Robert V. Minford, 75, stage actor, director renowned for Poe role

February 10, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Robert V. Minford, a former actor and director who was a mainstay for nearly two decades at the old Limestone Valley Dinner Theater in Cockeysville and was known for his one-man show on Edgar Allan Poe, died of cancer Wednesday at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Lebanon, Pa. He was 75.

For more than 20 years, beginning in the early 1960s, Mr. Minford wrote and performed Journey to Eldorado, an anecdotal one-man show based on the life and works of Poe. His costume of dark trousers, vest, white shirt and wing collar with a black cravat, coupled with a full head of tousled hair, gave Mr. Minford an astonishing resemblance to the poet, who died in Baltimore in 1849.

"He took the Poe role very seriously, and this wasn't merely recitation. He could make the poetry and stories come alive," said David J. Bachman of Lebanon, Pa., a retired nurse who as Mr. Minford's companion of 39 years is his only survivor. "When he mentioned The Tell Tale Heart, he'd fall to his knees and desperately try to find the beating heart that was hidden somewhere in the floor."

"Of all of the work he did for me, some 23 shows, Journey to Eldorado, is head and heel over all of them," said Joshua F. Cockey, who founded the dinner theater in 1969. "I was sitting one night watching him perform The Tell Tale Heart and I thought, `That guy is tearing up my expensive brand new parquet floor.' He was that realistic."

Mr. Minford performed the show Off-Broadway and toured with it across the country and appeared on Maryland Public Television in the role.

Mr. Minford was born in New York City and raised in Brooklyn. His interest in the theater began when he was a student at Erasmus Hall high school, when he began performing with its drama club.

After serving as a chaplain's assistant in the Navy from 1946 to 1948, Mr. Minford enrolled in the Pasadena Playhouse College of Theatre Art in California, from which he earned a bachelor's degree in 1952.

Mr. Minford began his career working in television in California. For several years, he was a regular on Rawhide, the Western that starred Clint Eastwood. In the early 1960s, he headed to New York and worked in stock and repertory companies as an actor or director.

"He was classically trained and played sophisticated comedy about as well as anybody I ever worked with. I first met Bob in Lexington, Ky., in 1961 when he was doing a New York tour of The Boy Friend," said Doug Roberts, a Baltimore actor and well-known voice-over artist.

"I was fascinated with his work, and six years later he came to work with me at the Oregon Ridge Dinner Theater. He also played at my Bolton Hill Dinner Theater and at the Garland, which is now Toby's Dinner Theater, in Columbia. Everybody wanted Bob, and the guy worked 50 weeks a year," Mr. Roberts said.

"He was a journeyman actor who could play any part. He was a very reliable actor who offstage was a very, very pleasant guy," recalled Lou Cedrone, retired theater and movie critic for The Evening Sun.

"Bob was in a show at Limestone one time with Forrest Tucker. Now, Forrest liked his drinks, and one day on the set he picked up a glass of water that Forrest had put down on a table and took a big swig. It was full of gin," Mr. Cockey said.

During his 18 years in theater work in the Baltimore area, Mr. Minford shared the stage with actors including Tab Hunter, Yvonne DeCarlo, Zazu Pitts, Broderick Crawford, Dody Goodman and Virginia Graham.

After retiring in the 1980s, he moved from Reisterstown to Lebanon, Pa. He continued to enjoy attending the theater and reading.

"Bob's gravestone was engraved with the dramatic masks of comedy and tragedy," Mr. Cockey said.

Services were held Saturday.

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