“What kind of man are you?”
Juror #11 is perhaps simultaneously the most broadly and most subtly written character in Reginald Rose’s legal drama 12 Angry Men. He’s the “noble and respectful Eastern European artisan immigrant,” a character type we’ve all seen a hundred times. You could cast Gepetto in the role if you wanted to. But his immigrant status is barely alluded to, and it sharply informs some of the conversations being had in the jury room. The other members of the jury appear to talk around him, avoiding him, ignoring him, or (maybe unintentionally) patronizing him. None of them really know how to deal with him. Next time you see the film, put the word “commie” in a thought bubble each time one of the other characters is looking at or speaking to him. Remember that the Army-McCarthy hearings had occurred just three years prior, and McCarthy himself had died of hepatitis earlier the same year. The HUAC-motivated Hollywood blacklist was still in effect. Any man of eastern European extraction was still subject to silent suspicion. Juror #11 could be forgiven if he just kept his mouth shut…or if he lost his patience and started shouting at everybody. The only fellow juror he eventually takes to task is #7, who doesn’t seem to care whether justice is served or not. He cares deeply that the jury does its job faithfully and honestly. This character personifies many of the strengths of both the United States’ open society and the jury system.
Voskovec was, himself, someone who personally understood the plight of being “one of them” in mid-century America. He was born in 1905 in Austria-Hungarian Bohemia (in an area which was later incorporated into Czechoslovakia) under the name of Jirí Wachsmann. When he was 15 years old, the family changed the name to Voskovec, a Czech translation. Young Jirí received his education at a law school in Prague, and appeared in the 1926 film “Pohádka máje.” (below)
In 1927, Jirí began appearing on stage in “Vest Pocket Revue.” He established a long-running partnership there with Jan Werich, a fellow law student who had also been part of the very popular show. The pair was asked to join the avant-garde Liberated Theater, and took control of the organization’s output just two years later, writing and producing 26 plays over the following eleven years. They also began writing and acting in films such as “Your Money or Your Life” (1932), “Workers, Let’s Go” (1934), and “”The World is Ours” (1937). The nature of their stage shows, which began as fantastical comedies, gradually became anti-fascist in content. Because of this, the Liberated Theatre of Voskovec and Werich (which it was now titled) was forced to close after Nazi Germany’s occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939. Both men fled the country and headed to the United States early that year.
Voskovec and Werich in their very popular clown personas
Once in the United States, the pair appeared at the Cleveland Playhouse in “Heavy Barbara” and “The Ass and the Shadow,” and “George” made his debut on Broadway in William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Voskovec and Werich also worked for the United States government during the second World War, writing and broadcasting several radio shows for the “Voice of America,” a counter-propoganda news organization. Werich returned to Czechoslovakia in 1943 and committed himself to his work in theatre and film there.
Voskovek and Werich with popular songwriter and theatre collaborator Jaroslav Jezek
After World War II ended, Voskovec returned to Prague and worked with Werich there until February of 1948, when communists came to power there and forced the closure of their theatre. Though his friend Werich decided to stay in communist Czechoslovakia, Voskovec left again, moving to Paris and founding the American Theatre of Paris in 1949, serving as producer/director.
Two years later, when he attempted to return to the United States, Voskovec got a much different welcome than before. A fellow Czech accused him of being a communist upon their arrival, and Voskovec was detained at Ellis Island for nearly an entire year before finally being released and exonerated. This was 1951. Voskovec scoffed at Soviet claims that Ellis Island was a concentration camp, asserting that he was very well treated while he was there, but the experience did dampen his idealized image of the United States.
Despite all of these setbacks, the closure of his theatre, separation from his lifelong acting partner, and being accused of communist sympathies, Voskovec managed to begin working in Hollywood immediately, appearing alongside Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford in 1952’s “Affair in Trinidad.” The film took in $7 million at the box office, and was considered a big comeback for Hayworth.
He also showed up in “The Iron Mistress” with Alan Ladd and Virginia Mayo, and began appearing regularly in television programs, including “The United States Steel Hour,” “You Are There,” …
Voskovec as General Von Steuben in “Washington’s Farewell to his Officers”
and “Studio One in Hollywood.” In 1955, Voskovec appeared in a dramatization of his own experiences in being interred at Ellis Island, on “Armstrong Circle Theatre” in an episode titled “I Was Accused: The George Voskovec Story.” Perhaps his biggest break in television, however, was when he was cast for the first time as Juror #11 in the original teleplay version of 12 Angry Men. You can see him in the below photo.
This was to lead to George’s next film project, the Henry Fonda-produced big-screen version of 12 Angry Men (1957) which I’ve been detailing here over the last year. Every biography I read in preparation for this article makes mention of Juror #11 as Voskovec’s most famous role.
This is a hard assertion to disagree with in younger American circles, as none of us was frequenting Czechoslovakian theaters in the thirties. A quick perusal of the internet, however, reveals Voskovec and Werich as national treasures to the Czechs. There, they appear to be regarded as a cross between Abbott & Costello and Bob Dylan, influencing the artists of the region long after either man ceased his work.
1957 continued to be a big year for George Voskovec, with notable roles in the sic-fi morality tale “The 27th Day”…
…and in the title role of “Uncle Vanya,” an English language translation of the Anton Chekov theatre classic which most of the cast was also appearing in on stage at the time. I tried to get a look at it before writing this, but Blockbuster first sent me “Vanya on 42nd Street” starring Wallace Shawn instead, and then claimed not to have it. Ah well…here’s a little clip from the film that includes Voskovec.
In 1958 Voskovec appeared with Gregory Peck and Joan Collins in the revenge western “The Bravados.”
Two years later, he gets a thankless role as Elizabeth Taylor’s shrink in the woefully dull and uninspired “Butterfield 8.” It is a testament to Taylor’s star power that this stinker was a hit. Elizabeth Taylor has famously and repeatedly declared that the film “stinks.” Even when her performance was inexplicably honored with an Oscar (she is not bad in the film, but wow, it’s a bore), she stuck to her guns in her disdain for it.
For his part, Voskovec continued to work steadily in television and on stage, including in “The Untouchables,” E.G. Marshall’s “The Defenders,” and “The Fugitive.” He won a starring role on Broadway in “The Tenth Man” and appeared as the Player King on both stage and screen in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” alongside Richard Burton, Hume Cronyn, and John Gielgud (you know, the butler from “Arthur” with Dudley Moore, sigh…).
Another featured role with Burton followed the next year, in the gripping John Le Carré cold war drama “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.” Voskovec plays an unnamed East German attorney who sees through the intelligence gambit being played by Burton’s character. It’s a relatively small, but memorable role. Though, like many Le Carrè adaptations, “…Spy…” drags a bit in its middle third, the performances, cinematography, and overall plot arc are well worth slugging through the whole thing.
Maybe he felt like he’d done a lot more research for “…Spy…” than had shown up on screen, because he turned around and played a very similar role in an episode of the television show “Run For Your Life” in 1966.
In 1968, Voskovec appeared as psychic fraud Peter Hurkos in the Henry Fonda/Tony Curtis telling of “The Boston Strangler.” This was another one scene role for George, but it was a memorable one. Hurkos would probably object to the way he’s portrayed in the film if he wasn’t too busy getting arrested for impersonating a police officer.
A role in a film version of Eugene O’Neil’s “The Iceman Cometh” alongside Lee Marvin, Fredric March, Robert Ryan, and Jeff Bridges in 1973 kept Voskovec in the film game, but he had mostly become a television guest star, with roles in shows like “Mannix,” “Mission:Impossible,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Skag,” and “Happy Days.”
Other than “12 Angry Men,” probably the best-known film with George Voskovec’s name on the credits is the 1980 time travel weepy “Somewhere in Time.” He played the part of the college professor whose theories allow Christopher Reeve to travel back in time so he can fall in love with Jane Seymour. Never seen it? Go get it. Grab your lady. Have some hankies ready.
After a 14 episode stint on “Nero Wolfe” in 1981, Voskovec shot another revenge western, this one starring Willie Nelson and Gary Busey, called “Barbarosa.” It has been named by a few sources, including Siskel & Ebert as an underrated film, but I can’t help wondering if the scenes in the trailers weren’t every bit as entertaining as anything they might’ve put on film.
Unfortunately, “Barbarosa” would be the last credit on Voskovec’s resumé. In July of 1981, he had a heart attack and passed away in Pearblossom, California. “Barbarosa” would be released seven months later, and audiences would be treated to seeing Voskovec gunned down near the film’s end.
Voskovec, who had been a beloved and influential performer in his home country had become, well, just a working actor in the United States. Don’t get me wrong, most actors would kill for the career Voskovec settled into, but you have to wonder if he ever thought “what if?” What if the Nazis and communists hadn’t taken hold in Czechoslovakia? What if Werich had stayed in the U.S.? What if?
Read about all 12 Angry Men here-
Lee J Cobb
E G Marshall
Henry Fonda 1
Henry Fonda 2
Leadership Analysis “Twelve Angry Men” Essay
2868 WordsNov 16th, 201312 Pages
“Twelve Angry Men”
NCLC 375: Prof. Ampthor
The movie “Twelve Angry Men” is about twelve male jurors, brought together in a deliberation room to decide whether a boy is guilty of killing his father. The deliberation starts with an 11-1 vote for guilty. As the movie progresses, the one man who had a reasonable doubt about the guilt or innocent of the young boy, convinces the other members of the jury to question the facts presented. This paper examines the application of leadership concepts in the characters of each juror. Throughout the movie several leaders evolved, the main one being Juror #8, the man who stood…show more content…
All he could say was all of it could have “possibly” not happened.
This holds that attaining appropriate leadership behaviors depends on the situation. He conveyed the appropriate attitudes and patience to go along with the readiness level of the other jurors to switch their votes. Juror #8 was also a good listener and this could have also earned him so much respect. For example, he really tried to understand the supported evidence that the stockbroker had to offer. Henry Fonda emerged as a very successful leader because he showed value in others, empathy, seriousness and integrity. For example, he votes not guilty and shows empathy not because he is sure of the boy's innocence, but because he wishes to talk about the serious case without emotionally pre-judging the eighteen-year old boy because he saw value in others and life. He shows empathy because in scenes he asks the jurors to imagine themselves in the boy’s shoes awaiting death sentence, physical abuse and torment by father, growing up in the slums etc. He only asks that each member look deep within them, and be as honest with them selves as possible. Another quality is that of trust. He trusts that the team members will make the right vote. He emerged into a leadership position, all because of the respect he earned by others. They learned a lot from him, as others watching this movie surely did. Leadership is rooted in character.