Rodney Stephen “Rod” Steiger was an American actor known for his performances in such films as In the Heat of the Night, Waterloo, The Pawnbroker, On the Waterfront, The Harder They Fall and Doctor Zhivago.
Steiger was born in Westhampton, New York, the son of Lorraine and Frederick Steiger, of French, Scottish, and German descent. Steiger was raised as a Lutheran. He never knew his father, a vaudevillian who had been part of a traveling song-and-dance team with Steiger’s mother. Steiger grew up with his alcoholic mother before running away from home at age sixteen to join the United States Navy during World War II, where he saw action on destroyers in the Pacific. After the war, he returned to New Jersey and joined a drama group, before studying drama full-time under Stella Adler at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York, maintained by the influential German director Erwin Piscator.
Steiger began his acting career in theatre and on live television in the early 1950s. On May 24, 1953, an episode of Goodyear Television Playhouse jump-started his career. The episode was the story of Marty written by Paddy Chayefsky.
Marty is the story of a lonely homely butcher from the Bronx in search of love. Refusing to sign a seven year studio contract, Steiger later turned down the role in the film version in 1955. Signing a studio contract at that time would “pigeon-hole” Steiger as to the roles he would later play and image portrayed on screen; those were two things Steiger objected to throughout his career. The role of Marty was turned over to Ernest Borgnine. Borgnine would receive the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Rod Steiger never regretted his decision to turn down the film role of Marty.