M.Katselas, Acting Teacher & Director, Dies at 75 Nov 3, 2008 21:40:52 GMT -5
Post by Bozur on Nov 3, 2008 21:40:52 GMT -5
Milton Katselas, Acting Teacher and Director, Dies at 75
By BRUCE WEBER
Published: November 2, 2008
Joan Lauren, courtesy of the Beverly Hills Playhouse
The acting teacher and director Milton Katselas in August at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, the school he founded in 1978.
Milton Katselas, an iconoclastic acting teacher whose 30 years in Hollywood raised him to guru status in the eyes of hundreds of actors, many of them famous, died in Los Angeles on Oct. 24. He was 75 and lived in Los Angeles.
The cause was a heart attack, said Gary Grossman, the producing director of the Beverly Hills Playhouse, the acting school founded by Mr. Katselas in 1978.
Unlike the methodologists — Stanislavski, Adler, Strasberg — Mr. Katselas was a pragmatist who declared himself open to any and all acting theories if they got results. And he was a realist who wanted audience members to recognize the humanity of the people they saw being portrayed.
“He said it was important for the butcher to be able watch a performance of a butcher onstage and say, ‘That’s how I do it,’ ” Mr. Grossman said.
Mr. Katselas earned the loyalties of generations of students with keen observations not of the characters they played but of their own characters, openly challenging his acting students to face their own weaknesses and problems so that they could better face those of the people they played.
His Saturday morning master class for professional actors was a high-caliber Hollywood salon. His students over the years — including Alec Baldwin, James Cromwell, Burt Reynolds, John Glover, George Clooney, Kate Hudson, Patrick Swayze and Tyne Daly — remained deeply loyal, partly because the criticism Mr. Katselas offered was specific and pointed and partly because he spoke not only about the craft but also about the profession of the actor, offering ideas on audition preparation and role selection, among other obsessions of career-minded actors.
“He would use what you are, what was right in front of him, tweak that,” Joan Van Ark, the television and stage actress, said in a phone interview Friday. “And what he said on Saturday almost always served you the next Tuesday.”
Doris Roberts, best known for her role as Ray Romano’s mother on the long-running television series “Everybody Loves Raymond,” said she first met Mr. Katselas 45 years ago, when both were students at the Actors Studio.
“His insight into individuals was extraordinary,” she said in a phone interview on Friday. “He could find the kernel in you that was holding you back. He asked me once, ‘What do you hate about this business?’ And I said, ‘Arrogance.’ He said: ‘You don’t have any. You need some.’ ”
Before opening his school, Mr. Katselas had a successful career as a stage and film director. In 1960 he directed the American premiere, off Broadway, of “The Zoo Story,” the play that announced the arrival of the playwright Edward Albee. Nine years later, he was nominated for a Tony for directing “Butterflies Are Free,” a psychedelic-era romance between a blind man (Keir Dullea) and the flower child (Blythe Danner) who lives in the next-door apartment. He went to Hollywood to direct the film, an early vehicle for Goldie Hawn, and directed “40 Carats” with Liv Ullmann in 1973.
In 1983, Mr. Katselas was hired to direct a Broadway revival of Noël Coward’s “Private Lives,” but, never a shrinking violet, he was fired during out-of-town tryouts when he couldn’t get along with one of the stars, Elizabeth Taylor. He had no problem, he said, with her co-star — yes, Richard Burton.
“I got along great with Burton,” he said last year in an interview with The New York Times Magazine, “and he told me I was one of the few directors he ever accepted notes from. But I didn’t get along with Elizabeth, and I’d rather not go into why.”
Milton George Katselas was born in Pittsburgh on Feb. 22, 1933, to Greek immigrant parents who owned a restaurant and, later, a movie theater. On a trip to New York as a college student — he went to Carnegie Institute (now Carnegie Mellon University) — he spotted the director Elia Kazan on the street and followed him until Kazan, a fellow Greek-American, engaged him in conversation and promised him a job. After graduation, he made a beeline for New York, and Kazan took him on as an assistant on the Broadway production of “Tea and Sympathy.” From there he began taking classes at the Actors Studio and went to work for the director Joshua Logan.
Mr. Katselas’s two marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by two brothers, Tasso, of Pittsburgh, and Chris, of Evergreen, Colo.; and a sister, Sophia Katsafanas, also of Pittsburgh.
Mr. Katselas was also a painter and an amateur architect who collaborated on the design of a handful of houses. And he was a Scientologist and friend of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. Many of the students and employees at the Beverly Hills Playhouse were Scientologists, to varying degrees of commitment. And, deserved or not, a faint taint of cultism hung over the school.
Mr. Katselas admitted that he had suggested that half a dozen students over the years look into the church (just as he admitted to romantic liaisons with several students); however, the Times magazine article dismissed the notion that he was a proselytizer, as did several people who were interviewed Friday.
“I know it played a part in his life,” the actor Miguel Ferrer said. “But what he really cared about was art.”