Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Conrad Bain's Winnipeg Gig

Sad news that actor Conrad Bain died on Monday at the age of 89. The Alberta-born actor will be best remembered for his role as Philip Drummond, the father in the 1978-86 sitcom Diff'rent Strokes, but before he went to the U.S. he was involved in the Prairie theatre scene.

Born in Lethbridge, he attended Western Canada High School in Calgary and the drama class of Betty Mitchell. In the early 1940s she created the amateur theatre group called Workshop 14 of which Bain was a founding member. He also went on to study at Alberta's Banff School of Fine Arts.

May 25, 1946, Winnipeg Free Press

Bain was serving in the Canadian military during World War II but somehow Mitchell was able to get him freed up to direct Workshop 14's play John Doe at the Alberta Drama Festival. The play won top prize which meant that he was off to Winnipeg the following year to represent Alberta at the Western Canada Drama Festival.

May 27 1946, Winnipeg Free Press

The festival was held the weekend of May 25th at the Playhouse Theatre. Besides Alberta's Workshop 14, the other provinces were represented by the Winnipeg Actors' Guild, Regina Little Theatre and the Vancouver Little Theatre. In the end, it was Saskatchewan's entry Mooncalf Mugford that took top honours with John Doe placing runner-up.

After being discharged from the military Bain went to New York and enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He did stage and television work but his big break came when Normal Lear cast him as Dr. Arthur Hammond in Maude (1972 - 1978) then in Diff'rent Strokes (1978 - 1986).

Stratford Festival poster, 1958 (source)

Bain never returned to Winnipeg, it seems, but he did make a few appearances in Canada after his relocation to the U.S..

In 1958 he appeared at the Stratford Festival, sharing the stage with Bruno Gerussi in Much Ado About Nothing. In 1975 he was back in his hometown of  Lethbridge where, among other things, he did a live televised draw of $250,000 for the Western Canada Lottery. In 1983 he was in Edmonton to receive an honorary diploma in theatre arts at the Grant MacEwan College (now MacEwan University).

Conrad Bain, the dad on TV’s Diff’rent Strokes, dies at 89 Globe and Mail (Jan 2013)
Conrad Bain recalls time in Calgary Calgary Herald (Aug 1979)

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