b. Jacob Gellman, 25 July 1907, New York City, New York, USA, d. 2 June 1990, New York City, New York, USA. Born and raised in a tough section of the city, Gilford’s Romanian-born mother reputedly supported her family as a bootlegger. In the 30s he worked as a comedian at vaudeville theatres and in New York clubs. Hired by Barney Josephson for his new and racially-integrated club, Café Society, Gilford appeared on opening night, 18 December 1938, sharing the bill with boogie woogie pianists Albert Ammons and Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis and singer Billie Holiday. From the early 40s, he appeared on Broadway, usually in revues including Meet The People (1940), Alive And Kicking (1950), The World Of Sholom Aleichem (1953) and Once Over Lightly (1955). He had also made a few appearances in films, including Hey, Rookie, The Reckless Age (both 1944) and Main Street To Broadway (1953). His career suffered a blow in 1956 when he and his wife, actress Madeline Lee, were blacklisted for their political beliefs by the House Un-American Activities Committee. While affecting his ability to make films, he was able to continue his stage and club work. He appeared in Once Upon A Mattress (1959) and played in Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1962), in which Zero Mostel, an old friend, also appeared.
In the 60s, Gilford resumed working in films, repeating his role in the screen version of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1966). He played on Broadway in John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Cabaret (1966), had film roles in Enter Laughing and Who’s Minding The Mint? (both 1969), and early in the 70s played in the Broadway revival of No, No, Nanette (1971). Through this decade and the next he was mainly active in films, including Catch-22 (1970), They Might Be Giants (1971), Save The Tiger (1973), for which he was nominated unsuccessfully for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor, Harry And Walter Go To New York (1976), Cocoon (1985) and Cocoon: The Return (1988). In 1983 he interrupted his film career for a Broadway revival of The World Of Sholom Aleichem. American television audiences knew him for occasional roles in situation comedies and in commercials for Cracker Jack candied corn. Together with his wife and Mostel and his wife, Kate, he wrote a book, 170 Years Of Show Business.