RIP: Actor Fritz Weaver dies at 90
Fritz Weaver, a Tony Award-winning character actor who played a German Jewish doctor slain by the Nazis in the 1978 mini-series “Holocaust” and an Air Force colonel who becomes increasingly unstable as the nation faces a nuclear crisis in the 1964 movie “Fail Safe” died on Saturday at his home in Manhattan. He was 90.
His death was confirmed by his son-in-law, Bruce Ostler.
Mr. Weaver won a Tony in 1970 for his role in Robert Marasco’s drama “Child’s Play” about the malevolent environment at an exclusive Roman Catholic school for boys.
Mr. Weaver and Ken Howard played teachers of wildly different temperaments who inevitably became adversaries. Mr. Weaver was the fierce disciplinarian. Mr. Howard, as his easygoing rival, also won a Tony.
But winning the Tony did not catapult Mr. Weaver into stardom. “What I remember is a vast silence from the phone,” he said, “because people said, ‘We won’t offer it, now, because we can’t offer him enough money.’”
From the 1950s on, Mr. Weaver was a familiar presence on television shows like “Studio One,” “Playhouse 90,” “Mission: Impossible” and “Murder, She Wrote.”
He appeared in two episodes of “The Twilight Zone” — “The Obsolete Man” and “Third From the Sun,” in which he played a scientist who plots to take his family aboard a rocket to escape earth before a nuclear war.
He was nominated for an Emmy for his performance in the NBC mini-series “Holocaust,” playing Dr. Josef Weiss, the patriarch of a Jewish family who is denied his livelihood, is sent to the Warsaw ghetto and then to Auschwitz to die.
Mr. Weaver made his Broadway debut in 1955 in “The Chalk Garden,” Enid Bagnold’s play about the woes of an aristocratic British family. Mr. Weaver won laughs and a Tony nomination with his portrait of the fussy household butler.
A review in The Boston Globe said: “Mr. Weaver boasts sound basic equipment; a natural ease on the stage, aristocratic good looks and a resonant baritone, which he attributes to a family line that boasts a number of opera singers.”
Mr. Weaver went on to appear in a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “The Great God Brown” (1959) and the Phoenix Theatre’s 1960 staging of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV,” in which he starred as the world-weary British monarch.
His other Shakespearean roles included Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth. For the latter role, The New York Times said in 1973, Mr. Weaver was almost unrecognizable, having transformed from “thin, fine-drawn, long-fingered” into a “robust, burly Macbeth.’’
Mr. Weaver’s theater credits also included the 1979 revival of Arthur Miller’s “The Price”; Lanford Wilson’s “A Tale Told” (1981), part three of a trilogy about a feuding Missouri family, in which he played the clan patriarch with what Frank Rich in The Times called “an often startling mixture of pathetic senility and foxy viciousness”; and Mr. Wilson’s “Angels Fall” (1982).
In later years Mr. Weaver turned increasingly to voice-over work, serving as narrator of, among other specials, “The Rape of Nanking” (1999) and “Unsung Heroes of Pearl Harbor” (2001), as well as many shows on the History Channel.
One of his last roles was in the 2015 Adam Sandler film “The Cobbler.” He also appeared in the 2016 film “The Congressman,” starring Treat Williams.
Fritz William Weaver was born on Jan. 19, 1926, in Pittsburgh, the son of John Carson Weaver and the former Elsa Stringaro.
After graduating from the University of Chicago, where he majored in physics, he came to New York and enrolled in acting classes at the Herbert Berghof Studio. In 1954 he made his Off Broadway debut in “The Way of the World” at the Cherry Lane Theater.
Mr. Weaver’s first marriage, to Sylvia Short, ended in divorce. He married the actress Rochelle Oliver in 1997. She survives him, as do his daughter, Lydia Weaver; his son, Anthony; and a grandson.
He was often cast as an aristocratic villain. In “The Day of the Dolphin” (1973), directed by Mike Nichols, Mr. Weaver played the head of a shadowy company supporting researchers (George C. Scott and Trish Van Devere) who are studying dolphin intelligence. His sinister goal was to use trained dolphins to attach explosives to the presidential yacht.
Mr. Weaver’s screen credits also included “Marathon Man” (1976), “Demon Seed” (1977), “Creepshow” (1982) and “The Thomas Crown Affair” (1999).
In a 1988 interview with The Christian Science Monitor, Mr. Weaver spoke about the challenges actors face.
“When you play the great roles, you get spoiled and think you’ll have a whole career playing nothing but great roles, and of course you can’t,’’ he said. “You play a lot of junk most of the time. Television is junk, most of it.”
But he reveled in performing Shakespearean roles.
“The old boy — he’s the one who makes the maximum challenge to the actor,’’ he said. “That high charge on all the lines that he writes — you’ve got to measure up. You can’t just saunter into that stuff; you’ve got to bring your whole life into it.”