This appreciation was originally published in the February 25, 2011 issue of the award-winning Buffalo News.
Manny Fried, the actor, union organizer and prolific playwright who stood up to McCarthyism and served as an outspoken champion of the working class, died early Friday morning in a Kenmore nursing home. He was 97.
Even until this year, he remained a guiding presence in Buffalo’s theater, literary and social activist communities and was widely regarded as the most important figure on Buffalo’s theater scene. "He was a passionate, hardworking man devoted to hardworking people," said Lorrie Rabin, Fried’s daughter. "He was very focused on his politics and his social beliefs. He was a man with a purpose."
Once dubbed "the most dangerous man in Western New York" for his union-organizing activities and association with the Communist Party, Fried was the subject of government investigations and public recriminations for much of his life. He was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee at least twice, in 1954 and 1964, each time refusing to answer questions posed by the committee or to give names of other suspected communists.
In a 2007 interview, Fried recalled his response to the committee’s questions with a few simple sentences. "My answer will be, I will not answer. The First and the Fifth," he said, invoking constitutional amendments. "Or in other words, it’s none of your business."
During the McCarthy era, he was blacklisted and prevented from working in the United States by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He found work at a Canadian company as an insurance salesman.
But Fried, whose friends described him as stoic and unwavering in his convictions, was no Willy Loman. For the rest of his life, he continued to write and speak out about the perceived abuses of the government and the plight of the working class in his plays, essays, newspaper articles and public appearances.
In 1972, he began his tenure as an English and creative writing professor at Buffalo State College, where he remained on the full-time faculty until 1983 and taught as an adjunct professor until 2008. During his time at Buffalo State, he mentored dozens of local playwrights.
Fried drew on his experiences as a labor organizer for his writing, which focused primarily on the plight of working men and women. In a career that spanned more than eight decades, Fried penned more than two dozen plays, including the commercially successful "Drop Hammer" and "Dodo Bird," each of which has been frequently produced outside of Buffalo.