Twin Cities actor/director Charles Nolte dies
The late actor, director, theater teacher and mentor lived a
By ROHAN PRESTON, Star Tribune
Charles Nolte, an esteemed international stage and screen actor who
also directed, wrote and taught in the Twin Cities, died Thursday
evening in Minneapolis.
He breathed his last listening to a recording of Bellini's "Norma,"
one of his many beloved operas, according to those who were with him. He was 87.
Nolte was diagnosed with prostate cancer two years ago, said longtime
friend David Goldstein, who met him in 1971.
"Even as he was getting weak a few days ago, he was laughing and
joking," Goldstein said. "Charles was such a multifaceted person who
loved to tell stories, and he did it in the theater and film and
opera. Above all, he was a good person."
As a professor at the University of Minnesota, where he taught from
the mid-1960s until the late 1990s, Nolte influenced many, including a
group of former students who formed the Playwrights' Center.
"He was the most open, gently encouraging mentor any playwright has
ever had, and we all loved him," said former student and center co-
founder Barbara Field, whose adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" is a
In addition to Field, his students at the university included actors
Peter Michael Goetz and Ernie Hudson.
"When I was 15, I'd gotten the fever for theater and I auditioned for
him for a [Theatre in the Round] play, a role I didn't get," said
actor and playwright Timothy Mason about his first encounter with
Nolte in 1965. "About three days later, I had a typewritten postcard
saying that, in his opinion, I had talent and I should pursue theater
in my life. I would find that postcard many years later at my mother's
Born Nov. 3, 1923, in Duluth to a father who later become a dean at
the University of Minnesota, Nolte moved to Wayzata with his family in
the early 1930s. He was voted "most likely to succeed" by the 1941
graduating class of Wayzata High School. Shortly after high school, he
made his debut in a summer stock company that became the Old Log
Nolte studied for two years at the University of Minnesota before
serving in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1945, when he was given a
He enrolled at Yale, where he majored in English with a minor in
history. After Yale, he moved to New York. His first Big Apple role
was at the American Negro Theatre in Harlem in 1946 in a revival of
"Tin Top Valley" with co-star Julie Harris.
He made his Broadway debut in "Antony and Cleopatra," a production
that starred Katherine Cornell and featuring Maureen Stapleton, Tony
Randall, Eli Wallach and Charlton Heston. He performed again with
Heston and Martha Scott in "Design for a Stained Glass Window." He
also acted with Henry Fonda in both "Mr. Roberts" and "The Caine
His Broadway credits also include playing the title character in
"Billy Budd," an adaptation of Melville's novel.
Nolte's films include "War Paint" (1953) with Robert Stack and Peter
Graves and "The Steel Cage" (1954) with John Ireland.
"He knew people at the highest levels of the culture to people who
cleaned houses -- all would be at his parties," said Goldstein. "He
was such an erudite, patrician man with a wicked sense of humor."
In the 1960s, Nolte took up playwriting and returned to school. He
earned a doctorate at the University of Minnesota in 1966. His "Do Not
Pass Go" was produced off-Broadway.
Nolte also wrote libretti for two operas by Dominick Argento: "The
Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe" and "Valentino."
Nolte's last appearance in the Twin Cities was in "Exit Strategy" at
Mixed Blood two years ago. In that play, Nolte depicted an aging gay
man who once performed on Broadway and who was booted from an academic
job because of his relationship with a much younger man.
A disciplined diarist, Nolte donated his journals to the University of
Minnesota, which named a theater after him in 1997.
Survivors include two sisters, and his partner of over 50 years,
onetime child actor Terry Kilburn, who played Tiny Tim in MGM's "A
Christmas Carol" and who headed Meadowbrook Theatre in Rochester,
Mich., for 25 years.
Memorial services are pending.
Born: 11/3/1923, Duluth, Minnesota, U.S.A.
Died: 1/14/2010, Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.A.
Charles Nolte's western - actor:
War Paint - 1953 (Corporal Hamilton)