Fritz Weaver, an actor who transmitted an air of patrician assurance in roles that took him from a regular presence in Golden Age television dramas to Broadway stardom, prominent characters in films including Fail-Safe in 1964, and an Emmy nomination for NBC’s acclaimed 1978 drama series Holocaust, died Saturday at home in Manhattan. He was 90.
In that mini-series, Weaver played Dr. Josef Weiss, a Jewish doctor sent first to the Warsaw ghetto and then to the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex, where he was murdered by the Nazis.
“Somebody sent us some photographs of Fritz and I the other day,” Rosemary Harris, who played his wife in the series that also starred Meryl Streep, Sam Wanamaker, Michael Moriarty and George Rose, told Deadline in a recent interview. “Oh, it all came flapping back. There’s a picture of me saying goodbye to him when he was getting on the train, and oh, it’s still painful. It filmed in Vienna and also in Berlin. And we spent a day at Mauthausen [the concentration camp in northern Austria]. George Rose and Meryl and I and Fritz, we’d all huddle together when we came back from filming and meet in the bar and just sort of sit there.”
Regarded for his ability to convey contained passion and commitment, Weaver in fact got his start in a comedy, earning a Tony Award nomination as an English butler in Enid Bagnold’s 1955 Broadway comedy of manners The Chalk Garden. From then on, he was a regular presence on Broadway and off, winning a Tony Award in 1970 for his leading performance in Child’s Play, a drama by Robert Marasco set in a Catholic boys’ school. An actor of range and subtlety, Weaver worked as comfortably in Shakespearean dramas, including the title roles in King Lear and Hamlet, as in the dramas of Arthur Miller and, later, Lanford Wilson, among others. Most recently, he had devoted himself to the development of a new play, Unexplored Interior, by the actor Jay O. Sanders (True Detective), an epic drama about the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
“Fritz was an extraordinary man and actor of great passion, elegance, broad literary reach, and impeccable craft,” Sanders told Deadline Sunday night. “Over the ten years of developing my play, in which he played Mark Twain, he would regularly call me out of the blue to check in on my progress. ‘It’s important!’ he would say…which kept me going.”
In addition to Fail-Safe, in which he played an Air Force colonel unhinged by an impending nuclear crisis, Weaver was known for Marathon Man (1976), Day Of The Dolphin (1973), The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) and roles on countless prime-time television series, going back to such seminal programs as Omnibus, Playhouse 90 and The Twilight Zone.
But it was to the stage that he always returned. On Broadway, he played Sherlock Holmes in the 1965 musical Baker Street; Walter Franz in a 1979 revival of Miller’s The Price, and Deputy Governor Danforth in a 1991 revival of Miller’s The Crucible that was presented by the National Actors Theatre, the late Tony Randall’s earnest attempt to develop a theater ensemble comparable to England’s Royal Shakespeare Company. Weaver had prominent roles in two works by the late Lanford Wilson (Hot L Baltimore, Fifth Of July) — A Tale Told and, on Broadway, Angels Fall. Weaver’s last appearance on Broadway was in a 1999 revival of Jean Anouilh’s Ring Round The Moon.
Weaver is survived by his wife, the actress Rochelle Oliver; his daughter, Lydia Weaver; his son, Anthony; and a grandson.
Actress Maryann Plunkett, cast with Weaver in Randall’s revival of The Crucible, told Deadline Sunday night, “Fritz Weaver was an elegant, generous, supremely talented actor I was privileged to share the stage with and learn from. He was a dear friend who loved his family with passion. A good, good man.”