Vol. 22, No. 5,514 - The American Reporter - September 7, 2016

by T.S. Kerrigan
American Reporter Correspondent
Los Angeles, California
January 29, 2007

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LOS ANGELES, Jan. 29, 2007 -- When friends and colleagues gather at Spirit Works in Burbank on February 3 to pay tribute to the life and career of French-Canadian actor Louis Turenne, there will probably be the usual tears and encomiums, but, having been to these types of gatherings in the past, I doubt very much whether the words spoken will match the stature of the man.

During many years as a theater critic and member of the Los Angeles Drama Critics' Circle, I came to know scores of older character actors, reviewing their work on stage and often participating in giving them end-of-the-year awards. In my experience, almost all of them had one thing in common: they were masterful raconteurs who could captivate a group with reminiscences about their careers, almost invariably including interesting stories about famous people they had befriended or worked with over the years, people who they referred to exclusively by their first names.
'It became a ritual, sending poems to Louis and waiting for that phone call when he would reference them, or read them in that amazing voice of his... .'

But it is one thing to listen to one of these actors hold forth and another thing to actually know one. In the latter case, one tends to find that that first meeting is as good at as it gets, that further encounters yield only repetition of the same anecdotes, presumably practiced before a mirror. You got the uncomfortable sensation that the speaker little knew and cared less to know anything about the person who was listening. After awhile, It became like sitting in the same theater night after night listening to the same performance.

Louis did indeed have stories to tell about close relationships developed over the years with Paul Scofield, Rex Harrison, Julie Andrews, Robert Goulet, Tyrone Guthrie, Jason Robards, and many, many others. But his was a genuine intellect, anxious for the give-and-take of enlightened conversation. He could tell a story like no one else, using that wonderful instrument of a voice he possessed. But Louis was much more than a teller of stock anecdotes practiced before a mirror. He was an exceptional scholar of literature, in addition to being a marvelous performer, one of the leading character actors of his generation.

Louis Turenne, shown here as Brother Theo in "Passing Through Gethsemane," starred on "Babylon 5" and was one of the leading character actors of his time.

File Photo

When, after a long career with Canadian Broadcasting, on Broadway, The Stratford Festival in Canada, and the Interact Theatre in Loa Angeles, the heart problems that dogged him limited his acting, Louis became a drama coach and advisor, and continued to be an inveterate reader. He loved both people and animals. Many remember him as the kindest and most generous man they knew. Up to the very end, he maintained an interest in what was best in the theater, and envisioned theatrical projects which, sadly, his health never permitted to come to fruition.

I only knew Louis later in life. I had seen him before then at the Interact, and may have even spoken to him on occasion, but only in passing. I was unfamiliar with his work in films and television, and the only work of his I had seen on stage was a memorable show he had put together based on three short plays of Moliere, which I reviewed.

A friend of my former actress spouse, Louis would often call our house in Sierra Madre to talk to her. On those days when she was absent I would take his message for her. Gradually, we began to have conversations about art and the theater. What conversations those were! I was amazed and am still amazed at his insights and erudition. He remarked to me one time that he wished he had met me 25 years ago, a sentiment that I echoed. Knowing Louis was an incomparable experience.

While we talked often in the ensuing five years about Louis' experience in the theater, the scope of our conversations was limitless. These long talks went far beyond either Louis or me. He seemed to be interested in all aspects of human knowledge. Some recurring subjects were politics, Shakespeare, the French drama, and black holes.

When Louis discovered I was a poet, an even more obscure one then than now, he insisted on seeing my published verse. Then he wanted to see unpublished poems and works in progress. He had a remarkable sense of all creativity and encouraged me to go places I never would have dreamed. He was constantly encouraging and appreciative. It became a regular ritual, my sending drafts of new work to him and waiting for his inevitable telephone call, when he would make reference to the verses I had sent him, or best of all, read them back to me in that glorious voice of his. In a recent interview (to be published shortly) I said that I couldn't have written the poems I completed during those years without his encouragement and support.

We live in a time when fast friendships are developed over the Internet and the telephone. Louis and I only got together once during those years, when we both had appointments with our doctors at Cedars-Sinai on the same day and I agreed to give him a lift. Our connection, as deep as it became, was created almost completely over the telephone.

I took my most recent book of poetry, "The Shadow Sonnets and Other Poems." to Louis at Cedars-Sinai during his last days. It bears the dedication, "For Louis, Turenne, Il Maestro di Colore che Sanno" - "master of the art of wisdom." They were the words Dante used when he encountered Aristotle in Limbo in the Divina Commedia.

I never felt the words were an exaggeration. I only wish the poems contained in the book had been worthier of Louis. He was a great friend and one whose loss still seems incalculable.

Contact A-R Theater Critic Thomas Kerrigan via email at scottroado0@earthlink.net.

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