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William Paterson

Actor

William Paterson, who worked continuously as an actor in regional theater for 45 years, died Wednesday Sept. 3 at his home in San Francisco. He was 84 and recently had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

Paterson began his regional theater career in 1947 at the Cleveland Playhouse, remaining with the company for 20 seasons. In 1967, he joined the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco for its inaugural San Francisco season; he continued to perform with A.C.T. through 1998.

Buffalo native got hooked on the theater when he took a class at Studio Theater as a senior in high school. It was his only formal acting training, but he was in the Sock & Buskin drama club at Brown University and acted in summer stock during his college years.

He graduated with honors in 1941 and then spent four years in the U.S. Army during World War II, earning a Bronze Star and, when wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, a Purple Heart.

He joined the Cleveland Playhouse a year after leaving the service, making his debut in Maxwell Anderson’s “Joan of Lorraine.” He performed in seven to 10 plays each season in repertory at the Playhouse and spent summers performing with the Cleveland company at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York. He also worked in live TV and film and toured his one-man shows, in which he portrayed Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Benjamin Franklin and others.

In 1951 he met and married Cora Beams, a hairstylist who often worked on Playhouse productions. They were married until her death in 1993.

In 1967, he left the Playhouse to join A.C.T., where his first role was James Tyrone in Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” He also had major roles in many shows, including “Buried Child,” “The Gin Game,” “Painting Churches,” “Saint Joan” and “Gaslight.” He created the role of Scrooge in A.C.T.’s holiday production of “A Christmas Carol” and played the part for 14 years. His final perf was in “Mary Stuart,” in 1998.

Paterson won numerous awards during his time with A.C.T., including Drama-Logue and Bay Area Theater Critics’ Circle awards. He served for nine years on the San Francisco Arts Commission and for two years was a trustee of the American Conservatory Theatre Foundation.

He and his wife also were active in social and political causes; he twice served as Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s campaign treasurer.

He published an autobiog, “Solid Seasons,” in 1997.

He is survived by a stepdaughter, a sister, a nephew and a niece. Donations may be made to Hospice by the Bay.

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