Character actor Robert Beecher, builder of the Horseshoe Stage Theatre, died of natural causes on February 12 in Burbank, Calif. He was 91.

Beecher was typically cast as “heavies” — gangsters or Western bad guys — due to his imposing stature. In the mid-1950s, he built and opened the Horseshoe Stage Theatre. He also invented and patented a stage lighting system for small theaters.

After graduating from the Pasadena Playhouse College of Theatre Arts, Beecher and 24 other young actors founded in 1948 the Orchard Gables Repertory Theatre Company, the city’s first professional theater, based in a large two-story house on Wilcox and Fountain Avenues.

Beecher had always wanted to create his own theater and help other young actors develop their craft. In late 1954, he purchased a lot on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood and built the Horseshoe Stage Theatre. The 91-seat venue opened January 5, 1956, with a production of “The Member of the Wedding,” and Beecher continued to star in, direct and produce plays and acting workshops at his theater until he sold it in 1978. The theater continues on today as the Zephyr Theatre. For a few more years, Beecher continued with smaller theater venues he owned — the Apartment, the Gardner Stage and Stage 13 Club.

The sale of his Horseshoe Stage allowed Beecher to devote more time to his own acting career. During the next two decades, he appeared in many television shows, commercials, TV movies and feature films.

His love of teaching culminated in his own workshop, Stage 13 Productions. In the early 1970s, Beecher taught at the newly formed Screen Actors Guild Conservatory and was an early pioneer in the use of video technology to help acting students. He taught there for over 30 years. In 1997, he was honored with their Outstanding Contribution Award. Beecher was active in the Pasadena Playhouse Alumni & Associates and, in 2004, received their Man of the Year award.

Born in Hollywood and raised in the Baldwin Hills area, Beecher used to put on shows in the neighborhood and charge the kids a penny to attend. He served as a weatherman in the 14th Air Force (the Flying Tigers) in Kunming, China, during World War II.

Beecher married Georgia Beck, who was working in his theater, sewing costumes and selling tickets.

He is survived by two sons, a daughter and a grandson.

Services are pending. More information can be found at stage13.bobbeecher.com