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Sunday, November 20, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Actor John J. Boylan Played The Mayor On `Twin Peaks'

Hard steel and greasepaint may not mix in some lives.

But they blended beautifully in the life of actor John J. Boylan, who died Wednesday at 82.

Since he was a young man in the Depression, the dapper Irish American combined work in steel mills with occasional outings on stage, screen and television.

Best known for his TV-series role as Duane Milford, the mayor in "Twin Peaks," Mr. Boylan also blended pragmatism with erudition: He had read "The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire" as a boy.

He loved literature and read to people in nursing homes. And he loved being read to by fellow actors who visited him at bedside.

As the son of immigrants in the industrial city of Canton, Ohio, his youth was not easy, said his son John Boylan of Bellevue.

Mr. Boylan was lured into fights by kids who knew Irish boys had been told not to fight during Lent. Sent to the priest's office for detention, he became studious. Playmates thought he was studying for the priesthood; he was reading Gibbon.

Mr. Boylan got parts in community theater. He rode the rails in search of mill jobs. Then he was cast in "She Stoops to Conquer" in Philadelphia.

He later loved telling how the lead actor forgot his line in Act I, came in with a line from Act III, and ended the play an hour early. The local critic, unaware of the enormity of the cut, wrote, " . . . an adept treatment of a wordy play."

Mr. Boylan also told stories of his Greenwich Village days in the 1930s and '40s, where he knew actors Burgess Meredith and John Ireland.

Through the years, Mr. Boylan appeared in several films, including "Sleepless in Seattle." In the film, he played an elevator operator at the Empire State Building - the very place where he'd met his wife in the '30s.

He moved to Seattle in 1978, and acted at The Empty Space, Seattle Repertory Theater, Bathhouse Theater and Tacoma Actors Guild.

He also developed a signature sketch - Chekhov's satire "The Harmfulness of Tobacco," where he played an absent-minded lecturer.

In commercials, he often played a kindly grandfather or a stuffy butler.

And in the '60s, he brought productions of plays such as "Twelve Angry Men" and "Stalag 17" to a penitentiary in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Boylan got called for "Twin Peaks" while appearing at the Rep in "Much Ado About Nothing" in 1991.

He continued at the Rep, but every Sunday night would fly to Los Angeles, film all day Monday, then return to Seattle in time for the Tuesday matinee. He was 79 at the time.

Through the years, he still did mill work. He retired in 1975 as Works Manager of the Milton Manufacturing Co. in Milton, Pa.

Mr. Boylan also kept up on current events, reading the New York Times at a Bellevue cafe every morning.

Other survivors include his wife Jeanne Boylan; his daughter and son-in-law, Kathleen and Leonard Smolen, and their children Jennifer and Andrew Smolen, all of Bellevue; and his sisters Bernadette Vogley, Canton, Ohio, and Catherine Martin, Warsaw, Ind.

A gathering is scheduled for tomorrow from 5 to 8 p.m. at the East Shore Unitarian Church, 12700 S.E. 32nd St., Bellevue.

Memorial donations may be made to Group Health Hospice Program, 2100 124th N.E., No. 110, Bellevue, WA,98005.

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

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