Lew Palter, Character Actor Of Titanic Fame Dies At 94

BY BJ COLANGELO/JUNE 26, 2023 8:58 PM EST

The name "Lew Palter" might not ring any immediate bells, but the American film, stage, and television actor had a career that spanned decades and helped train some of the finest actors through his work as an acting educator. Unfortunately, as first announced by The Hollywood Reporter, Palter passed away on May 21 from lung cancer at the age of 94. Born Leon Louis Palter, the prolific performer is arguably most well known for his role as Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Halperin in "First Monday in October," as well as his many television appearances on shows like "The Flying Nun," "Hill Street Blues," "L.A. Law," "Delvecchio," and "The Brady Bunch." However, it was his casting as Isidor Straus in James Cameron's "Titanic" that helped solidify Palter's place in cinema history.

But what should also not be forgotten is Palter's work as an acting teacher. He joined the staff of the prestigious CalArts in 1971, teaching and directing until his retirement in 2013. His gifts as an acting educator allowed him to spread his knowledge across the world, conducting countless master classes and private workshops in addition to his yearly syllabus. "Lew loved the craft of acting and taught his students to do the same. He fostered deep curiosity, care, intellect, and humor in every scene, play and class," CalArts School of Theater Dean Travis Preston said in a statement. "He had the utmost respect of his students and encouraged all to find truth in their work and lives."Some of Palter's students over the years include Ed Harris, Don Cheadle, and Cecily Strong. According to THR, it was Palter that convinced Strong to audition for the legendary improv troupe, The Groundlings, before she would score the job of a lifetime at "Saturday Night Live."

"As a teacher, he seemed to have truly changed people's lives," his daughter Catherine Palter told THR.

An actor, an educator, and a veteran

Lew Palter first graduated from Tufts University before earning a master's degree at Alfred University and then a Ph.D. in theater from Northwestern University. Between his educational triumphs, Palter found time to serve in the U.S. Army. His talents allowed him to act and direct plays off-Broadway for a time, before joining the Millbrook Playhouse in Pennsylvania. This led to his on-screen debut on an episode of "Run For Your Life" for NBC. This opened up the doors for Palter to then appear on "It Takes a Thief," "Gunsmoke," "Mission Impossible," and "The Virginian" shortly thereafter. Palter would continue popping up in guest roles on television series, but it's clear that his love of educating and directing was just as strong as his love of performance.

He was the man who directed the Tom Topor dramedy "Nuts" for the Los Angeles Stage Company for many years, and the show's popularity was certainly a motivating factor for Universal's eventual adaptation into the film of the same name starring Barbra Streisand and Richard Dreyfuss. So while Palter may not have been a household name, his influence was great. 

Unfortunately, Palter's passing comes at an additionally tragic time, as Isidor Straus, his "Titanic" character (and real-life victim of the Titanic disaster) is the ancestor of OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush's wife, so there's no doubt that the public's increased vested interest in the somber coincidence is what sparked the interest in wondering what Palter has been up to since completing the film. 

Palter was preceded in death by his wife, Nancy Vawter, his wife of 64 years who appeared as Margaret Blackwell in "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Survivors include his daughter, as well as three grandchildren, Sam, Tessa, and Miranda. May he rest in peace.

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