Character Actor and Theatre Builder Robert Beecher Dies at 91
Character actor Robert Beecher, builder of the Horseshoe Stage Theatre, died of natural causes 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 theatres.
After returning from serving in World War II, where he first developed a serious interest in acting, Beecher enrolled in the Pasadena Playhouse College of Theatre Arts. After graduation, he and 24 other young actors founded the Orchard Gables Repertory Theatre Company in 1948, the city’s first professional theatre, based in a large two-story house on Wilcox and Fountain Avenues.
Beecher had always wanted to create his own theatre 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 theatre until he sold it in 1978. The theatre continues on today as the Zephyr Theatre. For a few more years, Beecher continued with smaller theatre venues of his, 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 into his own teaching 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 thirty 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, California, Beecher was raised in the Baldwin Hills area. His had an early interest in entertaining—he used to put on shows in the neighborhood and charge the kids a penny to attend. Beecher attended Dorsey High School and appeared in dramatic productions. 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 theatre, sewing costumes and selling tickets, and the two began a family. One of his favorite places to escape the city was Green Valley Lake, in the San Bernardino Mountains. His first visit was with his family when he was seven years old. An avid fisherman, he continued to visit this peaceful resort, sharing it with his family, every year since then.
He is survived by two sons, a daughter, and a grandson.