Jeff Corey

Jeff Corey (born Arthur Zwerling,[2] August 10, 1914 – August 16, 2002)[1] was an American stage and screen actor and director who became a well-respected acting teacher after being blacklisted in the 1950s.[1]

For the American ice hockey player, see Jeff Corey (ice hockey).

Jeff Corey
Arthur Zwerling

(1914-08-10)August 10, 1914[1]
DiedAugust 16, 2002(2002-08-16) (aged 88)
OccupationActor, director, acting instructor
Years active1938–2002
Hope Corey
(m. 1938)

Life and career

Corey was born in Brooklyn, New York City, the son of Mary (née Peskin), a Russian Jewish immigrant, and Nathan Zwerling, an Austrian Jewish immigrant.[3] He attended New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn and was active in the school's Dramatic Society.[4]

He attended the Feagin School of Dramatic Art and took part in the New York Federal Theatre Project. In the mid-1930s, he acted with the Clare Tree Major Children's Theater of New York.[5] When Corey began making films, his agent suggested that he change his name from Arthur Zwerling, and he did so.[6]

He worked with Jules Dassin, Elia Kazan, John Randolph and other politically liberal theatrical personalities. Although he attended some meetings of the Communist Party, Corey never joined.[1] A World War II veteran, Corey served in the United States Navy.[1] His memoir, Improvising Out Loud: My Life Teaching Hollywood How To Act, which he wrote with his daughter, Emily Corey, is published by the University Press of Kentucky. His longtime friend and former student, Leonard Nimoy, wrote the foreword for the book.


Corey moved to Hollywood in 1940 and became a highly respected character actor. One of his film roles was in Superman and the Mole Men (1951), which was later edited to a two-part episode of the television series The Adventures of Superman, retitled "The Unknown People". His portrayal of a xenophobic vigilante coincidentally reflected what was about to happen to him. Prior to that, Corey appeared in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, (1943) as one of the men who discover the body of the vagrant Freddy Jolly.


Corey's career was halted in the early 1950s, when he was summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Corey refused to give names of alleged Communists and subversives in the entertainment industry[2] and went so far as to ridicule the panel by offering critiques of the testimony of the previous witnesses. This behavior led to his being blacklisted for 12 years. "Most of us were retired Reds. We had left it, at least I had, years before," Corey told Patrick McGilligan, the co-author of Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist (ISBN 978-0-312-17046-2), who also teaches film at Marquette University. "The only issue was, did you want to just give them their token names so you could continue your career, or not? I had no impulse to defend a political point of view that no longer interested me particularly ... They just wanted two new names so they could hand out more subpoenas."

During his blacklisting, Corey drew upon his experience in various actors' workshops (including the Actors' Lab, which he helped establish[7]) by seeking work as an acting teacher. He soon became one of the most influential teachers in Hollywood. His students, at various times, included Robert Blake, James Coburn, Richard Chamberlain, James Dean, Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda, Michael Forest, James Hong, Sally Kellerman, Shirley Knight, Bruce Lee,[8]Penny Marshall, Jack Nicholson, Roger Corman, Darrell M. Smith, Diane Varsi, Sharon Tate, Rita Moreno, Leonard Nimoy, Sally Forrest, Anthony Perkins, Rob Reiner, Robert Towne, Barbra Streisand, and Robin Williams.

Back to work in the 1960s

In 1962, Corey began working in films again, and remained active into the 1990s. He played Hoban in The Cincinnati Kid (1965), Tom Chaney, the principal villain in True Grit (1969), and Sheriff Bledsoe in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (also 1969), who warned Butch and Sundance that no good would come of their breaking the law. In Seconds (1966), a science-fiction drama film directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Rock Hudson, Corey with Will Geer and John Randolph played wealthy executives who opt to restart their lives with new identities, an ironic parallel to the real life of Corey and the other principal actors (excepting Hudson), who had also been proscribed from Hollywood films during the "blacklist" years of the 1950s.

Corey played a police detective in the psychological thriller The Premonition (1976) and he reprised the role of Sheriff Bledsoe in the prequel Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (1979). He also played Wild Bill Hickok in Little Big Man (1970). Corey directed some of the screen tests for Superman (1978), which can be seen in the DVD extras, and played Lex Luthor in several try-outs.


Corey made guest appearances on many television series. He appeared as murder victim Carl Bascom in the Perry Mason episode, "The Case of the Reckless Rockhound" (1964). He featured on science-fiction series, too, including an episode of The Outer Limits ("O.B.I.T.", 1963) in which he played Byron Lomax; Star Trek ("The Cloud Minders", 1969) in which he played High Advisor Plasus; as Caspay in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), and Babylon 5 ("Z'ha'dum", 1996) in which he played Justin.

He was also the voice of the villain Silvermane (in elderly form) in Spider-Man: The Animated Series (1994). He also appeared in the short-lived Paper Moon (1974), a comedy about a father and his presumed daughter roaming through the American Midwest during the Great Depression based on the film of the same name. Corey had a memorable role in a third-season episode of Night Court (1986) as a burned-out judge who had lost his grip on reality.[9] In an earlier episode of Night Court, he played a man who believed he was Santa Claus.[10]

He played Dr. Miles Talmadge on Night Gallery season-one episode one, "The Dead Man", on December 16, 1970. Corey detailed his television work on Rod Serling's Night Gallery in an interview in February 1973 aboard the SS Universe Campus of Chapman College. He was proudest of this work, for which he received an Emmy nomination.


In the era of old-time radio, Corey portrayed Lieutenant Abar on the crime drama The Adventures of Philip Marlowe on NBC (1947) and CBS (1948-1951).[11]


Corey died on August 16, 2002, aged 88, from complications from a fall. Later, a memorial service was held at Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, held by family and friends.

Selected filmography


Other credits



  1. Martin, Douglas (August 20, 2002). "Jeff Corey, Character Actor And Acting Instructor, 88". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 9, 2014. Retrieved May 8, 2015. Jeff Corey, a character actor who was barred from his field in the 1950s because of past association with the Communist Party and then became a prominent Hollywood acting instructor, died on Friday in Los Angeles.
  2. Kibbey, Richard D. (2011). Pat Boone: The Hollywood Years. Tate Publishing. p. 301. ISBN 9781613461341. Retrieved July 30, 2018.
  3. "Jeff Corey Biography". Archived from the original on October 16, 2012. Retrieved May 8, 2015.
  4. "New Utrecht High Cast To Give Play in January". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. New York, Brooklyn. December 18, 1931. p. 54. Retrieved July 29, 2018 via
  5. "Good Players in Robin Hood". The News-Messenger. Ohio, Fremont. December 9, 1935. p. 3. Retrieved July 29, 2018 via
  6. "Another Brooklyn Boy Crashes Gates To Movie Success". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. New York, Brooklyn. September 21, 1947. p. 9. Retrieved July 30, 2018 via
  7. Gordon, Mel (October 23, 2009). Stanislavsky in America: An Actor's Workbook. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-25293-9. Retrieved September 10, 2014.
  8. "Acting Like Bruce Lee". January 4, 2017.
  10. Christmas on TelevisionHe guest starred on War of the worlds the series,season 1. By Diane Werts, Page 78
  11. Terrace, Vincent (1999). Radio Programs, 1924-1984: A Catalog of More Than 1800 Shows. McFarland & Company, Inc. pp. 13–15. ISBN 978-0-7864-4513-4.


  • Fariello, Griffin (1995). Red Scare: Memories of the American Inquisition. New York, NY, US: Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-03732-6. OCLC 30625312. Retrieved May 8, 2015. Subjects: Anti-communist movements -- United States -- History.
    Internal security -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
    United States -- Congress -- House -- Committee on Un-American Activities.
  • McGilligan, Patrick; Buhle, Paul (1997). Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist. New York, NY, US: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-17046-2. OCLC 36800596. Retrieved May 8, 2015. Subjects: Blacklisting of entertainers -- United States.
    Blacklisting of authors -- United States.
    Entertainers -- United States -- Interviews.
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