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OBITUARIES : George Furth, 1932-2008

Tony-winning playwright, longtime character actor

August 12, 2008|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

George Furth, an actor and Tony Award-winning playwright who wrote the book for the landmark 1970 Broadway musical "Company" and also wrote the 1971 play "Twigs," died Monday morning. He was 75.

Furth died at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, according to Dennis Aspland, his agent. Aspland said that Furth had been healthy until a week ago and that he did not know the cause of death.

"As a writer and as an actor and as an enthusiast, I think he epitomized those things in theater and entertainment that are good," said Warren Beatty, a close friend.

Beatty was 18 when he met Furth at Northwestern University in the '50s. Furth had returned for a visit to his alma mater.

"I've never known anybody with more genuine friendships," Beatty told The Times on Monday.

"Everybody who knew him loved him."

Furth won a Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award for best book of a musical for "Company," which ran on Broadway from 1970 to 1972 with Dean Jones as the central character.

"Company," with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is the story of a young bachelor in Manhattan surrounded by married couples, all of whom have different attitudes about his being single.

" 'Company' is the show that put him on the map," Miles Kreuger, president of the Los Angeles-based Institute of the American Musical, told The Times on Monday. "It's one of the most important musicals of its era.

" 'Company' tells us more about the cynicism of urban America in the 1970s than all the sociological tracts ever written. It is a work of considerable wisdom."

With Sondheim writing the music and lyrics, Furth also wrote the book for "Merrily We Roll Along," the 1981 musical based on the George S. Kaufman-Moss Hart play.

Furth and Sondheim also co-wrote the 1996 play "Getting Away With Murder," a murder mystery that had a short run on Broadway.

Furth also wrote the book for the 1977 musical "The Act."

He was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for outstanding new play for "Precious Sons," which had a short run on Broadway in 1986.

His 1981 comedy "The Supporting Cast" also had a brief run on Broadway.

Furth had a long career as a character actor, appearing in more than 85 films and TV show episodes from the early '60s to the late '90s.

He may be best remembered for his role in the 1969 western "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

He played Woodcock, the devoted railroad clerk who refuses to open the train car containing the safe for the outlaws.

Furth also played the banker that Beatty's Beverly Hills hairdresser character tries to get a loan from in the 1975 movie "Shampoo."

"I loved what he did for us," Beatty said. "He was a great comedian, George."

Furth was born George Schweinfurth on Dec. 14, 1932, in Chicago.

He graduated from Northwestern University with a bachelor's degree in speech in 1954 and received a master's of fine arts from Columbia University in 1956.

Aspland said Furth had no known surviving immediate family members.

At Furth's request, there will be no funeral service; a memorial service is pending.

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dennis.mclellan@latimes.com

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