Lee Grant won’t stop making waves

Lee Grant won’t stop making waves

Lee Grant always has stood up for the disenfranchised, whether sitting before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the McCarthy era or in the director’s chair in more recent years.

“I’m not smart about keeping my mouth shut,” the legendary actress says matter-of-factly. “It’s obviously gotten me into trouble all my life, but I can’t help myself.”

For speaking out against socio-political abuses, Grant is receiving the Freedom of Expression Award at the 35th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival on Sunday, before a screening of her 1980 directorial debut, “Tell Me a Riddle.”

“The fact that ‘Tell Me a Riddle’ was first shown at this Jewish Film Festival in its first year, and this many years later, they have the grace to ask me back to commemorate it, is a tremendous honor,” she says. “This is my first and probably most important film. It’s so worthy and moving to me that we should all come together again.”

Based on San Francisco feminist author Tillie Olsen’s award-winning story “Tell Me a Riddle” — about an aged Russian Jewish émigré who cannot escape traumatic memories of Communism — the film was a natural draw for Grant, whose own Jewish mother emigrated from Russia.

“’Tell Me a Riddle’ was also so connected with the people I married and those I became friends with, when I was a 24-year-old actress,” she says. “It was something that gave me an opportunity to find my own voice and transmit these really deep, emotional feelings that were left over from 12 years of not being able to work in film or television.”

Three decades earlier, Grant — who garnered praise for her 1951 film debut in “Detective Story” — came under scrutiny for publicly criticizing the HUAC in a eulogy for an investigated costar. After refusing to testify against her then-husband, playwright Arnold Manoff, she was blacklisted for a dozen years.

In a reversal of fortune, after being removed from the Hollywood blacklist in 1963, she enjoyed 12 of her richest years in front of the camera, costarring in “In the Heat of the Night” (1967), “Valley of the Dolls” (1967) and “Shampoo” (1975), for which she won her first Oscar.

She went on to direct movies championing feminist rights (“A Matter of Sex”), supporting transgender people (“What Sex Am I?”) and railing against economic oppression (Oscar-winning “Down and Out in America”).

Grant recognizes just how topical many of her films remain today. She says, “The betrayal of the promise of equality, I relate it to the [Pussy Riot] girls or any of the people who’ve been jailed or killed in recent years for speaking their mind.”


Lee Grant
Presented by S.F. Jewish Film Festival
Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., S.F.
When: 2:35 p.m. Aug. 2
Tickets: $18
Contact: www.sfjff.org
Note: The festival continues through Aug. 9 in San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Palo Alto and San Rafael. Detective Storyfeministfreedom of expression awardHUACLee GrantMovies and TVSan Francisco Jewish Film FestivalShampooTell Me a Riddle

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/


Lee Grant won’t stop making waves

Lee Grant appears in The City this weekend to accept the S.F. Jewish Film Festival’s Freedom of Expression Award.

Lee Grant appears in The City this weekend to accept the S.F. Jewish Film Festival’s Freedom of Expression Award.

Just Posted

Quarterback Nick Mullens is expected to get his third straight start Sunday. Mullens is 46 of 73 for 538 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions in his other two starts this season. <ins>(Chris Victorio / Special to S.F. Examiner).</ins>
49ers trying to turn season around in Sunday’s prime-time faceoff with the Rams

49ers at Rams When: Sunday, 1:05 p.m. Where: SoFi Stadium, Inglewood TV:… Continue reading

Psilocybin magic mushrooms (Shutterstock)
‘Magic mushrooms’ moving into the mainstream

Efforts to decriminalize psychedelics could follow several different paths

Those who stick around San Francisco on long holiday weekends can enjoy a slower pace, uncrowded streets and beloved institutions like cable cars. <ins>(Kevin Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
These empty San Francisco streets: A holiday dream

We’re here because we can be, and because we have nowhere else to be

The 2020 Census has concluded taking responses sooner than expected. (Courtesy photo)
What does California have to lose if undocumented immigrants are excluded from the census?

By Kim Bojórquez The Sacramento Bee If The U.S. Supreme Court rules… Continue reading

It’s disheartening to see that Bill Graham Civic’s marquee isn’t announcing upcoming concerts. (Screenshot/Bill Graham Civic Twitter)
A cruise through The City with the ghosts of rides past

I take my time and don’t even mind the occasional traffic jams

Most Read