Donald Schoenbaum, former managing director of the Guthrie Theater, has died at his home in Sarasota, Fla. He was 86.

Schoenbaum, a native of New York, ran the theater from 1969 to 1986. He then retired to Florida, where he served on the board of directors of Asolo Rep Theatre.

"He was a major force in the American theater, no question about it," said Dennis Babcock, Schoenbaum's protégé at the Guthrie and now the executive producer of Triple Espresso. "Don was my mentor when I started in 1972, and then after he retired he went to work for me as a paid adviser."

Guthrie Director Joe Dowling said in a statement, "Don Schoenbaum was one of the true heroes of the Guthrie, managing it through good times and bad -- but always conscious of the artistic and institutional priorities."

Schoenbaum began his career as a Hollywood actor. He founded The Repertory Players in Omaha and in 1963 established Trinity Rep in Providence, R.I., with artistic director Adrian Hall. He came to the Guthrie on a Ford Foundation grant to study management, and was associate manager under Peter Zeisler. Three years later, he became managing director, a position he held for 17 years, during the tenures of several artistic directors.

"Don was the glue through all of that," said Jon Cranney, who was production manager under Schoenbaum. "There were times when it was just Don and a few poeple who stood between the Guthrie existing and not. He was the face for the community and the board."

Despite frequent turnover in artistic directors, the Guthrie expanded and flourished during Schoenbaum's tenure. The theater won the Tony Award for regional theaters in 1982.

Schoenbaum had a reputation for being tough and demanding.

"He intimidated a lot of people because of his stature in the American theater," Babcock said. "But he could be very generous, and we developed a lot of respect for each other."

As an actor, director and producer, Schoenbaum was associated with more than 300 professional productions. He served on the board of the Theater Communications Group, president of the League of Resident Theaters, and as a consultant to the National Endowment for the Arts and the Minnesota State Arts Board.

"Don was one of the true foundations of the regional theater," said Cranney.

Schoenbaum worked for many years with Babcock's production company on several projects, the best known being "Triple Espresso."

"Don was deeply respected by everyone who worked at the theater in all departments, and he trained the next generation of theater administrators," said Sheila Livingston, the Guthrie director of artistic relations. "He loved theater and the artists who created it. I will miss him greatly as a lifelong friend."