Craig had always been a man of strong opinions but was on fire at the Mission Hills Cafe — intense, vehement, glowing, and inspirational. He was in his 80s then but had the passion of a 20-year-old. I will never forget it.
Sister Sally Furay, provost emerita, University of San Diego. The Master of Fine Arts in Acting program, a joint venture of the Old Globe and USD, was born in Craig Noel’s head. He was convinced that America’s drama programs weren’t teaching skills for classical theater effectively. In the early 1980s, when I was Provost of USD, I met with Craig, Jack O’Brien, and Tom Hall. We discussed a joint acting program that could combine the Globe’s expertise in theater and USD’s in the literature underlying effective productions. Five years later, with the great Helen Hayes as a special guest, the program was announced.
Craig was a highly gifted but humble man, more interested in preserving the Globe for the long term than in his own prominence. Seeing how other great regional theaters suffered when the leader stepped down, Craig — though only in his 60s — persuaded a rising star of the American theater, Jack O’Brien, to become artistic director. Someone with a large ego might have named a lesser successor. But all that mattered to Craig was that the Old Globe prospered.
Ken Ruta, actor, director. A majority of the theater folk called him “Uncle Craig.” We did that because we could tell him things we’d never tell our fathers. He coddled, encouraged, and dared. He forgave mistakes as long as you were trying.
My favorite “Uncle Craig” moment: after a none-too-successful performance outdoors, he told the leads (myself included), “All right, your director’s gone now. You know your roles. Do them the way you wanted in the first place!”
It’s said there are two kinds of people in this biz: those who love the theater and those who love themselves in the theater. Uncle Craig was of the first group. He believed with a passion that audiences not only paid to be entertained but, on some higher level, to be educated and healed, becoming involved in worlds that never were but might or should have been.
Deborah Szekely, lifelong friend. You don’t sum up Craig Noel. He used to joke that he never worked a day in his life, but he has done so much and meant so much for so many. He was like a chameleon: whatever you needed, he was there for you.
When Craig was near the end, I would visit him. Often he’d recite parts of plays. One, from William Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life, kept running through his mind. He’d say a few lines, then stop, wondering if he’d got them right. The passage obviously meant a great deal to him. One day he asked me to check the script. I did. Craig was delighted to know he’d memorized it word for word.
“In the time of your life, live — so that in good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding place and let it be free and unashamed.
“In the time of your life, live — so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.”