I SAID YES TO EVERYTHING
By Lee Grant
Across a circuitous career that spans eight decades, actress Lee Grant has worked with a who’s who of Hollywood luminaries, stretching from Kirk Douglas to Warren Beatty. Grant, now 87, could have delivered a typical Tinseltown tell-all. Instead she shapes a gutsy tale, told with ballsy humour and naked honesty, of perseverance and survival.
Born Lyova Rosenthal and raised by a distant father and a supportive if overprotective mother, Grant got her start at age four in a tiny role in a Metropolitan Opera production. At 23, she made her Broadway debut in Detective Story, playing a nameless shoplifter and earning rave reviews. Director William Wyler invited her to repeat the part on film, resulting in an Oscar nomination.
Her ascent seemed certain. But Joseph McCarthy’s showbiz witch hunt was at full gallop. Grant had married screenwriter Arnie Manoff, blacklisted for his Communist ties. Though she never became an official party member, her name was added to the long list of alleged sympathizers in the damning tract Red Channels, and she found herself barred from film and TV work for a dozen years.
Still, Grant refused to be derailed. She freed herself from the psychologically abusive Manoff and, once the work ban ﬁnally lifted, relocated to L.A. There she found Emmy-winning success opposite Mia Farrow and Ryan O’Neal in prime time’s sudsy Peyton Place, landed key roles in major films both landmark (In the Heat of the Night) and lamentable (Valley of the Dolls) and garnered three more Oscar nods, finally winning in 1976 for her bravura portrayal of a libidinous Beverly Hills matron in Beatty’s brilliantly satiric Shampoo. As she entered her fifties and decent roles became scarce, Grant reinvented herself as a director, becoming a gifted specialist in documentaries, including 1986’s Oscar-winning Down and Out in America. Along the way, she fell for plumber-turned-dancer-turned-TV-commercial-director-turned-producer Joey Feury, 10 years her junior. A half-century later, they’re still together.
Lee Grant never set out to be a fighter or a trailblazer. She simply wanted to act. Forced to progress from naive to streetwise, from demure to scrappy, she ultimately got all she desired. For better and for worse, she did say yes to everything, forging a journey not just to stardom but also to hard-won self-actualization.