Debonair Leading Man Kent Smith Dies

Times Staff Writer

Kent Smith, a debonair leading man whose finely etched features were seen in such diverse productions as "King Richard II" at New York's City Center, "The Fountainhead" on screen and "Peyton Place" on television, has died.

Smith was 78 when he died Tuesday at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills.

He died of congestive heart failure, according to his wife, actress Edith Atwater, who said that he had been at the Motion Picture and Television Home for 2 1/2 years.

Smith was educated at Exeter and Harvard. His initial professional drama-tic experiences came with the same University Players Guild in West Falmouth, Mass., that produced Henry Fonda, Margaret Sullavan and Jimmy Stewart.

He first appeared on the New York stage in 1932 in "Men Must Fight," and through the mid-1930s worked steadily in "Dodsworth," "Saint Joan," "A Doll's House" and many other Broadway and off-Broadway plays.

He made the first of his more than three dozen films, "The Garden Murder Case," in 1936. For the next 35 years, Smith alternated between New York and Hollywood, returning to Broadway for "Candida," "Once Is Enough," "Tovarich" and "Herod and Mariamne," the latter with Katharine Cornell.

He was seen concurrently in such motion pictures as "The Curse of the Cat People," "Nora Prentiss," "The Voice of the Turtle" and the highly acclaimed novel that proved a critically disappointing film "The Fountainhead" in 1949.

Back in New York, meanwhile, Smith was the Rev. Mr. Duke in "Outward Bound," Reverdy Johnson in "The Story of Mary Surratt," The Actor in "The Guardsman" and Enobarbus in "Antony and Cleopatra."

At the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Conn., he was Angelo in "Measure for Measure" and in 1954 appeared opposite Helen Hayes in "What Every Woman Knows" at the premiere performance of Los Angeles' Huntington Hartford Theatre.

One of his last and best-remembered stage appearances was with his wife in "Ah, Wilderness" at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1967. His final film was "Pete 'n' Tillie" in 1972.

Smith's initial venture into television came in 1965 when he portrayed Charles Evans Hughes in the old "Profiles in Courage" series based on the book by President John F. Kennedy. He also did "The Invaders," a science-fiction program that ran in 1967-68 and was Dr. Robert Morton from 1964 to 1965 on "Peyton Place."

In addition to his wife, Smith is survived by a daughter, Stacey Baum. Funeral services will be private. The family is asking contributions to the Motion Picture and Television Hospital.

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