George McCowan, a Stratford Festival pioneer who moved to the United States to direct such television series as Charlie's Angels and Hart to Hart, died of emphysema Tuesday in a Los Angeles hospital. He was 68.
His first wife, actress Frances Hyland, said he was working on a novel at the time of his death.
Mr. McCowan spent most of the past 30 years directing dramas turned out by the Hollywood fantasy factories, but in a 1978 interview with the Globe and Mail, he acknowledged that most of them were junk. "I do shoot-outs, car chases, that sort of garbage" he said.
At the time, he had directed about 200 different episodes, including Felony Squad, SWAT, The FBI, The Rookies, Cannon, Mod Squad, Starsky and Hutch and Fantasy Island. In many instances, he directed pilots, which were used to decide the fate of a proposed series.
Every so often, he retuned to Canada for assignments he was more proud of. He directed many of the highly acclaimed Seeing Things for the CBC and also directed Henrick Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman at the Shaw Festival. In 1978 he directed Separation for CFTO, a drama about the separation of Quebec that was based on a book by Richard Rohmer.
Mr. McCowan attended the University of Toronto, where he gained his early stage experience at Hart House. He was one of the original members of the Straw Hat Players, a company of students that toured the Muskoka area in the summer months. He acted regularly with the company and gathered further stage experience witht he Ottawa Repertory Theatre, Vineland Theatre in the Niagara area and the Crest Theatre in Toronto, both as an actor and a director.
He joined the first touring company of the Canadian Players in 1955 to play Banquo in Macbeth. In 1956-57, he shared the director duties with Douglas Campbell. The next year he directed Shaw's Man and Superman, and Othello.
Ms. Hyland, who was also a member of the Canadian Players, said yesterday that the company logged 128,000 kilometres a year, taking productions across Canada and into the United States as far south as Alabama.
Mr. McCowan directed many of the early CBC television dramas and in 1957 played six roles in a CBC production of Ibsen's Peer Gynt. He appeared for the first time on the Stratford Festival stage in the same year, playing three minor parts in a production of Hamlet.
He joined the festival's touring company in the fall to appear in Two Gentlemen of Verona and the Broken Jug, a comedy written by German playwright Heinrich von Kliests. In the summer of 1958, he acted in two productions and co-directed the first part of Henry IV with artistic director Michael Langham.
He returned to the Crest that winter to direct Inherit the Wind, Summer of the 17th Doll and the Entertainer.
Mr. McCowan's second marriage to Anna Gilmour also ended in divorce. He leaves three sons, Evan, Sean, Kaelin and two grandchildren.
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