Frank Dolan, 92, longtime actor who cofounded suburban theaters
When Frank Dolan was a student at Chaminade High School in Mineola, N.Y., he and his buddies would often head to New York City, ride the subway for a nickel, and see three shows featuring famous bands and singers.
They ate two meals at an automat between the shows before returning home. The entire excursion from their homes on Long Island cost them $4.
“He said that’s when he became addicted to the stage,” said his son Andrew. “It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with movies and the theater.”
Mr. Dolan, whose acting and directing career spanned more than 60 years, cofounded the Newton Summer Theater in 1963 and the Playhouse at Piccadilly Square in Newton Center in 1974.
A former theater and film critic for radio stations WEEI, WHDH, and WRKO and a nationally syndicated film critic for Associated Press radio news, Mr. Dolan died of pneumonia Nov. 15 in JML Care Center in Falmouth. He was 92 and had been a longtime Boston resident.
His voice was also heard on numerous commercials, including for Mercedes-Benz, the Museum of Science in Boston, Polaroid, and Papa Gino’s, and he once portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge for a Barbo’s Furniture television ad.
In 1977, he and his wife, Muriel, originated the title characters on WCVB-TV’s social issues sitcom “The Baxters,” which Norman Lear subsequently bought and recast to broadcast nationally. Mr. Dolan was also a host of WBZ-TV’s “Yankee Magazine.”
The Piccadilly Playhouse, which operated for three years in the main hall of a church, was one of the first nonmusical professional theater companies based in Boston’s suburbs.
“Frank was a generous partner on stage and a hearty companion off, with a zest for life,” said Bill Lacey, former director of Boston University’s School of Theatre. “His life was illuminated by his love for the theatre, to which he brought a fine comedic talent, an ebullient spirit, and uncompromising professionalism.”
As an actor with a family of four children to help support, Mr. Dolan was constantly looking for work.
“He’d call his answering service several times a day, because he was often wanted for a job or an audition on the same day,” said Andrew, an actor and playwright who lives in Falmouth. “I think he knew where every pay phone in Boston was located.”
Mr. Dolan began acting while in graduate school at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. He had previously graduated from Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Md.
His roles over the years ranged from the dramatic (as the lawyer in Edward Albee’s “Tiny Alice”) to the comedic (the title role in Moliere’s “Tartuffe”). His final live performance was in 2012, when he appeared in his son’s 10-minute play, “Preview of Coming Attractions” at the Boston Theater Marathon.
Andrew said his father’s radio reviews captured the “guy on the street’s perspective,” and that being limited to 45 seconds contributed to his “punchy” style.
Mr. Dolan’s review of the 1989 movie “Pink Cadillac” wasn’t kind to its star: “Whoever told Clint Eastwood he could act? This American icon squints and reads lines with the expression of a camel.”
Conversely, the producers of the play “Shear Madness” told Mr. Dolan he was greatly helpful in turning that audience participation comedy at the Charles Playhouse into a decades-long hit. And at one point, Carol Channing sent him a handwritten note thanking him for his review of the musical “Sugar Babies,” which broke box office records.
“Frank had a wonderful sense of humor and unstoppable energy, and was always looking for the next project,” said longtime friend and fellow actor Patrick Shea, who has performed in “Shear Madness” the past 34 years. “He cast well, was a joy to work with, and was loyal to his actors.”
Francis Jerome Dolan was born in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens, N.Y., a son of Hugh Dolan and the former Jane Gillick.
Mr. Dolan met Muriel Bachmann when they were student stagehands stretched out side by side and blowing bubbles into the air during a Catholic University production. They graduated in 1950 and married in 1952.
Mrs. Dolan, who died in 2009, had worked at Boston University as an assistant to Evangeline Machlin, a speech and dialect expert, and then taught voice at Brandeis University. She helped put together the Boston Quintet, a group of actors who once participated in the Christmas tree lighting on Boston Common.
Along with actor and close friend Anita Sangiolo, the Dolans founded the Piccadilly Playhouse, where the repertoire included the works of Shakespeare, Moliere, George Bernard Shaw, Edward Albee, and Harold Pinter. Theater students from BU and Brandeis were often called upon to appear in a Dolan-produced play.
“The theater was in Frank’s blood, and for many years he knew everyone associated with theater in Boston,” Sangiolo said. “He wore many hats – producer, director and actor – and his dream was to start a suburban professional theater company.”
Mr. Dolan, who donated tapes of his reviews to the Harvard Theatre Collection, developed a reading program of poetry and prose later in his career for public libraries. His son established a website , www.frankfavorites.com, to promote the program and chronicle Mr. Dolan’s career.
In addition to his son Andrew, Mr. Dolan leaves two other sons, Chris of Austin, Texas, and Tim of Levittown, N.Y.; his daughter, Maura Merrill of Ledyard, Conn.; and six grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held next June.
Accompanying Mr. Dolan to a show he was reviewing had special meaning for Andrew. “To this day,” Andrew said, “I feel I’m missing something if I’m not close to the stage.”