Charles Nolte, Actor Known for Twin Cities Work, Dies at 87

Obituaries   Charles Nolte, Actor Known for Twin Cities Work, Dies at 87
Charles Nolte, a stage and screen actor who directed, wrote and taught in the Twin Cities, died Jan. 14 in Minneapolis. He was 87.
Charles Nolte
Charles Nolte Photo by Rob Levine

Mr. Nolte was diagnosed with prostate cancer two years ago, longtime friend David Goldstein told the Star Tribune.

Born Nov. 3, 1923, in Duluth, Mr. Nolte moved to the town of Wayzata with his family in the early 1930s. Shortly after high school, he made his debut in a summer stock company that became the Old Log Theater. He studied for two years at the University of Minnesota before serving in WWII in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1945.

After the war he enrolled at Yale, where he majored in English with a minor in history. Moving to New York, he found his first role in the American Negro Theatre 1946 revival of Tin Top Valley starring Julie Harris.

Mr. Nolte made his Broadway debut in 1947 when he was cast in support of Katharine Cornell in the touring company of Antony and Cleopatra. Two years later, he acted in Design for a Stained Glass Window with Charlton Heston and Martha Scott, for which he won a Theatre World Award. He played his biggest New York role when he was cast in the title role in the 1951 Norris Houghton-directed stage adaptation of Melville's Billy Budd. In 1954 he played opposite Henry Fonda in the premiere of the hit play, The Caine Mutiny Court Martial.

During this time, he made many appearances in early dramatic television series such as "Studio One," "Schlitz Playhouse of Stars" and "Campbell Playhouse." Moving to Europe after the close of Caine, Mr. Nolte took jobs across the continent. He was reunited with Katharine Cornell in Rome 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 in 1961. The time spent in Europe had changed him, and when he returned to the States in 1961 he found the theatre scene "hopelessly parochial."

Switching gears, Mr. 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 University offered him a contract. He accepted and taught there from the mid-1960s to the late 1990s. Popular and highly influential with his pupils, a group of his former students formed the well-regarded Playwrights' Center. He was also an acting instructor at the Guthrie Theater drama school.

His greatest play success was Do Not Pass Go. It was produced at the Cherry Lane Theatre Off-Broadway in 1965. Directed by Alan Schneider, known for his work with Edward Albee, and starring Nolte himself, the play, about two men working in a Los Angeles supermarket stockroom the day before Christmas, was called "one of the better new plays presented this season" by the New York Times.

Over the years, Mr. Nolte directed more than a dozen productions at the local Theatre-in-the-Round Players. The University of Minnesota honored him in 1997 by naming a theatre space within the Rarig Center the Charles Nolte Experimental Theatre.

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