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Craig Noel died in his home on April third. He was 94. Friends remember the Father of San Diego Theater.

Conrad Susa, composer. Craig was my deep soul brother. I first met him at Carnegie Tech in 1958. I told him I was a composer who heard he might be using music for a show in San Diego.

“Would you really come so far?” he asked, genuinely surprised.

I said yes and began working at the Globe in 1959. Over the next 40 years I spent summers in various rooms at Craig’s home on Jackdaw Street.

He was deeply shy and deeply unsentimental. His sense of humor was in his timing and rhythm. He liked to play various roles, so that from moment to moment he might turn into just about anybody. As others will agree, he had a temper that could be amazingly powerful. One time when a well-meaning friend insisted on taking him on an outing, he shouted, “When I say no, I mean No! No! No! No! Goddamit! Get out and leave me ALONE!” Then he spun on a dime and said, calm as can be, “Please pour me some orange juice, or I’ll faint.”

Everyone who loved Craig will say that he invited you to be his good friend and always made you want to see him again. He did these things without affectation.

To Craig, the Old Globe was a public trust, and he was the caretaker. One time I told him, “You have lived so long you have become a myth.” To which he replied, “Yes, I was so tired of being a legend.”

Craig was more than that. He was an era.

Marion Ross, actor. At every crucial time — every crisis — in my life, Craig was there. He cast me as Olivia in Twelfth Night, the first Shakespeare performed at the Old Globe after the war. I was 19. He came to see every play I did at San Diego State. When I graduated, he said, “Casting agents will need to see you in something.” So, typical Craig, he pulled some amazing strings and I got cast at the Pasadena Playhouse in Maxwell Anderson’s Journey to Jerusalem — as the Virgin Mary! A talent scout from Paramount saw me, and I signed a contract at age 22.

Skip ahead 20 years. I was getting a divorce and was in a shambles, crying day and night. Craig called, said, “Come home; do anything you want.” I went to San Diego and played neurotic Alma Winemiller in Summer and Smoke (in rehearsal Craig shouted, as only Craig could: “You only act five feet out! Don’t stop at the camera! Go all the way to the wall!”). During the show’s run, a TV pilot I’d worked on — Happy Days — got a contract. I was torn. But Craig said, “Go! I’ll get you an understudy.”

Ten years later, the series ended. It was so hard to leave. I was very upset. Craig said, “Come home.” Once again, with perfect timing, he was right there for me.

Always there.

Fred Moramarco, artistic director, Laterthanever Productions. Craig cast me in my first play in the late 1970s, The Advocate, about the Sacco-Vanzetti trial. I had no training as an actor and accidentally showed up during callbacks. Craig asked if I had any experience.

“No.” I said the only reason I wanted to audition was that this play had 27 male roles, and I wanted to get over my fear of being unable to memorize lines. He handed me a script. “Look at the part of Schreiber.” I did.

“Now perform Schreiber’s lines,” he said, taking back the script.

I raised my right hand: “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

“See,” said Craig, “you know the part already!” He cast me as the court clerk who has just that one line in the play.

Darlene G. Davies, former Old Globe actor. Craig asked me to perform in the Shakespeare Festival Concert in the summer of 1961 at Starlight Bowl. I did the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. We had only two or three rehearsals. I was 22 at the time and attending San Diego State. At the final run-through, I didn’t know my lines, which was unusual for me. But Craig was patient and unconcerned, and I remember being totally mystified that he wasn’t exasperated. Why did he trust me to go onstage in front of thousands of people and not embarrass the Globe? Because he had a keen awareness of actors, an uncanny ability to work with each one.

The performance went smoothly, and as I walked into the wings, Craig gave me a giant hug. He must have been certain I wouldn’t let him down, or was he just relieved? Probably some of each. But there’s a deeper explanation: Craig was an artist. He sensed things. Directors and visionaries are like that. And Craig was both.

All of us, who knew Craig for so many decades, have cherished memories. When Mercy Hospital gave Lowell [Davies, for whom the Festival Theatre is named] his unwelcome diagnosis, the first person I called was Craig.

Jill Drexler, artistic director, Scripps Ranch Theatre. I had the privilege of working with Craig on, I believe, the last show he ever directed: Henry Wants a Renaissance by Jason Connors, for the Playwright’s Project. I was fascinated to watch Craig — who seemed to live on popcorn and cigarettes — and a very brave Jason discuss script changes. They became a team.

During a break I asked Craig about his philosophy of directing. He said he rarely looked at actors during rehearsals. He preferred to listen only, as if he were listening to music. He said he could always catch a false note that way. That has stayed with me as a unique tactic from a master director.

Jason Connors, actor, writer, musician. When Craig agreed to direct my play for Playwrights Project — his last at the Carter — I was 18. I had about seven years of theatrical experience, as opposed to his seven decades. Nonetheless, Craig treated me as an equal. We jousted over casting decisions and reworked important moments in the text.

At rehearsal I watched his patient and gentle directing style, giving our actors just the right amount of words to lead them toward a moment of discovery. The graciousness he showed to me and the enormous respect he gave my work were no doubt emblematic of his reverence for playwrights and the theater as a tradition. I will never forget his example.

Charlene Baldridge, theater critic, former press contact for the Old Globe. Craig was the master of the withering look, delivered with the well-chosen phrase. He was caustic and devastatingly funny (and hated talking about himself). If only I could transmute the sound of his voice and laughter. Anyone who loved him will hear it forever.

You can hear his voice in this transcript from Company Call, December 7, 1982, Craig’s speech to the cast of The Skin of Our Teeth:

“Jack [O’Brien] asked if I would make preliminary remarks. I am enthusiastic and would say almost wildly enthusiastic, considering my age, about this particular season. The Skin of Our Teeth and the whole PBS extravaganza [a performance was televised nationally] is more than anyone could hope for. I will be sitting in on rehearsals and trying to ease Jack’s pain in any way I can. I will not ever reprimand you personally, but I will go to the proper authorities if I feel that dear, sweet Jack, lovable and attractive Jack, is not getting everything he deserves to have. I’m looking forward to this season, and I hope that I will be able to aid and comfort you in some way. If you have any complaints, do not come to me; go to someone else. But if you have anything nice to say about this organization, do let me hear it because it overjoys me and brightens my day, and I have so few left.”

D.J. Sullivan, teacher, actor, director. Craig changed actors’ lives. In rehearsals, he’d walk right beside you, like a close-up camera, and whisper notes. He could have been a great actor as well. I was blessed to watch him in Our Town.

He hadn’t acted in decades. I never thought of Craig as nervous. But when he played the Stage Manager in 1975, he was a wreck. Not just opening night. Every performance, he said, was “sheer hell.” Lines were hard for him to learn. Panic always set in. He was one of us after all!

I had a dressing room next to his. Every night he paced, mumbled lines, and couldn’t sit down. “What time is it?” he’d ask. Or, “WHY AM I DOING THIS???”

And every night he was brilliant. He was so calm onstage. Craig loved acting that was done simply, and you never caught him “acting” for a second! He was the Stage Manager. You wouldn’t believe he was so miserable — the most nervous actor I’ve ever seen — backstage.

He told me later he felt he didn’t “get” the part. When I asked him why he put himself through it, he said, “I though it might be fun. It wasn’t.”

He never did another role.

Jonathan McMurtry, actor, teacher. After the Old Globe burned down in 1978, there was a fundraising meeting at the Imperial House Restaurant. I was invited along with Jack O’Brien, Tom Hall, Craig, and many corporate executives — money people — we were pitching for support to rebuild the theater.

Jack talked about “Broadway possibilities,” Tom about financial problems, and judging from the faces of the would-be backers, things weren’t going well.

During the other speeches, Craig frowned and tore a paper napkin into tiny bits around his water glass. Finally he stood up. He turned a briefcase upside down, and out spilled at least 100 letters on the table. They came from San Diego public school students. They contained pennies, dimes, spare change. Each said how much the Old Globe meant to them.

Craig read a few at random. Then he spoke about how important the arts were for education — not one word about the Old Globe burning!

My eyes swelled with tears. He turned that meeting around in the simplest way because he truly believed every word he said.

Craig was the most meaningful person in my life over the last 50 years. He will always be with me. He’s not gone. I’m certain of that.

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Prosperina April 29, 2010 @ 7:51 p.m.

This was the best memorial for Craig Noel -- so many of us who did not know Craig Noel very well,but know his work, and 'his' theatre - so many of us that were so fond of him, and admired him and would have loved to have told him so. This article feels like we had a chance to say it to him -- Thank you Jeff Smith - thank you for giving us a voice -- beyond Mr. Noel's great accomplishments and the 'myth' and the 'legend' factoids -- a personal farewell that we all have a chance to share in. Oh,how I would love to have a friend and mentor like him -- do any even exist any more? Thank you for that article. No other newspaper has done this in just this way - it's wonderful. Prosperina


patnmj May 9, 2010 @ 8:23 a.m.

In 1971 the OLD GLOBE had a policy of casting locally. I was fortunate to be cast as Ralph Waldo Emerson in The Night Thoreau Spent In Jail, directed by Craig. During rehearsals I asked him why he never spoke to me about a movement or line interpretation. He later took me aside and with his soft spoken mild manner said “if I think you need it, I’ll let you know”. I received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor and realized he was letting me know. I will miss him and remember the many blessings I’ve received in just working with him.


Jeff Smith May 9, 2010 @ 11:04 a.m.

Patnmj: that's "pure Craig." He had an instinctive gift for bringing out the best in people. Some he'd leave alone. Others he'd push, sometimes politely, sometimes not (in a half-joking voice he told famous actor, "now get it right for once").


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