Monday, July 11, 2011

Paul Michael, frequent New Theatre actor, dies at age 84

Categories: News
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Paul Michael
As a kid, many years before I actually met the actor Paul Michael, I was already a fan. Michael -- whose acting career spanned more than six decades and who had become a frequent performer at Kansas City's New Theatre Restaurant -- had played "King of the Gypsies" on TV's first gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows (a show that has become such a cult classic over the last five decades that Tim Burton is creating a Johnny Depp movie based on the show).

Although best-known for his many Broadway appearances, Michael loved being recognized for Dark Shadows, Frazier and Seinfeld (he was featured in the popular "The Maestro" episode). In Kansas City, he was a regular at Sullivan's Steakhouse, eating late dinners with his longtime companion (and frequent leading lady) Marion Ross. Michael died July 8 in Woodland Hills, California. He was 84 years old.

"I met Paul in 1993," says the New Theatre's Dennis D. Hennessy. "I had gone to New York City to do auditions for our production of Fiddler on the Roof. We had a lot of big Broadway names come in, but Paul just nailed the audition. He was sensational.

Michael and Hennessy would continue to work together on numerous plays at the New Theatre Restaurant over the next decade: "He was a director's actor," Hennessy says. "Because of his years on Broadway, because of all the great directors he had worked with over the years, he had an incredible sense of pacing, completely understood all the technical aspects and the rhythm required for doing comedy. He was the perfect actor."

Hennessy says Michael became like a father figure to him.

A strong, burly man -- at age 75, Michael famously put a fierce grip on a thief attempting to steal Marion Ross' purse in Italy until the man dropped the bag and ran -- Michael was famously cast as gypsies, gangsters (he made his Broadway debut as a mobster in Bells Are Ringing in 1956) and Italian-Americans. Michael was actually of Lebanese heritage. When living in Kansas City, he loved preparing Lebanese feasts for his friends, including Greater Kansas City Shakespeare Festival founder Marilyn Strauss.

"He was a fantastic cook," Strauss says. "He liked to arrive at your house with all of his own knives, pots and pans, and ingredients to create the must superb Lebanese cuisine. And he was a brilliant raconteur. No one could tell stories like Paul."

Michael last appeared at the New Theatre Restaurant in a play written by playwright Joe DiPietro specifically for him and Marion Ross, The Last Romance, in 2009. After the Kansas City production, Michael and Ross took the show to the Globe Theater in San Diego.

Michael is survived by two sons.

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