Friday, January 15, 2010

Charles Nolte (1923-2010)

Charles Nolte as Billy Budd (c1950)

Charles Nolte, playwright, director, actor, educator and long time friend of my beloved Jane Lowry, died January 14th in Minneapolis.

“Born 3 November, 1923 in Duluth, MN, Charles Nolte was easily the best-liked professor in the Theatre Department at the University of Minnesota during his many years there from the mid-1960s into the 1990s. He was very approachable, warm-hearted, a good listener and he had succeeded on Broadway. Other professors had only visited Broadway but Chuck Nolte was Billy Budd for one year on the Great White Way which he followed with another long run in The Caine Mutiny Court Martial (1953-55).

His film debut came in War Paint (1953). Other films included The Steel Cage (1954); The Vikings (1958) starring Kirk Douglas, Ernest Borgnine, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, and Tony Curtis (Here Charles used his muscles, height, blond hair, and Nordic-blue eyes to great advantage.); Ten Seconds to Hell (1959): Under Ten Flags (1960), starring Charles Laughton and Armored Command (1961) starring Howard Keel and the young Burt Reynolds.

Charles spent much of his time doing theater work in Europe. In Rome he appeared with leading lady Katherine Cornell in Under Ten Flags. In Paris he was in Medea with Judith Anderson, Christopher Plummer and Mildred Natwick. On the London Stage he appeared in The Summer People (1961). The time spent in Europe had changed him, however, and when he returned to the States in 1961 he found the theater scene "hopelessly parochial."

Nolte began to write plays, and in 1962 he returned to the University of Minnesota, earning his M.A. in 1963 and his Ph.D. in 1966. At that point the U offered him a sweet contract under which he was required to teach for only six months, leaving the rest of the year free to spend writing, acting and directing.

In 1965 his play, Do Not Pass Go was produced on Broadway and was favorably reviewed in the New York Times. Charles not only wrote but also acted in the two-person play, and with expenses being quite modest, it actually made money.

The University of Minnesota honored Charles in 1997 by naming a theater space within the Rarig Center the Charles Nolte Experimental Theatre.”

[above notes edited from the University of Minnesota Web site.]

In the late 1950s, many men of my generation cherished (so to speak) the photo of Charles as Billy Budd. He is survived by his longtime companion, child actor Terry Kilburn, who ran Meadow Brook Theater (Michigan) for many years. They met in the 1950s when Charles was playing in The Caine Mutiny Court Martial and Terry was in The Teahouse of the August Moon.

I met him only once for about three hours. He was one of the smartest, nicest, most open and generous people I ever met. It is as if I have lost a close old friend.

For his complete acting credits