Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
The Schmooze

How an Actor Died of the Blacklist

Fifty-five years ago today, union activist and thespian Philip Loeb checked himself into the Taft Hotel in Midtown Manhattan under a false name and took a fatal dose of sleeping pills. Targeted by the insidious blacklist, Loeb could no longer find work in his beloved acting profession and had reached rock bottom.

Tonight, a panel of those who knew or have studied Loeb — including myself — will commemorate his career at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage.

Loeb’s suicide was especially devastating considering how greatly he had fallen. Known as an actor’s actor, Leob taught his craft to the likes of Kirk Douglas, Rosalind Russell and Don Rickles. He also performed in such Broadway hits as “Room Service” with the Marx Brothers, and directed its signature food delivery scene.

Loeb reached the pinnacle of his career in 1949, when producer and writer Gertrude Berg cast him to play her husband Jake opposite her Molly character in “The Goldbergs,” which was then making a transition from radio to television. Loeb showed great dramatic range in the role, depicting the economic woes of a struggling Bronx family man and dress manufacturer.

Loeb was at the height of his popularity when the McCarthyist witch hunt reached Hollywood. The blacklist, which often targeted Jewish actors, had a devastating effect on the entertainment industry. Even better-known actors, directors and writers faced the destruction of their careers unless they snitched on others.

“The Goldbergs” ran into trouble when Loeb was falsely listed as a Communist in the anti-Communist pamphlet “Red Channels” because of his union activity. The show’s sponsors threatened to pull out, but Berg took a strong stand and refused to fire Loeb. Unfortunately, her efforts proved fruitless. In January 1952, a distraught Berg settled with Loeb, who left the show.

While the “The Goldbergs” recovered, it was never the same. Loeb could only work in summer stock theatre and his demoralization ultimately led to his suicide. Loeb’s friend Zero Mostel later memorialized the tragedy in the 1976 film “The Front,” in which a Loeb-like character is depicted jumping out the window.

Today, with family and friends in attendance, Actors’ Equity will re-dedicate the conference room named after Loeb that was created after his death. He is still revered for his contribution to the union’s efforts to make actors’ lives easier by advocating for rehearsal pay and better salaries.

What will not be written on Loeb’s plaque, however, is the true cause of his death. As actress Viola Harris noted at the time of his suicide, Leob died of “a disease called the blacklist.”

Engage

  • SHARE YOUR FEEDBACK

  • UPCOMING EVENT

    SKY & SCULPTURE

    Hybrid: Online and at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan

    Oct 2, 2022

    6:30 pm ET · 

    A Sukkah, IMKHA, created by artist Tobi Kahn, for the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan is an installation consisting of 13 interrelated sculpted painted wooden panels, constituting a single work of art. Join for a panel discussion with Rabbi Joanna Samuels, Chief Executive Director of the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan, Talya Zax, Innovation Editor of the Forward, and Tobi Kahn, Artist. Moderated by Mattie Kahn.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.