Acclaimed actor of stage and screen and longtime CalArts School of Theater faculty Lew Palter passed away, it was announced last week by School of Theater Dean Travis Preston. He was 94.
Born in New York City on Nov. 3, 1928, Palter held a PhD in theater from Northwestern University. In a career that spanned decades, he appeared in New York productions, directed numerous off-Broadway plays, and both acted and directed in summer stock theaters, including the historic Millbrook Playhouse. His television credits included some of the most popular series of all time, including The A-Team, Charlie’s Angels, Columbo, Gunsmoke, Mission: Impossible, The Six Million Dollar Man, Kojak, The Brady Bunch, The Flying Nun, The Doris Day Show, and many more. In film, he is perhaps best known for his role as an associate justice of the Supreme Court in the 1981 film, First Monday in October, and as legendary businessman Isidor Straus in the 1997 epic, Titanic.
Palter joined CalArts in 1971, serving as an acting teacher, director, and mentor until his retirement in 2013. That same year, actress Cecily Strong (Theater BFA 06) returned to CalArts to speak with School of Theater students, where she explained that it was Palter who encouraged her to try out for legendary improv/sketch comedy troupe The Groundlings, leading to her breakout role on SNL.
“Lew loved the craft of acting, and taught his students to do the same. He fostered deep curiosity, care, intellect, and humor in every scene, play, and class. He had the utmost respect of his students, and encouraged all to find truth in their work and lives,” said Preston. “His legacy is carried forth in the many careers, lives, and stories he touched, and our collective CalArts thoughts are with his family, friends, and theater community who loved him so.”