Jack Gilford

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Jack Gilford
Jack Gilford.jpg
Jack Gilford in 1986
Born (1907-07-25)July 25, 1907
New York, New York
Died June 4, 1990(1990-06-04) (aged 82)
New York, New York
Cause of death
Stomach cancer
Residence Greenwich Village, New York City, New York, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation Actor, Comedian
Years active 1944-1988
Religion Jewish
Spouse(s) Madeline Lee Gilford[1]
(1949-1990; his death); 3 children

Jack Gilford (July 25, 1907 – June 4, 1990[2]) was an American Broadway, film and television actor.

Early life[edit]

Gilford was born Jacob Aaron Gellman on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and grew up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. His parents were Romanian-born Jewish immigrants Sophie "Susksa" (née Jackness), who owned a restaurant, and Aaron Gellman, a furrier.[3][4] Gilford was the second of three sons, with an older brother Murray ("Moisha") and a younger brother Nathaniel ("Natie").

Gilford was discovered working in a pharmacy by his mentor Milton Berle. While working in amateur theater, he competed with other talented youngsters, including a young Jackie Gleason. He started doing imitations and impersonations. His first appearance on film was a short entitled Midnight Melodies where he did his imitations of George Jessel, Rudy Vallee and Harry Langdon. He developed some unique impressions that became his trademarks — most notably, one of "split pea soup coming to a furious boil" using only his face. Other unusual impressions he created were a fluorescent light going on in a dark room, John D. Rockefeller Sr. imitating Jimmy Durante, and impressions of animals.[citation needed]

Career[edit]

In 1938, Gilford worked as the master of ceremonies in the first downtown New York integrated nightclub, "Cafe Society" owned and operated by Barney Josephson. He was a unique blend of the earlier style of the Yiddish theater, vaudeville and burlesque, and started the tradition of monology such as later comedians Lenny Bruce and Woody Allen used. He won numerous industry awards.

He was nominated for several Tony Awards for best supporting actor as Hysterium in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1963), and for his role as Herr Schultz in Cabaret (1966). He was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor in (1973) for his role as Phil Green in Save the Tiger (his co-star Jack Lemmon won for Best Actor). Sir Rudolf Bing engaged Gilford for the comic speaking role of the tippling jailer Frosch in the operetta Die Fledermaus. Loved in the part, Gilford performed it 77 times between 1950 and 1964[5]

One of Gilford's specialties was pantomime, and this talent was put to good use by director George Abbott when he cast Gilford as the silent King Sextimus in Once upon a Mattress (Off-Broadway, 1959). Gilford shared the stage with a young Carol Burnett in this production, and reprised his performance with her in two separate televised versions of the show, in 1964 and in 1972.[citation needed]

Gilford's career was derailed for a time during the 1950s and McCarthyism. He was an activist who campaigned for social change, integration and labor unions. He was quite active both socially and politically in left wing causes, as was his wife, Madeline Lee.[1] The couple were implicated [clarification needed] for their alleged Communist sympathies by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Gilford and Madeline were specifically named by choreographer Jerome Robbins in his testimony to the HUAC.[1][6]

Gilford and his wife were called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1953. The couple had difficulty finding work during much of the rest of the 1950s due to the Hollywood blacklist. The couple often had to borrow money from friends to make ends meet. He found work towards the end of the 1950s and during the early 1960s with the end of the McCarthy era. He made his comeback as Hysterium in the 1962 Broadway musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. He co-starred in the play with his close friend, Zero Mostel, who was also blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Ironically, this particular production was also choreographed by Jerome Robbins, who had previously testified before HUAC in 1953.[6]

Gilford became successful mostly through roles on the Broadway stage, such as Drink To Me Only, Romanoff and Juliet, and The Diary of Anne Frank. He later enjoyed success in film and television, as well as a series of nationwide television commercials for Cracker Jack.[6]

Personal life[edit]

Gilford met actress (and later producer) Madeline Lee at progressive political meetings and events during the late 1940s. Gilford entertained at many of these events, some of them produced by Lee.[1] Madeline was married at the time and divorced her first husband soon after meeting Jack.[6] They were married in 1949,[1] remaining together for 40 years until Jack Gilford's death in 1990. The couple raised three children: Lisa Gilford, a producer (from Madeline's previous marriage); Joe Gilford, a screenwriter/playwright/stage director; and Sam Max Gilford, an artist/archivist.

Death[edit]

Following a year-long battle with stomach cancer, he died in his Greenwich Village home in 1990, aged 82. His wife, Madeline Lee Gilford, died on April 15, 2008, from undisclosed causes.[1]

Biographical play, Finks[edit]

In July 2008, Josh Radnor and Jennifer Westfeldt starred in the premiere of the play Finks, based on Jack and Madeline's experiences with HUAC and the Hollywood blacklist, written by Joe Gilford (their son), and directed by Charlie Stratton for stage and film.[7] The play was produced Off-Broadway at New York's Ensemble Studio Theatre in April 2013.

The New York Times called it a "bracing play" that "quickly leaves you not caring that you’ve visited the territory before."[8] Finks was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play, with Miriam Silverman[who?] nominated for Best Actress.[9]

Broadway stage appearances[edit]

Filmography[edit]

Year Film Role Notes
1944 Hey, Rookie Specialty
1944 Reckless Age Joey Bagle
1959 TV: The World of Sholem Aliechem Bontshe Shveig
1963 TV: Cowboy and the Tiger Tiger
1964 TV: Once Upon a Mattress King Sextimus
1966 The Daydreamer Papa Andersen
1966 Mister Buddwing Mr. Schwartz
1966 A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum Hysterium
1967 Enter Laughing Mr. Foreman
1967 Who's Minding the Mint? Avery Dugan
1967 The Incident Sam Beckerman
1969 TV: Arsenic and Old Lace Dr. Jonas Salk
1970 Catch-22 "Doc" Daneeka
1971 They Might Be Giants Wilbur Peabody
1972 TV: Of Thee I Sing Vice President Throttlebottom
1972 TV: Once Upon a Mattress King Sextimus
1973 Save the Tiger Phil Greene
1976 Tubby the Tuba voice: The Herald
1976 Short: Max Max
1976 Harry and Walter Go to New York Mischa
1976 TV: All in the Family Bernard Bernstein
1977 The Doonesbury Special voice
1980 Cheaper to Keep Her Stanley Bracken
1980 Wholly Moses! Tailor
1981 TV: Goldie and the Boxer Go to Hollywood Wally
1981 Caveman Gog
1983 Anna to the Infinite Power Dr. Henry Jelliff
1983 TV: Happy Bernie Nelson
1985 Cocoon Bernard "Bernie" Lefkowitz
1985 TV: Hostage Flight Mr. Singer
1985 TV: Night Court - An Old Flame Marty Ratner
1986 TV: Young Again The Angel
1988 Arthur 2: On the Rocks Mr. Butterworth
1988 Cocoon: The Return Bernard "Bernie" Lefkowitz
1988 TV: The Golden Girls Max Weinstock

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f "Actress Madeline Lee Gilford dies, Veteran thesp became a Broadway producer". Variety Magazine. 2008-04-15. Retrieved 2008-04-28. 
  2. ^ Shepard, Richard. F. "Jack Gilford Is Given a Memorial With 28 Acts and Fond Ribbing", The New York Times, June 22, 1990
  3. ^ "Biography of Jack Gilford", The New York Times
  4. ^ Jack Gilford Biography (1907-1990)
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ a b c d Miller, Stephen (2008-04-18). "Madeline Lee Gilford, 84, Actress and Activist". New York Sun. Retrieved 2008-04-28. 
  7. ^ "Finks, a sweeping tale of love and friendship, trials and tragedy (July 23-August 3) at Vassar College". Retrieved June 23, 2013. 
  8. ^ Genzlinger, Neil. "A Choice to Name Names, or Else". The New York Times (April 8, 2013). Retrieved June 23, 2013. 
  9. ^ "2013 Winners - Drama Desk Awards". 2013 Drama Desk Nominees. 58th Annual Drama Desk Awards. Retrieved 17 August 2013. 

External links[edit]