Randolph, John, 1915-2004

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John Randolph the actor, as he would always introduce himself, was born Emanuel Hirsch Cohen in the Bronx, New York on June 1, 1915. He was renamed Mortimer Lippman at the age of 12 when his mother remarried, and finally emerged as John Randolph when he began his acting career in the 1930s with the Federal Theatre Project. His first Broadway role came courtesy of the Project when he appeared in Coriolanus in 1938. He received his formal theatre training from the Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research under the director of Erwin Piscator. He appeared on Broadway four more times before going on the road with a production of Native Son starring Canada Lee in 1941. It was during this tour that Randolph had a number of opportunities to demonstrate his strong sensitivity to civil rights.

1941 proved to be a very important year in Randolph’s life. On June 22, 1941, as Germany marched into Russia, John came together with a young actress from Greenville, South Carolina: Sarah Cunningham who shared with him not only a passion for acting but for activism as well. It was their acting careers that kept them apart for most of the rest of 1941. On a visit during the run of Native Son, the pair decided to marry. They wed at high noon on Wednesday, January 6, 1942, prior to John’s matinee. Hours later Sarah was on her way to back to New York. In April John (as Mortimer Lippman again) was drafted into the Army Air Corps where he served for the next four years.

By 1948 Randolph was again back on Broadway. Also in 1948, television found him, but just as his television career was beginning to gain momentum in 1951, he was blacklisted. During the blacklist period he considered himself lucky as he was able to continue working in theatre. With the wealth of energy that defined him in the years to come he developed new performance opportunities with his fellow blacklistees, actress Phoebe Brand, educator Frederic Ewen, and his wife, Sarah. They appeared in union halls and Jewish community centers in between theatre engagements. In August of 1955, John and Sarah both appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). They both invoked their rights under the Fifth Amendment. After his HUAC appearance, John got back on the train and returned to his engagement at the Brattle Summer Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

As the blacklist period started to fade, in the early 1960s, Randolph’s television career began to revive slowly. By this time he was serving on the Council of Actors’ Equity and heavily involved with the American Federation of Television and Radio Actors, organizations with which he would remain active for the rest of his life. His film career finally got off to a strong start in 1966, when he played a banker who undergoes surgery and awakens as Rock Hudson in John Frankenheimer’s Seconds . Having the good fortune of being a proficient character actor, Randolph never stopped working. One of his more notable performances was as Angelo 'Pop' Partanna in the 1985 film, Prizzi's Honor . When the film was nominated for the Academy Award as Best Picture, John and Sarah were invited to join the company at the ceremony. During the evening, Sarah excused herself and went to the ladies room; it was there that she died of a heart attack.

For the remainder of his life, Randolph continued working. In 1986, he began a long and successful run in Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound, in a part tailor-made for him. John won the prestigious Tony Award for this performance. His final Broadway appearance was as a replacement for the lead in Prelude to a Kiss in 1991. He continued to work in theatre outside of Broadway, as well as in television and film, making his final appearance in film in 2003.

No biography of Randolph and Cunningham would be complete without recognizing the depth of their activism. Their passion for each other was matched only by their passion for the causes they held dear. Champions of civil rights, fighters for more opportunities for performers of color, and voices for the power of the industry that clothed and fed them throughout their lives, they were lifelong supporters of progressive causes. John Randolph, actor and activist, died in Los Angeles on February 24, 2004.

From the guide to the John Randolph Papers, Bulk, 1940-1999, 1918-1999, (Bulk 1940-1999), (Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf John Randolph Papers, Bulk, 1940-1999, 1918-1999, (Bulk 1940-1999) Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
referencedIn Ewen, Frederic, 1899-. Papers, 1915-1988 (bulk 1940-1970). Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
referencedIn Frederic Ewen Papers, Bulk, 1940-1970, 1915-1988, (Bulk 1940-1970) Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
referencedIn Frederic Ewen Audiotape and Videotape Collection, 1954-1990 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
referencedIn Frederic Ewen Papers, Bulk, 1940-1970, 1915-1988, (Bulk 1940-1970) Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Actors' Equity Association. corporateBody
associatedWith American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. corporateBody
associatedWith Brand, Phoebe, 1907-2004 person
associatedWith Cunningham, Sarah. person
associatedWith Elder, Lonne person
associatedWith Ensemble Studio Theatre. corporateBody
associatedWith Ewen, Frederic, 1899- person
associatedWith Jules, Dassin, 1911-2008 person
associatedWith Nelson, Steve, 1903- person
associatedWith Norman, Lloyd, 1914- person
associatedWith Ntloedibe, Elias L. person
associatedWith Philadelphia Drama Guild. corporateBody
associatedWith Piscator, Erwin, 1893-1966 person
associatedWith Robeson, Paul, 1898-1976 person
associatedWith Screen Actors Guild. corporateBody
associatedWith Silvera, Frank, 1914-1970 person
associatedWith Suhl, Yuri, 1908-1986 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Los Angeles (Calif.)
New York (N.Y.)
Tony Awards
Blacklisting of entertainers
Actresses--United States
Actors--United States
Actors--Labor Unions--United States
Motion pictures and theater--United States


Birth 1915-06-01

Death 2004-02-24



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