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Obituaries

Philip Abbott; Actor on 'FBI' TV Series

February 27, 1998|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Philip Abbott, stage, film and television actor and director best remembered as bureau boss of Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in the long-running series "The FBI," has died. He was 74.

Abbott, a co-founder and major force in the prestigious actors' group Theatre West, died Monday in Los Angeles of cancer, his publicist said.

As Assistant FBI Director Arthur Ward, Abbott relayed orders and assignments to Zimbalist's Agent Erskine and urged him to "go get 'em."

With J. Edgar Hoover a supportive fan, the popular series ran on ABC from 1965 through 1974, despite an initially tough time slot opposite "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color" and "The Ed Sullivan Show."

Although Abbott appeared in every episode and directed several, the part was an acting comedown from his earlier leading roles on live television's dramatic jewels "Philco TV Playhouse," "Armstrong Circle Theatre" and "Studio One."

"Oh, I'm happy about my little contribution each week," he philosophically told The Times in 1967. "Being on 'The FBI' is kind of like having a patron."

With the series providing financial security, Abbott used his free time to participate in Theatre West--acting, producing, directing and writing. When "The FBI" began, he was working nights as poet Robert Frost in a sold-out Theatre West play about the poet that he helped develop for UCLA.

Born Philip Abbott Alexander in Lincoln, Neb., Abbott grew up determined to become an actor. After serving as a B-24 bomber pilot in World War II, he made his debut on Broadway in "Harvest of Years." "Detective Story," "Square Root of Wonderful" and "Two for the Seesaw" followed.

Abbott made his motion picture debut in 1957 as the bridegroom in "The Bachelor Party." Other films included "Sweet Bird of Youth," "The Spiral Road," "Miracle of the White Stallions," "Those Calloways," "Hangar 18," "Savannah Smiles" and "The First Power."

For Theatre West, Abbott directed or wrote such plays as "The Web and the Rock," "O Socrates" and "Sonata for Rimbaud." He also earned compliments for performing in such productions as "Tom Tom on a Rooftop," "Faces of Love" and "The Seagull."

Asked last year about his love of theater, Abbott told The Times: "It has just been such an uninterrupted part of my life. It parallels everything else I've done. Most of the stuff you get paid for [television and films] is such dreck. From an actor's point of view, with training and years of experience, what they call upon you to do is less than challenging. You can continue to be challenged in a place like Theatre West, not only as an actor, but as a writer, a director. It's really quite remarkable. It's like a watering hole."

In recent years, Abbott had also worked with his son, actor and writer David Abbott Alexander, directing him in a play called "The Routine" in 1993. The father and son also acted in the not-yet-released film "Starry Night."

Abbott was honorary mayor of Tarzana and had been president and chairman of the board of the Los Angeles United Cerebral Palsy-Spastic Children's Foundation.

The actor is survived by his wife, Jane DuFrayne; daughter Denise Shoemaker; sons David and Nelson Alexander; sister Mary Hinkley; brothers J.C. and Robert Alexander; and two grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for March 21 at 4 p.m. at Theatre West in Los Angeles.

The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the United Cerebral Palsy-Spastic Children's Foundation, 11051 Santa Susana Pass Road, Chatsworth, CA 91311.

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