Albert S. Strappelli, 84, actor who performed with Vagabond Players

May 31, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Albert S. Strappelli, a prominent figure in local amateur theater circles for nearly five decades, died Saturday of heart failure at his Ocean City home. He was 84.

A colorful and rambunctious character actor who played a wide variety of roles during his career, Mr. Strappelli joined the Vagabond Players in 1936 and performed in scores of the company's productions.

From 1958 until 1978, he performed the starring role of the villain in the classic melodrama "The Drunkard" at the old Four Corners Tavern in Jacksonville, Baltimore County.

"It was an acting role not without its irony, as he was a nondrinker," said a nephew, William Amelia of Dagsboro, Del.

"In the early 1950s, he played a person who did some terrible deed on mock court cases that were broadcast on WMAR-TV," said a niece, Rose Shanks of Cockeysville.

In 1961, Mr. Strappelli appeared in two episodes of the television series "Route 66" that were filmed in Baltimore. The popular show starred Martin Milner and George Maharis as two young men touring the country in a Corvette.

"He was a good character actor who had a deep and booming voice and knew how to use it," said Joseph Bandiera, who first performed with Mr. Strappelli in a 1948 Vagabonds' production of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town."

Mr. Bandiera, a former East Baltimore resident who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., worked with Mr. Strappelli during the late 1950s and 1960s at the Army Intelligence School at Fort Holabird, where they helped train students.

"Our job was to play different types of roles with the students in skits. We had information that they needed to extract by various techniques," he said.

Mr. Bandiera praised his friend's stage work, which resulted in exacting and detailed character portrayals that ranged from Shakespeare to contemporary drama. He also recalled his ability as a creative and quick ad-libber.

After moving from Baltimore to Ocean City in 1985, Mr. Strappelli continued his career at the resort's Parker Playhouse, performing in daytime children's shows and plays at night.

Bill Wills, former owner and producer of the playhouse, which closed in 1997, recalled Mr. Strappelli's ability to connect with children in such roles as Captain Hook and the Big Bad Wolf.

"He brought a lifetime of experience to children's theater and was in his 60s when he began acting with us. He had a zest for life and performing and loved to do it. He wasn't the least bit bashful on or off stage," said Mr. Wills.

Born and reared in East Baltimore, Mr. Strappelli left City College during his senior year to help support his family after the death of his father. He was an assembly line worker at General Motors Corp.'s Broening Highway plant until he enlisted in the Army during World War II. He served with the Special Forces in the Pacific and was discharged with the rank of sergeant in 1945.

After the war, he managed the Rainbow Grill in East Baltimore before going to work at Fort Holabird. After the intelligence school moved to Arizona in the late 1960s, he went to work for the Medicare Division of the Social Security Administration. He retired in the early 1980s.

In 1962, he married Philena Chase, who died in 1985.

A memorial Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. June 9 at Holy Savior Roman Catholic Church, 17th Street and Coastal Highway, Ocean City.

He also is survived by two sisters, Yolanda Mallonee and Lucille Reeger, both of Baltimore; and several other nieces.

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