Alexis Kanner

The Stage
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A firebrand actor of the swinging sixties, Alexis Kanner quickly burned out but his appearance in the puzzling final episode of TV series The Prisoner won him enduring cult success.

He was born on May 2, 1942 in Bagneres de Luchon, France. After the Second World War he emigrated with his family to Canada, where he made his stage debut in Tyrone Guthrie’s production of Hamlet. Returning to Europe, Kanner appeared in Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, and Barry Jackson’s production of The Tempest at Birmingham Rep. He made his London debut in The American Dream at the Royal Court in 1961.

In 1964, as part of director Peter Brook’s Theatre of Cruelty season at LAMDA, he played the title role in Charles Marowitz’s re-interpretation of Hamlet. The experiment shocked purists but, for director Brook, Kanner was “the most electrifying, exciting actor of his generation”. He went on to star in Sammy at the Arts in 1966.

Kanner then became a household name as DC Stone in the televison series Softly, Softly in 1966. In 1967/8 he appeared in The Prisoner, in which Patrick McGoohan tried and failed to escape from ‘the village’. Among other roles, Kanner played Number 48 in the last episode, which made front page news when it failed to resolve the mystery of why McGoohan had been imprisoned.

In supporting roles in films from 1961, Kanner was again tabloid fodder when he fell out with his equally temperamental co-star Bette Davis on the movie Connecting Rooms (1970). A writer throughout his life, he returned to Canada in 1977 to produce and direct his own screenplay, Kings and Desperate Men. The kidnap drama, which reunited Kanner with McGoohan, later had success on the festival circuit after its 1981 release. In 1991 Kanner claimed that its plot had been lifted for Die Hard.

Kanner’s last public appearance was at a convention for The Prisoner in March, 2003. He was found dead on December 13, aged 61. His wife, brother and sister survive him.

David McGillivray

Isabelle Stevenson

Once hailed as ‘the blonde Josephine Baker’, Isabelle Stevenson will be best remembered for her later, long-lasting involvement with the American Theatre Wing – the body which established the Tony Awards – on which she sat as both president and chairman.

Born May 15, 1913 in Vineland, New Jersey, Stevensonmade her theatrical debut in Earl Carroll’s Vanities, a Broadway musical revue of the thirties. She toured America as a dancer, played on the same bill as Bob Hope and was invited to give a Royal Command Performance at London’s Palladium. She scored her biggest success at the Olympia Theater in Paris, where she earned the comparison to Baker.

Stevenson also studied journalism at New York University and both fashion and costume design at the Traphegan School of Design. Her qualifications came together when she became an editor at Greystone Publishing, where she supervised the publication of books on decorating, design and sewing.

Having retired from the stage to raise a family, Stevenson returned to the theatrical arena in 1957 by joining the board of the American Theatre Wing. Nine years later she became president of the organisation and in 1999 its chairman, a post she held until her death.

While this group is best known for its founding of the Tonys in 1947, the organisation is also a not-for-profit cultural institution dedicated to furthering the cause of theatre as well as introducing the art form to future generations.

Now in their 27th year, the Wing’s Working in the Theatre seminars – created by Stevenson – are one of the most popular arts-related broadcasts on New York television, where they are shown five times a week. During Stevenson’s tenure as president, she single-handedly booked each of the seminars, assembling panels and discussion groups that read like a who’s who of contemporary American theatre. Many of these seminars are now a part of the permanent archives at the New York Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center and at the Museum of Radio and Television, which has homes in Los Angeles and New York City.

Another of Stevenson’s creations was the Introduction to Broadway programme, intended to expose high school students to live theatre, thereby helping to create a Broadway audience for the future. Undertaken in partnership with numerous producers and with the cooperation of the New York City Board of Education, this initiative has enabled tens of thousands of students to attend such Broadway shows as Cats, Les Miserables, Miss Saigon and Beauty and the Beast at a minimal ticket price. Additionally, the students often get to take part in post-show discussions with the various productions’ cast and crew.

Stevenson was presented with a special Tony Award on June 6, 1999 and was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 2001.

She died at her home in New York on December 28 after a short illness at 90 years old. Her husband, John Stevenson, whom she married in 1937, passed away in 2001. She is survived by two daughters, two grandsons, one great-granddaughter and a large extended family. 

At 8pm on Tuesday, December 30, the lights on all Broadway theatres were dimmed for one minute in tribute.

Judd Hollander

Gay Travers

Female impersonator Gay Travers was a well known pub entertainer in London’s East End for more than 50 years. During his career he shared the stage with many famous drag acts including Mrs Shufflewick (Rex Jameson) and Jean Fredericks, as well as then unknown performers such as Lily Savage (Paul O’Grady) and Michael Barrymore.

Born Ernest Purton on November 22, 1923, Travers began performing in clubs and pubs in the East End in the thirties. Over the years he began to build up a following in pubs in Hackney and Dalston and during the sixties he ran the famous Dueragon Arms in Homerton for 12 years. He also worked at the Black Cap in Camden Town and appeared at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East in variety shows.

As well as working as a singer and comedian, he compered many shows and was known for his theme tune, I Won’t Send Roses. He always played to large audiences and many East End publicans were grateful to him for the business he attracted.

Steve Powell, manager of the Globe in Hackney, said: “Gay’s act was partly about nostalgia and the old Cockney culture, which is sadly disappearing but is so fondly remembered by the older generation. The East End has lost a legend. Legends are what ordinary people talk about and he will be talked about and remembered long after he’s gone.”

Travers had been suffering from cancer and died on December 2, aged 80. His funeral in Forest Gate was attended by more than 300 people.

Patrick Newley

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