Darel Glaser, a child star on the Broadway stage and in Hollywood who would go on to mold a generation of budding actors through the Riverside Theater Guild, died Dec. 7, 2022 at his Berwyn home. He was 66 years old.
Born in 1956, Glaser was the only child of George and Susanne Glaser. His father was Riverside Township supervisor for 29 years and had operated a funeral home on Harlem Avenue since 1936.
As a child, he was an actor of some reputation, getting his first big break at the age of 10 when he was cast in a national touring company of “Oliver!”
According to Jeanne Sheehan, the Riverside Theater Guild’s founder and Glaser’s longtime creative partner and close friend, he was initially cast as a member of the chorus but was thrust into the title role after the original Oliver’s voice changed.
As Oliver, Glaser first appeared opposite veteran Hollywood character actor Walter Slezak in the role of Fagin. The Citizen newspaper reported in August 1966 that Slezak had left the cast to pursue a television job and was replaced by John Astin, whose TV show “The Addams Family’ had just ended after two seasons.
Glaser would go on to play Oliver in Japan and London, according to Sheehan, and Glaser and his mother would move to New York City so he could pursue jobs on Broadway.
In 1969 and 1970, Glaser was cast as Young Patrick in two separate touring companies of “Mame,” one of which starred Broadway legend Elaine Stritch. In 1970, Glaser was in the cast of “Cry for Us All,” which ran for nine performances on Broadway. In 1976, he appeared alongside Yul Brynner in “Home Sweet Homer,” a show that started out in San Francisco and made it to the Palace Theater on Broadway only to close after just one performance.
In 1971, he was cast in the Stanley Kramer film “Bless the Beasts and Children” and in 1978 was cast in the film “An Enemy of the People” starring Steve McQueen and Charles Durning. He also appeared on TV in episodes of “Shazam!” and “Marcus Welby M.D.”
Despite his success as a child actor, Glaser found the transition to adult roles a challenge.
“When he was a kid, he really was that special,” Sheehan said. “He never had to audition. I met him when he was 24, and he’d spent the last couple of years going to auditions and getting turned down. I don’t think he could take the rejection.”
Before leaving Hollywood, however, Glaser got a taste of directing for the stage, and when he returned to Riverside in 1980, George Glaser told Sheehan, whose township theater troupe was preparing to stage “Mame,” that his son would direct the show.
“We hit it off immediately,” Sheehan said. “He told me, ‘I’ll probably only be here five weeks,’ but he never went back and stayed in Riverside for the next 40 years. He really liked having a theater he could control and direct.”
Over the next decade, Glaser would transform the auditorium of the Riverside Township Hall into a theater, essentially taking over the space and producing high-quality productions.
After George Glaser’s death in 1994 at the age of 80, Riverside Township reclaimed the auditorium and the Riverside Theater Guild made the switch to children’s productions, with Sheehan and Glaser hosting summer theater camps, writing plays and mounting productions.
The young actors trained by Glaser, who directed all of the guild’s productions, wound up as middle schoolers on stage at Hauser Junior High, where Dave Mason staged the school’s theater offerings.
In 2006, Hauser staged “Dracula,” but Mason was sidelined while battling leukemia. The school’s assistant principal suggested hiring Glaser to fill in and the two met for the first time at lunch across a table at Connie’s in Berwyn, learning about Glaser’s background as an actor himself.
“I also found out the reason why I had so many sixth graders each year who were very talented and very excited to be in the Hauser shows,” Mason told the Landmark.
That meeting would spark a 17-year partnership between Mason and Glaser, who would go on to light all of Hauser’s productions, including the most recent, “Young Frankenstein,” in mid-November.
“It was getting harder and harder for him to walk the three flights of stairs and he had been under the weather with a bad sinus infection,” Mason said. “He told Karina, our co-director, that ‘Young Frankenstein’ might be his last show. Sadly, it was, and there will be a massive hole in our hearts moving forward.”
Jacob Palka, who co-hosts Riverside’s Fourth of July Parade broadcast on Riverside TV, attended the summer theater camp and was in the cast of that “Dracula” production in 2006 and also became a close friend.
“Darel and I would talk for hours about Broadway, movies, comedy, radio, TV,” Palka said. “He had a wealth of entertainment and pop culture knowledge. I don’t just mean the stuff you find on Wikipedia. He knew the stories no one else knew. The backstage, behind the scenes stories that you only read about in a person’s memoir long after they’re dead. He was a window to an era of show business that has nearly faded. I am so sad that that window has shut.”
Sheehan told the Landmark that Glaser had been battling a series of health issues for many years. He had moved out of Riverside in 1999 to Westchester, where his mother lived. She died in 2012 and Glaser moved to a south Berwyn apartment.
According to Palka, there will be a celebration of life gathering in mid-January. There were no funeral service details available at the Landmark’s press deadline.