Retired actress Paula Meksin Mayer died Jan. 11 at her son's ranch in Hidden Valley, near Westlake Village. She was 90.
She was born Sept. 9, 1909, in New York City to Russian parents who immigrated to this country in the early 1900s. Later she studied with the Boleslavski American Laboratory Theater in Boston and was awarded continuing scholarships for her stage activities and creative style.
The American Laboratory Theater was directed by Richard Boleslavski and Maria Ouspenskay, both leaders in the theater world.
Mayer's first performance with the American Laboratory Theater was as a duchess in a play "The Bell and the Plow." It was a small part, but the nickname "The Duchess" was associated with her ever since.
She went on to co-star with Agnes Ayres in the play "American Tragedy." She worked with Clifford Odets in the leading role in "Awake and Sing," a play he wrote for her.
Other plays she appeared in included "Front Page," "The Queen of Sheba," "Petticoat Fever," "Seen but Not Heard" and "The Man Who Came to Dinner."
In the early 1930s, she married Lawrence Dorian Mayer, an architect and real estate developer in New York. She retired at that time from professional theater, but never lost her love for the stage.
She became involved in the play "The American Way," presented in 1940 with the cooperation of the Kiwanis Clubs of America to more than 2,000 underprivileged children so they could experience the theater on stage.
In 1946, she founded the White Plains Community Theatre in White Plains, N. Y. There, she starred in Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit." Her eldest son, Eric, acted in the play with her.
During World War II, she organized an experimental theater group to encourage amputees returning from the war. The performances were done in such a way as to help soldiers deal with and role-play about their physical losses. The program was replicated in other states. She and her husband opened their home in Westchester many times to returning veterans.
She later recruited her youngest son, Ken, in a play called "The Student Prince."
In 1953, the family moved to Arizona and she again began community theater activities. She provided theater to handicapped children and the community at-large.
She took up directing in the Tucson Repertory Theater and was involved in the Tucson Little Theater and Corral Theater in such plays as "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter," "Dial M for Murder," and "Biography," in which she had the lead role. She also played in the musicals "Rain and Shine," "Picnic" and "Lady in the Dark" which she directed along with "The Great Sebastians," one of the first theater-in-the-round plays.
She also stared in "Gigi," presented by the Tucson Corral Theater with her niece, Isa Crino. Mayer also had leading roles in "Four Poster" and "Chalk Garden."
In 1966, she and her husband relocated to California.
She was preceded in death by her husband in 1973, when she moved in with son Eric.
In addition to Eric, she is survived by sons Ken and Michael of Los Angeles and seven grandchildren.
Services were private. Arrangements were under the direction of Pierce Bros. Valley Oaks Mortuary in Westlake Village.