Monday, August 15, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Stage Producer Toby Rowland; Studied Drama In Seattle As Teen


LONDON - Leading stage producer and gifted talent spotter Toby Rowland, who for 25 years was a key figure at London's largest theater group, Stoll Moss Theaters, has died at age 77.

Mr. Rowland died of cancer at his home in Sussex in southern England on Aug. 9, his family said.

Born in Libby, Mont., the stage-struck Mr. Rowland at age 17 went to study drama at Seattle. There he met and married aspiring actress Mildred Landstrom, whose stage name was Martha Downs.

They moved to New York and founded the Playroom Club, an off-Broadway theater where Mr. Rowland produced the American premiere of French playwright Jean Cocteau's "The Infernal Machine" in 1938.

In World War II, Mr. Rowland served in the Air Force. While stationed in the South Pacific, he ran a military radio show with Charlton Heston. He also toured army bases with Tyrone Power.

On his return to the United States, he set up an acting school with Elia Kazan and Burt Shevelove. Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Margaret Leighton and other British actors who gave lectures there so impressed Mr. Rowland that he decided to move to Britain.

In London, he met Prince Littler, a leading showman who adopted Mr. Rowland as his protege. In 1950, Littler made Mr. Rowland personal assistant to Binkie Beaumont of H.M. Tennent, London's largest and most distinguished producing theatrical-management company. It produced shows for most of Littler's Stoll Moss theaters.

Sponsored by Littler, Mr. Rowland in 1953 became an individual producer, presenting 36 productions in London, many of them of exceptional merit.

In 1955, Mr. Rowland promoted Peter Hall for the job of running the Arts Theater. It made Hall's reputation and in 1973 Hall became director of Britain's National Theater.

Mr. Rowland also personally discovered Alan Bennett as a theater writer.

In 1957, Mr. Rowland and Hall formed the International Playwrights Theater, whose first production was Tennessee Williams' "Camino Real."

The following year, Hall directed Mr. Rowland's production of "Shadow of Heroes," starring Peggy Ashcroft and Emlyn Williams. Later in 1958, they put on "Brouhaha" starring Peter Sellers.

Shortly after, Mr. Rowland gave up his own management to join Littler at Stoll Moss.

He became a naturalized British citizen in 1961.

Mr. Rowland produced Bennett's first two plays - "40 Years On," starring John Gielgud, in 1968 and "Getting On," starring Kenneth Moore, in 1971.

He co-produced Mr. Bennett's third play, "Habeas Corpus," starring Alec Guinness, and brought Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" and "A Chorus Line" to Drury Lane Theater.

Mr. Rowland became joint managing director of Stoll Moss Theaters, and in 1970 became president of London's Society of West End Theater Managers.

In 1984, he left Stoll Moss to form a new company, Libby Productions, named for his hometown, and the following year he produced "Dragon's Tail," starring Penelope Keith.

Ill health then forced him to retire from production, although he continued to give advice and support to others in the theater.

He is survived by his wife. The couple had no children.

No funeral arrangements were announced.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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