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Basil Langton, 91; Actor and Director Had Diversified Career

June 05, 2003|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Basil Langton, a British-born actor and director whose 50-year career ranged from leading roles in Shakespeare plays on the London stage to small parts in television, including "Star Trek: Voyager" in 1994, died May 29 at St. John's Hospital Health Center in Santa Monica after a brief illness. He was 91.

Born in Bristol, England, in 1912, Langton was raised in Montreal and Vancouver, Canada, and began his acting career at 17 with the Vancouver Little Theater.

He later studied mime and dance at Dartington Hall in Devon, England.

From the time he decided to be an actor, he worked with the leading talents of their day. Fresh from school in 1937, he was the understudy to Laurence Olivier in a London production of "Macbeth." The next year he played opposite Peggy Ashcroft in a London production of another Shakespeare play, "Twelfth Night," and went on to take roles opposite Ralph Richardson, Paul Scoffield and Sybil Thorndike in other plays.

During World War II, Langton was granted conscientious objector status and spent the early 1940s as an actor and manager of the Travelling Repertory Theater, staging modern classics in munitions factories and British army camps throughout Europe. His wife, Louise Soelberg, a ballerina who helped to found Dartington Hall's dance department, choreographed dances for several of these productions.

The couple moved to the U.S. in 1947, and both joined the faculty at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. Three years later, Langton moved to the faculty of Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., continuing to work as an actor and director in Toronto, Cincinnati and elsewhere through the 1950s.

He also helped produce the "Poets and Playwrights" series for the New York Public Library. An evening with poet Marianne Moore and another with Ogden Nash were among the programs.

Although Langton and Soelberg divorced, they remained friends. He credited her with opening him to the world of modern art. Many of her friends were sculptors or painters, including Henry Moore and Mark Tobey.

In 1963, Langton began taking photographs of artists at work. His prints were later included in retrospective exhibits of David Hockney in 1988 and Thomas Hart Benton in 1990 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

In 1966, on tour with a production of "Hostile Witness," a British thriller by the playwright Jack Roffey, Langton met actress Judith Searle. The play ran at the Huntington Hartford (now the Doolittle) Theatre in Los Angeles for about a month.

Several years later, the couple settled in Los Angeles and remained companions for the rest of his life.

Through the 1980s, Langton performed small roles in theater classics, including Moliere's "Tartuffe" at the Los Angeles Theatre Company. He also exhibited his photographs and drawings of nudes in several local galleries.

His final performance was his role as the domineering overseer of the people in the fictional land of Ocampa in "Star Trek: Voyager," the pilot for the television series.

He was an avid contributor to the "letters to the editor" columns of several newspapers, opposing everything from oil drilling off the California coast to noise pollution and violence in movies.

In a particularly eloquent letter to the New York Times of 1982, he questioned the importance of a proscenium arch for a stage. He had no use for the jutting attachment that extends into the audience, claiming that it was an invention for art directors.

"What makes a theater are actors," he wrote, "led by a hard-working creative director who can by the alchemy of his imagination transform any space into a theater of passion, poetry and art."

In addition to his companion, Judith Searle, Langton is survived by his daughter, Jessica Andrews, who is managing director of the Arizona Theatre Co.; two grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

A private funeral is planned.

The family asks that contributions be made to the Motion Picture and Television Fund, 23388 Mulholland Drive, Woodland Hills, CA 91364, or the Actors Fund of America, 5757 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036.

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