Childhood & Early Life
Joel Grey was born Joel David Katz on 11th April, 1932 in Cleveland, Ohio. His father, Mickey Katz, was a Jewish actor, musician and comedian while his mother was Goldie “Grace” (nee Epstein).
Joel attended the Alexander Hamilton High School while living in Los Angeles, California. Being from a family of actors, Joel too was attracted to acting at a very young age.
He began his acting career in the Cleveland’s Play House’s Curtain Pullers Children’s Theatre Programme at the age of 8. His first plays included ‘On Borrowed Time’, ‘Jack of Tarts’, and ‘Grandmother’s Slyboots’.
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Joel Gray made his film debut in 1952 in the film ‘About Face’. His TV debut was in 1956 in ‘Producer’s Showcase’.
From 1952 to 1958, he appeared in TV shows like ‘Telephone Time’, ‘December Bride’, ‘The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom’, and ‘The Court of Last Resort’ before appearing in the popular ‘Little Women’ in which he played Theodore “Laurie” Lawrence.
A year later, in 1959, he played Billy the Kid, in the famous American Western TV series, ‘Maverick’.
Although he made his Broadway debut in 1951, his first successful play came in 1961. It was ‘Come Blow Your Horn’ by Neil Simon. After this, he worked in a few TV series like ‘Bronco’, ‘The Ann Southern Show’, ‘Lawman’, ‘Yes, Yes Nanette’, ‘77 Sunset Trip’ and others.
In 1966, he appeared in the Musical Play ‘Cabaret’ by Christopher Isherwood as Master of Ceremonies. His role was appreciated by many audiences and thus, a film adaptation of the play was made in 1972. He played the same role in the film and it won him many awards and nominations.
Between the period from 1973 to 1991 he was a part of many TV shoes like ‘The $10,000 Pyramid’, ‘T’was the Night Before Christmas’, ‘The Carol Brunett Show’, ‘The Yeommen of the Guard’, and others.
In the same period, Gray also made some notable films including ‘Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins’, ‘Buffalo Bills and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson’, and others.
He also did some popular Broadway plays like ‘George M!’, ‘Goodtime Charley’, and ‘The Grand Tour’. All three plays gave him brilliant reputation as an actor and earned him many nominations.
In 1987, he again acted as the Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret.In 1992, he became part of the famous TV series, Brooklyn Bridge where he played Jacob Prossman.
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However, after the 1990s he played relatively minor roles in films like ‘The Music of Chance’, ‘A Christmas Carol’, ‘The Empty Mirror’, ‘Dancer in the Dark’, and many others.He also appeared in single episodes in TV shows like ‘Crossing Jordan’, ‘House’, ‘Star Trek: Voyager’, ‘Private Practice’, ‘CSI: Crime Scene Investigation’, and others.
Joel did not act in many Broadway plays after his great run in the Broadway in 1970s. Some of his latter plays include ‘When We Dead Awaken’, ‘Anything Goes’, ‘The Cherry Orchard’, and others.
Joel Gray’s first book of his photography was published in 2003. It was called ‘Pictures I Had To Take’.His second book was called ‘Looking Hard At Unexpected Things’ and it was published in 2006. The third one, Images from MyPhone was published in 2009.
He held an exhibition of his work in 2011 at the Museum of the City of New York. It was titled ‘Joel Grey/ A New York Life’.
He published his 4th book in 2013 that featured the multilayered billboard of New York City. It was called ‘The Billboard Papers: Photographs by Joel Grey’.
Awards & Achievements
Joel was awarded a Star at 6753 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Live Theatre.
In 1966, he was awarded the Tony for Best Performance by a Featured actor in a Musical for Cabaret. He played the Master of Ceremonies in the play.
The film adaptation also earned him many awards. He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, BAFTA Award for Best Newcomer, Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture, Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor, National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor, and National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor for the film version.
He was nominated four times for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical for Chicago, Cabaret, The Grand Tour, and Goodtime Charley.
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He also earned a nomination for the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for George M!, Goodtime Charley, and The Grand Tour.
Gray was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series in the Brooklyn Bridge.
He also got nomination for Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture and the Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor for the role of Chiun “Master of Sinanju” in Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.
Joel married Jo Wilder in 1958. They have two children, Jennifer and James. Jennifer Grey is the actress of Dirty Dancing fame and James is a successful chef. Joel and Jo divorced in 1982.
Joel revealed his sexuality as gay in January 2015 and also explained how he faced difficulties while paying the Master of Ceremonies.
According to him, “I don't like labels, but if you have to put a label on it, I'm a gay man.”
Joel’s father was a clarinetist, saxophone player and a musician.
He is inspired by Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist and Joseph Cornell.
James Cagney is his favorite actor.
He has narrated the Tom & Jerry Movie.
He delivered a presentation named “God’s Mission and West Africa” which explored the perils and powers of the missions in West Africa.
He is one of the nine actors that won the Oscar and the Tony Award for the same role in a play and a film.
He has been mentioned in a song named Lincoln’s Eyes by Mercury Rev.