City Council Honors Star Francis Lederer

Francis Lederer, a longtime West Valley resident and former matinee idol who celebrates his 100th birthday this week, was recognized by the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday.

Councilwoman Laura Chick presented Lederer with a resolution citing his acting credits on stage, in film and television and his civic activism as a commissioner for the city's Department of Recreation and Parks and Department of Cultural Affairs.

With wit and wisdom, Lederer said the secret of longevity "is to live a long time."

Born Frantisek Lederer in Prague, Czechoslovakia, on Nov. 6, 1899, he began his stage career and eventually became a well-established film star in Berlin and Vienna.

Lederer moved to Hollywood in 1934 and over the next two decades played a series of leading man roles, usually the continental lover with a mean streak. His most noted roles from that era were "Confessions of a Nazi Spy" in 1939 and "The Man I Married" in 1940.

On the small screen, Lederer made guest appearances on "Mission: Impossible," "Ben Casey," "The Untouchables" and "It Takes a Thief," among other television programs.

With his film career winding down, Lederer and his wife, Marion, who attended Wednesday's ceremony, settled in the west San Fernando Valley in the 1940s.

The couple purchased 300 acres surrounding and including Canoga Hill, located in what is now known as West Hills near Sherman Way and Woodlake Avenue. The Lederers built an 18th-century Spanish mission-style home of local stone.

Active in civic affairs, Lederer served as honorary mayor of Canoga Park, established the Canoga Park/Taxco, Mexico, Sister City program and founded the Hollywood Museum.

In 1957, Lederer, one of the earliest members of the Screen Actors Guild, founded the American National Academy of Performing Arts in Studio City, where he continues to teach a weekly actors' workshop. The school's walls are covered with photos of former students, including Helen Hunt, who won the 1997 Academy Award for best actress.

Lederer's political activism at times put him at odds with colleagues and government officials. In 1940, he was exonerated by a U.S. House subcommittee of being a Communist Party sympathizer.

A bitter dispute with board members of the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital in Woodland Hills prompted Lederer to withdraw a $17-million bequest in 1982 because he said the board was not receptive to how he thought the money should be used.

Lederer's philosophy about life and acting is simple: "Learn by doing."

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