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WITH AN EYE ON . . . : Just refer to John Ingle on 'General Hospital' as Edward II of Port Charles

June 11, 1995|N.F. MENDOZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For two decades, "General Hospital's" crotchety patriarch of Port Charles, Edward Quartermaine, has spouted worldly wisdom about the savage business world to his errant children and surrounding sycophants.

"He likes to think he's taught everyone around him how to be ruthless," says John Ingle, the actor who took over the role of the elder Quartermaine on the ABC sudser in 1993. Ingle himself does know something about teaching. He taught drama for 30 years before becoming an actor.

He founded performing arts departments at the two local schools most often associated with celebrity--Hollywood and Beverly Hills high schools, in 1955 and 1964, respectively.

His students--many of whom are quoted in interviews thanking him--include Barbara Hershey, Swoosie Kurtz, Richard Dreyfuss, Nicolas Cage, Albert Brooks, Julie Kavner, Tuesday Weld, Meredith Baxter, Stefanie Powers, Crispin Glover, Laraine Newman, Joanna Gleason and soap maven Louise Sorell from "Days of Our Lives."

Ingle, who retired from teaching in 1985, began acting that same year. More than two years after replacing the actor who had played Edward since his inception--David Lewis, who retired in early 1993--Ingle still calls himself "the new old kid on the block."

"I was just filling old shoes, and early on the fans didn't quite accept me," but his cast mates "welcomed me with open arms."

Playing more mature doesn't phase the actor: "Actually, Edward's a lot older. He's ideally in his mid-70s, at least." Ingle, 67, laughs and says, "My hair's so white, I can pass for older. Otherwise, it wouldn't work."

And since he assumed the role, "there's been a shift in writers and they're writing more for me--Edward's getting out more, back into business, locking horns with his enemies.

"It sounds arrogant to say the role is mine now, but I think it is," Ingle says. "I call myself Edward II, with no pretense."

In his teens, the Oklahoma native's family moved to Tujunga. He graduated from Verdugo Hills High School in 1943 and Occidental College in 1950 with a degree in theater; he followed it up with a teaching credential a year later.

In 1951, he met Grace-Lynne Martin, whom he married in 1954.

Ingle began teaching in 1955 at Hollywood High during the day and Los Angeles City College in the evenings (he was at LACC for 20 years). Friday afternoons he taught theater at UCLA. That lasted 15 years.

He can't remember if it was pay or more potential for growth, but after nine years at Hollywood High he took a job across town at Beverly High, where he taught for 21 years.

Some of his more successful students were able to achieve the kind of discipline necessary for success in acting, he says.

"A lot of the discipline was very basic--memorization, listening to the director, theater courtesy, respect for all phases," he explains. "Our discipline wasn't Simon Legree-like, but the discipline of hard work."

He laughs and recalls a criticism he once gave Dreyfuss: "I told him if he didn't settle down and stop being so smart-alecky and sarcastic, I didn't think people would want to work with him. He later told that story to a reporter and added, 'Thank God I didn't listen to him; I might not have been as successful!' "

Rain Pryor, formerly of ABC's "Head of the Class" and now a stand-up comic, was once a student of Ingle's at Beverly. "He was a very honest teacher," says Pryor. "He made me trust him and his opinions and his directions. He told it like it was and it encouraged me. Seeing him succeed, I believed what he taught is what he practiced."

Ingle own acting career and appearance found him cast as either the priest or the judge. "I've either married someone, buried them, fired them, judged them or lectured to them," he says. Feature roles include "Heathers," "Death Becomes Her" and "Robocop II." He moved to the small screen for "Dallas," "Doogie Howser, M.D.," "Cheers" and "Beverly Hills, 90210." Currently, you can catch him smooching supermodel Cindy Crawford in a Revlon commercial.

The long-time Alta Loma resident and father of five daughters who celebrated his birthday earlier this month, says: "If I were 57 instead of 67, I might think about moving on or examining what else is out there, but at this age, there's no reason for me to want a better job than this."

"General Hospital" airs weekdays at 2 p.m. on ABC.

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