KWLT is saddened to learn of the death of William Needles, one of Canada’s foremost Shakespearean actors, at his home in Alliston earlier this week.
Needles’ career as a professional actor began in 1940 as a voice actor for a popular CBC radio soap opera. He was a mainstay of the Stratford Festival from its founding in 1953, performing in over a hundred roles across five decades. He played Banquo opposite Sean Connery’s Macbeth in a CBC television production in 1961, and taught theatre at UC-Irvine in the 1970s; one of his students there was actor Jon Lovitz, whose “Master Thespian” character on SNL was (loosely and lovingly) inspired by Needles. He was also one of the founders of the Actor’s Fund of Canada, which supports members of the theatrical professions in financial need.
Before all of that, however, young William Needles was a charter member of the Kitchener-Waterloo Little Theatre. In January 1936, he directed a staged reading of Stephen Leacock’s Des Deux Choses L’Une (a broad spoof of Napoleonic hagiography): possibly the first of the “studio plays” KWLT put on between major productions. The following year he graced the stage of Kitchener Collegiate Institute in KWLT’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s Ile, our very first entry into the Western Ontario Drama League festival.
Our thoughts and sympathies are with his family, and with everyone touched by his death.