Lee J. Cobb

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Lee J. Cobb
Cobb c. 1960s
Leo Jacoby

(1911-12-08)December 8, 1911
DiedFebruary 11, 1976(1976-02-11) (aged 64)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeMount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery
Alma materNew York University
Years active1934–1976
(m. 1940; div. 1952)
Mary Brako Hirsch
(m. 1957)
Children4, including Julie Cobb
Military career
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army Air Forces
Years of service1942–45
Rank Corporal[1]
UnitFirst Motion Picture Unit
Battles/warsWorld War II
Awards Victory Medal
Campaign Medal

Lee J. Cobb (born Leo Jacoby;[2][3] December 8, 1911 – February 11, 1976) was an American actor, known both for film roles and his work on the Broadway stage, as well as for his television role in the series, The Virginian.[4] He often played arrogant, intimidating and abrasive characters, but he also acted as respectable figures such as judges and police officers. Cobb originated the role of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's 1949 play Death of a Salesman under the direction of Elia Kazan, and was twice nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, for On the Waterfront (1954) and The Brothers Karamazov (1958).

His film performances included Juror #3 in 12 Angry Men (1957), Dock Tobin in Man of the West (1958), Barak Ben Canaan in Exodus (1960), Marshall Lou Ramsey in How the West Was Won (1962), Cramden in Our Man Flint (1966), and Lt. William Kinderman in The Exorcist (1973).

On television, Cobb played a leading role in the first four seasons of the Western series, The Virginian as Judge Henry Garth and the ABC legal drama The Young Lawyers as David Barrett, and was nominated for an Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor Primetime Emmy Award three times. In 1981, Cobb was posthumously inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.

Early life and education[edit]

Cobb was born in New York City, to a Jewish family of Russian and Romanian origin.[5] He grew up in The Bronx, New York, on Wilkins Avenue, near Crotona Park. His parents were Benjamin (Benzion) Jacob, a compositor for a foreign-language[which?] newspaper, and Kate (Neilecht).[6]

Interested in acting from a young age, Cobb ran away from home at 16 to try to make it in Hollywood. He joined Borrah Minevitch's Harmonica Rascals as a musician and had a bit part in a short film featuring the group, but failed to find steady work and eventually moved back to New York.

Cobb studied accounting at New York University while working as a radio salesman. Still interested in show business, he went back to California and studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse. He finally made his film debut at 23 in two episodes of the film serial The Vanishing Shadow (1934). He joined the Manhattan-based Group Theatre in 1935.[7]



Cobb performed summer stock with the Group Theatre in 1936, when it summered at Pine Brook Country Club in Nichols, Connecticut.[8] He made his Broadway debut as a saloonkeeper in a dramatization of Crime and Punishment that closed after 15 nights. He starred opposite Elia Kazan in Group Theatre's productions of Clifford Odets' Waiting for Lefty and Golden Boy. He also acted in Ernest Hemingway's only ever full-length play, The Fifth Column, and Odets' Clash by Night.

Cobb gained widespread recognition for his portrayal of Willy Loman in the original production of Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman under the direction of Elia Kazan. Miller praised Cobb as "the greatest dramatic actor I ever saw"[9] and, upon his casting, changed a line referring to the physical appearance of the title character, whom the author had originally conceived of as a small man, from "shrimp" to "walrus".[10] Cobb played through the play's entire initial run at the Morosco Theatre between February 1949 and November 1950. The play won the Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Miller later offered Cobb the part of Eddie Carbone in A View from the Bridge, but Cobb turned it down.

During World War II, Cobb joined the US Army Air Forces in the hopes of becoming a pilot. Instead, he was assigned to a radio unit. He was later transferred to the First Motion Picture Unit,[11] where he appeared in Moss Hart Army Emergency Relief fundraiser productions like This is the Army and Winged Victory.

In 1968, his performance as King Lear with Stacy Keach as Edmund, René Auberjonois as the Fool, and Philip Bosco as Kent achieved the longest run (72 performances) for the play in Broadway history.[12]


Cobb as Johnny Friendly in On the Waterfront (1954)
Cobb as Johnny Friendly with Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront (1954)

Cobb entered films in the 1930s, successfully playing middle-aged and even older characters while he was still a youth. His first credited role was in the 1937 Hopalong Cassidy oater Rustlers' Valley, where he was billed using the stage name 'Lee Colt.' In all subsequent films, he used Lee Cobb and later Lee J. Cobb.

He starred in the 1939 film adaptation of Golden Boy, albeit in a different role.

He was cast as the Kralahome in the 1946 film Anna and the King of Siam, upon which the musical play The King and I was later partially based. He also played the sympathetic doctor in The Song of Bernadette and appeared as Derek Flint's (James Coburn) supervisor in the James Bond spy spoofs Our Man Flint and In Like Flint.

In August 1955, while filming The Houston Story, Cobb suffered a heart attack and was replaced by Gene Barry.[13] Later that year, he picked up a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of corrupt union boss Johnny Friendly in Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront. He was nominated a second time for playing Fyodor in Richard Brooks' movie adaptation of The Brothers Karamazov.

In 1957, he appeared in Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men as the abrasive Juror #3. The role earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor, one of two in the same category. He was nominated again for the Frank Sinatra comedy Come Blow Your Horn (1963).

One of his final film roles was that of Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police homicide detective Lt. Kinderman in the 1973 horror film The Exorcist, about a demonic possession of a teen-age girl (Linda Blair) in Georgetown, D. C. In the same decade, Cobb travelled to Europe to work in Italian films, primarily poliziotteschi (crime thrillers). His final films, Cross Shot and Nick the Sting, were both released posthumously, nearly two months after Cobb died.


With William Holden in Golden Boy (1939)

In 1959, on CBS' DuPont Show of the Month, he starred in the dual roles of Miguel de Cervantes and Don Quixote in the play I, Don Quixote, which years later became the musical Man of La Mancha. Cobb also appeared as the Medicine Bow, Wyoming owner of the Shiloh Ranch, Judge Henry Garth in the first four seasons (1962–1966), of the long-running NBC Western television series The Virginian (1962–1971).

He reprised his role of Willy Loman in the 1966 CBS television adaptation of the famous play Death of a Salesman, which included Gene Wilder, James Farentino, Bernie Kopell, and George Segal. Cobb was nominated for an Emmy Award for the performance. Mildred Dunnock, who had co-starred in both the original stage version and the 1951 film version, again repeated her role as Linda, Willy's devoted wife.

One of his last television roles was as a stalwart overworked elderly physician still making house calls in urban Baltimore, in Doctor Max, a TV pilot for a potential series that never materialized. His final aired television role was Origins of the Mafia, a miniseries about the history of the Sicilian Mafia, filmed on-location in Italy. He subsequently appeared alongside British actor Kenneth Griffith in an ABC television documentary on the American Revolution called Suddenly an Eagle, which was broadcast six months after his death.

Political activity[edit]

Cobb was accused of being a Communist in 1951 testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) of the U.S. House of Representatives of the Congress by Larry Parks, himself an admitted former Communist Party member. Cobb was called to testify before HUAC but refused to do so for two years until his career was threatened by the blacklist. He relented in 1953 and gave testimony, naming 20 people as former members of the Communist Party USA.[14]

Later, Cobb explained why he "named names", saying:

When 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 1980 book Naming Names
Cobb in the trailer for How the West Was Won (1962)

Following the hearing, he resumed his career and worked with Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg, two other HUAC "friendly witnesses", on the 1954 film On the Waterfront.

Personal life[edit]

Cobb married Yiddish theatre and film actress Helen Beverley in 1940.[7] They had two children, actress Julie Cobb, and son Vincent Cobb, before divorcing in 1952. Cobb's second marriage was to school teacher Mary Hirsch, with whom he also had two children.[7] Cobb supported Progressive Party candidate Henry A. Wallace in the 1948 United States presidential election.[15]


Cobb died of a heart attack on February 11, 1976 in Woodland Hills, California at age 64, and was buried in Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.[16]

He was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981.[17]



Year Title Role Director(s) Notes
1937 North of the Rio Grande Goodwin Nate Watt
Rustlers' Valley Cal Howard Credited as Lee Colt
1938 Danger on the Air Tony Lisotti Otis Garrett
1939 Golden Boy Mr. Bonaparte Rouben Mamoulian
1940 This Thing Called Love Julio Diestro Alexander Hall
1941 Men of Boys Town Dave Morris Norman Taurog
Paris Calling Captain Schwabe Edwin L. Marin
1943 The Moon Is Down Dr. Albert Winter Irving Pichel
Tonight We Raid Calais M. Bonnard John Brahm
Buckskin Frontier Jeptha Marr Lesley Selander
The Song of Bernadette Dr. Dozous Henry King
1944 Winged Victory Dr. Baker George Cukor
1946 Anna and the King of Siam Kralahome John Cromwell
1947 Johnny O'Clock Inspector Koch Robert Rossen
Boomerang! Chief Harold F. Robinson Elia Kazan
Captain from Castile Juan Garcia Henry King
1948 Call Northside 777 Brian Kelly Henry Hathaway
The Miracle of the Bells Marcus Harris Irving Pichel
The Luck of the Irish David C. Augur Henry Koster
The Dark Past Dr. Andrew Collins Rudolph Maté
1949 Thieves' Highway Mike Figlia Jules Dassin
1950 The Man Who Cheated Himself Lt. Edward Cullen Felix E. Feist
1951 Sirocco Col. Feroud Curtis Bernhardt
The Family Secret Howard Clark Henry Levin
1952 The Fighter Durango Hebert Kline
1953 The Tall Texan Capt. Theodore Bess Elmo Williams
1954 Yankee Pasha Sultan Joseph Pevney
Day of Triumph Zadok John T. Coyle and Irving Pichel
Gorilla at Large Detective Sgt. Garrison Harmon Jones
On the Waterfront Johnny Friendly Elia Kazan Nominated–Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1955 The Racers Maglio Henry Hathaway
The Road to Denver Jim Donovan Joseph Kane
The Left Hand of God General Mieh Yang Edward Dmytryk
1956 The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit Judge Bernstein Nunnally Johnson
Miami Exposé Lt. Bart Scott Fred F. Sears
1957 12 Angry Men Juror #3 Sidney Lumet Nominated–Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
The Garment Jungle Walter Mitchell Vincent Sherman
The Three Faces of Eve Dr. Curtis Luther Nunnally Johnson
1958 The Brothers Karamazov Fyodor Karamazov Richard Brooks Nominated–Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Man of the West Dock Tobin Anthony Mann
Party Girl Rico Angelo Nicholas Ray
1959 The Trap Victor Massonetti Norman Panama
Green Mansions Nuflo Mel Ferrer
But Not for Me Jeremiah MacDonald Walter Lang
1960 Exodus Barak Ben Canaan Otto Preminger
1962 Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Julio Madariaga Vincente Minnelli
How the West Was Won Marshall Lou Ramsey John Ford, Henry Hathaway, and George Marshall
1963 Come Blow Your Horn Harry R. Baker Bud Yorkin Nominated–Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
1966 Our Man Flint Lloyd C. Cramden Daniel Mann
1967 In Like Flint Gordon Douglas
1968 The Day of the Owl Don Mariano Arena Damiano Damiani
Coogan's Bluff Lt. McElroy Don Siegel
They Came to Rob Las Vegas Steve Skorsky Antonio Isasi-Isasmendi
1969 Mackenna's Gold The Editor J. Lee Thompson
1970 The Liberation of L.B. Jones Oman Hedgepath William Wyler
Macho Callahan Duffy Bernard L. Kowalski
1971 Lawman Vincent Bronson Michael Winner
1973 The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing Harvey Lapchance Richard C. Sarafian
The Great Kidnapping Iovine Roberto Infascelli
The Exorcist Lt. William Kinderman William Friedkin
1974 The Balloon Vendor Venti Anni Mario Gariazzo
1975 Mark of the Cop Commander Benzi Stelvio Massi
That Lucky Touch Lt. Gen. Henry Steedman Christopher Miles
Mark Shoots First Commander Benzi Stelvio Massi
1976 Cross Shot Dante Ragusa Released posthumously
Nick the Sting Robert Clark Fernando Di Leo


Year Title Role Notes
1951 Somerset Maugham TV Theatre Charles Strickland Episode: "The Moon and Sixpence"
Tales of Tomorrow Wayne Crowder Episode: "Test Flight"
Lights Out David Stevenson Episode: "The Veil"
1954 Ford Theatre Matt Erwin Episode: "Night Visitor"
1955 Lux Video Theatre Émile Zola Episode: "The Life of Emile Zola"
Medic Henry Fisher Episode: "Break Through the Bars"
Producers' Showcase Rubashev Episode: "Darkness at Noon"
1956 The Alcoa Hour Zocco Episode: "A Patch of Faith"
1956-58 Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre Capt. Andrew Watling / Frank MacKinnon Episode: "Death Watch" & "Legacy of a Legend"
1957 Studio One Dr. Joseph Pearson Episodes: "No Deadly Medicine: Parts 1 & 2"
1957-59 Playhouse 90 Al Bengsten / Dr. Lawrence Doner Episodes: "Panic Button" & "Project Immortality"
1959 Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse El Jefe Episode: "Trial at Devil's Canyon"
1959-60 DuPont Show of the Month Miguel de Cervantes / Dr. Hochberg Episodes: "I, Don Quixote" & "Men in White"
1960-62 General Electric Theater Dominic Roma / Grayson Foxhall Episodes: "The Committeeman" & "The Unstoppable Gray Fox"
1961 DuPont Show with June Allyson Capt. Maximillian Gault Episode: "The School of the Soldier"
Naked City Paul Delito Episode: "Take Off Your Hat When a Funeral Passes"
Vincent Van Gogh: A Self-Portrait Vincent van Gogh Television film
1962-66 The Virginian Judge Henry Garth Main cast; Season 1-4
1963 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre Ernie Wigman Episode: "It's Mental Work"
1966 Death of a Salesman Willy Loman Television film
1970-71 The Young Lawyers David Barrett Main cast
1972 Heat of Anger Frank Galvin Television film
Double Indemnity Barton Keyes
McCloud Alexander Montello Episode: "Showdown at the End of the World"
1974 Trapped Beneath the Sea Victor Bateman Television film
The Great Ice Rip-Off Willy Calso
Gunsmoke Col. Josiah Johnson Episode: "The Colonel"
1976 Origins of the Mafia Bartolomeo Gramignano Miniseries; 1 episode

Stage roles[edit]

Run Title Role Director Original venue Notes
01/22/35 - 02/06/35 Crime and Punishment Koch the Saloonkeeper Victor Wolfson Biltmore Theatre
03/26/35 - 07/13/35 Till the Day I Die Detective Popper Cheryl Crawford Longacre Theatre
Waiting for Lefty Voice Sanford Meisner
11/19/35 - 12/07/35 The Mother Smilgin / Vasil Yefimovich / Policeman / Worker Victor Wolfson Civic Repertory Theater
03/30/36 - 05/03/36 Bitter Stream Don Circonstantza Jacob Ben-Ami
11/19/36 - 01/16/37 Johnny Johnson Dr. McBray / Brother George / French Major-General Lee Strasberg 44th Street Theatre
11/04/37 - 06/04/38 Golden Boy Mr. Carp Harold Clurman Belasco Theatre
01/05/39 - 05/06/39 The Gentle People: A Brooklyn Fable Lammanawitz
11/14/39 - 12/02/39 Thunder Rock Dr. Stefan Kurtz Elia Kazan Mansfield Theatre
03/06/40 - 05/18/40 The Fifth Column Max Lee Strasberg Alvin Theatre
12/27/41 - 02/07/42 Clash by Night Jerry Wilenski Belasco Theatre
03/09/42 - 05/09/42 Jason Jason Otis Samson Raphaelson Hudson Theatre Replacement
11/20/43 - 05/20/44 Winged Victory Dr. Baker Moss Hart 44th Street Theatre & US tour Produced by the U.S. Army Air Forces
02/10/49 - 11/18/50 Death of a Salesman Willy Loman Elia Kazan Morosco Theatre
03/12/52 - 04/06/52 Golden Boy Mr. Bontaparte Clifford Odets ANTA Playhouse
02/09/53 - 02/21/53 The Emperor's Clothes Elek Odry Harold Clurman Ethel Barrymore Theatre
11/07/68 - 02/12/69 King Lear Lear Gerald Freedman Vivian Beaumont Theater

Radio appearances[edit]

Year Program Episode/source
1945 Suspense "The Bet"[18]
1946 Hollywood Star Time The Song of Bernadette[19]


Year Award Category Nominated work Result Ref.
1954 Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor On the Waterfront Nominated [20]
1958 The Brothers Karamazov Nominated [21]
1957 Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture 12 Angry Men Nominated [22]
1963 Come Blow Your Horn Nominated
1967 Grammy Awards Best Spoken Word, Documentary or Drama Recording Death of a Salesman Nominated [23]
1954 Laurel Awards Top Male Character Performance On the Waterfront Won
1958 Top Male Dramatic Performance The Brothers Karamazov Nominated
1960 Top Male Supporting Performance Exodus 4th Place
1963 Come Blow Your Horn Nominated
1958 Primetime Emmy Awards Actor – Best Single Performance – Lead or Support Studio One (Episode: "No Deadly Medicine") Nominated [24]
1960 Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor (Lead or Support) Playhouse 90 (Episode: "Project Immortality") Nominated
1967 Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Drama Death of a Salesman Nominated
1966 Western Heritage Awards Fictional Television Drama The Virginian (Episode: "The Horse Fighter") Won [25]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Cobb, Lee J., CPL | TWS".
  2. ^ Cinema - Part 1, Issues 205-210 - Page 158
  3. ^ Clarke, Joseph F. (1977). Pseudonyms. Thomas Nelson. p. 39. ISBN 978-0840765673.
  4. ^ McQuiston, John T. (February 12, 1976). "Lee J. Cobb, the Actor, Is Dead at 64". The New York Times. Retrieved October 1, 2019.
  5. ^ Scott, Vernon (January 4, 1976). "Bicentennial a 'very special event" for actor Lee J. Cobb". The Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved March 24, 2009.
  6. ^ United States Census for 1920, Bronx (New York) Assembly District 4, District 254, Page 16
  7. ^ a b c "Lee J. Cobb Biography". Biography.com. Archived from the original on May 21, 2010. Retrieved June 11, 2018.
  8. ^ "About". Pinewood Lake Association. Archived from the original on July 27, 2011. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
  9. ^ McQuiston, John T. (February 12, 1976). "Lee J. Cobb, the Actor, Is Dead at 64". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 4, 2021.
  10. ^ Gussow, Mel (March 18, 1984). "DUSTIN HOFFMAN'S 'SALESMAN'". The New York Times. New York City. Retrieved February 5, 2018.
  11. ^ Betancourt, Mark (March 2012). "World War II: The Movie". Air & Space Magazine. Retrieved October 1, 2019.
  12. ^ "King Lear". IBDB. Retrieved November 8, 2012.
  13. ^ Dixon, Wheeler W. (2005). Lost in the Fifties: Recovering Phantom Hollywood. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ Press. p. 54. ISBN 978-0809326532. Retrieved October 1, 2019.
  14. ^ Navasky, Victor (2003). Naming Names (Reprint ed.). Hill & Wang. pp. 268–273. ISBN 978-0809001835.
  15. ^ Investigation of Communist Activities in the Los Angeles Area; United States. Congress. House. Committee on Un-American Activities, 1953
  16. ^ "Biography for Lee J. Cobb". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  17. ^ "26 Elected to the Theater Hall of Fame". The New York Times. March 3, 1981. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
  18. ^ "Suspense: The Bet". Escape and Suspense!. October 15, 2012.
  19. ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 41 (2): 32–41. Spring 2015.
  20. ^ "The 27th Academy Awards (1955) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved August 20, 2011.
  21. ^ "The 31st Academy Awards (1959) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved August 21, 2011.
  22. ^ "Lee J. Cobb – Golden Globes". Golden Globe Awards. Retrieved July 12, 2023.
  23. ^ "Lee J. Cobb". Grammy Awards. Retrieved July 12, 2023.
  24. ^ "Lee J. Cobb". Emmys.com. Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved July 12, 2023.
  25. ^ "The Horse Fighter". National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Retrieved July 12, 2023.
  26. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  27. ^ "Theater Hall of Fame Members". American Theater Hall of Fame. Retrieved July 12, 2023.

External links[edit]