Phoebe Brand

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Phoebe Brand
Born(1907-11-27)November 27, 1907
DiedJuly 3, 2004(2004-07-03) (aged 96)
New York City, U.S.
SpouseMorris Carnovsky (1941-1992; his death)

Phoebe Brand (November 27, 1907 – July 3, 2004) was an American actress.


Phoebe Brand (front row, center) and Morris Carnovsky (right) with other members of the Group Theatre in 1938

Brand was born in Syracuse, New York in 1907 and raised in Ilion, Herkimer County, New York. Her father worked for Remington Typewriter Company as a mechanical engineer.[1]

She moved to New York City and became an actress, appearing first in several revivals of Gilbert and Sullivan musicals beginning at age 18,[1] and appeared in Winthrop Ames Gilbert and Sullivan Company's production of The Mikado in Columbus, Ohio in 1928.

In New York in 1931, Brand was one of the founders of the Group Theatre, described by The New York Times as "a radical company that dealt with social issues confronting the United States during the Depression."[1] Her roles included Hennie Berger in Clifford Odets's Awake and Sing! in 1935[2] and the role of Anna in his Golden Boy in 1937.[3]

She created the role of Minny Belle in Kurt Weill's Johnny Johnson in 1936.[4] She summered at Pine Brook Country Club in Nichols, Connecticut, with the Group Theatre in 1936.[5][6]

She married Morris Carnovsky, an actor and fellow member of the Group Theatre, moved to Hollywood in 1940. They married in 1941. They had one child, Stephen Carnovsky, and she raised a niece as well.[1] She continued to use her maiden name professionally.[7][8]

In 1952, during the McCarthy era's campaign against Communist influence in the entertainment industry, director Elia Kazan identified the couple as Communists when he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee.[9][a]

They were consequently blacklisted and generally unable to work in film and on stage. In 1953, they both appeared off-Broadway in The World of Sholem Aleichem[12] as part of a cast of blacklisted actors that was assembled to demonstrate that the New York theater audience would not make them outcasts.[13] It ran for two years.[14] Decades later she recalled this period of her life as a "killingly frightening" time.[13]

Instead she became an acting teacher and taught acting in New York until she died. Her husband returned to work on the stage in the late 1950s, and in the early 1960s she co-founded an acting troupe that presented classic plays in both English and Spanish in New York's poor neighborhoods, Theater in the Street.[15] She served as the group's artistic director.[16]

In 1969, her husband starred and she played a small role in Tyrone Guthrie's production of Lamp at Midnight on a U.S. tour.[17]

In 1994, she appeared in Louis Malle's Vanya on 42nd Street, a film that documents a collaborative effort to stage Chekhov's play Uncle Vanya.[18]


She died from pneumonia in New York City on July 3, 2004, at the age of 96.[1]


  1. ^ They had been identified as Communists before the same committee the previous year by Leo Townsend, a screenwriter.[10] Lee J. Cobb testified in 1953 that Brand and Carnovsky had recruited him into the Communist Party in 1940 or 1941.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d e Miller, Lia (July 12, 2004). "Phoebe Brand, 96, Actress and Group Theater Co-Founder". New York Times. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  2. ^ Atkinson, Brooks (February 20, 1935). "Two New Dramas Open" (PDF). New York Times. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  3. ^ Atkinson, Brooks (November 5, 1937). "Clifford Odets and the Group Theatre Resume Activities" (PDF). New York Times. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  4. ^ Hirsch, Foster (2002). Kurt Weill on Stage: From Berlin to Broadway. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 139–143. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  5. ^ Clurman, Harold (1957). The Fervent Years: the Story of the Group Theatre and the Thirties. New York: Hill and Wang. p. 172.
  6. ^ Images of America, Trumbull Historical Society, 1997, p. 123
  7. ^ Freedman, Samuel G. (December 13, 1983). "Four Decades Later, Group Theatre Reassembles". New York Times. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  8. ^ Weinraub, Bernard (January 30, 2003). "Recalling John Garfield, Rugged Star KO'd by Fate". New York Times. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  9. ^ Trussell, C.P. (April 12, 1952). "Elia Kazan Admits He was Red in '30s" (PDF). New York Times. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  10. ^ Hill, Gladwin (September 19, 1951). "2 Accused as Reds Used Film 'Dummy'" (PDF). New York Times. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  11. ^ Barranger, Milly S. (2008). Unfriendly Witnesses: Gender, Theater, and Film in the McCarthy Era. Southern Illinois University Press. pp. 60–1. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  12. ^ Atkinson, Brooks (September 12, 1953). "Group of Short Plays about Jewish Life" (PDF). New York Times. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  13. ^ a b Barranger, Milly S. (2008). Unfriendly Witnesses: Gender, Theater, and Film in the McCarthy Era. Southern Illinois University Press. p. 126. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  14. ^ Barron, James (September 2, 1992). "Morris Carnovsky Is Dead at 94; Acting Career Spanned 60 Years". New York Times. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  15. ^ "On the Sidewalks of New York: Theater" (PDF). New York Times. August 15, 1965. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  16. ^ "Theatre in Street Aided" (PDF). New York Times. April 4, 1966. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  17. ^ "Marshall Artists Series presents The Midnight Lamp Company". Performance Collection. Marshall University. Retrieved April 1, 2015.[permanent dead link]
  18. ^ Vineberg, Steven (February 28, 2012). "Vanya on 42nd Street: An American Vanya". Criterion Collection. Retrieved April 1, 2015.

External links[edit]