American character actor of stage, screen, and TV Lee J. Cobb, born Leo Jacob or Jacoby, was usually seen scowling and smoking a cigar. As a child, Cobb showed artistic promise as a virtuoso violinist, but any hope for a musical career was ended by a broken wrist. He ran away from home at age 17 and ended up in Hollywood. Unable to find film work there, he returned to New York and acted in radio dramas while going to night school at CCNY to learn accounting. Returning to California in 1931, he made his stage debut with the Pasadena Playhouse. Back in New York in 1935, he joined the celebrated Group Theater and appeared in several plays with them, including Waiting for Lefty and Golden Boy. He began his film career in 1937, going on to star and play supporting roles in dozens of films straight through to the end of his life. Cobb was most frequently cast as menacing villains, but sometimes appeared as a brooding business executive or community leader. His greatest triumph on stage came in the 1949 production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman in which he played the lead role, Willy Loman (he repeated his performance in a 1966 TV version). Between 1962-66, he also appeared on TV in the role of Judge Garth in the long-running series The Virginian. He was twice nominated for "Best Supporting Actor" Oscars for his work in On the Waterfront (1954) and The Brothers Karamazov (1958).
Biography by Rovi
- Was a violin prodigy as a child, but suffered a broken wrist that affected his playing.
- Was an accomplished harmonica player.
- Early in his career, did stage work with California's Pasadena Playhouse and New York's Group Theatre.
- Played Willy Loman in the original 1949 Broadway production of Death of a Salesman.
- Provided testimony as a friendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1953.
- Was originally considered to play police detective Columbo in the 1968 TV-movie Prescription: Murder.
- Starred with daughter Julie Cobb in the 1974 Gunsmoke episode "The Colonel."