Jeff Corey & Me: Filling In the Blanks in My Own Life Story

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott researches the history of an old acting professor of his—Jeff Corey—and discovers that filling in the blanks of Jeff’s life story in turn fills in some blanks in his own life history.

If you follow my posts here on the blog for GenealogyBank.com, you read toward the end of my latest article “Finding the Historical Articles That Tell My Ancestor’s Story” that I had discovered a one-line death notice for Jeff Corey. He was one of my favorite professors when I was a student in the “World Campus Afloat” program. While I remember him as my instructor, you might best recall him as Sherriff Ray Bledsoe in the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Finding Jeff’s death notice led me to think back on many of the stories that this friendly, approachable, and talented professor shared with me when I was a student, and reminded me how important he once had been in my life. Sadly, I realized that although he once mentored me, he actually was a blank in my life history—I really didn’t know very much about Jeff Corey.

These memories prompted me to undertake another search in GenealogyBank.com and see what else I might discover about Jeff. As usual, I wasn’t disappointed and I was able to more fully document and add this person from my own life to my family’s extensive family history and genealogy—filling in the blanks about Jeff’s story in turn filled in a blank in my own life history.

The first thing I did, as any good genealogist does, is look for multiple copies of an individual’s obituary. I was very happy to discover that, while my earlier find had been only that one-sentence death notice, more than a dozen other newspapers provided more extensive obituaries for Jeff Corey. As you might expect for an American actor, one of the best I found was in a Los Angeles newspaper.

Obituaries: Jeff Corey, 88, Los Angeles Times newspaper article 19 August 2002

Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California), 19 August 2002

Not only did this extensive obituary list some of Jeff’s best known roles in movies such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, In Cold Blood, and Little Big Man, it also listed some of his television credits in successful sitcoms such as One Day at a Time and Night Court. Then his life story got really interesting.

I found more information on a time in Jeff’s life that he had only briefly touched on when we talked those many years ago as student and instructor. This was the period when Jeff Corey was blacklisted in Hollywood for more than ten years! His mistreatment was a result of Jeff’s appearance before the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the 1950s. Once again, GenealogyBank.com and its database of historical documents proved invaluable.

In GenealogyBank’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set collection, I found the Annual Report for the Committee on Un-American Activities for the year 1952. It included Jeff Corey with the notation: “(Appeared Sept. 21, 1951, and refused to affirm or deny Communist Party membership.)” On the same page you can see many others who also refused to comply with the committee’s demands.

U.S. Congressional Serial Set: Annual report of the Committee on Un-American Activities for the year 1952

U.S. Congressional Serial Set: Annual report of the Committee on Un-American Activities for the year 1952. December 28, 1952. (Original release date.) January 3, 1953.

This action was enough to get Jeff Corey blacklisted and banned from any work in Hollywood for more than ten years. I found Jeff’s comment, related in his obituary, to be most interesting. He said “The only issue was, did you want to just give them their token names so you could continue your career, or not?” He chose not to name any others in Hollywood.

I think you could say that Jeff got the last laugh, though. While I am sure he missed out on a multitude of roles in those ten years—and he did tell me they were some very lean years—he became one of the most sought-after acting coaches in all of Hollywood!

This 1975 California newspaper article reported that some of Jeff’s more notable students were such Hollywood superstars as Jack Nicholson, Anthony Quinn, Jane Fonda, and Kirk Douglas. Needless to say, I was truly impressed by this talented group.

Jeff Corey Sees Simplicity as 'The Logic to Acting,' San Diego Union newspaper article 2 January 1975

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 2 January 1975, page 47

Jeff’s return to the “big screen” was noted in this 1961 Louisiana newspaper article.

Jeff Corey Back before Cameras after 10 Years, State Times Advocate newspaper article 17 January 1961

State Times Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 17 January 1961, page 9

Jeff continued to coach actors even after he returned to his career in acting. I found a wonderful quote praising Jeff by one of my favorite actors, James Coburn, published in this 1979 Ohio newspaper article.

notice about actor Jeff Corey, Plain Dealer newspaper article 31 August 1979

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 31 August 1979, page 142

After I finished my genealogy research on Jeff, I was pleased with how much information I had found and how much more I knew of this cherished professor. I was also happy because I had filled in a delightful segment in my own family history story—one I hope my children and grandchildren will someday enjoy reading as much as I did researching and writing it.

My closing advice is this: Don’t overlook your own life stories while you are working on your genealogy. They can be great fun and lead to many surprising discoveries!

Finding the Historical Articles That Tell My Ancestor’s Story

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott writes about finding old newspapers articles about a foreign-study program called “World Campus Afloat” that he once participated in—the same program, it turns out, that a family member had attended years earlier.

As a genealogical historian I often include what some people might call the “back story” on many of my ancestors. I, however, much prefer to call it the “front story.” I take great enjoyment and pride in being able to add more to my family members’ profiles on my family tree than just facts, figures, and dates. I think of each person’s profile as a quilt. As a result, I need to find and attach as many of the unique squares—the stories—that represent their lives. I believe a terrific place to find such ancestor stories is in the historical newspapers of the time.

So it was that I found myself using GenealogyBank.com while I was working on stitching up the “quilt” for one of our family members. I had made the discovery that they, too, had attended “Semester at Sea,” the same foreign-study program that I had, although they had done it many years before I attended. Not being familiar with this program’s roots, I decided to take a look for what was originally named the “University of the Seven Seas.” Not expecting much, I was amazed to find that my search provided me with over 240 results!

photo of the author, Scott Phillips, as a youth on board ship, participating in the World Campus Afloat program

Photo: the author as a youth (left) on board ship, participating in the World Campus Afloat program

The first article I read was a terrific find from the Springfield Union. It featured an article that covered more than half a page of newsprint and told a detailed story about the very first voyage ever undertaken by the University of the Seven Seas program, and featured the first Academic Dean and a local student as well.

SC Professor Back after Semester on High Seas, Springfield Union newspaper article 23 February 1964

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 23 February 1964, page 51

The next article I read was published in the Boston Herald. Again I found that the wonderful focus on detail provided by good newspaper reporting paid dividends: the news article listed dates of sailing, duration of the voyages, and ports of call. It also gave a bit of history, talked about the partners in the program at that time, and gave some personal insights by students.

New 'Semesters at Sea' Scheduled by Ship Line, Boston Herald newspaper article 19 April 1964

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 19 April 1964, page 264

My next discovery led me to the fact that the program officially changed names from the “University of the Seven Seas” to “World Campus Afloat.” Thanks to another capable newspaperwoman or man, this fact was nicely showcased in an old article published in the Trenton Evening Times and provided me with yet more detailed information.

Floating Campus Cruises the World, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 10 December 1967

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 10 December 1967, page 53

From a report in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set from the “Historical Documents” portion of the GenealogyBank.com database, I learned that a member of the program’s faculty testified on United States policy toward Asia in front of a subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee in 1966. It was interesting to read the biography of this individual, Dr. C. Y. Pan, and then to follow along and read his actual testimony.

United States Policy toward Asia, U.S. Congressional Serial Set: Vol. No.12725-3; Report: H.Doc. 488; 19 May 1966

U.S. Congressional Serial Set: Vol. No.12725-3; Report: H.Doc. 488; 19 May 1966

At this point I had lost all track of time and must have read more than 50 historical articles and scanned many more, but another one caught my eye and I had to keep going. It was published in the Greensboro Daily News, and when I opened the article—there was an old classmate of mine looking back at me from the newspaper photograph showing up on my computer screen!

New Program Lets Students Help Plan Courses, Greensboro Daily News newspaper article 26 December 1972

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 26 December 1972, page 51

I was about to conclude my searching for the evening when I found one more article of interest. Sadly, it was an obituary for the actor Jeff Corey. Jeff had been our Actor-in-Residence, drama professor, and a wonderfully friendly, open, and approachable member of our shipboard faculty. This was certainly a bittersweet find.

Jeff Corey death notice, USA Today newspaper article 3 January 2003

USA Today (Arlington, Virginia), 3 January 2003

So not only did I find enough material to more fully tell the story about my family member as I had set out to do, but I also found out a great deal more about an educational organization we both attended. In doing so, I rekindled old memories of my own. What a tremendous side benefit to my family tree research!

Do you have anything like this in common with your ancestors? If so, please share with us in the comments. We love to hear your family stories.