When graduate student Terence Goodman suggested to Utah State University theater arts department head Sid Perkes that a celebrity be invited to assist in a fund-raising and scholarship benefit event at USU, it was generally agreed that the person whose name the scholarship honored should be an actor with impeccable integrity and one who had made a major contribution to theater through a long and distinguished career.
That's why, on Saturday evening, April 28, Tony Award-winner John Randolph - an actor who has accumulated an exhaustingly long list of stage, screen and TV credits - will be on the USU campus, not only for the "A Tribute to John Randolph" gala and reception, but the presentation of the first John Randolph Theatre Arts Scholarship.In sheer figures alone, Randolph has an enviable acting track record:
- more than 75 stage performances
- 20 theatrical films
- 30 made-for-TV features
- roles in more than 130 TV series.
In addition to all the roles he's performed, he also helped found the Ensemble Studio Theatre (first in New York, then a branch in Los Angeles) and lend his support to a number of important causes and movements.
Randolph's long career has been a real roller-coaster ride, from such peaks as his Tony Award for "best actor" for Neil Simon's "Broadway Bound" and roles in such films as "Prizzi's Honor" and "All the President's Men" to struggling through the blacklisting era from the early 1950s through the mid-'60s.
Randolph's latest performances have been in the new NBC series "Grand," which has earned respectable ratings, and in the theatrical film "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation."
Like many other entertainers caught up in the political turmoil of McCarthyism and the anti-communist witch hunts - one of the darkest and most disgraceful periods in U.S. history - Randolph was blacklisted simply because he was something of a rebel. Never one to shy away from important issues, Randolph is as much an activist as he is an actor.
While conservatives may quibble with his passionate political stance, Randolph told us during a 90-minute telephone interview recently from his Los Angeles home that he is proud to be an American and he was in awe of the exciting changes currently under way in the Eastern bloc countries.
He was also thrilled with the USU scholarship project.
"I've never had a scholarship named after me," he said, adding that he hoped the scholarship would stipulate high standards.
"I have certain standards. The recipient should have something to do as a human being in addition to being an actor," he said.
Randolph's career as an actor was seriously curtailed for 15 years. He was 35 years old when his career came to a screeching halt due to the blacklisting.
In the late '40s he was appearing in such productions as "Command Decision" and "Come Back, Little Sheba." Another appearance, not quite so artistically fulfilling, was before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Hollywood actors by the dozens were being subpoenaed to testify, and Randolph joined a group of Broadway actors who banded together to offer their moral support. Randolph himself was later summoned to testify in New York. He pleaded the Fifth Amendment and, as a result of this action, was blacklisted in Hollywood. He couldn't get any work in films, TV or commercials.
"The target wasn't what you were," he told us. "The target was anyone who made waves against what the administration believed. The only way (for them) to keep that power was to silence the liberals."
Randolph's wife, the late Sarah Cunningham, "who was a brilliant woman and a fine actress," was also a liberal Southerner. She was among those called before the committee.
"She was blacklisted primarily because she was married to me," Randolph said in a Los Angeles Herald-Examiner interview a few years ago.
Randolph, however, was instrumental in getting the Actors Equity Association to write a clause into its contract permitting blacklisted actors to perform in stage productions.
Randolph fared better than many in the industry. Some writers slipped out of the country (a difficult task, because being blacklisted also meant relinquishing your passport). Others worked under assumed names.
Randolph was a member of a committee probing into the blacklisting situation. He said there were about 450 names on various lists that were being circulated. There was a "gray list" of performers who were just difficult to work with or who had trouble remembering their lines; then there was the more potent "black list" of those who were labeled according to their various political sympathies.
"Eventually the two lists were merged together and we (on the committee) ended up being blacklisted ourselves," said Randolph.
During the 15 years he was ignored by Hollywood, he appeared in such Broadway and stock productions as "Paint Your Wagon," "Guys and Dolls," "Born Yesterday," "The Visit" (Lunt and Fontanne's last major show together) and "The Sound of Music" with Mary Martin.
After the lifting of the blacklisting ban, director John Frankenheimer gave Randolph his second chance in Hollywood - at the age of 50 - in the critically acclaimed "Seconds" as the "before" character in the story of a frustrated middle-aged businessman who undergoes plastic surgery, expecting to be rejuvenated by his new identity. (Rock Hudson performed the "after" role.)
Randolph was also the voice of former attorney general John Mitchell in "All the President's Men" (1976), and later played Mitchell in the miniseries "Blind Faith" (1979) - an ironic twist, considering that, thanks to Mitchell, Randolph once spent time in jail for demonstrating against the Vietnam War.
John Randolph has been described as "an artist of incomparable talent . . . a man of unbridled energy and determination . . . (whose) dedication to artistic excellence is matched only by his commitment to social justice." (New York Mayor David Dinkins, then Manhattan borough president, during a "John Randolph Day" in New York City recognizing the actor for his Tony Award in 1987).
Sounds just like the type of fellow you'd want to name an acting scholarship after.
- WE WERE CURIOUS about John Randolph's Utah connection - and how a rebellious activist got involved in a scholarship fund in conservative Cache Valley.
Terence Goodman, who is directing USU's production of "Broadway Bound" (see related story in this section today), appeared with Randolph in a made-for-TV movie that was filmed in Utah several years ago.
The project was "The Winds of Kitty Hawk" (1978), and Goodman remembers sitting around on the set, hearing a lot of interesting stories. He was especially fascinated and intrigued by Randolph's experiences from the blacklisting period.
"It was amazing to think that this could happen in this country," said Goodman, who is graduating from USU this spring with a master's degree in theater.
Goodman has kept in close touch with Randolph since that time.
"He is an extremely `involved' person in just and right causes, who bends over backwards to lend his name to theater projects," said Goodman, who contacted Randolph and found him interested in the USU scholarship fund-raiser.
Among Randolph's many colleagues in the industry who have been invited to attend the gala (some will be sending messages via cassette, because they have previous commitments) are playwrights Neil Simon and Arthur Miller, and actors John Voight, William Devane, Jack Nicholson, Sam Shepard, Al Pacino, Angelica Huston, Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, to name just a few.
How to get tickets for Randolph gala
WHAT: "A Tribute to a Great American Actor - John Randolph"
WHEN: Saturday, April 28, 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Morgan Theatre, Chase Fine Arts Center, Utah State University campus, Logan.
Cost for the evening is $25 per person, with proceeds going to USU's newly created John Randolph Theatre Arts Scholarship.
The evening's activities will include a film tribute to Randolph, a presentation of Utah State Theatre's current production of Neil Simon's "Broadway Bound" (for which Randolph won both a "best actor" Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award in 1987) and a gala reception following the stage production.
For tickets and reservations to the semiformal affair, call 750-1657 in Logan, weekdays between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.