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Obituaries

Ray Stricklyn, 73; Actor and Publicist

May 16, 2002|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ray Stricklyn, an actor who scored his greatest triumph in the mid-1980s after abandoning his once promising acting career a decade earlier and becoming a highly respected Hollywood publicist, has died. He was 73.

Stricklyn, whose one-man show as Tennessee Williams earned him critical praise and a new lease on his former career, died Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles after a long battle with chronic emphysema.

"Confessions of a Nightingale," based on interviews with Williams by Charlotte Chandler and C. Robert Jennings, opened at the Beverly Hills Playhouse in January 1985. Stricklyn portrayed the legendary playwright in his declining years--a time when Williams' talent had faded but his outsized personality remained in full bloom.

When his one-man show debuted, Stricklyn was representing Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, Lynn Redgrave and other stars as co-director of publicity for the West Coast office of John Springer Associates, the prestigious Manhattan-based public relations firm. But what had been intended as a four-weekend performance ran for a year and earned Stricklyn best actor awards from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and L.A. Weekly, among others. Stricklyn quit his day job.

"Confessions of a Nightingale" opened off-Broadway in New York in 1986, earning a laudatory review from New York magazine critic John Simon, who wrote: "All those small mannerisms, tics, idiosyncratic intonations, hesitancies, shifts of mood are fraught with authenticity."

Stricklyn toured with his one-man show for the next decade, with engagements as far-flung as Scotland and Israel.

"When I was first working on portraying Williams, I didn't have any idea of doing much with it," he told the Chicago Tribune in 1987. "But he certainly brought me back to life and, in a way, I have done the same for him."

Born and raised in Houston, Stricklyn became enchanted with acting in kindergarten when he portrayed Little Boy Blue in a school pageant. He pursued dramatics throughout school.

He moved to New York in 1950 and made his Broadway debut two years later, playing the juvenile lead in Moss Hart's "The Climate of Eden." His performance earned him a Daniel Blum Theater World Award as the season's most promising young actor.

Moving to Hollywood in 1955, he made his film debut as a "cracked-up" Marine in George Seaton's "The Proud and the Profane."

Among other early roles, he played Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine's son in "The Catered Affair" and Gary Cooper and Geraldine Fitzgerald's son in "Ten North Frederick," which earned him a Golden Globe nomination as most promising new actor of the year.

Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons predicted that the young contract player for 20th Century Fox "could be the next Montgomery Clift."

But by the early 1960s, the career of the young actor with the boyish good looks began to founder.

"I was 27 and still looked 16, but there was a whole new crop of boys coming up who really were that age," he told The Times in 1984. "Before, I'd thought my career was going straight up. So like a lot of foolish young actors, I started living beyond my means. I bought expensive cars, got into debt. Once you think you're going to be a star, then you're not--it's a rude awakening."

Stage and film work had virtually dried up for Stricklyn by 1973, when publicist John Springer asked him to head up his West Coast office.

From then on, Stricklyn said, "I basically shut myself off from that old life--although I missed the performing and needed it terribly."

His self-imposed exile from acting ended in 1982, when he began appearing in local stage productions.

The by then mature Stricklyn, his boyish face lined and his hair gray, gave a moving performance as Mr. Nightingale, a dying homosexual living in a seedy New Orleans boardinghouse, in Tennessee Williams' "Vieux Carre" at the Beverly Hills Playhouse in 1983. His performance earned him best actor awards from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, L.A. Weekly and Daily Variety.

Portraying Williams' alter ego in "Vieux Carre" served as a prelude for "Confessions of a Nightingale."

When not touring as Williams, Stricklyn did guest shots in "Cheers," "The Nanny," "Seinfeld," "Days of Our Lives" and other television shows.

After falling ill with emphysema in 1997, he began writing his autobiography.

Published in 1999, "Angels & Demons: One Actor's Hollywood Journey" is a candid and witty account of a man who, Stricklyn wrote, "might qualify as one who has had his 15 minutes in the limelight; perhaps even 20."

He is survived by his sister, Mary Ann, and his longtime companion, Los Angeles stage director David Galligan.

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