Legendary Acting Teacher David Legrant Dies at 87

He schooled such stars as Tobey Maguire, Bernadette Peters, Constance Towers and Walton Goggins.

David Legrant, an acting teacher for more than a half-century who taught the craft to such stars as Tobey Maguire, Bernadette Peters, Steve Martin and Walton Goggins, died Thursday at his home in Thousand Oaks, Calif. He was 87.

A former bit actor and comic who studied under Lee Strasberg at the legendary Actors Studio in New York, Legrant also influenced the careers of Carol Burnett, Constance Towers, Danny Glover, Sara Gilbert and Alyson Hannigan, among many others.

After returning to his native Los Angeles from New York, he ran David Legrant’s Studio for Acting in Studio City starting in the late ’70s before retiring in March 2010.

“I've gotten so much from David over the years and so much joy from being in his class and just spending time with him,’ Maguire, who was 18 when he met Legrant, told Jenelle Riley of THR sister publication Back Stage magazine in September. “He’s helped me a lot as an actor and, really, as a person.”

Legrant was born Dec. 8, 1923, in Los Angeles, and his father was a carpenter in the film industry. After serving in the Air Corps in World War II as a flight engineer, he used the G.I. bill to study acting. He worked in local television and appeared in small movie roles, then moved to New York in the late 1940s to pursue stage work.

Legrant met singer-actor Barbara Cook at a resort where he was performing Borscht Belt comedy, and the two married in 1952. The following year, they embarked on a national stage tour of Oklahoma. (They divorced in 1965.)

Legrant soon began studying at the Actors Studio with Strasberg. “Marilyn Monroe and I were in the same class together,” Legrant recalled. “She learned a lot from me, and I learned a whole lot from her.”

Legrant taught in New York from his 42nd Street studio until 1978, when he moved back to Los Angeles.

How I Met Your Mother star Hannigan, who began studying with Legrant when she was 20, told Back Stage that the teacher had a knack for distilling his years’ worth of knowledge into memorable phrases. One of Hannigan’s favorites was, “If you’re going to paint a picture, are you going to paint it with your own eye or someone’s else’s?” That was meant to encourage actors to take charge.

Legrant told Back Stage that his style was to be “gentle but demanding.” And when it came to the kind of students he liked, he summed it up by saying: “People who are hungry. You can’t cook for people who aren’t hungry.”

Legrant is survived by his sons Jacob and Adam.

E-mail: Mike.Barnes@thr.com