Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

Lee J. Cobb

Lee J Cobb_movie banner Lee J. Cobb (December 8, 1911 – February 11, 1976) was an American actor. He is best known for his Academy Award-nominated performance in On the Waterfront (1954), as an irate juror in 12 Angry Men (1957), and one of his last films, The Exorcist (1973). He also played the role of Willy Loman in the original Broadway performance of Arhtur Miller’s 1949 play Death of a Salesman under the direction of Elia Kazan.

The Exorcist_Kinderman_KarrasBorn Leo Jacob in New York City, he grew up in The Bronx on Wilkins Avenue, near Crotona Park. His parents were Benjamin (Benzion) Jacob, a compositor for a foreign-language newspaper, and Kate Neilecht. Cobb studied at New York University before making his film debut in The Vanishing Shadow (1934). In 1939 he featured in the serial The Phantom Creeps with Béla Lugosi. During World War II Cobb served in the First Motion Picture Unit of the Army Air Force.

The Exorcist_promo still_Lee J Cobb_Jason Miller_1Cobb entered films in the 1930’s, successfully playing middle-aged and even older men while he was still a youth. He appeared as James Coburn’s supervisor in the spy spoofs In Like Flint and Our Man Flint, he reprised his role of Willy Loman in the 1966 CBS television adaptation of Death of a Salesman, Cobb was nominated for an Emmy Award for the performance. 

Cobb was accused of being a possible Communist in testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee because of his involvement in left-wing political causes and his support of political and charitable organizations alleged to be Communist fronts. He was called to testify before HUAC but refused to do so for two years until, with his career threatened by the blacklist, he relented in 1953 and gave testimony in which he named 20 people as former members of the Communist Party USA. Later, Cobb explained why he “named names” saying:

The Exorcist_promo still_Lee J Cobb_Jason Miller_2When the facilities of the government of the United States are drawn on an individual it can be terrifying. The blacklist is just the opening gambit—being deprived of work. Your passport is confiscated. That’s minor. But not being able to move without being tailed is something else. After a certain point it grows to implied as well as articulated threats, and people succumb. My wife did, and she was institutionalized. The HUAC did a deal with me. I was pretty much worn down. I had no money. I couldn’t borrow. I had the expenses of taking care of the children. Why am I subjecting my loved ones to this? If it’s worth dying for, and I am just as idealistic as the next fellow. But I decided it wasn’t worth dying for, and if this gesture was the way of getting out of the penitentiary I’d do it. I had to be employable again. – Interview with Victor Navasky for the 1982 book Naming Names.

The Exorcist_promo still_Lee J Cobb_1Following the hearing he resumed his career and worked with Elia Kazan and Budd Shulberg, two other HUAC “friendly witnesses”, on the 1954 film On the Waterfront, which is widely seen as an allegory and apologia for testifying.

In 1957 he appeared in Sidney Lumet’s classic 12 Angry Men as the abrasive Juror #3. He featured in noir thriller The Trap (195), Exodus (1960), How the West Was Won (1962), and the Clint Eastwood classic Coogan’s Bluff (1968). In 1968 his performance as King Lear achieved the longest run (72 performances) for the play in Broadway history.

The Exorcist_large posterOne of his final film roles was that of police detective Lt. Kinderman in the 1973 horror film The Exorcist. Lieutenant Kinderman (Cobb), is a close friend of Father Karras (Jason Miller), he is investigating the death of film director Burke Dennings (Jack MacGowan), who after visiting the MacNeil home, died violently, and was found at the bottom of steps that run the full length of the house. Dennings broke his neck upon landing and in a classic scene from the movie, Kinderman  confides in Karras that Dennings’ head was found fully twisted around his shoulders. In the Alternate Ending on the 2000 Extended Director’s Cut, just as Father Dyer (Father William O’Malley) says his goodbyes to Chris and Regan, Kinderman approaches him to also bid farewell, only to learn from Dyer that he just missed them. He invites Dyer to a movie (and then lunch, when Dyer said he had already seen the movie), and the two depart from the house.

Cobb died of a heart attack in February 1976 in Woodland Hills, California, and was buried in Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. He was inducted, posthumously, into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s