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Jiří Voskovec (left) in the film Pohádka máje, 1926
19 June 1905
Sázava (Benešov District), Bohemia
|Died||July 1, 1981
Pearblossom, California, U.S.
|Other names||George Voskovec|
|Spouse(s)||Christine McKeown (1961-1981) (his death)
Anne Gerlette (1945-1958) (her death) 2 Children
Madelaine Main (?-1945) (divorced)
Jiří Voskovec (Czech pronunciation: [ˈjɪr̝iː ˈvoskovɛts] ( listen)) (June 19, 1905 in Sázava (Benešov District), Bohemia as Jiří Wachsmann – July 1, 1981 in Pearblossom, California, U.S. as George Voskovec) was a Czech-American actor, playwright, dramatist, director, translator, and poet. Throughout most of his career he was associated with Jan Werich.
In 1927, together with Werich, he joined the Osvobozené divadlo (Liberated Theater), which had been created two years earlier by members of the avant-garde Devětsil group, Jiří Frejka and Jindřich Honzl. After disagreements led Frejka to leave the group in 1927, Honzl asked Voskovec and Werich, 22-year-old law students who had created a sensation with their Vest Pocket Revue that year, to join the theatre. When Honzl, who had directed their productions, left in 1929, Voskovec and Werich took control of the theatre and changed its name to the Liberated Theatre of Voskovec and Werich, assuming all responsibility for direction, writing, librettos, and other artistic decisions. The Liberated became a center for Czech clownery, a reaction to contemporary political and societal problems. Their performances began with the primary goal of evoking laughter through fantasy, but with the changing political situation in Germany their work became increasingly anti-fascist, which led to the closure of the Liberated Theater after the Munich agreement in 1938.
Both Voskovec and Werich fled to the United States in early 1939. For the rest of his life, Voskovec lived primarily in the United States, interrupted only by brief stays in Czechoslovakia in 1948 and in France from 1948 to 1950. Until the mid-1940s, Voskovec worked and wrote mostly with Jan Werich, but after Werich's return to Communist Czechoslovakia, they met only a few more times. After his return to the United States in 1950, Voskovec was unjustly interned at Ellis Island for eleven months for his alleged sympathy for Communism.
Although Voskovec lived in three countries and his maternal grandmother was French, he always maintained that "I am a born and bred Czech." In 1955, he became an American citizen. As a result of his naturalization, he is sometimes referred to as "George Voskovec".
Voskovec acted in 72 movies. Only the first five of these were Czech; the rest were American or British. His most famous American movie was as the 11th juror in 12 Angry Men with Henry Fonda - where being a very recognisable European immigrant to the US was central to his role. His most famous British film was The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. His last movie was Barbarosa, with Willie Nelson and Gary Busey. In 1975, he published the Czech spoken LP record "Relativně vzato", where he reflects on his life and world in general. A sleeve note for this LP was written by another notable Czech émigré, author Josef Škvorecký. Voskovec also appeared in the 1978 television film The Nativity and the 1980 film Somewhere in Time, starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour.
George Voskovec died in 1981 of a heart attack in Pearblossom, California at the age of 76. He is survived by two daughters, Victoria and Georgeanne.
- Jiří Voskovec at the Internet Movie Database
- Voskovec and Werich on Radio Praha
- Between Art and Life: Voskovec and Werich and The Affair of 1934 – by Holly Raynard, University of California, Los Angeles
- Czech music in exile: Jaroslav Jezek – History of collaborative work of with Jaroslav Jezek
- Commemorative coins in honor of Jan Werich and Jiri Voskovec
- Jiří Voskovec at Find a Grave