
Right after his huge success in “East of Eden” James Dean started studying acting with my father, Jeff Corey. Dad thought he was incredibly talented and was impressed with how generous James was with his fellow students. He didn’t bring a drop of movie star persona to class and he was always willing to take the time to help out a young actor who was struggling with a part.
One day James drove his new, street racer, the famous Porsche 550 Spyder, to class. He was excited to show it to dad. My father thought it was beautiful and could understand how a young man like James might want to drive it. But he also thought it was dangerous. When James offered to take him for a ride, dad declined. Years later, my father told me nothing could have compelled him to get into that Porsche. James was killed in a horrible accident in that car just a few weeks after he offered to give dad a ride. He was so talented and way too young to die.
When my father, Jeff Corey, worked privately with someone (most often on a movie role) if their session ran late into the evening, he invariably invited them to stay for dinner. My mother was always gracious about it. One auspicious night (at least for me) I was home from college and dad was working with Dick Van Dyke on his starring role In “The Morning After.” I was setting the table when out of nowhere, dad and Dick suddenly filled the room. Dick’s smile was infectious.
Dick had a wonderful physicality, which he used with great charm as Bert in “Mary Poppins” and in his own TV series, “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” He was a lanky 6’1” and had a body that moved through space like a rubber band. That night at dinner, I just remember his feet and legs not quite knowing where to go. Just sitting still at the dinner table, weaving his body into a pretzel, he could make you laugh out loud.
I am honored that the great Leonard Nimoy wrote the Foreword for my father’s memoir, “Improvising Out Loud: My Life Teaching Hollywood How To Act” by Jeff Corey with Emily Corey. Leonard studied acting with my father way back when in the days before “Star Trek.” Over time, as Leonard’s acting chops grew, dad asked Leonard to be his substitute teacher whenever, after the Hollywood blacklist ended, dad couldn’t teach a class because he was working on a film. Leonard taught many classes for my father and also became a dear and trusted friend. That friendship lasted for both their lives
When Leonard sent me his Foreword, he told me he was, “Sincerely looking forward to seeing this book in print.” Sadly, Leonard left us before he could hold a copy of “Improvising Out Loud” in his hands but I am so grateful for his kind and splendid words. Leonard’s perspective on my father’s work as an acting teacher is personal and vividly describes, as he put it, how he, “Came alive as an actor under Jeff’s guidance.” How lucky for all of us that he did.
I loved hanging out with my father’s students. They would often gather in the backyard before class and I would run out as fast as I could after dinner to sit on their laps, play chase with them, or challenge someone to a game of handball. One of my father’s students taught me out to ride a bicycle. On Valentine’s Day his students gave me a heart-shaped box of chocolate with a doll attached to the top of box. I was in heaven. While the sad truth is that all these wonderful young actors were there because the blacklist had made it impossible for my father to work as an actor in Hollywood, for me – at a ripe young age – it was a boon to my social life.