Harry Landis obituary | Television

Harry Landis, who died aged 95 of cancer, left behind a poor childhood in London’s East End to become a character actor on stage and screen for eight decades. When he stepped backstage into the spotlight, he left viewers with memories of two very different characters, one sweet and likeable, the other simply obnoxious.

He spent 18 months in EastEnders (1995-97) as Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor Felix Kawalski, who owned a barber shop in the fictional Albert Square – keeping in the cellar the valuable butterfly collection of his father, which he had brought to Britain after fleeing. the Nazis. Felix believed that his parents and his sister had perished.

At Walford, he enjoyed the company of other senior residents — including Ethel Skinner (Gretchen Franklin) and Blossom Jackson (Mona Hammond) — and had a chess partner in Jules Tavernier (Tommy Eytle), who provided a platonic friendship for Blossom while she and Felix developed deeper feelings.

When the barber discovered his sister was alive and living in Israel, Blossom joined him on an emotional journey to see him reunited with her. Félix then decides to join his sister for good and Blossom accepts her invitation to live with them in Israel. During a brief return to the soap opera in 2010, she revealed that Felix had died five years earlier.

In a very different vein, Landis appeared on the sitcom Friday Night Dinner as octogenarian Lou Morris, the selfish, arrogant and aggressive boyfriend of Eleanor Buller (Frances Cuka), whose daughter brings the Jewish Goodman family together around a weekly meal.

Harry Landis, left, and Lionel Jeffries, center, in Dunkirk (1958), one of Landis’s many war films during his early screen years. Photo: Moviestore/Rex/Shutterstock

He appeared in just three episodes, in 2012 and 2014, but immediately made an impression, with Lou crashing his battered old car into the Goodmans’ house on his first visit – and demanding they pay for the damaged headlamp. The family are dismayed to learn that he is married, dismayed by his mannerisms, tired of bragging about the button factory he owns, and angered by his obsession with wiping his hands on their curtains.

When his wife dies at the age of 94, he becomes engaged to Eleanor, but even she realizes his big mistake – faking a heart attack on their wedding day as the rabbi asks them to exchange vows.

Landis was born Harry Landinski in Stepney, east London to Sarah and Morris, both of Polish descent. His father, a taxi driver, left when he was a baby. He and his mother were regular visitors to the local Jewish soup kitchen. “Mum had to plead her case to the Jewish Board of Guardians, all North London businessmen who acted as if she had given up on her poverty,” he recalls. “They had no idea of ​​life in the East End.”

Another memory of life in the area was Oswald Mosley’s Fascists throwing a brick through their window in the mid-1930s.

On leaving the Jewish school in Stepney at the age of 14, he worked in a café, then as a window washer and milkman before taking a job in a factory. During tea breaks he imitated Max Miller and other music hall groups he had seen at the Hackney Empire. His shop steward suggested he go to the Unity Theater in King’s Cross, which provided a platform for working class voices.

He started playing with the amateur company at the age of 15 and returned to it after completing his military service. David Kossoff and Alfie Bass were among his contemporaries.

At 20, a scholarship from London County Council allowed him to train at the Central School of Speech and Drama. From there, as Harry Landis, he acted professionally with the Elizabethan Theater Company, performing Shakespeare, and later in repertoire theatres.

William Simons and Harry Landis in Stay Lucky
Harry Landis, right, and William Simons in the ITV comedy-drama Stay Lucky in 1991. Photography: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

Later, with the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theater in 1961, he appeared in The Kitchen as Paul, the pastry cook, a role based on the experience of its writer, Arnold Wesker.

The West End beckoned, with roles as Private Albert Huggins in The Amorous Prawn (Saville theatre, 1962), Bernard in Time Present (performed by the English Stage Company at the Duke of York’s theatre, 1968), Private Mason in Journey’s End (Cambridge theatre, 1972), the father of the world premiere of Arthur Miller’s The Ride Down Mount Morgan (Wyndham’s theatre, 1991) and the Postmaster General in the musical I’d Rather Be Right (Fortune theatre, 1999).

On stage, Landis also directed plays at the Unity Theater (1965-66) and was artistic director of the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury (1973-74).

He was prolific on television, taking over 100 roles in dramas and comedies. They included Toby Crackit, Fagin’s lock-picking expert, in a BBC serialization of Oliver Twist (1962). He was also seen renting a heavy to Arthur Daley in a 1982 episode of Minder when Terry is injured.

During his early screen years, Landis starred in numerous war films, including Hell in Korea (1956), when he shared a room on location in Portugal with Michael Caine, Dunkirk (1958), and The Longest Day (1962), starring Richard Burton. . Later he appeared alongside Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow (2014).

He was chairman of Equity, the actors’ union, from 2002 to 2008, and a trustee of the Equity Charitable Trust from 1994 to 2001.

Landis’ 1965 marriage to actor Hilary Crane (née Strelitz) ended in divorce seven years later. He is survived by Ingrid Curry, his partner of over 30 years, as well as the daughter of his marriage, Katy, and his stepson, Simon Crane.

Harry Landis (Harry Landinski), actor and director, born November 25, 1926; died on September 11, 2022

Karl M. Bailey