Ian Wolfe, 95; Character Actor of Stage, Movies, TV


Ian Wolfe, veteran character actor who appeared in a dozen Broadway plays, more than 200 films and as many television episodes, has died. He was 95.

The actor, who played everything from dithery judges to prim priests and Star Trek’s librarian Mr. Atoz (A to Z), died Thursday in Los Angeles, his agent said Friday.

In his seven-decade career, Wolfe supported legendary stars from Lionel Barrymore to Clark Gable and Marlene Dietrich to Helen Hayes.

“I was the dust that made them twinkle,” he once told the Los Angeles Times.

“I declare lightly, but seriously,” he wrote in autobiographical material prepared for his agent, “that my main claim to fame in theater, films and television is that I have survived.”


Born in Canton, Ill., on Nov. 4, 1896, Wolfe was a volunteer medical specialist in World War I. He studied singing, dancing and pantomime, and took a short course at New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Wolfe made his stage debut in 1919 in “The Claw” starring Barrymore. He later played the leader of the old men in a production of “Lysistrata.”

In the 1960s, Wolfe returned to theater in the role of the father-general in charge of the Jesuit order in Rome for “The Deputy,” which he performed for Los Angeles’ Center Theatre Group. He also portrayed an elderly monk in “The Devils,” director Gordon Davidson’s opening play at the Mark Taper Forum.

Wolfe credited Irving Thalberg with bringing him to Hollywood in 1934 for a small part in “The Barretts of Wimpole Street.” Thalberg and his wife, actress Norma Shearer, became Wolfe’s mentors.

His most important film, Wolfe believed, was “Mutiny on the Bounty” in which he played Maggs, the cruel stool pigeon and storekeeper whose treatment of the sailors sparked the mutiny. His work convinced Thalberg that Wolfe could perform dramatic roles as well as comedy.

“This not only saved me professionally,” Wolfe reflected late in his life, “but actually allowed me and my family of four to exist physically and financially.”

Nevertheless, he said, only the hardiest should take up the career of character acting.

“It all seems so glamorous, such a wonderful way to make money. It isn’t,” he told The Times in 1981. “There are terrific disappointments both professionally and artistically. I literally damn near starved to death and had to borrow money to keep the kids eating.”

His films include “Witness for the Prosecution,” “Mrs. Miniver,” “Johnny Belinda,” “Pollyanna” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”

Wolfe acted in several radio dramas and became a regular face on such television series as “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza,” “Star Trek” and “Hawaii Five-0.”

He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and two daughters.

The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the Screen Actors Guild.