Broadway and Regional Actress Eugenia Rawls is Dead at 87

News   Broadway and Regional Actress Eugenia Rawls is Dead at 87 Eugenia Rawls, 87, an American actress who appeared on Broadway, in the United Kingdom and in stock and regional theatres in the United States, died of complications from pneumonia Nov. 8 in Denver, according the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, where her husband Donald R. Seawell is founder and chair.
Eugenia Rawls reads Memory of a Large Christmas.
Eugenia Rawls reads Memory of a Large Christmas.

Eugenia Rawls, 87, an American actress who appeared on Broadway, in the United Kingdom and in stock and regional theatres in the United States, died of complications from pneumonia Nov. 8 in Denver, according the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, where her husband Donald R. Seawell is founder and chair.

A Macon, GA, native, Miss Rawls was a Broadway actress in the 1930s through the 1960s, making her debut there in Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour, and later playing daughter Alexandra in Hellman's The Little Foxes (on Broadway, on tour and in stock), cast with Tallulah Bankhead as her mother, Regina Bankhead became a mentor and lifelong friend to Miss Rawls.

Other New York or stock appearances, 1940s-60s, included Lillian Smith's Strange Fruit, The Shrike with José Ferrer, The Great Sebastians with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Pride and Prejudice, Rebecca, Cry Havoc, the man Who Had All the Luck, First Love, A Case of Libel, All the Way Home, Guest in the House, Curtain Going Up Noel Coward's Private Lives and more.

In 1969, the British Arts Council presented Miss Rawls in England, where she played alternate dates with the great Dame Sybil Thorndike. In 1972, she was the first American actress to play Ireland's famed Abbey Theatre.

   She premiered her three one-woman shows, Affectionately Yours, Fanny Kemble; Tallulah, A Memory  and Women of the West at New York's Lincoln Center in 1971, followed by a record-breaking eight-week run at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Miss Rawls also brought her solo show, Affectionately Yours, Fanny Kemble to the Edinburgh and Bath Festivals (1980 and 1981, respectively). Tallulah, A Memory was presented also at the American Embassies in Dublin and London. In the 1970s and 80s, Miss Rawls performed at the National Theatre in London and on the QE 2 (crossing the Atlantic). Tallulah, A Memory (1979) and a volume of poetry, "A Moment Ago " (1984) were both published.

Miss Rawls was often seen on the television series "The Guiding Light" and "As The World Turns."  In 1989 she joined the acting company of the Pittsburgh Public Theatre for Horton Foote's The Habitation of Dragons, returning there for productions of Our Town (1990) and Chekhov's The Three Sisters (1991).

  In more recent years, according to the DCPA, Miss Rawls participated in writing seminars and benefits and collated her extensive collection of theatre memorabilia, now housed as "The Eugenia Rawls Collection" in the Georgia Room at Wesleyan College in Macon.

   In 1993 she became affiliated with Denver Center Productions at The Denver Center for the Performing Arts to complete a film project dear to her heart: Lillian Smith's "Memory of a Large Christmas," seen on PBS for the first time during the 1996 holiday season and an annual favorite since.

The 24-minute film-for-television has Miss Rawls reading Smith's signature work. A masterful storyteller, Miss Rawls affectionately captured the writer's recollections of a loving family, their surprising holiday traditions and the joy that comes of sharing the season with friends and neighbors. Miss Rawls had become acquainted with Lillian Smith in 1945 when she was personally selected by the author to appear as Harriet Harris in the stage version of Strange Fruit, produced by Jose Ferrer. In the early 1950s, Smith had encouraged Miss Rawls to do a reading of Memory of a Large Christmas for the Foundation for the Blind and soon after had deeded her the dramatic rights to the book. The friendship lasted a lifetime.

Miss Rawls and Seawell, who met during the time of her performing in Little Foxes, were married on April 5, 1941. She is survived by her husband; daughter Brook Ashley of Santa Barbara, CA; son Brockman Seawell of New York; two brothers, a sister, a granddaughter and two great grandchildren.

The theatre in the newly-constructed Kenneth King Center on the Auraria Campus in Denver is being named in her honor. Dedication of the Eugenia Rawls Theatre is set for Nov. 17, 2000.

A memorial service is set for 2 PM Nov. 11, at Montview Presbyterian Church, 1980 Dahlia Street in Denver. In lieu of flowers donations may be made to The Eugenia Rawls Scholarship Fund for Young Actors, Office of Development, The Denver Center for the Performing Arts, 1245 Champa Street, Denver, CO 80204.

— By Kenneth Jones