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Actor Lee J. Cobb had roles in some eighty movies. Despite his success in Hollywood, he was probably most proud of his stage work in Death of a Salesman.
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Because of his theatrical talents he was assigned to a radio production unit in California. Cobb served until the end of the war and was discharged with the rank of corporal.
Cobb then returned to Hollywood and a film career that eventually included roles in some eighty movies. His facial features--a large nose, heavy jowls, a prominent chin, and a lower lip that he could loosen to express contempt or debauched satisfaction--and his large physique caused him to be typecast as a powerful and often villainous character; he became one of the most reliable heavies in the business. His parts as Johnny Friendly, a corrupt union boss, in Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront (1954), a Chinese warlord in Edward Dmytryk's The Left Hand of God (1955), a loudmouthed bully in Sidney Lumet's Twelve Angry Men (1957), an outlaw leader in Anthony Mann's Man of the West (1958), and a mobster in Nicholas Ray's Party Girl (1958) demonstrate some of his best work in this mode. He was not, however, always cast as the villain; over the course of his long career he also had the opportunity to play a prime minister, a newspaper editor, a scientist, a judge, a race car driver, a businessman, a cop (on numerous occasions), and even a playwright. As he aged Cobb was given the chance to play benign, patriarchal characters in Exodus (1960) and How the West Was Won (1962). Cobb occasionally appeared in television shows during the 1950's and had a featured role as Judge Garth in the television series "The Virginian" from 1962 to 1966.
Despite his success in Hollywood, Cobb was probably most proud of his stage work in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. He introduced the part of Willy Loman when the play premiered in New York City in 1949 and continued to play the part for two years. The role was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and Cobb knew it; he later said, "When I read the script, I knew there was no living unless I played Willy Loman." Critics raved about the play and had nothing but praise for Cobb's performance. Indeed, Cobb's Willy Loman has long been elevated to the status of Broadway legend. He reprised the role for the 1961 television adaptation. In 1969 Cobb returned to the stage for one last time, giving a remarkable series of performances as King Lear at New York City's Lincoln Center.
Cobb married actress Helen Beverley on February 6, 1940, and the couple had two children. This marriage ended in divorce in 1952. In July 1957, Cobb married schoolteacher Mary Hirsch, and they also had two children. On February 11, 1976, Cobb died of a heart attack in Woodland Hills, California.
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