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Tue Aug 20 11:13:17 MDT 2002
NY Times, Aug. 20, 2002
Jeff Corey, Character Actor and Acting Instructor, 88, Is Dead
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Jeff Corey, a character actor who was barred from his field in the 1950's
because of past association with the Communist Party and then became a
prominent Hollywood acting instructor, died on Friday in Los Angeles. He
was 88 and lived in Malibu.
Among his acting students were a college freshman named Carol Burnett and
an 18-year-old smart aleck named Jack Nicholson. Shortly before his death
in 1955, James Dean studied with him.
Mr. Corey himself appeared in around 100 feature films, notably "Little Big
Man" (1970), in which he played the part of Wild Bill Hickock opposite
Dustin Hoffman. He was on many television shows.
With his bushy brows, craggy nose and instantly recognizable voice, he
played characters ranging from heavies in postwar thrillers like "The
Killers" in 1946 (an uncredited role as Blinky Franklin) to the sheriff in
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" in 1969.
He was born in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn on Aug. 10, 1914.
After graduating from public high school, he attended the Feagin School of
Drama and participated in the Depression-era Federal Theater Project of the
Works Progress Administration.
During this period, he associated with left-leaning members of the
theatrical community like John Randolph, Elia Kazan and Jules Dassin. He
attended some Communist Party meetings, but never joined.
He was supporting himself as a sewing-machine salesman when he got a part
as a spear carrier in Leslie Howard's critically acclaimed production of
"Hamlet" on Broadway and was promoted to the part of Rosencrantz.
After several minor Broadway roles he drove a Model A Ford to Hollywood. He
had begun to get movie roles when World War II started, and he joined the
After the war, he was working steadily, with seven movies in 1950 alone,
when he was summoned to a hearing of the House Un-American Activities
Committee. He not only refused to name names but also offered an acting
critique of the previous witness. He was promptly blacklisted and did not
work in films or television for 12 years.
Friends advised him to start an acting class, so he converted his garage
into a small stage. About 30 people showed up for the first session, each
agreeing to pay $10 a month for two classes a week.
He appeared in some California theatrical productions but also worked as a
laborer and used the G.I. bill to earn a degree in speech therapy from the
University of California at Los Angeles.
In addition, he took his family all over the United States on camping trips.
He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Hope; his daughters, Jane, of Elk,
Calif., Eve Corey Polling of Atlanta and Emily, of Los Angeles; and six
Though he never advertised, his school acquired cachet in Hollywood.
Participants included Barbra Streisand, Anthony Perkins, Shirley Knight,
Rita Moreno, Richard Chamberlain and Robin Williams.
Mr. Corey combined many approaches to acting. He did not urge students to
delve deeply into their subconscious but rather to create a deeply imagined
subtext for each character. He said in an interview with The Los Angeles
Times in 1986 that too much concentration on inner feelings could lead to
When Kirk Douglas consulted him about playing Spartacus, Mr. Corey recalled
the conversation in an interview with The Financial Times in 1995:
"He was playing the great leader with a lot of panache, and I said: `You're
a slave from generations of slaves. What do you know about leading? You
should be struggling to find a leader's voice and actions.' And he said,
`By God, you're right.' "
Mr. Nicholson said in an interview with The New York Times Magazine in 1986
that Mr. Corey's greatest help was stimulating his mind.
"You can't change the world, but you can make the world think," Mr.
The blacklist ban had eased by 1960, when he got a small role in an episode
of "The Untouchables" on television. He returned to movies in 1962, getting
a role in the 1963 film "The Yellow Canary" with the help of Pat Boone, one
of his students.
Over the next three decades he performed in many major films, including "In
Cold Blood" and "True Grit." As late as 1997 he appeared on television.
Griffin Fariello in his book "Red Scare: Memories of the American
Inquisition" (Norton, 1995), recalled one of Mr. Corey's frustrations while
blacklisted: his students kept telling him studios were "looking for a Jeff
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