To Janet Fogg, Lev Mailer was a unique, talented individual who helped her reach her potential as an actor.
A student at Mailer's acting studio in Edina for over 15 years, Fogg would commute from Hudson, Wis., to Edina, every week for classes with Mailer, whose resume included more than 35 years in acting and voice overs for films, theater and commercials in Hollywood and New York.
Fogg can recall receiving random calls from Mailer at late hours, telling her to watch certain films or offering tips on ways to perfect her craft. With Mailer's help, Fogg later landed several roles in theater, commercials and film.
"Once he had you under his wing, you were with him always," Fogg said. "He always thought of you, and thought of how he could help encourage you and help you grow in the trade."
For those who studied under Mailer, the feeling was mutual. And that is how he's being remembered.
Mailer died Feb. 24 at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park. He was 88. Mailer is survived by Paula, his wife of 32 years, along with two sisters and a daughter.
Born in Newark, N.J., and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Mailer rose to the top ranks of the acting industry, previously serving as the 11th vice president of the Screen Actors Guild, chair of the Screen Actors Guild Conservatory for 10 years and a member of the SAG's national board. In Minneapolis, he taught at the Academy for Film and Television and Lundstrum Performing Arts.
Despite his parents' wishes that he become a doctor or lawyer, Mailer knew at a young age he wanted to be an actor. In an attempt to redirect his disruptive energy during class, his fifth-grade teacher decided to put him in a school play.
"He absolutely got bitten by the acting bug," Paula Mailer said. "He absolutely loved it."
Mailer served in the U.S. Air Force and spent two years in Germany, where he educated himself on classic literature and music. When he returned to the U.S., he pursued acting and enrolled at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City, where he studied under industry leaders Sanford Meisner, Lee Strasberg and choreographer Martha Graham, Paula Mailer said.
After two years in New York, Mailer moved to Los Angeles, where he landed a role on "The Lucy Show," starring Lucille Ball. From there, Mailer's television credits included the original "Star Trek," "Star Wars Holiday Special," "Dallas," "Mission: Impossible," "Daniel Boone," and "Hogan's Heroes." Onstage, he performed in "Julius Caesar," "The Diary of Anne Frank," "Oedipus at Colonus," and "The Chicago Conspiracy Trial."
While in Los Angeles, Lev Mailer met Paula, a Minnesota native. They bonded through their love of movies, comedies and acting. They later traveled the U.S., conducting acting workshops.
In 2000, the couple relocated to Edina. Two years later, they opened the Lev Mailer Actors Studio at Arneson Acres in Edina.
Brandon Holscher of Champlin studied under Mailer for 10 years at the studio. Holscher, who didn't start acting until age 53, recently returned from Los Angeles, where he filmed a pilot episode for a possible television series. In the Twin Cities, he's performed in community theaters but also starred in locally made films.
"I got to know him pretty good and he became like a second father figure to me," Holscher said. "We were pretty close, so it hurt when he passed away."
At Methodist Hospital, Mailer would read Shakespeare monologues to doctors and nurses, Paula Mailer said. Once staff at the hospital learned he was featured in the "Star Wars Holiday Special" and on "Star Trek," to his delight, they began asking for autographs.
News of Mailer's condition spread on the internet and autograph requests reached the Mailer's home in Edina. Some requests came from as far as the United Kingdom and Australia.
"His presence is really missed," said Paula Mailer, who still lives in Edina. "He was such a force."