The Arty Semite

How Lee Grant Recovered From the Blacklist

By Curt Schleier

  • Print
  • Share Share

“Some working actors lost the best years of their lives and don’t know why.” Those words were written by actress/director Lee Grant in her new memoir, “I Said Yes To Everything.” And she should know. She was one of them.

Grant was the “surprise discovery” of the 1950 Broadway season for her role in “Detective Story.” Shortly afterwards, she was discovered by the House Un-American Activities Committee. For a dozen years, from 1952 to 1964 — essentially what could have been the prime of her career — she could not find meaningful work. Often when she did get a job, it was short-lived.

For example, she landed a role on a TV soap opera, “Search for Tomorrow.” But the network canned her after a supermarket owner from Syracuse, N.Y., told the sponsor’s ad agency he would put up a special display asking shoppers if they wanted to “brush their teeth with a product from a company that employs communists.”

Born Lyova Rosenthal, Grant spoke to the Forward about the blacklist, being her own worst enemy, and sending her adopted Thai-American daughter to Rodeph Shalom Day School in Manhattan.

Curt Schleier: Why did you decide to write your memoir now?

Lee Grant: I wrote it because I’ve had a loss of memory of names from the HUAC thing [where she casually mentioned two friends she shouldn’t have]. I have a problem introducing one person to another, and I was afraid it affected other [aspects of my memory]. So I didn’t want to tell my friends or my husband about it [the memory loss] because people get scared for you. So I just decided I’d have to write it all down.

I started at the place that was the biggest turning point in my life, when my [first] husband [Arnold Manoff] said he’d leave me if I took a job [in “The Captains and The Kings”]. We were through. It was a decisive moment. Either I stayed or I worked. [She took the job and her marriage unraveled.] I wanted to explore that time and everything else flowed from that.

Did you realize as you wrote that this was turning out to be a warts-and-all memoir?

I was writing it for myself. If I wasn’t going to be honest with myself at this point in my life, what was the point? It was self-therapy and it worked for me. That’s why I did it, day after day, longhand, for four years. I was my own twin facing myself.

There was a period where it seemed if you didn’t have bad luck you’d have no luck at all.

One forgets that the blacklist community was made up of some of the most stylish and brilliant people in the world. So it was a continuing education for me and a delight to form friendships with Zero and Kate Mostel and Ring [Lardner] and his wife. I loved being with them. I felt blessed in many ways because these are the kinds of people I wanted to be with and they became close friends. I remember you when you were young. You were gorgeous, yet at age 31 you went in for plastic surgery. Why did you do that?

In your eyes [I was attractive]. I was being cast in a play at the time that called for a 26-year-old ingénue. At the time, I hadn’t worked in two years. My husband was not interested in me and was off having an affair. I was at a low psychological point in my life. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I needed to get myself back again. The best thing in my life was to have the face-lift. It helped me enormously. It gave me a certain confidence and brought back some of the 12 years I’d lost.

But there were other problems. Sometimes it seems as if you are your own worst enemy.

[Laughs] I go ahead and do things and take the jump without really knowing where I’m jumping to. And I’m lucky if I land.

You’d forget lines.

I was trapped into saying the names of two women who could have been blacklisted. It was the most huge psychological blow of my life. I couldn’t say names after that. My constant fear was that I would hurt someone else. I don’t know. Maybe it manifested itself in forgetting lines. I was also taking sleeping pills, it was the last week of the show and I was under a lot of pressure.

You write about other issues, though. You froze at times in front of a movie camera.

I think I’d developed a lack of trust in myself. I think I’d crossed a psychological border where I was just at a loss. I wasn’t able to place where I was. I couldn’t pull myself out of it.

Not to belabor this, but while directing an HBO documentary, you brought cocaine into a prison.

[Laughs] I needed it. I was exhausted. And that’s part of what you’re talking about being my own worst enemy. I wasn’t governing myself. I also had a thyroid condition that saps your energy.

Let’s go on to something more pleasant. You were a bat mitzvah.

They called it a confirmation back then. I don’t know why my father sent me. I wasn’t a shining example.

You also experienced a fair amount of anti-Semitism. How did all that impact you?

I had a fear of being Jewish. But later it became a strength.

You sent both your daughters — the actress Dinah Manoff and Belinda, the Thai-American girl you adopted — to Hebrew day school.

It [Rodeph Sholom] was such a warm and encircling place to be for Dinah, a comforting place to go to. When I brought Belinda there, it was a very embracing place. Both Dinah and Belinda speak Hebrew better than I do.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Lee Grant, Interviews, Books, I Said Yes to Everything

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.