Lee J. Cobb was an American actor. He is best known for his performance in 12 Angry Men (1957), his Academy Award-nominated performance in On the Waterfront (1954), and one of his last films, The Exorcist (1973). He also played the role of Willy Loman in the original Broadway performance of Arthur Miller's 1949 play Death of a Salesman under the direction of Elia Kazan.
Born Leo Jacob in New York City to a Jewish family of Russian and Romanian extraction. He grew up in The Bronx, New York, on Wilkins Avenue, near Crotona Park. His parents were Benjamin (Benzion) Jacob, a compositor for a foreign-language newspaper, and Kate Neilecht. Cobb studied at New York University before making his film debut in The Vanishing Shadow (1934). He joined the Manhattan-based Group Theatre in 1935.
Cobb did summer stock at Pine Brook Country Club located in the countryside of Nichols, Connecticut, in the 1930s and early 1940s. Pine Brook was the summer home of the Group Theatre (New York) from 1931 until the 1940s. During World War II Cobb served in the First Motion Picture Unit of the Army Air Force.
Cobb entered films in the 1930s, successfully playing middle-aged and even older men while he was still a youth. He was cast as the Kralahome in the 1946 non-musical film Anna and the King of Siam. He also played the sympathetic doctor in The Song of Bernadette and appeared as James Coburn's supervisor in the spy spoofs In Like Flint and Our Man Flint. He reprised his role of Willy Loman in the 1966 CBS television adaptation of Death of a Salesman, which included Gene Wilder, James Farentino, Bernie Kopell and George Segal. Cobb was nominated for an Emmy Award for the performance. Mildred Dunnock, who had co-starred in both the original stage version and the 1951 film version, again repeated her role as Linda, Willy's devoted wife.
In 1957 he appeared in Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men as the abrasive Juror #3. In 1959, on CBS' DuPont Show of the Month, he starred in the dual roles of Miguel de Cervantes and Don Quixote in the play I, Don Quixote, which years later became the musical Man of La Mancha. Cobb also appeared as Wyoming ranch owner Judge Henry Garth in the first four seasons of the long-running NBC western television series The Virginian. His co-stars were James Drury, Doug McClure, Roberta Shore, Gary Clarke, Randy Boone, Clu Gulager and Diane Roter.
In 1968 his performance as King Lear with Stacy Keach as Edmund, René Auberjonois as the Fool and Philip Bosco as Kent achieved the longest run for the play in Broadway history, although the 1950 Broadway production of the play, with Louis Calhern as Lear, played 48 performances as opposed to Cobb's 47.
One of his final film roles was that of police detective Lt. Kinderman in the 1973 horror film The Exorcist.
Cobb died of a heart attack in 1976 in Woodland Hills, California, and was buried in Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.