Oscar Profile #328: Lee Grant

Born October 31, 1926 in Manhattan, New York City, Lyova Haskell Rosenthal was the only child of a Romanian Jewish immigrant educator father and a Russian Jewish immigrant actress mother. A precocious child, she made her stage debut at age 4 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, playing the abducted princess in “L’Orocolo”. After graduating from high school, she won a scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse where she studied acting with Sanford Meisner. She later enrolled in the Actors Studio, changing her name along the way to Lee Grant.

The actress has at different times given her year of birth as 1925, 1926, 1927 and 1928, but since at the time of her Metropolitan Opera debut in early 1931 she was reportedly 4 years old, 1926 would seem to be the most accurate.

Grant made her Broadway debut in 1948’s Joy to the World and won kudos for her portrayal of the shoplifter in 1949’s Detective Story. She was nominated for an Oscar for the film version in which she made screen debut in 1951. That same year she married screenwriter Arnold Manoff who was blacklisted in 1953 and could only get work thereafter writing for television under a pseudonym. Grant, though not officially blacklisted, still had trouble finding work in Hollywood. She had no trouble appearing on Broadway and television.

Grant’s only child, actress and director Dinah Manoff, was born in 1958. She divorced Manoff, 11 years her senior, in 1960 and married actor-producer Joseph Feury, 13 years her junior, in 1962. They are still together.

The actress had a major supporting role on screen in 1955’s Storm Center, but it was as Fredric March’s daughter in 1959’s Middle of the Night that her screen career was reinvigorated, even if she had to wait another four years to make another film. That film was 1963’s The Balcony, after which a role in TV’s Peyton Place in 1964 earned her an Emmy. There has been no stopping her since.

For twelve years from 1967’s In the Heat of the Night and Valley of the Dolls through 1968’s Buona Sera Mrs. Campbell, 1970’s The Landlord, 1971’s Plaza Suite, 1975’s Shampoo and 1976’s Voyage of the Damned, to 1978’s Damien: Omen II, she was one of Hollywood’s most popular and in-demand actresses. It was during this period that she earned an additional three Oscar nominations and her only win to date for Shampoo. She also picked up another five Emmy nominations during this period and a second win for 1971’s The Neon Ceiling. She became a director in 1973 and over the course of the next 32 years, directed 24 films alternating between TV and theatrical documentaries and live action dramas. She became the first woman to win an award from the Directors Guild of America for directing the 1986 TV movie, Nobody’s Child.

Grant’s last substantial film role in 1991’s Defending Your Life Her last Emmy nomination was for 1992’s Citizen Cohn. In 2001 she had a supporting role in Mulholland Drive. She last acted before the camera in 2005’s Going Shopping, the same year she directed her last TV movie, A Father, a Son, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a documentary about Kirk and Michael Douglas.

Lee Grant is still a vital member of the Hollywood community at 90.

ESSENTIAL FILMS

DETECTIVE STORY (1951), directed by William Wyler

Grant created the role of the young shoplifter in Sidney Kingsley’s 1949 play in support of Ralph Bellamy and Meg Mundy, and was the only cast member invited to recreate her part in Wyler’s film two years later. She and Kirk Douglas (in Bellamy’s role as the lead detective) were nominated for Golden Globes. She and Eleanor Parker (in Mundy’s role as the detective’s tragic wife) were nominated for Oscars. The sky seemed to be the limit for the young actress, but the Hollywood witch hunts intervened and her career suffered. It wouldn’t really rebound until her Emmy winning role in TV’s Peyton Place put her back in demand.

IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967), directed by Norman Jewison

Grant’s stunning portrayal of the murder victim’s widow earned her a Golden Globe nomination for her performance opposite star Sidney Poitier as the out-of-town detective. Sadly, she and Poitier were left off the list of the year’s Oscar nominees for the film which was nominated for five awards and won five including Best Picture and Actor (Rod Steiger as the bigoted Southern police chief). Ironically, although she was one of the stars of one of the year’s most respected films, she was also one of the stars of one of the most maligned, Mark Robson’s film of Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls.

THE LANDLORD (1970), directed by Hal Ashby

Ashby, who won an Oscar for editing In the Heat of the Night, made his directing debut with The Landlord starring Beau Bridges as the 29-year-old spoiled rich white boy who buys a run-down tenement in Brooklyn’s Park Slope with intentions of kicking out the tenants and remodeling it for himself. After meeting the tenants, including Diana Sands and Pearl Bailey, he has a change of heart and decides to become a proper landlord and fix up the building for his tenants. Grant is at her hilarious best as Bridges’ mother who gives Bailey her credit card and hires her as her decorator.

SHAMPOO (1975), directed by Hal Ashby

Grant earned her third Oscar nomination and only win to date as Jack Warden’s wife, Carrie Fisher’s mother, and one of the women hairdresser Warren Beatty is spending as much time sleeping with as he is doing their hair. Julie Christie and Goldie Hawn are two of the other women he is sleeping with, as is daughter Fisher. The whole thing comes to a head on the eve of the election of Richard Nixon in November, 1968. Beatty, Christie and Grant were all nominated for Golden Globes, but only Grant and Warden were nominated for Oscars. She was nominated again the following year for Voyage of the Damned.

DEFENDING YOUR LIFE (1991), directed by Albert Brooks

Before winning her Oscar, Grant had won two Emmys, the first for 1964’s Peyton Place, her second for 1971’s The Neon Ceiling. A director since 1973, in 1986 she became the first female director to win an award from the Director’s Guild of America for TV’s Nobody’s Child. Her later years were spent alternating between acting and directing. She had one of her better later acting jobs for fellow actor-director Brooks as his prosecutor in this deft comedy about the after-life, which co-starred Meryl Streep and Rip Torn and featured Shirley MacLaine hilariously spoofing herself in a cameo.

LEE GRANT AND OSCAR

  • Detective Story (1951) – nominated – Best Supporting Actress
  • The Landlord (1970) – nominated – Best Supporting Actress
  • Shampoo (1975) – Oscar – Best Supporting Actress
  • Voyage of the Damned (1976) – nominated – Best Supporting Actress

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