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

1 comment:

AngelUponEarth said...

Uncle Chuck was a dear friend of my father for many, many years.
Uncle Chuck and his partner Terry were such an important part of my childhood. I was born in Minneapolis and have known them my entire life. My father and Chuck both had amazing careers in the arts. They did films, theater, and directing together. Before I was born my father, David Robert Kanter (Bob Kanter) did many of the same films with Chuck in Europe. They were at the University of Minnesota together for years. Then they went on to work at Meadowbrook Theater in Michigan and in Miami at the Coconut Grove Playhouse together as well. My father passed away in 1992 and I know Chuck missed his friendship dearly. I just learned of Chuck's passing this week from my mother. I am very sad. The world has lost another amazing man.
Reading about him brings back such memories of two of the most talented, creative, and kind men I have known.
Thank you