Joel Grey

Active - 1952 - 2019  |   Born - Apr 11, 1932 in Cleveland, Ohio, United States  |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Musical, Music, Film, TV & Radio

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Biography by Hal Erickson

American entertainer Joel Grey was the son of Mickey Katz, the famous "gurgler" of the Spike Jones Orchestra and a legend in his own right as a performer/producer of nightclub, resort and Broadway satirical revues. Growing up around some of the best comics, musical performers and second bananas in the business, Joel was all but predestined to enter show business himself. An accomplished singer and dancer, Grey was rather wasted in such early film roles as About Face (1953) and Come September (1961), though he achieved minor fame on TV variety shows and in the lead of a televised musical version of Jack and the Beanstalk; ironically, one of his best TV parts was on an episode of 77 Sunset Strip as a second-rate comic unable to live up to the accomplishments of a famous relative.

Grey's career was boosted in 1966 when he was cast in the Broadway musical Cabaret as the Master of Ceremonies, a white-faced, smirking, sexually ambivalent observer of changing mores and philosophies in pre-Hitler Berlin. Grey won a Tony Award for his brilliant portrayal, and copped an Academy Award for repeating the role in the 1972 film version of Cabaret. Grey enjoyed a second Broadway triumph as George M. Cohan in the 1969 musical George M., a virtuoso performance he recreated on TV in the early 1970s. Thanks to his highly stylized Broadway roles, Joel Grey was never easy to cast in "normal" movie parts; among his better roles were that of an Austrian petty criminal in The Seven Per Cent Solution (1976) and an ancient and irredeemably sarcastic oriental martial arts master in Remo Williams (1985). On the final episode of the TV serial Dallas in 1991, Grey was a red-eyed satanic chap who showed a suicidal J.R. (Larry Hagman) how much better the world would have been without him. Joel Grey is the father of actress Jennifer Grey, whose breakthrough role was in Dirty Dancing, which coincidentally was set in a Catskills resort not unlike those in which her dad Joel learned his craft.

Over the next several years, Grey found memorable roles in films like My Friend Joe, Dancer in the Dark, and Choke, as well as an acclaimed role on the HBO prison series Oz.

Movie Highlights

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  • Performed at an early age with his father before being noticed by performer Eddie Cantor, who booked him onto the TV show Colgate Comedy Hour in the early 1950s.
  • Made feature-film debut in the 1952 musical comedy About Face.
  • Originated the role of the Master of Ceremonies in the 1966 Broadway musical Cabaret, for which he won a Supporting Actor Tony Award. He later won an Academy Award for the same role in the 1972 film version.
  • Won acclaim playing the husband of an accused murderess and singing "Mister Cellophane" in the 1996 revival of Chicago.
  • Played the Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the 2003 original Broadway cast version of Wicked.
  • In 2005, portrayed the Ron Rifkin-lookalike Another Mr. Sloane in a story arc on the TV spy series Alias.
  • Followed up his 2003 visual memoir Pictures I Had to Take with 2009's 1.3: Images from My Phone, a book of photographs taken with his mobile phone.