Doris C. Margulis, a Baltimore actress who during the 1960s and early 1970s trained Special Forces troops in interrogation at the Army's old Fort Holabird in Dundalk, died Nov. 27 of cancer at the North Oaks retirement community in Pikesville.
The former Mount Washington resident was 95.
The daughter of a cigar maker and a homemaker who later owned a grocery store, Doris Crane was born in Baltimore and raised on Smallwood Street.
After graduating from Western High School in 1932, she went to work as a stenographer and typist for Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. and later for several lawyers.
Mrs. Margulis, who had a lifelong love affair with the theater, began performing in her youth with the Jewish Alliance Players.
In 1940, Mrs. Margulis married Ira W. Margulis, an artist, and the couple settled into a home on Rockwood Avenue in Mount Washington.
Her husband died in 1968.
After her children entered school, Mrs. Margulis resumed her acting career and performed under both her married and maiden names.
She became a familiar presence to Baltimore theatergoers because of her frequent appearances in productions staged by the Vagabonds, Baltimore Actors' Theater, Spotlighters and Hilltop Theater.
In 1952, at the height of the Cold War, she began working as the first "demonstrator" to be hired at Fort Holabird, where she trained Army counterintelligence agents at its Intelligence School.
"She was always very good with various dialects. She could captivate an audience with them," said her son, Russell Margulis, who lives in Baltimore. "She was wonderful with dialects, whether it was portraying a German hausfrau, a Communist sympathizer or an indignant Vietnamese store owner."
"Every service school uses demonstrators for realism, but as far as Holabird authorities know, the Intelligence School is the only one that employs professional civilian actors," said a 1962 article in the Sunday Sun Magazine. "All of them were active in theatrical work in Baltimore before going to work for the Army, and still are."
Mrs. Margulis and three other actors helped train intelligence officers and enlisted men in the interrogation of prisoners and other hostile witnesses in an intense 11-week course.
"The veteran of this heretofore-unsung troupe is the red-haired, versatile Mrs. Doris Margulis. She plays with ease such diverse roles as a slick East German secret agent and a blowzy Brooklyn housewife," said the 1962 article. "Made up for the latter role, she can be seen padding down the corridor from the dressing room amid trimly dressed officers and students, her hair up in curlers and a housecoat over her pajamas."
Because of her flaming head of red hair, Mrs. Margulis was nicknamed "Big Red" by her students.
Working from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., she and her colleagues would have less than 15 minutes to make a transformation from one character to another, often playing up to eight different characters complete with the appropriate accent during a typical working day.
Performances, which were ad-libbed, took place in an area called "The Cage," with students sitting in what was called the "agony seat."
Mrs. Margulis eventually became head of the acting section at Fort Holabird and created a series of stock characters "as diverse as a Vietnamese shop owner to a dimwitted Southern secretary she named 'Ginger Peachy,'" her son said.
"Students would be given a simple background situation such as 'Mrs. Phu's husband has a cousin who, we suspect, has ties to the Viet Cong,'" her son said.
"Students would sit in a room with a wall-sized two-way mirror and interview Mrs. Margulis, who would be in full Asian makeup and dialect, and ask her for information that might be useful to them. Classmates watched from the other side of the mirror," he said.
Mrs. Margulis and her fellow actors would ratchet up their routines, applying lots of pressure on their students.
"They will play reticent types from whom information has to be dragged word by word. They may be highly agitated so that the student must first calm them down. By turns, they will be antagonistic or gushingly cooperative," said the 1962 article.
"It is up to the student to find a questioning technique that fits the character. The actors are always ready to pick up the ball and run with it if they can," said the article.
Characters were developed from lists of subversives, spies or enemy agents.
When the school closed in the early 1970s and moved to Fort Huachuca in Arizona, 15 miles north of the Mexican border, Mrs. Margulis chose to retire.
She resumed working on commercial voice-overs and performing at Center Stage, as well as the Vagabonds and Spotlighters.
In 1972, Mrs. Margulis read about a tryout for a road-company production of "Last of the Red Hot Lovers" in Backstage, a trade paper. At her first New York audition, she read for the part of Jeanette and was hired on the spot for the five-month tour.
Mrs. Margulis continued performing in Baltimore through the early 1990s, earning solid notices for her character-actor performances and giving one-woman shows, which she continued doing until recent years.
She was a member of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.
Services were held Nov. 29.
Also surviving are a daughter, Shelly Reyes of Westfield, Mass.; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Another son, Robert Margulis, a musician, died in 2002.