John Randolph, Tony-Winning Character Actor, Dead at 88

Obituaries   John Randolph, Tony-Winning Character Actor, Dead at 88
John Randolph, an accomplished character actor whose career include Broadway collaborations with Orson Welles and the Lunts, as well as a Tony Award-winning performance in Neil Simon's Broadway Bound, died Feb. 24 at his home in Hollywood, the New York Times reported. He was 88.

Mr. Randolph appeared in dozens of Broadway plays and musicals, his career on the stage culminating in the final play in Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach trilogy," Broadway Bound, in which he was honored for his portrayal of the cranky, opinionated grandfather Ben. As in many another Randolph performance, the character was far from shy, plain-spoken and wielded his gravelly Bronx accent for purposes both comical and menacing. Frank Rich, writing in the New York Times, said he played Ben with "a matchless mixture of buried affection and shrewd comic timing."

After winning the Tony, Mr. Randolph spend the remainder of his career in film (save a brief stint in Broadway's Prelude to a Kiss), where he made an impression as difficult, but lovable father figures in "Prizzi's Honor" and "You've Got Mail."

Mr. Randolph made his Broadway debut as a Roman herald in a short-lived 1938 Charles Hopkins production of Coriolanus. Producer Hopkins used him several more times. His first musical experience came with 1940's Lane-Harburg show, Hang on to Your Hats. Again, his part was small. His first bonafied hit came with the war drama Command Decision, followed by William Inge's Come Back, Little Sheba.

During his long career, Mr. Randolph—who was possessed of piercing eyes (often emanating a sly twinkle) and a wide, expressive mouth—seemed to have encountered every towering talent in the theatre. He performed in Orson's Welles' production of Native Son in Chicago, and was directed by Lee Strasberg in Peer Gynt in 1951. He was in the original productions of Lerner and Loewe's Paint Your Wagon, Harold Arlen and Truman Capote's House of Flowers, which was staged by Peter Brook, and Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music. He acted in Robert Anderson's All Summer Long, directed by Alan Schneider; appeared with Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn in Triple Play; and was directed by Jerome Robbins in the Anne Bancroft production of Mother Courage.

The actor worked steadily throughout the '50s and '60s, despite having been blacklisted for having refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955. One of his most noteworthy credits was The Visit, the 1958 production of the Durrenmatt drama which was Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne's swan song. He played Police Chief Schultz, a gruff character well within Mr. Randolph's range. During a pre-Broadway engagement in Boston, he got he feeling he was going to be fired. When Lunt asked him to visit his hotel room one evening, he was sure of it. Instead, Lunt, a notorious disciplinarian, rehearsed with Randolph throughout the night until the actors felt confident of their scenes together. Mr. Randolph told of leaving the hotel room in the early morning feeling artistically elated.

John Randolph was born Emanuel Hirsch Cohen in the Bronx. He attended City College and studied in the Federal Theater Project. His wife of 41 years, Sarah Cunningham, died in 1986. He is survived by a daughter and a son.

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