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Veteran Character Actor John C. Becher Dies at 71

Character actor John C. Becher, a featured player on Broadway, in movies and television, has died after a career of four decades.

Becher, who had suffered from cancer since January, died Saturday at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital. He was 71. “He was a consummate actor, a very skillful comedian, but also a fine dramatic actor,” leading lady Angela Lansbury said. “He was a staunch and dear friend.”

Becher appeared on Broadway with Lansbury in the musical productions of “Mame” and “Gypsy,” and more recently took roles in the star’s current television series “Murder, She Wrote.”

He spent most of his career in New York, mostly in Broadway shows, but also used it as a base for national tours and summer theater work. Becher and his wife of 41 years, Margaret, moved to Los Angeles in 1979. She was controller of the Theater Guild in New York for 28 years.

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A native of Milwaukee, he was a graduate of Milwaukee State Teachers College (now the University of Wisconsin), and later trained at Goodman Theatre in Chicago.

Trained Stars

However, before he could begin his professional career he was drafted into the Army. He was assigned to the staff of the special services school in Lexington, Va., where he trained such established stars as Melvin Douglas and Red Skelton in how to deal with the conditions they would face while entertaining troops overseas during World War II.

Discharged as a captain, he joined the American Repertory Theater in 1946, immediately winning a role in “Androcles and the Lion.”

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Some of his other shows included “Brigadoon,” “Harvey,” “Picnic,” “American Dream” and “The Dumb Waiter.” While in New York, he also appeared in many early television dramas and a number of commercials.

He performed in more than a dozen movies, including “Up the Sandbox,” “Honky Tonk Freeway,” “Gremlins,” and most recently “Murphy’s Romance.”

During the last few years, he worked on television shows such as “Benson,” “Remington Steele,” “Newhart” and “Night Court.” In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sisters, Elfreida Mater and Marie Flick of Milwaukee, and a brother, Harvey Becher of London.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Church of the Hills in Forest Lawn in Hollywood Hills.

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