O. Z. Whitehead

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O. Z. Whitehead
Grapes of Wrath, The - (Original Trailer) - 07.png
O.Z. Whitehead as Al Joad in The Grapes of Wrath
Oothout Zabriskie Whitehead

(1911-03-01)March 1, 1911
DiedJuly 29, 1998(1998-07-29) (aged 87)
Dublin, Ireland
Years active1935–1997

Oothout Zabriskie Whitehead (March 1, 1911 – July 29, 1998)[1] was an American stage and film character actor. He was born in New York City and attended Harvard University. Called "O.Z." or "Zebby", he also authored several volumes of biographical sketches of early members of the Baháʼí Faith especially in the West after he moved ("pioneered" as a Baháʼí) to Dublin, Ireland in 1963.

Film, TV and theatre actor[edit]

Whitehead first appeared on Broadway in Martin Beck Theatre performing in The Lake (1933) in 55 performances from December 1933 to February 1934 (which was Katharine Hepburn's first Broadway leading role) and 11 other plays by 1939.[2] Hepburn encouraged his early career.[3]

O. Z. Whitehead was one of the last surviving members of John Ford's "stock company" of character actors. Along with John Carradine, Donald Meek, Ward Bond, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey, Jr. et al., Whitehead was one of the many actors regularly employed by Ford to breathe life into even the smallest roles in his films. His best-known part was that of Al in Ford's 1940 adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath.

Whitehead's film debut was in The Scoundrel (1935) by Ben Hecht, and Charles MacArthur which won a 1936 Oscar for Best Original Story[4] Whitehead most famously played Al Joad (Henry Fonda's younger brother) in John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath (1940) which was nominated for, and won, several Oscars.[5] Whitehead starred as Clarence in a stage production of Life with Father with Lillian Gish[6] among a total of more than 50 films and TV series episodes performances. Whitehead's first TV episode was The Arrow and the Bow in Cavalcade of America in 1953 and continued in other shows like Gunsmoke (1958), Bonanza (1960), and two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1960–61). In 1961 he made a guest appearance on Perry Mason as murderer Harry Beacom in "The Case of the Cowardly Lion." Shortly thereafter Whitehead moved to Ireland and participated in theatre arts there.

In 1966 he won the Best Supporting Actor award at the Dublin Theatre Festival for his performance in Eugene O'Neill's Hughie, a part he was to reprise at the Peacock until 1989. In 1983 he played the role of American Ambassador David Gray in the RTÉ television drama Caught in a Free State, set in neutral Ireland during World War II. His final role was as the narrator/Voice in the Irish horror film Biological Maintenance Department (1997).[1]

Following his move to Ireland he established the "O. Z. Whitehead Award" supporting theatre in 1966,[1] the first year including Dr. Michael McDonnell,[7] for his play All Gods Die on Friday.[8] Other winners have been Ivy Bannister,[9] Aodhan Madden,[10] and Francis Harvey.[11]

Personal life[edit]

As a child he was fascinated by films and the theatre and decided to make his career as an actor after his father took him to see Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in The Kid in 1921.[2] After years in stage, film and television Whitehead struggled in the Hollywood Studio system, a pacifist in World War II[2] and became dissatisfied with the roles he was given, and then first heard of the Baháʼí Faith in 1949.[1] At his first informational meeting on the religion, Whitehead heard well-known researcher Marzieh Gail. Whitehead joined the religion late in 1950,[12] gave public talks on the religion such as at World Religion Day observances and other occasions in the 1950s,[13] went on pilgrimage to its spiritual and administrative center in Haifa in 1955.[1] He also attended the first Baháʼí World Congress in 1963 in London. He then pioneered to Ireland while also taking to the Dublin theatrical opportunities. Whitehead was elected to the Local Spiritual Assembly of Dublin and the National Spiritual Assembly of Ireland on which he served for 15 years following its formation in 1972. From about 1973 through the end of his life Whitehead devoted much of his time to the concerns of the religion including work resulting in publishing three books collecting biographies of early Baháʼís while in his 6th decade but he also supported the Irish Actors' Equity and the Screen Actors' Guild and served on the executive of the Irish branch of PEN, the international writers' club.

Although Zebbie Whitehead never married, he was in a long-term and very private relationship with actress Katharine Hepburn. The couple met through Dick Hepburn, who studied at Harvard University with Zebbie. After they agreed to part, Zebbie was never known to be in another relationship.


Whitehead died of cancer in Dublin in 1998, at the age of 87.

Partial filmography[edit]


  • Whitehead, O.Z. (1976). Some Early Baháʼís of the West. Oaklands, Welwyn, UK: George Ronald Publisher Ltd. ISBN 978-0-85398-065-0.
  • Whitehead, O.Z. (1983). Some Baháʼís to Remember. Oaklands, Welwyn, UK: George Ronald Publisher Ltd. ISBN 978-0-85398-148-0.
  • Whitehead, O.Z. (1996). Portraits of some Baháʼí Women. Oaklands, Welwyn, UK: George Ronald Publisher Ltd. ISBN 978-0-85398-403-0.
  • He also wrote an autobiographical 35 page chapter in O.Z. Whitehead (1994). Honnold, Annamarie (ed.). Why they became Baha'is - First Generation Baha'is By 1963. New Delhi, India: Baha'i Publishing Trust of India. pp. 204–239. ISBN 978-81-85091-72-3.


  1. ^ a b c d e Weinberg, Robert (1998). "Obituary O. Z. Whitehead Actor and writer". Baháʼí Studies Review. Vol. 8. Archived from the original on 2 May 2008.
  2. ^ a b c anonymous. "Theatrical performances of O.Z. Whitehead". Theatre. IMDb. Retrieved 26 April 2008.
  3. ^ Ruane, Medb (31 July 1998). "O.Z. 'Zebby' Whitehead to be buried in Dublin today". Irish Times. Ireland. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  4. ^ anonymous. "The Scoundrel". Movies. IMDb. Retrieved 26 April 2008.
  5. ^ anonymous. "Grapes of Wrath". Movies. IMDb. Retrieved 26 April 2008.
  6. ^ "Oscar Serlin presents Clarence Day's Life with Father" (Press release). Oscar Serlin. 15 February 1940. Retrieved 26 April 2008.
  7. ^ * "University Women plan reception". The Bridgeport Post. Bridgeport, Connecticut. 29 September 1976. p. 34. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  8. ^ "Michael F. McDonnell". Asbury Park Press. Asbury Park, New Jersey. 6 April 2003. p. 21. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  9. ^ Donovan, Katie; Alexander Norman Jeffares; Kennelly, Brendan (1994). Ireland's Women: Writings Past and Present. Norton. p. 509. ISBN 978-0-393-31360-4.
  10. ^ McGarry, Patsy (2 January 2015). "Death of playwright Aodhan Madden Dublin-born author was twice a winner of the Oz Whitehead Award for drama". Irish Times. Ireland. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  11. ^ Warnock, Gabrielle; O'Connell, Jeff W. (2000). Face to Face. Trident Press Ltd. p. 242. ISBN 978-1-900724-46-3.
  12. ^ "You Have Been Chosen The story of Carrie and Edward Kinney". Baháʼí News. No. 512. November 1973. pp. 10–15.
  13. ^ * "World Religion Observance set". Reno Gazette-Journal. Reno, Nevada. 16 January 1953. p. 5. Retrieved 13 April 2016.

External links[edit]