Best known for playing the small-town physician on “Twin Peaks” — a show co-created by his son — former Twin Cities actor and director Warren Frost died Feb. 17 in Vermont.
The cause of death was undisclosed. He was 91.
Frost spent 20 years in the Twin Cities, serving as artistic director of Chimera Theatre in St. Paul while working at such playhouses as Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, Theatre in the Round, Children’s Theatre and the Guthrie.
“He was a senior statesman in the theater community, well-respected for his craft and his insights,” said director Jon Cranney, who worked with Frost on a production of “Blithe Spirit” at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.
Born June 5, 1925, in Newburyport, Mass., Frost spent his early childhood in the Bronx before moving to Vermont, where he lived until graduation from high school in 1942. In World War II, he joined the Navy, serving three years in the Caribbean and North Atlantic. His ship, the Borum, was an escort on D-Day.
After the war, Frost enrolled at Middlebury College, majoring in English. On a dare, he auditioned for a college production of “I Remember Mama” and got a small part. That led to other shows at the school, where he met his wife, fellow actor Virginia Calhoun.
After college, Frost held off-screen jobs in TV in New York before moving to Los Angeles in 1958, where he landed small roles in “Perry Mason” and “Dragnet” as well as films such as “The Mating Game” and “It Started With a Kiss.”
Even as he performed, Frost continued his education. He earned a master’s degree in theater from Occidental College in 1967 and, two years later, enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Minnesota, where he earned his Ph.D. and joined the theater faculty.
“What was so special about Warren? His keen intelligence and his insight into things,” said director Gary Gisselman, who did “Mass Appeal” and “Equus” with Frost at Chanhassen. “He was really a bright, no-nonsense kind of guy.”
It’s appropriate that Frost is remembered as much for his manner as his intellect, said Twin Cities actor and director Peter Moore, who performed in two shows directed by Frost and took classes with him at Chimera.
“He had this gruffness about him, to be sure, that could scare young people,” said Moore. “But underneath all of that was this very sharp wit. He was a mentor to a whole bunch of us.”
He recalled a lesson from Frost when “I was fresh out of college and playing Mortimer in ‘Arsenic and Old Lace.’ My approach was very honest — ‘method,’ low-key and truthful. One day Warren pulled me aside and said, ‘Comedy has to have a core of truth, but then it needs comic energy to make it spark.’ ”
In 1988, Frost left the Twin Cities for New York, where he was a regular on the soap opera “As the World Turns.” A year later, he moved to Los Angeles, where he was cast as Doc Hayward on “Twin Peaks,” the David Lynch series co-created by his son, writer/producer Mark Frost. He revisited the character for the upcoming reboot of the show.
He also had memorable recurring roles on “Seinfeld” — playing the father of George Costanza’s fiancée — and on “Matlock,” as Andy Griffith’s childhood friend. He appeared on such series as “The Larry Sanders Show,” “Murphy Brown” and “L.A. Law” before retiring to Vermont in 2000 to pursue woodworking and murals, while writing and performing occasional one-man shows.
He is survived by his wife of 68 years, sons Mark and Scott, a novelist and photographer, and daughter Lindsay, an actress and artist.