PASSINGS: John Dye, Ellen Stewart, Del Reisman, Irene Jerison
Actor best known for ‘Touched by an Angel’
John Dye, 47, an actor best known for his role as Andrew in the long-running CBS-TV series “Touched by an Angel,” was found dead Monday at his home in San Francisco, the San Francisco medical examiner’s office confirmed. His brother Jerre told the Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis, Tenn., that Dye died of a heart attack.
Dye became a regular on “Touched by an Angel” in 1995 for its second season and starred opposite Roma Downey and Della Reese as heavenly messengers sent to help humans through difficult times. Dye’s character functioned primarily as an angel of death at first.
“When you see me in my white suit and I start glowing, you know somebody’s toast,” Dye joked in a 1999 interview with the Commercial Appeal.
But as the show, which ended its run in 2003, evolved, the handsome and compassionate Andrew took on more duties as an angelic caseworker.
“I like the role because death isn’t something we talk about much in America,” Dye wrote in a 1997 compilation of “Touched by an Angel” scripts. “As a nation, we find it difficult to mourn or grieve, labeling tears a sign of weakness. Because of that, Andrew is a rather loud character, helping us face something we would rather ignore.”
Dye also appeared in the spinoff “Promised Land” and had regular roles in the prime-time TV series “Hotel Malibu,” “Jack’s Place” and “Tour of Duty.”
Born Jan. 31, 1963, in Amory, Miss., he attended Mississippi State University and what is now the University of Memphis, studying to become a lawyer before switching to drama. He left college early to pursue an acting career but later returned to finish his bachelor’s degree.
Founder of Off-Off-Broadway’s La MaMa
Ellen Stewart, 91, founder and director of the Off-Off-Broadway pioneering group La MaMa Experimental Theater Club, died Thursday at New York’s Beth Israel Hospital after an extended illness, said Mia Yoo, the theater’s co-artistic director.
During Stewart’s 49-year tenure, La MaMa presented about 3,000 productions, hosted artists from more than 70 countries and earned countless cultural awards. She was the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation grant in 1985 and a 2006 Tony Honor for Excellence in Theater.
“She was extremely nurturing to young theatrical talent and also very open to new ideas and inventive theater,” said Brenda Smiley, an actress, writer and journalist who worked with Stewart and remained close. “She allowed people to go beyond and to break barriers in a lot of ways.”
Stewart was born in 1919 in Chicago and grew up there and in Louisiana. She began her career in New York as a fashion designer and started La MaMa in 1961 when she rented a tiny basement in lower Manhattan for $55 a month to provide her brother and his playwright friends with a space to showcase their plays. Already nicknamed “Mama,” one of her actors suggested La MaMa as the name for her theater.
La MaMa moved several times and took up residence in its current space on East 4th Street in 1969. In 1974, the company acquired a second space, the Annex, down the street.
Theater spokesman Sam Rudy said Stewart was instrumental in introducing to American audiences some of the world’s most influential artists, including Andrei Serban, Tom O’Horgan, Sam Shepard, Lanford Wilson, Harvey Fierstein, Maria Irene Fornes, Tom Eyen, Jean Claude van Itallie and countless others.
Longtime TV writer
Del Reisman, 86, a longtime TV writer and former president of the Writers Guild of America, West, died of a heart attack Saturday in Toluca Lake after a brief illness, the WGA announced.
Reisman was a writer, producer and story editor beginning with the live anthology series “Matinee Theater” and “Playhouse 90" in the 1950s. He worked closely with series creator Rod Serling on the original “Twilight Zone” in the ‘60s; and he had a long list of credits on series including “The Untouchables,” “The Lieutenant,” “Peyton Place,” “The Streets of San Francisco,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “Flamingo Road” and “Airwolf.”
He served as president of the WGA, West, from 1991 to 1993, its vice president from 1987 to 1991 and on its board of directors from 1979 to 1987. He was chairman of a host of guild committees over the years.
Reisman was born April 13, 1924, and grew up in Los Angeles. He graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in English and journalism. He served in World War II as a B-17 bombardier in Europe with the U.S. Army Air Forces.
In recent years Reisman taught screenwriting at the American Film Institute and was a member of the Library of Congress National Film Preservation Board.
Editor of guide to L.A. government
Irene Jerison, 84, a writer from Poland who edited a well-received League of Women Voters publication outlining Los Angeles government in 1976, died Jan. 6 at her home in Santa Monica, her family said. She had Alzheimer’s disease.
Jerison edited the 1976 revision of “Los Angeles: Structure of a City” published by the League of Women Voters. A Times book review called it “an invaluable guide to the marble maze of City Hall” and “a clear, concise, accurate account of how the city’s government evolved and how it is organized.”
Jerison also penned travel stories for The Times and other publications, as well as short stories, including “Though This Be Madness,” a fictionalized account of her time spent in the Lodz ghetto in her native Poland.
She was born Irena Landkof in Lodz on Nov. 20, 1926, and confined to the Jewish ghetto by Nazi troops at age 13. She secretly studied English there until she was sent to a concentration camp in central Germany. Liberated in April 1945, she made her way to England and took courses at the University of London.
She came to the United States on a student visa in 1947 and enrolled at the University of Chicago, where she met her future husband, Harry Jerison. They married in 1950 and she earned a master’s degree in sociology in 1953. They moved to the Los Angeles area and he became a professor of psychiatry at UCLA.
-- Los Angeles Times staff and wire reports