Obituary: Don Took, South Coast Repertory founding member, graced many stages

Don Took in a 1992 South Coast Repertory performance of "Hospitality Suite."
(Courtesy of South Coast Repertory)

Don Took — who, with a group of fellow actors from San Francisco State University (then College) in the 1960s helped build the award-winning South Coast Repertory theater company and starred in its earliest performances — died Dec. 29 at age 83.

The company announced the retired theater actor’s recent passing in a Jan. 6 social media post, acknowledging Took for appearing in 120 productions in the company’s history, starting with SCR’s inaugural 1964 production of Molière’s “Tartuffe.”

The performance was held at the old Laguna Playhouse, as South Coast Repertory’s first theater was still being built in a commercial space on Balboa Peninsula. One week later, Took played a leading role in Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” SCR’s opening production.

Don Took, right, in a 1965 performance of "Waiting for Godot," South Coast Repertory's first onsite production.
(Courtesy of South Coast Repertory)

Born in 1939 in Redding under the surname Tuche — which he would later change to avoid constant mispronunciation — Took memorized comic routines and recited them for the amusement of his grade school classmates, according to earlier interviews with the Daily Pilot.

In junior high, he performed in a play written by the school principal and caught the acting bug.

“I said to myself, ‘Wow, this is it!’” Took said of his time on the stage in 2002, recalling how he went on to accept leading roles in high school.

Actor Don Took in a 1997 South Coast Repertory production of "Best and Final Offer."
(Courtesy of South Coast Repertory)

Took enrolled as a pre-med student at San Francisco State, to follow in the footsteps of his doctor father, but was quickly introduced to the wonders of the theater by roommate Martin Benson. In 1963, Benson teamed up with Took and fellow college friend David Emmes to stage Arthur Schnitzler’s “La Ronde” at Long Beach’s Off-Broadway Playhouse.

Emmes and Benson soon after began to consider the possibility of creating a professional resident theater company in Orange County. Having grown up in Newport Beach, Emmes said the area seemed ripe for growth.

“At a certain point, we thought Orange County would proclaim its cultural independence from Los Angeles,” he recalled in an interview Tuesday. “Don was a major player in making that commitment.”

Actor Don Took was known for his memorable portrayal of Marley's ghost in SCR's annual production of "A Christmas Carol."
(Courtesy of South Coast Repertory)

Took appeared in 13 of South Coast Repertory’s first 20 productions, even as the company moved to Costa Mesa, notably performing in the role of Jacob Marley in SCR’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol” for 25 years running.

He also performed in two productions of “Play Strindberg” in 1973 and 1999, “The School for Scandal” in 1988, the world premiere of “Hospitality Suite” in 1992 and in “Two Gentleman of Verona” in 2003.

“He had a wonderful, unassuming quality about him, and he worked intuitively as an actor,” Emmes said of Took’s monastic commitment to the craft. “He let the work speak to him and brought himself to the work.”

After his final performance at SCR in 2006 Took retired, having spent the bulk of his career on the stage, a rarity within the profession. A private gathering of remembrance for Took is being planned by those who knew and worked with him.

“In some ways, he lived the ideal life of an actor,” Emmes said. “His great achievement was to live his life fully as an artist and to enrich our shows and the thousands of audience members who experienced his art.”

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