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Subject: ARCHIVE: July 29, 1998 ~O. Z. Whitehead, actor mostly remembered in 'downhome' timid cowboy apart of director John Ford stock stable of (and last surviving) character players, notably in 1941's "Grapes of Wrath" as Al Joad (Henry Fonda's younger brother), later moves to Ireland, where he dies of cancer at age 87. ...

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Date Posted: Sunday, July 29, 01:18:19pm

Whitehead was a stage and film character actor. ...

O. Z. Whitehead
[ Oothout Zabriskie Whitehead ]
(March 1, 1911 – July 29, 1998)

He was born in New York City, and as a child he was fascinated by films and the theatre and decided to make his career as an actor after his father took him to see Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in The Kid in 1921. Later he attended Harvard University. Called "O.Z." or "Zebby", and authored several volumes of biographical sketches of early members of the Bahá'í Faith especially in the West after he moved ("pioneered" as a Bahá'í) to Dublin, Ireland in 1963.

Film, TV and Theatre actor …
O.Z. Whitehead first appeared on Broadway in Martin Beck Theatre performing in The Lake (1933) in 55 performances from December 1933 to February 1934 (which was Katharine Hepburn's first Broadway leading role) and 11 other plays by 1939. Hepburn encourages his early career. Whitehead's film debut was in The Scoundrel (1935) by Ben Hecht, and Charles MacArthur, which won a 1936 Oscar for Best Original Story.

Whitehead was one of the last surviving members of John Ford's "stock company" of character actors. Along with John Carradine, Donald Meek, Ward Bond, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey, Jr. et al., Whitehead was one of the many actors regularly employed by Ford to breathe life into even the smallest roles in his films. His best-known part was that of Al in Ford's 1940 adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath. …

...Whitehead most famously played Al Joad (Henry Fonda's younger brother) in John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath (1940) which was nominated for, and won, several Oscars. During WWII, a devout anti-war pacifist, Whitehead nevertheless served in the military, and was discharged as a sergeant, but a curvature of the spine kept him from seeing any combat during his active duty.

Later, Whitehead starred as Clarence in a stage production of Life with Father with Lillian Gish among a total of more than 50 films and TV series episodes performances. Whitehead's first TV episode was The Arrow and the Bow in Cavalcade of America in 1953 and continued in other shows like Gunsmoke (1958), Bonanza (1960), and two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1960–61). In 1961 he made a guest appearance on Perry Mason as murderer Harry Beacom in "The Case of the Cowardly Lion."

He was 50 years old when he played the teenager 'Herbert Carruthers'
in John Ford's "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (1962). In the film (his last w/Ford),
although he played Denver Pyle's son, he was actually nine years his SENIOR in real life. …

Move to Ireland …
Shortly thereafter Whitehead moved to Ireland and participated in theatre arts there. In 1966 he won the Best Supporting Actor award at the Dublin Theatre Festival for his performance in Eugene O'Neill's Hughie, a part he was to reprise at the Peacock until 1989. In 1983 he played the role of American Ambassador David Gray in the RTÉ television drama Caught in a Free State, set in neutral Ireland during World War II. His final role was as the narrator/Voice in the Irish horror film Biological Maintenance Department (1997). Following his move to Ireland he established the "O. Z. Whitehead Award" supporting theatre in 1966, the first year including Dr. Michael McDonnell, for his play All Gods Die on Friday. Other winners have been Ivy Bannister, Aodhan Madden, and Francis Harvey.

Personal life ..
After years in stage, film and television Whitehead struggled in the Hollywood Studio system, a pacifist in World War II and became dissatisfied with the roles he was given, and then first heard of the Bahá'í Faith in 1949. At his first informational meeting on the religion, Whitehead heard well-known researcher Marzieh Gail. Whitehead joined the religion late in 1950, gave public talks on the religion such as at World Religion Day observances and other occasions in the 1950s, went on pilgrimage to its spiritual and administrative center in Haifa in 1955. He also attended the first Bahá'í World Congress in 1963 in London. He then pioneered to Ireland while also taking to the Dublin theatrical opportunities. Whitehead was elected to the Local Spiritual Assembly of Dublin and the National Spiritual Assembly of Ireland on which he served for 15 years following its formation in 1972. From about 1973 through the end of his life Whitehead devoted much of his time to the concerns of the religion including work resulting in publishing three books collecting biographies of early Bahá'ís while in his 6th decade but he also supported the Irish Actors' Equity and the Screen Actors' Guild and served on the executive of the Irish branch of PEN, the international writers' club. Although Zebbie Whitehead never married, he was in a long-term and very private relationship with actress Katharine Hepburn. The couple met through Dick Hepburn, who studied at Harvard University with Zebbie. After they agreed to part, Zebbie was never known to be in another relationship.

Death ...
Whitehead died of cancer in Dublin in 1998, at the age of 87.

Links …

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