If there were a San Diego theater Hall of Fame, Craig Noel would be first on the list. The second, Robert Landis, passed away last week.
I still believe the imaginary army must have been the greatest fiction of the 20th century. “The results,” says an historian, “indicate that Hitler and his High Command were indecisive about the Normandy landings, believing them to be a feint.” So they held back a Panzer division. And Bob helped save lives.
He was an all-purpose theater person. Always avid about new plays, he co-founded Scripteasers, still active today.
For Footlights, which rivalled the Old Globe in the post-WWII years, he directed, among others, Maxwell Anderson’s Joan of Lorraine and Ben Hecht/Charles MacArthur’s The Front Page.
He acted a bucket-list of plum roles, many for Westminster Theatre in Point Loma: Sir Thomas More, A Man for All Seasons; the Stage Manager in Our Town; the robber/murderer in Rashomon; Cervantes in Man of La Mancha; C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands.
As a playwright: The Canaris Enigma (master spies of WWII, based on his expertise with codes); Anton’s Lovers (the private life of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov); The Illusion Factory (a “dirty-tricks” Presidential campaign), and eight others.
He was working on a musical version of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities when he died, at age 93.
The older I get, the more I like to talk to people even older. Not just as scouts for what’s ahead, but as clarifiers for what lies behind.
As is obvious from his plays, Bob read widely and deeply. He had a lifelong fascination with history, which he combined with a passion for travel.
In 1936, he bicycled across Great Britain and through Belgium to Berlin. He attended the German Olympics, where Jesse Owens beat the Master Race’s best to the finish line. Bob was 15.
It was hard to name a major city, on the planet, he hadn’t visited. The darndest thing, well one of them: he never talked like a scorekeeper or a snoot (“upon arriving at Gstaad, we proceeded to…”). He shared his travels not as trophies but as adventures you might like to hear. And he packed them with history. Bob always told clarifying stories.
He was an Elder at the Westminster Presbyterian Church, and served on the boards of the San Diego Symphony, the Museum of Man, and the Better Business Bureau.
And he was San Diego’s biggest Charger fan. During my far-too-rare visits, and lunches at a nearby Italian restaurant, I’d give him the numbers test: #21? Hadl. #19? “Bambi Allworth.” Okay Mr. Smartie, old #76? “Big Daddy Lipscomb, also played for the Colts.”
I learned early never to say a discouraging word about the Bolts in Blue. Though I had to remark that his being such a fan revealed an empyrean ability to forgive.
They say the expression “Renaissance Man” is sexist. Okay, Robert Landis was a “Renaissance Person.” He was fluent in myriad subjects, ideas, and abilities.
But he was so much more than a first-class resume. He was humble, funny, sharp as can be, and struck a remarkable balance between getting a kick out of life and reacting to injustices. He’s often been called “a true gentleman.”
Before she met him, his wife JoAnn vowed never to marry someone who wasn’t “generous and interesting. I got my wish.”
I wish you could have known Bob Landis.
There will be a memorial service at Westminster Church, 3598 Talbot Street, Point Loma, on September 13 at 2:00 p.m.