John Randolph Papers
Language of Materials
Born Emanuel Hirsch Cohen in the Bronx, New York on June 1, 1915, Randolph was renamed Mortimer Lippman at the age of 12 when his mother remarried, and finally emerged as the actor, John Randolph. He began his acting career in the 1930s with the Federal Theatre Project. His first Broadway role came courtesy of the Project when he appeared in Coriolanus in 1938. His final Broadway appearance was as a replacement for the lead in Prelude to a Kiss in 1991. He won the prestigious Tony Award for his performance in Neil Simon's Broadway Bound. In January 1942, while on the road with a production of Native Son starring Canada Lee, John married actress Sarah Cunningham of Greenville, South Carolina, Shortly thereafter he was drafted into the Army Air Corps where he served for the next four years. Television found Randolph in 1948 and lost him in 1951 when he was blacklisted. During the blacklist period he continued to work in theatre and developed new performance opportunities with his fellow blacklistees' actress Phoebe Brand, educator Frederic Ewen, and his wife, Sarah. In August of 1955 John and Sarah both appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) where they both invoked the Fifth Amendment. Randolph's television career began to revive slowly in the early 1960s. His film career got off to a strong start in 1966, when he played a banker who undergoes surgery and awakens as Rock Hudson in John Frankenheimer's Seconds. He made his final film appearance in 2003. A champion of civil rights, a fighter for more opportunities for performers of color, a lifelong supporter of progressive causes, John Randolph, actor and activist, was silenced by death in Los Angeles, California on February 24, 2004. The collection consists of Randolph's personal and professional files, reflecting his passions for acting, activism, social justice and his intense relationship with his wife, Sarah Cunningham. The materials range from their correspondence during World War II, to opening night telegrams for various Broadway productions, to performance pieces used during the blacklist period and Randolph's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) file.
John Randolph the actor, as he would always introduce himself, was born Emanuel Hirsch Cohen in the Bronx, New York on June 1, 1915. He was renamed Mortimer Lippman at the age of 12 when his mother remarried, and finally emerged as John Randolph when he began his acting career in the 1930s with the Federal Theatre Project. His first Broadway role came courtesy of the Project when he appeared in Coriolanus in 1938. He received his formal theatre training from the Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research under the director of Erwin Piscator. He appeared on Broadway four more times before going on the road with a production of Native Son starring Canada Lee in 1941. It was during this tour that Randolph had a number of opportunities to demonstrate his strong sensitivity to civil rights.
1941 proved to be a very important year in Randolph's life. On June 22, 1941, as Germany marched into Russia, John came together with a young actress from Greenville, South Carolina: Sarah Cunningham who shared with him not only a passion for acting but for activism as well. It was their acting careers that kept them apart for most of the rest of 1941. On a visit during the run of Native Son, the pair decided to marry. They wed at high noon on Wednesday, January 6, 1942, prior to John's matinee. Hours later Sarah was on her way to back to New York. In April John (as Mortimer Lippman again) was drafted into the Army Air Corps where he served for the next four years.
By 1948 Randolph was again back on Broadway. Also in 1948, television found him, but just as his television career was beginning to gain momentum in 1951, he was blacklisted. During the blacklist period he considered himself lucky as he was able to continue working in theatre. With the wealth of energy that defined him in the years to come he developed new performance opportunities with his fellow blacklistees, actress Phoebe Brand, educator Frederic Ewen, and his wife, Sarah. They appeared in union halls and Jewish community centers in between theatre engagements. In August of 1955, John and Sarah both appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). They both invoked their rights under the Fifth Amendment. After his HUAC appearance, John got back on the train and returned to his engagement at the Brattle Summer Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
As the blacklist period started to fade, in the early 1960s, Randolph's television career began to revive slowly. By this time he was serving on the Council of Actors' Equity and heavily involved with the American Federation of Television and Radio Actors, organizations with which he would remain active for the rest of his life. His film career finally got off to a strong start in 1966, when he played a banker who undergoes surgery and awakens as Rock Hudson in John Frankenheimer's Seconds. Having the good fortune of being a proficient character actor, Randolph never stopped working. One of his more notable performances was as Angelo 'Pop' Partanna in the 1985 film, Prizzi's Honor. When the film was nominated for the Academy Award as Best Picture, John and Sarah were invited to join the company at the ceremony. During the evening, Sarah excused herself and went to the ladies room; it was there that she died of a heart attack.
For the remainder of his life, Randolph continued working. In 1986, he began a long and successful run in Neil Simon's Broadway Bound, in a part tailor-made for him. John won the prestigious Tony Award for this performance. His final Broadway appearance was as a replacement for the lead in Prelude to a Kiss in 1991. He continued to work in theatre outside of Broadway, as well as in television and film, making his final appearance in film in 2003.
No biography of Randolph and Cunningham would be complete without recognizing the depth of their activism. Their passion for each other was matched only by their passion for the causes they held dear. Champions of civil rights, fighters for more opportunities for performers of color, and voices for the power of the industry that clothed and fed them throughout their lives, they were lifelong supporters of progressive causes. John Randolph, actor and activist, died in Los Angeles on February 24, 2004.
Arranged alphabetically within each series. Organized into 4 series: I, Correspondence, 1918-1999; II, Subject Files, 1940-1999; III, Productions and Professional Activities, 1938-1999; IV, Oversize Materials, 1955.
Scope and Content Note
The John Randolph papers consist of his personal and professional files. They reflect his passions for acting, activism, social justice and his intense relationship with his wife, Sarah Cunningham. The materials range from a very personal, but still political, correspondence with his new wife during the years of World War II to notes sent backstage when he was appearing in Broadway Bound; from his Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) file to the work he created to keep him and his fellow blacklistees employed. The papers are organized into three series.
Series I: Correspondence, 1918-1999. Over the years John wrote, and received, letters that ranged from the political to the personal, and often both. This series includes correspondence from around the world; notable are the letters between Randolph and Sarah Cunningham during the years of World War II. The letters begin on July 8, 1941, when each writes a letter to the other. The correspondence carries on through John's (now Mortimer again as far as the army is concerned) service in the Army Air Corps, which begins in April of 1942 and ends in December 1945. Other incoming correspondence includes letters from film and theatre notables such as Jules Dassin and Frank Silvera.
Series II: Subject Files, 1940-1999, contains files illustrating Randolph's political concerns, including the Committee for Employment of Negro Performers and the New York State Commission for Human Rights. As a member and then councilor at Actors' Equity, he was active in the ethnic minorities and Paul Robeson Award committees. His strong involvement with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) is seen in files on the blacklist and on the House Committee on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Material from this period includes clippings from before, during and after his Committee appearance in 1955, as well as related correspondence and his FOIA file. His later involvement in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) is also chronicled. Other issues represented include freedom for Angela Davis, international friendship societies, Vietnam, women's rights, and the Rosenberg Case.
Series III: Productions and Professional Activities, 1938-1999, contains documentation of most productions Randolph appeared in, from The Living Flame in 1939 to the original Broadway productions of Come Back Little Sheba (1950), Paint Your Wagon (1951), Sound of Music (1959), and his Tony Award-winning turn in Broadway Bound (1986). Theatre files also include Off-Broadway, summer stock and road companies (besides Native Son mentioned earlier, he appeared with Melvyn Douglas in Inherit the Wind), and there are files on his radio, television, and film work. From the early days of the blacklist onward Randolph gathered material that could be used in concert readings, and saved the notes he had compiled for his work. He excerpted plays, film scripts, stories, and adapted material with the help of Phoebe Brand and Frederic Ewen. Their appearances were often under the banner of Quartette Productions. Also included are scripts for a number of benefit performances. Randolph produced for Stage for Action's Satire Matinee, presented in 1946 at Café Society; was artistic consultant for the Philadelphia Drama Guild, and, with Sarah Cunningham, helped found the Ensemble Studio Theatre in both New York and Los Angeles.
Series IV: Oversize Material, 1955: contains a scrapbook of clippings and statements re: the 1955 HUAC hearings compiled for a benefit on June 12, 1997 at the Stella Adler Studio in Los Angeles, California, and an ad from Variety dated July 27, 1955 urging a no vote by AFTRA members on a proposed rule to "fine, censure, suspend or expel any member who fails to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee."
Series V: Photographs and Recordings: contains images and audio related to Randolph's career, family life, and political activism. Randolph's photographs document his career and family life, and contain images of his military service in the 1940s, his children in the 1950s, his acting career, and several portraits. The audio recording in this series relate primarily to Randolph's career and activism and contain training materials, recordings of Randolph's voice work, and political speeches. There are also several recordings of African freedom songs from the 1970s. Most of these recordings are on magnetic reel to reel tapes, while a small portion of recordings are on cassette tapes. Other materials contained in this series include films negatives, slides, a VHS tape, and a CD of Randolph's memorial.
Conditions Governing Access
Materials are open without restriction.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright (or related rights to publicity and privacy) for materials in this collection, created by John Randolph was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder.
Published citations should take the following form:
Identification of item, date; John Randolph Papers; WAG 255; box number; folder number; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Donated by John Randolph's daughter, Martha Randolph, in June 2004. The accession number associated with this gift is 2004.032.
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Photographs, audio- and video-tapes from the Randolph Papers have been separated to the Non-Print Department of the Tamiment Library.
About this Guide
Processing decisions made prior to 2017 have not been recorded. In 2017 underfilled boxes were condensed and box numbers were updated.