by Kevin Allman
Al Shea (center) receiving the Big Easy Lifetime Achievement Award from Gambit political editor Clancy DuBos and publisher Margo DuBos earlier this year. Shea, who died early this morning after a protracted battle with cancer, had worked in New Orleans stage and television for more than 65 years as an actor, a television personality, a critic and a tireless champion of the city's talent.
Al Shea, one of the deans of the New Orleans stage scene and a former theater writer for Gambit, died early this morning after a long battle with bladder cancer. He was 80.
Sheas career in New Orleans stretched back more than 60 years to his days as an actor. According to the Web site stageclick.com, Sheas first appearance was in a production of The Wizard of Oz at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre in 1941, which marked the beginning of a long career on stage and television in New Orleans. In the 1950s, Shea became one of the citys TV broadcast pioneers on the WDSU-TV childrens program Adventures in Fun, where he played Deputy Oops. In the 1960s and 1970s, he reviewed theater for WDSU, as well as interviewing celebrities like Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr. and Elizabeth Taylor.
Modern audiences knew him best for his long run on the weekly entertainment magazine Steppin Out on WYES-TV, where he rated plays not with stars or letter grades, but with a number of hand claps.
Al was on Steppin Out since the beginning, and were coming up on our 24th season, said Peggy Scott Laborde, host and producer of Steppin Out. We always appreciated the way he reviewed shows. There are critics and there are critics, but his critiques were always very constructive. There would always be a word of encouragement or nurturing. He was just a sweet, dear man.
Earlier this year, Shea was honored at Gambits Big Easy Awards with a Lifetime Achievement Award honoring his 68-year career in the world of New Orleans entertainment.
Shea is survived by three children, numerous grandchildren and his former wife Janet Shea, an actor and instructor in the theater program at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
WYES-TV will air a tribute to Sheas life and career on Fri., Aug. 28 at 6:30 p.m., and well have more memories of Al Shea in this weeks issue of Gambit.