Emanuel Cohen (John Randolph), the son of Russian and Romanian immigrants, was born in New York on 1st June, 1915. He attended City College of New York where he became involved in politics and acting. After leaving college he studied with Stella Adler at the Actors Studio.
Randolph later joined the Group Theatre in New York led by Lee Strasberg. Members of the group tended to hold left-wing political views and wanted to produce plays that dealt with important social issues. Those involved Elia Kazan, Clifford Odets, John Garfield, Howard Da Silva, Joseph Bromberg and Lee J. Cobb.
Randolph served with the United States Army Air Force during the Second World War. After the war he resumed his acting career and appeared in Command Decision (1947), Naked City (1948), Peer Gynt (1951), Paint Your Wagon (1951), Seagulls Over Sorrento (1952) and Room Service (1953).
During this period Randolph supported radical causes such as better housing for war veterans, for striking miners in Harlan County, and against the death penalty for Willie McGee, who was executed for raping a white woman in Mississippi and for convicted spies, Ethel Rosenberg and Julius Rosenberg.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s the House of Un-American Activities Committee began an investigation into the entertainment industry. In September 1947, the HUAC interviewed 41 people who were working in Hollywood. These people attended voluntarily and became known as "friendly witnesses". During their interviews they named several people who they accused of holding left-wing views.
These people were then called to appear before the HUAC. Ten of them: Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Samuel Ornitz,, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson and Alvah Bessie refused to answer any questions. Known as the Hollywood Ten, they claimed that the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution gave them the right to do this. The House of Un-American Activities Committee and the courts during appeals disagreed and all were found guilty of contempt of congress and each was sentenced to between six and twelve months in prison.
Larry Parks was the only actor in the original nineteen people named. Parks agreed to give evidence to the HUAC and admitted that he had joined the Communist Party in 1941 but left it four years later. When asked for the names of fellow members, Parks replied: "I would prefer, if you would allow me, not to mention other people's names. Don't present me with the choice of either being in contempt of this Committee and going to jail or forcing me to really crawl through the mud to be an informer."
The House of Un-American Activities Committee insisted that Parks answered all the questions asked. The HUAC had a private session and two days later it was leaked to the newspapers that Parks had named names. Leo Townsend, Isobel Lennart, Roy Huggins, Richard Collins, Lee J. Cobb, Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan, afraid they would go to prison, were willing to name people who had been members of left-wing groups. If these people refused to name names, they were added to a blacklist that had been drawn up by the Hollywood film studios.
Randolph was one of those named as a member of the Communist Party. He appeared in front of the House of Un-American Activities Committee in 1955 but refused to name names. At the time Randolph was appearing on Broadway in Wooden Dish. Encouraged by right-wing politicians and certain newspapers, people demonstrated outside the theatre calling for Randolph to be sacked. Supported by other actors in the production and his union, Randolph kept his job. However, Randolph was blacklisted and could not appear in Hollywood or on television.
He later recalled: "My picture appeared on the front pages of the Herald Tribune and the New York Times the day I testified... The phone stopped ringing, except for hate calls. At three or four in the morning, you'd hear: 'Jew-Commie', 'Kike-bastard', 'Go back to Russia'. Suddenly your best friends disappeared because they were too scared. Hysteria was all around us."
Randolph retained his radical political views and was an active member of the Screen Actors Guild, Amnesty International, Council of American-Soviet Friendship, Medical Aid to El Salvador and Artists Against Apartheid.
After the blacklist was lifted Randolph appeared in Seconds (1966), Pretty Poison (1968), Number One (1969), There Was a Crooked Man (1970), Serpico (1973), Prizzi's Honor (1985), Sibling Rivalry (1990), A Foreign Field (1993) and You've Got Mail (1998).
John Randolph died on 24th February, 2004.
My picture appeared on the front pages of the Herald Tribune and the New York Times the day I testified in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. We were living at 107th Street then. The phone stopped ringing, except for haste calls. At three or four in the morning, you'd hear: "Jew-Commie," "Kike-bastard," "Go back to Russia". Suddenly your best friends disappeared because they were too scared. Hysteria was all around us.
I appreciated how difficult it was for those Hollywood actors who fought back. The stakes were high. Morris Carnovsky and Howard Da Silva and J. Edward Bromberg, all those wonderful actors who worked all their lives on Broadway and never made much money. They were the great creators of the Group Theater. They were a stimulus to those who were young and looked up to these actors who finally went to Hollywood and made it.
Phil Loeb was another tragic figure. He'd been in many Broadway shows, a distinguished actor. He was an officer of Actors Equity and one of the big fighters for every decent thing we ever had, like rehearsal pay. He was fired from The Goldbergs (a successful television show). The network admitted they were giving in to outside pressure. After that, Phil Loeb committed suicide.