Coached Pfeiffer, Hackman, Clooney, more

Milton Katselas, the charismatic acting teacher to the stars who also directed for stage and screen, died of heart failure Friday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 75.

Katselas founded the Beverly Hills Playhouse acting school in 1978 and coached actors including Michelle Pfeiffer, Gene Hackman and George Clooney.

His directing career began with an Off Broadway production of Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story,” and he received a Tony nomination in 1969 for his direction of “Butterflies Are Free,” for which Blythe Danner won the actress Tony.

Katselas moved to Hollywood to helm the film version of “Butterflies Are Free” and “40 Carats,” both starring Goldie Hawn. He went on to direct features and TV movies “Report to the Commissioner,” “When You Coming Back, Red Ryder?,” “Rules of Marriage” and “Strangers: Story of a Mother and Daughter,” for which Bette Davis won an Emmy.

Among his other acting students were Alec Baldwin, Kate Hudson, Chris Noth, Kim Cattrall, Anne Archer, James Cromwell, Tyne Daly, Jenna Elfman, Miguel Ferrer, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Urich, Jeffrey Tambor and Patrick Swayze.

A New York Times Magazine profile on Katselas last year said, “Put the word on the street that you’re writing about Milton Katselas, and every student he has ever had will want to tell you about the best acting teacher in the world…. They were born with the talent, but he gave them careers.” The article went on to question whether Katselas’ longtime study of Scientology had affected his teaching, noting that some students reportedly left the Beverly Hills Playhouse because they felt pressure to join the church.

Raised in Pittsburgh by Greek emigrant parents, Katselas began his study of human behavior while helping his father run his moviehouse, analyzing the characters who patronized the billiards room below the theater. Before he graduated from Carnegie Mellon, he wrangled a meeting with director Elia Kazan, who promised him a job after graduation.

In New York, he studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio and was mentored by directors Kazan and Joshua Logan.

Katselas began teaching acting at age 24 and continued teaching master classes at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, which operates workshops in Beverly Hills and Los Feliz, until his death.

His other legit credits include Broadway shows “Camino Real” and “The Rose Tattoo” and local productions of “The Seagull,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “Streamers.”

He wrote two books, “Dreams Into Action: Getting What You Want” and “Acting Class: Take a Seat,” which was published this month.

Katselas was also a painter, sculptor and architectural designer and had exhibited at several galleries.

He is survived by two brothers and a sister.

Donations may be made to the nonprofit theater company he helped create, Camelot Artists Prods., 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211.

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