PASSINGS: John Wood, Charles L. Gittens


John Wood

Award-winning British actor

John Wood, 81, a British actor who won a Tony Award in 1976 for his role in the Broadway production of Tom Stoppard’s “Travesties,” died Saturday in his sleep inEngland, his agent announced.


Best known for his theater work in London and on Broadway, Wood was nominated for two more Tonys, as Guildenstern in Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” which opened on Broadway in 1967, and as the title character in “Sherlock Holmes,” a long-running revival of the 1899 drama that came to Broadway in 1974. He also originated the role of playwright Sidney Bruhl in Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap” on Broadway in 1978.

Wood also turned up in dozens of films, including “WarGames,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Orlando,” “Shadowlands,” “The Madness of King George,” “Richard III,” “Jane Eyre” and “Chocolat.”

A native of Derbyshire, England, Wood attended Oxford University, where he studied law but changed course after having great success directing and playing the title character in a student production of “Richard III.” He joined the Old Vic Company and later moved on to the RoyalShakespeare Company.

With the RSC his roles included Brutus in “Julius Caesar,” Prospero in “The Tempest” and King Lear.

While Wood preferred theater to film, he was pragmatic about the paycheck associated with movie work.

“You’ve got to eat,” he told the New York Times in 1998. “I have to do the films. There’s no other way of keeping one’s snorkel in the air.”

Charles L. Gittens

First black Secret Service agent

Charles L. Gittens, 82, who in 1956 became the first black Secret Service agent, died July 27 at an assisted living center in Mitchellville, Md., after having a heart attack, according totheWashington Post.

Gittens was initially assigned to the Secret Service’s Charlotte, N.C., office. He also worked in the New York City office, investigating counterfeiting and bank fraud.

He protected presidents and was assigned to the Washington, D.C., office in 1969, where he supervised about 120 agents after becoming special agent over the office.

He retired in 1979, then worked for the Department of Justice, where he investigated war criminals who were living in the United States.

Gittens was born Aug. 31, 1928, in Cambridge, Mass. After serving inthe Army during the Korean War, he earned a bachelor’s degree from what is now North Carolina Central University. He got a job teaching high school in North Carolina before taking a civil service exam and being recruited to the Secret Service.

—Los Angeles Times staff and wire reports