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October 7, 2004

Obituary for Ignatius "Iggie" Wolfington, 84; Theatre, Film and TV Actor

By Myrna Oliver, LA Times Staff Writer

Ignatius "Iggie" Wolfington, musical comedy performer and longtime West Coast representative of the Actors' Fund of America offering a helping hand to down-and-out thespians, has died. He was 84.

Wolfington died Thursday in Studio City of natural causes, said friend and fellow performer Henry Gibson.

The Philadelphia-born Wolfington, who grew up acting and studied at the Bessie V. Hicks School of Drama, first won critical acclaim on Broadway as Chef Ellsworth in the 1952 production of "Mrs. McThing," starring Helen Hayes. The role earned him the Clarence Derwent Award given by Actors' Equity Association for the most promising performance in a supporting role.

He was nominated for a Tony in 1958 for his scene-stealing portrayal of Marcellus Washburn, Robert Preston’s sidekick in the original Broadway production of THE MUSIC MAN. In 1976, Wolfington played Mayor Shinn in the Broadway revival of the same musical, starring Dick Van Dyke in the title role.

Over the decades the rotund and jovial Wolfington forged a solid acting career on stage, film and television, where he began in live anthology programs, including “The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre” and “Studio One” in 1948.

He went on to appear in such TV staples as “Gunsmoke,” “Get Smart,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “The Waltons,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Fantasy Island,” “The Rockford Files,” and “Amazing Stories.”

His films included Steven Spielberg’s 1979 comedy “1941” and such television movies as “The Snoop Sisters” and “The Legend of Lizzie Borden.”

Wolfington also continued to act in theatre, appearing in the Los Angeles Shubert Theatre’s production of 42ND STREET in 1984.

But Wolfington was most revered among his colleagues for what he did offstage.

A Council member of Actors' Equity Association for many years, he fought for better working conditions wherever he was appearing. But in 1969, when he was in a play at the Atlanta Memorial Arts Center, the theatre went bankrupt, stranding a huge company of actors without pay or a way to get home.

Wolfington proposed that the New York-based Actors’ Fund of America establish a West Coast office so that Hollywood-oriented actors could be better served near their home base.

Over the next 15 years, Wolfington served as the Actors’ Fund’s Western Representative, handling some 10,000 cases.

The Actors’ Fund provides a referral service and financial, medical and social support for almost anyone connected with show business. Wolfington was praised for offering dignity and discretion along with efficient solutions to colleagues experiencing financial hardship. He was also known for his hands-on involvement, which could mean personally buying and delivering an electric fan to an aging silent-film star.

In 1984, when he retired form the Actors’ Fund post, Wolfington received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, the Actors' Equity Association Philip Loeb Humanitarian Award and a special tribute from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle.

The actor, who dubbed himself the “fighting fat boy of the 102nd,” served with distinction in the Army during World War II. He received a Purple Heart and Silver Star and a battlefield commission as second lieutenant during the Battle of the Bulge and was credited with saving 30 lives.

Wolfington is survived by his wife of 32 years, actress Lynn Wood.

Services are scheduled for Friday at 11 a.m. at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in North Hollywood.

Memorial contributions can be sent to the Screen Actors Guild Foundation or to the Actors’ Fund of America.

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