Lionel Jay Stander (January 11, 1908 – November 30, 1994) was an American actor in movies, radio, theater and television.
Early life and careerEdit
Lionel Stander was born in The Bronx, New York, to Russian Jewish immigrants, the first of three children. According to newspaper interviews with Stander, as a teenager he appeared in the 1926 silent film Men of Steel, perhaps as an extra; he is not listed in the credits. During his one year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he appeared in a student production of "The Muse and the Movies: A Comedy of Greenwich Village." Stander's professional acting career began in 1928, as Cop and First Fairy in "Him" by e.e. cummings at the Provincetown Playhouse. He claimed that he got the roles because one of them required shooting craps, which he did well, and a friend in the company volunteered him. He appeared in a series of short-lived plays through the early 1930s, including The House Beautiful, which Dorothy Parker famously derided as "the play lousy."
In 1932, Stander landed his first credited film role in the Warner-Vitaphone short feature In the Dough, with Fatty Arbuckle and Shemp Howard. He made several other shorts, the last being The Old Grey Mayor with Bob Hope in 1935. That year, he was cast in a feature, Ben Hecht's The Scoundrel with Noel Coward. He moved to Hollywood and was signed a contract with Columbia Pictures. Stander was in a string of films over the next three years, most notably in Frank Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) with Gary Cooper, playing Archie Goodwin in Meet Nero Wolfe (1936), and A Star Is Born (1937) with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March.
Stander's distinctive rumbling voice, tough-guy demeanor, and talent with accents made him a popular radio actor. In the 1930s and 1940s he was on the Eddie Cantor Show, Bing Crosby's KMH show, the Lux Radio Theater production of A Star Is Born, The Fred Allen Show, the Mayor of the Town series with Lionel Barrymore and Agnes Moorehead, Kraft Music Hall on NBC, Stage Door Canteen on CBS, the Lincoln Highway Radio Show on NBC, and The Jack Paar Show, among others. In 1941, he starred in a short-lived radio show called The Life of Riley on CBS, no relation to the radio, film, and television character later made famous by William Bendix. Stander played the role of Spider Schultz in both Harold Lloyd's 1936 film The Milky Way and its 1946 remake starring Danny Kaye, The Kid from Brooklyn. He was a regular on Danny Kaye's zany comedy-variety radio show on CBS (1946–1947), playing himself as "just the elevator operator" amidst the antics of Kaye, future Our Miss Brooks star Eve Arden, and bandleader Harry James.
Strongly liberal and pro-labor, Stander espoused a variety of social and political causes, and was a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild. At a SAG meeting held during a 1937 studio technicians' strike, he told the assemblage of 2000 members, "With the eyes of the whole world on this meeting, will it not give the Guild a black eye if its members continue to cross picket lines?" (The NYT reported: "Cheers mingled with boos greeted the question.") Stander also supported the Conference of Studio Unions in its fight against the Mob-influenced International Alliance of Stage Employees (IATSE). Also in 1937, Ivan F. Cox, a deposed officer of the San Francisco longshoremen's union, sued Stander and a host of others, including union leader Harry Bridges, actors Fredric March, Franchot Tone, Mary Astor, James Cagney, Jean Muir, and director William Dieterle. The charge, according to Time magazine, was "conspiring to propagate Communism on the Pacific Coast, causing Mr. Cox to lose his job."
In 1938, Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn allegedly called Stander "a Red son of a bitch" and threatened a $100,000 fine against any studio that renewed his contract. Despite critical acclaim for his performances, Stander's film work dropped off drastically. After appearing in 15 films in 1935 and 1936, he was in only six in 1937 and 1938. Then he was in just six movies from 1939 through 1943, none made by major studios, the most notable being Guadalcanal Diary (1943).
Stander and HUACEdit
Stander was among the first group of Hollywood actors to be subpoenaed before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1940 for supposed Communist activities. At a grand jury hearing in Los Angeles in August 1940—the transcript of which was shortly released to the press—John R. Leech, the self-described former "chief functionary" of the Communist Party in Los Angeles, named Stander as a CP member, along with more than 15 other Hollywood notables, including Franchot Tone, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Clifford Odets and Budd Schulberg. Stander subsequently forced himself into the grand jury hearing, and the district attorney cleared him of the allegations.
Stander appeared in no movies in 1944 and 1945; then, with HUAC's attentions focused elsewhere due to World War II, he played in a number of mostly second-rate pictures from independent studios through the late 1940s. These include Ben Hecht's Specter of the Rose (1946); the Preston Sturges comedies The Sin of Harold Diddlebock with Harold Lloyd (1947) and Unfaithfully Yours with Rex Harrison (1948); and Trouble Makers with The Bowery Boys (1948).
HUAC returned its attention to Hollywood in 1947. That October, Howard Rushmore, who had belonged to the CP in the 1930s and written movie reviews for the Daily Worker, testified that writer John Howard Lawson, whom he named as a Communist, had "referred to Lionel Stander as a perfect example of how a Communist should not act in Hollywood." Stander was again blacklisted from movies, though he played on TV, radio, and in the theater.
In March 1951, actor Larry Parks, after pleading with HUAC investigators not to force him to "crawl through the mud" as an informer, named several people as Communists in a "closed-door session", which made the newspapers two days later. He testified that he knew Stander, but didn't recall attending any CP meetings with him.
At a HUAC hearing in April 1951, actor Marc Lawrence named Stander as a member of his Hollywood Communist "cell", along with screenwriter Lester Cole and screenwriter Gordon Kahn. Lawrence testified that Stander "was the guy who introduced me to the party line", and that Stander said that by joining the CP, he'd "get to know the dames more"--which Lawrence, who didn't enjoy movie-star looks, thought a good idea. Upon hearing of this, Stander shot off a telegram to HUAC chair John S. Wood, calling Lawrence's testimony that he was a Communist "ridiculous" and asking to appear before the Committee, so he could swear to that under oath. The telegram concluded: "I respectfully request an opportunity to appear before you at your earliest possible convenience. Be assured of my cooperation." Two days later, Stander sued Lawrence for $500,000 for slander. Lawrence left the country ("fled", according to Stander) for Europe.
After that, Stander was blacklisted from TV and radio. He continued to act in the theater, and was in a 1953 revival of Pal Joey on Broadway and on tour.