A Great Gentleman of the Theatre: Edwin C. Owens

Edwin C. Owens, R.I.P.
Jim Burns Remembers a "Great Gentleman of the Theatre"

(Actor Edwin C. Owens passed away on September 16th at the age of 64.  His Broadway credits included the 2003 revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Fortune's Fool and the 1999 revival of Death of a Salesman.  Off-Broadway credits included The Right Kind of People and Philadelphia, Here I Come!  TV credits included "Law & Order," "Married with Children," "Falcon Crest," "Hill Street Blues," and "Little House on the Prairie").

How do you mark one of those rare gentlemen of the theatre?

Perhaps one you liked as much after your third single-malt Scotch, as you did at the beginning of the evening.

And being a terrific actor doesn't hurt too much either.

Edwin and I only knew each other from hanging out, and we only met a few years ago--

But I will say it was one of my thrilling nights in the theatre, the night I saw him go on, AS Big Daddy, in the Broadway production, of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

He played the part, understudying Ned Beatty, at least a few times. (In addition to portraying the Doctor, otherwise.)

And, that night, Owens owned the theatre.

It was a chance to see something all too rare nowadays, someone properly trained, who knew how to reach the patron in the last row of the theatre, while still inhabiting every iota of his character's humanity.

And the exerience Owens brought, was sort of unparalelled.

When we were talking once, it occured to me, how lucky Edwin had been, to be in exactly the right place, to witness, at least a few
extraordinary moments.

Owens grew up in, or near, Chicago, and as a teenager, he would sneak over to Second City, and watch the BURGEONING of that incredible phenomenon, as all those great talents of the early '60s, took root...

And the in the late '60s, Owens was a member of one of the great British Shakespeare companies--forgive my bad memory, would it have been RSC?--and got to work with, and watch, the young Judi Dench.

"I think I was a bit in love with her," he once mentioned with a smile.

(And if you ever see her in the film version of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM from around that time, you'll see one of the reasons why. We think of Dench from her current image--in 1968, she was also kind of this  smashing hippie chick, or, could appear so!)

Edwin had been around for so much, and gave so much back, with his generosity, to other actors. (I can remember once, when we went to a pretty bad play together, he still found a way to try to put a positive spin on the work the actors had attempted to do.)

He was one of those folks who no matter what disappointments one might encounter in a long career, hadn't lost that sense of wonder that first made him want to become an actor.

We had talked about forming, really, just for fun, a once or week or so group of actors that would meet, just to have the fun of doing a play or screenplay for the JOY of doing it. We had gone as far as trying to figure out where we would meet, deciding our respective homes would be just a tad too small...

Which is the other lesson of this story.

Because my heart stopped when I read the news.

If there's a friend you have, whom you've been meaning to give a buzz to, do it.

Because I'd been meaning to call Edwin, for months...

There were so many roles, and things, Owens could have done.

He was too classy to have been a Falstaff, although he would have portrayed a great one-- But Edwin was one of the great people you could run into of an evening along Broadway--And, of course, on his wondrous other sides of the boards.

--Jim Burns  (James H. Burns)

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