Lee Grant on life beyond the Hollywood blacklist

Lee Grant on her career's brightest and darke... 07:53

Lee Grant is a Hollywood veteran with remarkable staying power. Not that she hasn't experienced setbacks and disappointments along the way. She talks about that and more with our Michelle Miller:

Lee Grant has been studying her face for more than 80 years -- and so have we, on stage, on television, and in movies such as "Shampoo," "Valley of the Dolls," and "In the Heat of the Night."

For four and 1/2 years, sitting in her Manhattan apartment, the Academy Award-winning actress and director confronted her past, writing it all down by hand. The result is the new, thoroughly-honest memoir, "I Said Yes to Everything."

Blue Rider Press

Her real name is Lyova Haskell Rosenthal. Her family had a vision for her: a life of fame and of glamour (maybe as a dancer).

"A rich, rich, rich American, with a slightly English accent," Grant said. "You know, what they saw in the movies."

"So there was play-acting going on," said Miller.

"Not play-acting. There was just a yearning, a wish, an immigrant's wish. And it all depended on me to carry out the wish."

To make that wish come true, she threw herself into studying theater. Her early training led to a part in the 1949 Broadway play, "Detective Story," a role she repeated in the film. It earned her the first of four Oscar nominations.

But as quickly as she had ascended, it all came crashing down.

She was blacklisted for 12 years, from the time she was 24 to 36 -- prime years for an actress. "Can you imagine?" she said.

Starting in 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed actors, directors and writers to discover if the entertainment industry was indoctrinating Americans with Communist ideology.

Miller asked, "What did you think about Communism at the time? Was it something that you were passionate about?"

"I knew nothing about it," Grant said. "And it was one of the big rifts between my husband and myself. He was a Communist. And I didn't have the base for that kind of philosophy. I just couldn't understand it."

Lee Grant and the fallout of the blacklist 02:14

Not only was Grant in love with an American Communist, screenwriter Arnie Manoff, she had agreed to speak at the memorial service of a fellow actor, J. Edward Bromberg, who had been blacklisted and died of a heart attack just short of his 48th birthday.

"And two days later, I was in a union meeting, Actors Equity meeting, and the actor in front of me said, 'I see you've made the list,'" Grant recalled. "And I said, 'What list?' And he said, '"Red Channels.' He had this book of Red Channels, and my name was in it: 'Lee Grant' was in it with the words that I'd said at his memorial."

"What is it to see your name on that list today?" Miller asked.

"Well, I'm in good company!" Grant replied.

Her name was placed on a list that included Leonard Bernstein, Lena Horne, Arthur Miller, Pete Seeger, Orson Welles, and many others.

"From that day, for 12 years, I couldn't work again in film or television," Grant said.

And once her name appeared, she had to testify in Washington, D.C., before the Un-American Activities Committee.

"They asked me if I got my work through the Communists," Grant said. "They apparently had put together 'Communist agent' with 'theater agent.' So an agent, they thought, was a Communist agent.

"They were, they were so stupid!" she laughed.