Colgate Salsbury, 63, actor who worked on Broadway, in films and on television

June 19, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Colgate Salsbury, a professional actor whose career spanned Broadway and Hollywood, died Thursday of cancer at his Stevenson home. He was 63.

Mr. Salsbury, a Manhattan native known as "Gate," starred as Daniel Berrigan in the original 1970 Broadway production of "The Trial of the Catonsville Nine." Most recently, he appeared as the rector in John Waters' film "Serial Mom."

"He had one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard in my life," said Mr. Waters.

Standing just over 6 feet tall, he had a commanding voice and a compelling stage presence.

"He had something that made people look at him, and he had the ability to look and listen to other actors," said his wife of 13 years, local actress and television personality Rhea Feikin. "What he had was quite intangible."

Mr. Salsbury became interested in the theater as a child while growing up in West Hartford, Conn., where he often talked with resident Katharine Hepburn. He was a 1953 graduate of the Kingswood School and earned a bachelor's degree in English literature from Harvard University in 1957.

After graduating from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art the next year, he spent two years as a radio-Teletype operator in the Army. After his discharge, he was an extra in a New York production of "Hamlet" and spent a season with the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Conn.

During the 1960s, Mr. Salsbury appeared in many Broadway and off-Broadway productions, and on television soap operas including "Another World," "Search for Tomorrow" and "As The World Turns."

In a 1968 interview, Mr. Salsbury said acting is a "very mysterious process" that defies definition. "Everybody has this capacity for playing roles," he said. "The trick is to be able to use yourself and feelings more or less at will."

Mr. Salsbury came to Baltimore in 1962 as one of four Equity actors who formed the professional resident company of Center Stage. He earned rave notices for his portrayal of Jerry in Edward Albee's "The Zoo Story."

"Squatting, swaggering, lunging, shouting, Mr. Salsbury seemed at times to be holding the opening-night audience by the sheer energy of his performance," critic R. H. Gardner wrote at the time. "Throughout, his is a beautifully modulated, convincingly interpreted characterization."

Peter W. Cullman, Center Stage managing director, described Mr. Salsbury's love of the theater as "all-consuming" and his voice "a marvelous instrument."

Baltimore actress Vivienne Shub said, "Nearly 35 years later, his performance in `The Zoo Story' remains vivid and electrifying."

During the 1970s, before settling permanently in Baltimore, Mr. Salsbury taught English and drama at Miss Hall's School for Girls in Pittsfield, Mass., and Mount Regional High School in Great Barrington, Mass.

In recent years, he performed voice-overs in radio and television commercials, and narrated several Discovery Channel documentaries. He was an avid collector of classical music recordings and writing.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 232 St. Thomas Lane in Owings Mills.

In addition to Miss Feikin, Mr. Salsbury is survived by two daughters, Abigail Salsbury of El Prado, N.M., and Sherrod Louise Bailey of Glen Dale, Mass.; a brother, Baker Salsbury of Windsor, Conn.; a stepson, Daniel Feikin of Denver; a stepdaughter, Jennifer Feikin of Los Angeles; and two grandsons.

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