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Stage Actor Seales Dies of AIDS at 37

May 15, 1990|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Franklyn Seales, a stage actor acclaimed for his forceful versatility in productions that ranged from Shakespeare to the theater of the absurd, died Monday in Brooklyn.

Seales, who came to playhouses from John Houseman's Acting Company at Juilliard in the early 1970s, was 37 and died at the family home of the complications of AIDS.

A sister, Deborah Richardson, said by telephone from New York that he had been unable to work regularly for the last several months. His last major triumph was at the Mark Taper Forum in October, 1988, in "Nothing Sacred," an adaptation of Ivan Turgenev's "Fathers and Sons."

Born on the Caribbean island nation of St. Vincent, one of eight children, Seales as an actor came to be seen as a link between the tradition of black Africa and the sophistication of classical Anglo drama.

He grew up among a colonial gathering of British officers--men "with their little sticks and stiff mustaches," he would say.

His family left the West Indies in 1960 and settled in New York, where Seales intended to pursue a career in art. But one day while helping a friend audition for a part in "Romeo and Juliet" he was spotted by Houseman, who enrolled him at Juilliard.

His first big break was in a PBS drama, "Trial of the Moke." He came to do other television and became a regular on "Silver Spoons," a situation comedy of the early 1980s in which he portrayed Dexter Stuffins.

Seales' other television work included occasional appearances on "Hill Street Blues" and "Amen."

His film credits included "The Onion Field" and "Southern Comfort."

In Los Angeles, Seales joined L.A. Classic Theatre Works and was seen in such unconventional productions as "Conversation at Night With a Despised Character," in which Times critic Lawrence Christon found him "one of America's most compelling stage actors."

He was the Last Person on Earth in "Sade-Sack, or How to Live After the Asprocalisp," and he starred in Bertolt Brecht's "Caucasian Chalk Circle."

Working primarily in the experimental Equity Waiver theaters of L.A.'s Westside, Seales was seen in "No Place to Be Somebody," as "Hamlet" in the Charles Marowitz drama, in "Babbitt" and "Oh Dad Poor Dad."

Despite his talent some of the roles he most wanted sometimes eluded him.

"Either I'm not black enough or I look too Hispanic or Cuban," he said in one of his last interviews in 1988. "I have to be hired by someone who knows my work."

He is survived by his mother, three sisters and three brothers. A memorial service is pending at Juilliard.

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