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Director, Broadway actor Bruce Blaine dies

Former Broadway actor and Tampa Bay area theatrical director, set designer and actor Bruce Blaine died Saturday (Nov. 1, 2003) after a month's illness. He was 79.

Mr. Blaine recently directed Gypsy and My Fair Lady at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre and co-starred with Ginger King in the comedy The Great Sebastians at Richey Suncoast Theatre. He also directed and performed at Francis Wilson Playhouse, St. Pete Little Theatre, Boatyard Village Theatre, Showboat Dinner Theatre, the Playmakers in Ybor City, Country Dinner Playhouse and with Gulfport Community Players.

While on Broadway, Mr. Blaine played opposite Helen Hayes, Maureen O'Sullivan, Louis Nye, Peggy Cass, Robert Ryan and Bert Convy in The Front Page and Charley's Aunt in the 1960s and '70s. He was agent for actor Kitty Carlisle and directed her, Anne Baxter, Martha Scott and Ginger Rogers. In a 1989 interview with the Times, Mr. Blaine estimated he had performed in more than 400 different productions during his 40-year professional career, including seven Broadway shows and nine major tours.

Mr. Blaine was directing Murder in the Vicarage at Francis Wilson Playhouse when he became ill about one month ago, said Tom Hansen, the scenic and lighting designer for the Show Palace. Mr. Blaine had been in the hospital since then, but he seemed to be recovering nicely as late as Friday night, Hansen said. Strep throat affected his heart, which caused his death.

His death Saturday "has been hard, because we were all thinking optimistic," Hansen said.

Hansen considered Mr. Blaine a mentor.

"He saw every set design I ever did, and he helped me a lot," Hansen said.

Mr. Blaine was born James T. Smith Jr. in DeLand in July 1924 to Circuit Court Judge James T. Smith and his wife, Nancy Blaine Smith. He got his first stage role at age 13 at St. Pete Little Theatre, said his longtime friend Dick Poole, who also acts and directs shows in this area.

After Mr. Blaine graduated from high school, he joined the Navy, coming back to St. Petersburg after his tour of duty to attend Stetson University, his father's alma mater.

But Mr. Blaine's first interest was theater. After one year, he left for New York, adopted the stage name Bruce Blaine and had a long career as actor, director, stage manager and actors' agent.

He intended to garden and relax when he retired to St. Petersburg in 1986 but was soon recruited to direct a show for Gulfport Community Players and play a role he had done eight times as a full-time professional, Capt. Brackett in South Pacific at the Showboat. After that, he was constantly busy, designing sets, painting backdrops, directing and acting at nearly every area venue.

Blaine moved to Port Richey in 2000 to be closer to one of his favorite theaters, Richey Suncoast, where he acted (Mayor Shinn in The Music Man) and directed, among other shows, Call Me Madam and A Midsummer Night's Dream and designed sets and lighting for American Rock, a Tribute to Norman Rockwell; Company; and Charley's Aunt.

Blaine left instructions to be cremated and his ashes scattered over water, Poole said. A gathering of friends to remember him will be held sometime in the future, Poole added.

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