Jack Gilford grew up in a tough section of Brooklyn, where his Rumanian-born mother Sophie supported her family by working as a bootlegger. In 1934, Gilford won an amateur-night contest, launching a career that would span 5 1/2 decades. He often performed in reknowed bohemian New York nightclubs during the 1940s such as Cafe Society, where he was the comedy MC and fronted such acts as long-time friend Zero Mostel, Billie Holiday, and jazz pianist Hazel Scott. His comedy act was highlighted by a rubbery face used for celebrity impressions, not to mention such intangibles as imitating "pea soup coming to a boil" (he could still do that one into his 70s). Gilford toured the nightclub/vaudeville circuit in the company of Milton Berle, Ina Ray Hutton, Jimmy Durante and Elsie Janis, and in 1940 he made his Broadway debut in Meet the People. Four years later, he was featured in his first film, Columbia's Hey Rookie. Gilford's booming career came to an abrupt halt in the early 1950s, when he and his actress wife Madeline Lee were blacklisted for allegedly harboring "leftist" views. While Lee all but disappeared from show business, Gilford was able to make a slow comeback as a character actor in such Broadway plays as The Diary of Anne Frank, Romanoff and Juliet and The Beauty Part. He was best known to TV viewers in the 1960s for his delightful appearances in a series of Cracker Jack commercials. He also guest-starred in sitcoms during that time, including stints on Car 54, Where Are You? and Get Smart. Gilford returned to films in the 1960s, offering side-splitting characterizations in A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum (1966, repeating his Broadway role as Hysterium), Enter Laughing (1967) and They Might Be Giants (1971). In 1973, he received best supporting actor Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for his portrayal of Jack Lemmon's frantic business partner in Save the Tiger. During this second phase of his Hollywood career, Gilford occasionally returned to Broadway in productions ranging from Cabaret to The Sunshine Boys. He also appeared regularly in several TV series, including All in the Family, The David Frost Revue, Friends and Lovers, Apple Pie, Taxi, The Duck Factory, and The Golden Girls. Among his last film roles was melancholy senior citizen Bernie Lefkowitz in the two Cocoon films. In 1976, Jack and Madeline Gifford joined forces with their longtime friends Zero and Kate Mostel to pen their joint autobiography, 170 Years in Show Business. Gilford's son Joe Gilford is a screenwriter.