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Lee J. Cobb (December 8, 1911 February 11, 1976) was an American actor. He created the role of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's 1949 play Death of a Salesman under the direction of Elia Kazan.


Born Leon Jacob to a Jewish family in New York Citymarker, Cobb studied at New York Universitymarker before making his film debut in The Vanishing Shadow (1934). He joined the Manhattanmarker-based left wing Group Theatre in 1935.


Cobb entered films in the 1930s, long before he ever played Willy Loman. He was cast as the Kralahome in the 1946 non-musical film Anna and the King of Siam. He also played the sympathetic doctor in The Song of Bernadette, and appeared as James Coburn's supervisor in the spy spoofs In Like Flint and Our Man Flint. He reprised his role of Willy Loman in the 1966 CBS television adaptation of Death of a Salesman, which included actors 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.

Cobb was named as a possible Communist in testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee because of his involvement in liberal causes and his support of political and charitable organizations suspected of being Communist fronts. He was called to testify before HUAC but refused to do so for two years until, with his career threatened by the blacklist, he relented in 1953 and gave testimony in which he named twenty people as former members of the Communist Party USA.

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 1982 book Naming Names

Following the hearing he resumed his career and worked with Kazan and Budd Schulberg, two other HUAC "friendly witnesses" on the 1954 film On the Waterfront which is widely seen as an allegory and apologia for testifying.

In 1957 he appeared in Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men as the abrasive Juror #3. In 1959, on CBS's DuPont Show of the Month, he starred in the dual roles of Miguel de Cervantes and Don Quixote in the television play I, Don Quixote, which years later became the musical Man of La Mancha. Cobb also appeared as Wyomingmarker ranch owner Judge Henry Garth in the first four seasons of the long-running NBC western television series The Virginian. He appeared with co-stars James Drury, Doug McClure, Roberta Shore, Gary Clarke, and Randy Boone.

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 for the play in Broadwaymarker history, although the 1950 Broadway production of the play, with Louis Calhern as Lear, played 48 performances as opposed to Cobb's 47.

One of his final film roles was that of police detective Lieutenant Kinderman in the 1973 horror film The Exorcist.

Cobb died of a heart attack in 1976 in Woodland Hills, Californiamarker and was buried in Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Selected Broadway credits


See also



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