Dana Elcar: SPTC founder, noted character actor, director passes away

June 10, 2005
Santa Paula News
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesDana Elcar’s lifelong love of the performing arts resulted in the acclaimed Santa Paula Theater Center, where the actor/director worked with professionals and amateurs alike often mastering works considered far beyond community playhouse abilities. Elcar passed away on Monday, June 6 at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, of complications from pneumonia.Dana, a resident of Santa Paula since the mid-1980s, was 77 years old.Born Ibson Dana Elcar to Danish immigrants on the family farm in Ferndale, Michigan on October 10, 1927, as a child Dana and his siblings acted out radio plays in the barn.“You’ve heard the saying that some people are born with acting in their blood?” he told a reporter in the 1990s. “It’s true, all true.”Dana began acting in high school and founded the Ann Arbor Theater while attending the University of Michigan, where the 6 foot 2 inch, 250 pounder was a linebacker.In the 1950s Dana moved to New York City where he studied under the famed Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse, driving a cab to support his studies. It was fortuitous timing, coinciding with the rising popularity of Off-Broadway and television productions, the latter a medium he dominated as a character actor for the next 51 years when not appearing in films and off-Broadway theater.A mainstay in television drama, it’s hard not to see Dana in a myriad of reruns, ranging from “The Defenders” - a breakthrough dramatic series of the 1960s - to “MacGyver” of the 1990s.Dana’s early career utilized his handsome round face, sparkling eyes and tenorish voice playing the perennial good guy, whether a regular Joe or wine connoisseur. His later career saw Dana maturing into roles of authority, at times brusque but always the problem-solving boss of not only “MacGyver” but also “Baretta” and “Black Sheep Squadron,” three series he co-starred in.
Dana also was a mainstay of the 1960s Golden Age of Off-Broadway, and was acclaimed for his portrayals in the works of Thornton Wilder, Harold Pinter, Dylan Thomas and Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” a role he recreated in the 1990s at the Santa Paula Theater Center. It was a tour de force for the actor, who had gone blind in the early 1990s. For “Waiting for Godot” Dana ordered a foot friendly lip lining the stage floor just above the audience: “I want to crush them with good acting, nothing more,” he joked to a reporter.His film debut was in the classic 1964 “Fail Safe” and his movie credits eventually included everything from “The Sting” to “The Nude Bomb.” Dana told a reporter that an actor that turned down roles was rare, as “You never know, never, when the phone might stop ringing.”Dana’s phone always rang. He guest starred on numerous TV series throughout his career, juggling such roles with films and theater appearances. But it was the Santa Paula Theater Center that he founded with William Lucking in the late 1980s that became Dana’s passion, an artistic extension of the community activism that Dana was so deeply committed to. A member of the Optimist Club, Dana tirelessly promoted SPTC and served as its artistic director until the early 1990s.In 1991, Dana was co-starring in “MacGyver” - then in its fourth season - when his failing sight became an issue. But blindness did not deter him: the producers incorporated his condition into the show and he became a champion of glaucoma prevention, research and education.In the early 1990s, Dana addressed the National Confederation of the Blind, “I do not like it, but it is a fact...when I began to lose my vision, I thought, ‘This is going to be another problem. How am I going to do this? I can’t even see the stage. How can I possibly choose plays and choose directors and choose designers and then go and judge whether the work is good enough and proceed as the artistic director’” of the SPTC. “Well, you know, I chose to see if I could do it. And you want to know something? I’m still doing it.”Dana was affable - albeit with an occasional tense edge and a rare towering rage, quickly defused and always deeply regretted - and determined, refusing to stay home or stay put. With his beloved companion, Thelma Garcia, Dana was always out and about, walking around the Oaks neighborhood where he lived, shopping at area stores, donating money to local charities and indulging his insatiable curiosity about all things, whether international or his own neighborhood.Dana was devoted to his children, loved dogs and chirping birds, telling a reporter that since the onset of blindness sounds - laughter, a cat’s meow, quiet breezes - are “my eyes...and I never stop looking.”

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