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Harry Frazier, 77; actor often played Falstaff and Santa Claus

June 02, 2007|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Harry Frazier, an actor whose full white beard helped win him Santa Claus roles in movies and commercials but who performed far more often on stage and television, has died. He was 77.

Frazier died May 26 at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills, said Jaime Larkin, a spokeswoman for the hospital. The cause was complications from diabetes. For some years he had been a resident of the assisted-living facility adjoining the hospital.

Starting in the 1970s, Frazier performed regularly in Shakespeare plays at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga. He had leading roles in "The Tempest," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Henry IV" and others.

"Harry's work as an actor was so lovely that it was always the character that you saw," said Ellen Geer, the artistic director of Theatricum Botanicum who directed Frazier as Prospero in a 1987 production of "The Tempest." Although Frazier worked in film and television, Geer said, "theater was Harry's life."

He also performed in Shakespeare festivals in San Diego, Garden Grove and elsewhere around California, starting in the 1960s. He often played Falstaff, the burly punster who appears in several Shakespeare plays, including "The Merry Wives of Windsor."

The "Fat Knight" with his rotund, rosy-cheeked appearance and quick wit was "the role Harry Frazier was born to play," Sylvie Drake wrote in a 1992 Times review of "Merry Wives" at the Garden Grove Shakespeare Festival.

Frazier, who was born July 30, 1929, in Elk County, Pa., began his acting career in regional theater in the late 1950s. He was a member of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater and later performed with the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.

In Los Angeles he worked in television starting in the 1960s, appearing in guest roles on such popular series as "Batman," "Cheers," "Hunter" and "Hill Street Blues."

He played Santa Claus in several television movies, including "The Elf Who Saved Christmas" in 1992. He was asked to play the role at parties so often that he made himself a red costume.

"Harry looked so much like Santa Claus, with his white beard, twinkling eyes and very expressive face," said Stuart Timmons, a writer and longtime friend of Frazier. "He made a living playing Santa Claus."

Frazier had smaller roles in several feature films. Perhaps the best known of them was "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" in 1971.

He also made experimental films that were screened in museums and art galleries. Typically they had no plot or dialogue but flowed on images and evoked moods.

Frazier is survived by his mother, Helen Cousins.

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mary.rourke@latimes.com

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