Rod Steiger

On this date in 1925, actor Rod Steiger was born in New York City, the only child of parents who had played on vaudeville and got divorced when he was a baby. His mother, who suffered from alcoholism, raised him as a single parent. After Pearl Harbor, the 16-year-old lied about his age and joined the Navy, serving in the Pacific during WWII. Steiger attended drama school on the GI Bill, and eventually studied at the Actors Studio. He participated in the Golden Age of live television, and began a memorable career as villains and heavies, such as playing the menacing ranch-hand Jud Fry in "Oklahoma!" (1955). Steiger won an Oscar for best actor, playing the redneck Mississippi police chief opposite Sidney Poitier in the 1967 film "In the Heat of the Night." He played a tortured Auschwitz survivor in "The Pawnbroker." That and several other Jewish roles, such as the rigid rabbi in "The Chosen," made some fans suppose he was Jewish. According to Tim Boxer's Jewish Celebrity Anecdotes, Steiger, an agnostic, was actually born of Lutherans (cited by Warren Allen Smith in Who's Who in Hell). Other memorable roles included portraying "Mr. Joyboy" in The Loved One, the domineering seducer of Lara in "Dr. Zhivago," and Ray Bradbury's "The Illustrated Man." He was married five times and spoke openly of the depression he suffered during the 1980s. He died at age 77. D. 2002.

"That's all religion is -- some principle you believe in . . . man has accomplished far more miracles than the God he invented. What a tragedy it is to invent a God and then suffer to keep him King."

—-Rod Steiger, in Playboy magazine (July interview, 1969)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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