Stocker Fontelieu, the New Orleans theater legend whose 60-year career included a stint as executive director of Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre and directing and acting roles at numerous local theatres, died Monday. He was 86.
Mr. Fontelieu’s health had been failing in recent months, after suffering a fall. He was receiving care at Covenant Nursing Home, where he died.
A New Orleans native who attended New Orleans Academy and Tulane University, Mr. Fontelieu was best known for his 24-year career as executive director of Le Petit, which spanned from the 1960s through the 1980s.
A frequent commercial and movie actor, Mr. Fontelieu’s face and voice were familiar to New Orleanians from TV and film roles as an actor and announcer, even if his name was not. But it is his direction behind the scenes for which friends and colleagues remember him most fondly.
“He was a total man of the theater,” commented Fontelieu’s biographer, actor/playwright and historian Michael Cahill. “Ricky Graham said Stocker reminded him of the old time theater managers, who put on the show, selected, directed it, selected the actors, worked on the costumes and acted as well. Just a total man of the theater.”
Cahill profiled Fontelieu in a 2007 book, cleverly titled "Just Who is Stocker Fontelieu Anyway?" In it, Cahill recounts the numerous actors with whom Fontelieu worked during his long career.
“It was really very difficult to find anybody that hadn’t worked with him at one time or another,” Cahill said.
By the time he retired in 2006, Mr. Fontelieu had appeared in nearly 150 plays and directed 340 productions, at various local theatres, including Gallery Circle Theatre (where he served as executive director), Bayou Dinner Theater and Rivertown Repertory Theater, in addition to Le Petit.
Fontelieu told former Times-Picayune theater writer David Cuthbert (now a reviewer for WYES-TV' "Steppin' Out") that one of his most memorable nights as Le Petit’s manager was the 1977 visit playwright Tennessee Williams paid to a rehearsal of his "A Streetcar Named Desire" at the theater.
"The stage manager whispered to me, ‘Look over your shoulder,’ and there was Tennessee with a few friends," Fontelieu said in a 2003 interview. "‘Just keep the play going,’ he said. ‘Do your job.’
Cahill called Fontelieu “very adaptable” as a director, saying he was equally comfortable directing dramatic performances or a musical.
“He could direct on a proscenium stage or in the round,” Cahill said. “He really was comfortable in any setting, and was a good actor, to boot.”
Funeral arrangements are incomplete.