Thursday, November 23, 2017
News Roundup

Dry cleaner Allen Sferios left a mark on local theater

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Times Staff Writer

ST. PETE BEACH — In dozens of local theater productions, Allen Sferios paced the stage with the assurance of the seasoned professional actor, grapefruit-sized biceps flexing with every inward gesture.

At Gulf Beach Cleaners, the business his family had owned since 1937, Mr. Sferios moved with the same authority. He rewove holes in clothing, removed spots and scrubbed the floors on his hands and knees.

In either arena, Mr. Sferios regarded no detail as unimportant. That relentlessness and talent led to accomplishment.

"I liken his temperament to that of a Brando type — the fierce acting, the powerful enunciation and mixing seriousness with humor," said former New York Times editor Michael Sisak, a longtime friend.

As a young man, Mr. Sferios acted in off-Broadway productions and for television shows, including Naked City and The Defenders.

Nearly every weekday, he tooled down Gulf Boulevard to the Pelican Diner, the front license plate reading "PHOOEY."

He had his own stool, second from the entrance.

He continued his theater work, acting and directing in dozens of local productions, particularly with what is now known as St. Petersburg City Theatre. Even in community theater, Mr. Sferios expected total commitment, and reacted viscerally when he did not get it.

"He could throw a chair across a room," said Corinne Broskette, the executive director of Venue Theatre and Actors Studio. "But those of us who knew him knew it was just because he was frustrated."

Mr. Sferios was born in Warren, Ohio, to Greek immigrants. He later used his knowledge of Greek as an Army translator at the Pentagon. After performing on stage at what is now St. Petersburg College, he moved to New York, where he lifted weights and studied under legendary drama teacher Uta Hagen. In the 1960s, he auditioned for the role in The Graduate that launched Dustin Hoffman's career.

"He said, 'I was better than him, but damn it, he knew more people,' " recalled Manny Sferios, his son.

Mr. Sferios married Elizabeth, a ballet dancer, and moved to St. Pete Beach in 1964. He took over the cleaning business that had been run by his brother, former St. Pete Beach vice mayor Emanuel Sferios.

He maintained bonds of loyalty for decades, doing the dry cleaning for St. Petersburg City Theatre and military personnel for free.

That generosity extended to actors who needed a place to stay and dozens of stray cats, all of whom were welcomed in or outside his St. Pete Beach home.

Mr. Sferios stopped his theater work only in the last couple of years, as his cognition and motor skills declined due to Lewy body disease. He died April 20 under hospice care. Mr. Sferios was 74.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

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