Lee Melville, a fierce champion of theater in Los Angeles who was founding editor of the online LA Stage Times magazine and its predecessor, LA Stage, has died. He was 74.
Melville was found dead May 21 in West Hollywood. He took his own life, according to Scott Barton, spokesman for his estate.
In his more than 50-year theater career, Melville held multiple roles that included actor, stage manager, producer and critic.
Terence McFarland, chief executive of the nonprofit organization LA Stage Alliance, called him "a huge advocate for the entire theater community."
"When he founded the LA Stage magazine," in 2001, "it was about giving a platform and a voice to the L.A. theatrical community — every player, from producers to actors to designers," McFarland said. "He wanted to shed a light on all the amazing work happening in L.A. that often would be overlooked."
As a theater critic, Melville could be particularly harsh, he admitted in an LA Stage Times article about his career. "I know I was," he said. "I stopped reviewing in 1989 and, over 20 years later, people still come up to me and say I gave them a horrible review. Sometimes they even quote it!"
His honesty, however, was squarely in service of the reader and theater-going public, he said. "A review's purpose is not to bring something down or give it an artificial lift. I don't necessarily love theater but I do respect it. Love is blind."
So respected was Melville's voice in the Los Angeles theater community that Playwrights' Arena, which nurtures local talent, renamed its annual award after him in 2011. He had received the award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to local theater, in 2005.
Live theater had always been integral to Melville's life. Born April 20, 1939, in Salt Lake City, he won tap-dancing awards at 4. When his family relocated to Los Angeles, he performed in high school plays.
After attending UCLA he worked as an NBC page and with local theater groups such as the Freeway Circuit, which performed at synagogues and civic centers. He later tried to break into acting in New York, where he studied at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.
At 30, he decided to focus on theater behind the scenes.
For 12 years, Melville helmed the now-defunct publication Drama-Logue. While he was editor, the publication grew from printing mainly casting notes to containing full theater reviews and features. During his tenure the annual Drama-Logue theater awards also were established.
In 1989 Melville resigned to help run a family wedding-planning business near Victorville. But he returned to arts journalism in 2001, starting up the monthly magazine LA Stage with friend and colleague Lars Hansen.
In 2006, Melville co-presented the play "Manner of Trust" with the Playwrights' Arena at the Underground Theatre in Hollywood. It was penned by his partner of 20 years, actor and writer Bo White, who died in 2009.
"They ask me how I can go to theater four or five times a week," Melville once told LA Stage Times. "I just look at them and ask how they can watch television four or five nights a week. Everyone has their own church at which they worship. Mine happens to be theater."