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Obituaries

John Newland; Actor-Director Known for His Work on TV's 'Alcoa Presents'

January 17, 2000|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

John Newland, an actor and director probably best remembered for the authoritative dignity he brought to the early television series "Alcoa Presents," the medium's first program focusing on paranormal phenomena, has died. He was 82.

Newland, who hosted and directed all 99 of the occult anthology's segments from 1959 to 1961, died Jan. 10 in Los Angeles of a stroke, said his daughter, Hillary Alexander.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday January 20, 2000 Home Edition Part A Page 23 Metro Desk 2 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
Newland obituary--In Monday's Times, the obituary of actor and director John Newland incorrectly listed the name of his first partner in his production company. He formed Factor/Newland Productions with Alan Factor, and after Factor's death teamed with Ted Raynor in Newland/Raynor Productions to create movies for television. Newland died Jan. 10 at the age of 82.

The innovative show about premonition, possession, ghosts and unexplained psychic doings, which was retitled more descriptively as "One Step Beyond" for syndication, paved the way for Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone" and today's "The X-Files."

"In the series we try to emphasize hope rather than despair or fear," Newland told The Times in 1959. "We avoid the use of the word 'true.' Although all of our stories are based on actual cases and unexplained experiences, we do not want to intrude on faith patterns and religious manifestations.

"We prefer to present a series of events dramatically," he said carefully, "to let the viewer make up his own mind. Our purpose is, of course, first to entertain, to air a few unusual things and thus to provoke a little thoughtful controversy."

Like Serling, Newland's preparation for the unusual show was rooted in television's early dramatic programs such as "Playhouse 90." But whereas Serling had written the teleplays, Newland was an actor performing in them. His work in front of the camera, along with his tall, handsome appearance and sonorous voice, helped lend authenticity to his role as host.

Newland reprised his program in 1978, in a series titled "The Next Step Beyond," but audiences had changed and that show lasted only one season.

Born in Cincinnati, Newland as a teenager began his career in a vaudeville song and dance group in which the members wore gold capes and called themselves the Vikings. He took a Greyhound bus to Manhattan to study acting and won roles on radio and on stage in such plays as "Mr. and Mrs. North" and "Petrified Forest."

Although his ascent was interrupted by service in the Army Air Corps during World War II, he had established himself well enough that Warner Bros. offered him a contract after the war. He made his film debut in the 1946 movie "Adventures of Dusty Bates" and had small parts in others. Nevertheless, the self-effacing Newland would describe that brief Hollywood film career by saying: "I was an immediate failure.

"But in 1949, TV had just begun in a big way," he recalled. "There were good jobs going all round. At one time in Manhattan there were 37 hours a week of live drama. That was a marvelous training ground for actors and directors."

Newland acted in most of live television's early dramatic anthologies, which were plays beamed into people's living rooms--"Robert Montgomery Presents," "Philco Playhouse," "Studio One," "Kraft Theater." He also started directing some of those plays, and moved to Los Angeles to direct "The Loretta Young Show."

Over three decades, Newland directed scores of television movies and episodes of several well-known series, including "Bachelor Father," "Night Gallery," "The Sixth Sense," "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "Police Woman," "Wonder Woman," "Fantasy Island" and "Flamingo Road."

But he remained as low-key about his directing as he was about his acting, once telling The Times: "I really don't consider myself a director. That's a pretentious word. Perhaps 'conductor' would be better. I know the actors. I watch them and simply select the best things from their bag of tricks."

Newland rarely ventured into filmmaking, but when he did, he took along the fast pace from television and its three-camera system that he helped pioneer. He was 51 when he directed his first film, "My Lover, My Son," a 1969 British feature about incest starring Romy Schneider.

"There isn't any comparison between making a movie and a television series," he told The Times then. "It's like a novel compared to a short story."

Yet he stuck primarily with television, his true metier. With John Factor and, after his death, Ted Raynor, Newland formed his own production company specializing in television movies.

Newland is survived by his wife of 32 years, Areta; two daughters, Hillary Alexander and Karen Kissler, and one granddaughter. The family said no services are planned and asked that any memorial donations be made to charities benefiting actors such as the Motion Picture and Television Fund in Woodland Hills.

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