Keene Curtis, the Tony Award-winning actor whose range included roles in everything from The School for Scandal, The Wild Duck and The Cherry Orchard — to Daddy Warbucks in Annie — died early Oct. 13 near Salt Lake City, after battling Alzheimer's disease, according to industry friends.
Mr. Curtis, 79, whose diction and demeanor dripped with style and presence, won a Tony Award for playing multiple characters in the lives of the European banking family, the Rothschilds, in the 1970 Bock and Harnick musical, The Rothschilds. His imperious, commanding performance is captured on the original cast album of the show.
After playing Albin in the Broadway company of La Cage aux Folles, the actor won raves on the road for his comic performance as the drag-show diva with a parent's heart in the Jerry Herman musical. Peter Marshall played his love interest.
A native of Salt Lake City, Mr. Curtis — born Keene Holbrook Curtis in 1923 — lived in the Hollywood Hills for many years when he wasn't working on the New York stage. One of his many West Coast gigs in TV and film was the recurring role of John Hill, the salty upstairs restaurant owner on TV's "Cheers."
Mr. Curtis also appeared as Lennox in the Orson Welles film, "Macbeth" (1948), and also had roles in the TV movie musical "Gypsy" (1993) and "Heaven Can Wait" (1978), among other pictures. As his health declined in recent years, his family brought him to Utah where he lived recently in a care facility.
Mr. Curtis' father was a civil servant, his mother a teacher. He earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Utah in 1934 and earned a master's degree in 1947. During World War II he served in the United States Navy as a lieutenant.
Before getting regularly working as an actor, Mr. Curtis served as a stage manager for dance performances (Martha Graham Dance Company), touring plays (The Male Animal) and Broadway shows (among them, engagements of Noel Coward's Nude With Violin and Present Laughter — directed by and starring Coward, in 1957 and '58, respectively).
In the 1960s he switched to acting full-time, as a founding member of Ellis Rabb's APA-Phoenix Repertory Company, performing classics in Bermuda, regionally (McCarter Theatre and Ann Arbor, MI), Off-Broadway, on tour and on Broadway.
"I am particularly saddened by the loss of Keene," Bruce Hoover, former stage manager for APA, told Playbill On Line. "He was the most positive and generous actor I ever worked with. He was always concerned first with everyone else's comfort in rehearsal and in performances. I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone. He was also a mentor to me as a young stage manager with APA."
Mr. Curtis' many Broadway credits included Division Street, Via Galactica, Night Watch, A Patriot for Me, Hamlet, Cock-a-Doodle Dandy, The Misanthrope, The Cocktail Party, among others. He also appeared in Off-Broadway's The Cocktail Hour by A.R. Gurney, and Colette with Zoe Caldwell, among other works. His past bios indicate his acting Broadway bow as Shop at Sly Corner in 1949.
— By Kenneth Jones