Arthur Peterson; TV and Stage Character Actor


Arthur Peterson, a veteran character actor who graced Southern California stages but is best remembered for "Soap," the prime-time television series spoofing soap operas, has died. He was 83.

Peterson, who died Thursday in Pasadena of complications of Alzheimer's disease, played the major on the controversial show that ran from 1977 to 1981.

He also was known for his off-Broadway, one-man show on Robert Frost, which he took on a national tour and performed locally at the Pasadena Playhouse's Interim Theater and the Commonwealth Theater. A Times theater critic in 1988 called the show "an evocative tribute to a great poet."

A native of North Dakota, Peterson studied theater at the University of Minnesota and in New York theaters. He began his acting career in Chicago on a federal theater project during the Depression.

In 1936, Peterson was cast as the leading character, Dr. John Rutledge, on the original radio soap opera, "The Guiding Light." He left the show in 1944 to serve in the Army during World War II.

After the war, he returned to Chicago, where he and his wife of 59 years, actress Norma Ransom, were cast in ABC's first network television sitcom, "That's O-Toole." The show, sponsored by Delta Tool, included Peterson's use of power tools on live television.

Peterson and Ransom founded Chicago's Actors Company, a professional theater and drama school.

The couple moved to Los Angeles in 1959, where Peterson acted in such films as "The Children's Hour," "Fitzwilly" and "Yours, Mine and Ours." They helped found Actors Alley Repertory Theater, which still operates in North Hollywood.

The Pasadena Playhouse cast Peterson and Ransom in the two-character play, "The Gin Game," which they performed in the 52-seat Interim Theater and then took on a cross-country tour from 1981 until 1991. A Times critic hailed their Los Angeles performance as "outstanding."

In addition to his wife, Peterson is survived by two children, Paul and Kirstin, three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday at Calvary Presbyterian Church in South Pasadena. The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the Alzheimer's Assn. of Los Angeles.

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