Obituary: Paul Laughlin / Longtime actor in Little Lake productions

Oct. 23, 1936 - March 10, 2014

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To earn a picture on the Little Lake Theatre Wall of Fame, you have to have worked in 20 shows. Paul Laughlin, a lawyer and an actor at heart, appeared in 85 productions at the theater, where he was honored last year with the Will Disney Award for enrichment and support of the company.

Mr. Laughlin, 77, of Mt. Lebanon died Monday. In November, he had been diagnosed with the rare nerve disorder Guillain-Barre syndrome, which apparently progressed quickly over the weekend.

Among Mr. Laughlin's roles at Little Lake was one that combined his love of theater and the law, Matthew Harrison Brady in the play "Inherit the Wind." He also played the role in a special production of the play at the Allegheny County Courthouse in 1988.

More often, he was cast in drawing-room comedies. On Valentine's Day, he and his wife of 35 years, Priscilla, performed "Love Letters" for the Baldwin Players at the Castle Shannon Borough Building.

"This is rather prophetic," said Mrs. Laughlin, a sometimes actress, costume maker and supporter of local theater with her husband. "Last season at South Park Theatre, he was in something called 'The Last Romance.' Then we were both in 'Romeo and Juliet' -- as Lord and Lady Montague -- and then we had an opportunity to do 'Love Letters.' That was a treat because we didn't get to play husband and wife often."

Mrs. Laughlin recalled meeting her husband through friends. "The first time I saw him, he was acting at Little Lake," she said.

Sunny Fitchett, whose father, the late Will Disney, founded the Canonsburg theater that she now runs with her husband, Robert, often directed Mr. Laughlin, who served as a board member.

"He said [the British comedy] 'Move Over, Mrs. Markham' was his favorite, and he did a lot of A.R. Gurney plays because that was sort of Paul. He was this distinguished gentleman -- a very liberal distinguished gentleman -- and such a kind soul," Mrs. Fitchett said.

Mr. Laughlin graduated from the now-defunct Dormont High School and was a wide receiver on the Villanova University football team, as well as class president and valedictorian, Class of '58. A veteran of the United States Coast Guard, Mr. Laughlin was a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh Law School and was recognized in 2012 by the Allegheny County Bar Association for practicing 50 years of law.

He was a plaintiff's attorney in private practice working out of the Fort Pitt Commons Building, and he sometimes swapped cases with his son-in-law, Bill Difenderfer, his wife said.

His work as a trial lawyer served him as an actor.

"I'll tell you what, he had immaculate timing and he could memorize quickly," Mrs. Laughlin said. "He never missed a beat, and he was a master of paraphrase. No matter what was happening, he never left anybody hanging, in all the roles he ever had."

The Laughlins traveled often to Europe, always planning around a theater visit to London. They attended several such trips led by Mr. Disney and accompanied by Mrs. Fitchett and her husband, Robert.

Mrs. Fitchett, trying to sum up her friend's charm, related, "We ask actors to fill out an information sheet for every play in which they appear. For about the last 12 years, for the question, 'How would you like your name to appear in the Playbill?' Paul wrote, every time, 'Cary Grant.' "

Mr. Laughlin's passing marked a terrible 24 hours for the Little Lake family that also lost Brad Oberg, whose daughter, Jena Oberg, is a longtime actor and director at the theater. The Fitchetts were with the Oberg family Monday night when he left for his volunteer stage job, as he had for many years, with the Pine-Richland High School musical. Mr. Oberg collapsed during the rehearsal and died at age 64.

"It's just shocking and devastating news for anyone involved in the Lake and quite frankly, all over town," Mrs. Fitchett said.

Mr. Laughlin is survived by sons Paul Laughlin and Robert Quinn; daughters Anita Difenderfer and Diana Currie; and 10 grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements were made by Cremation and Funeral Care, 3287 Washington Road. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. today at Unitarian Universalist Church of the South Hills, 1240 Washington Road. Memorial contributions may be made in Mr. Laughlin's name to Villanova University, 800 E. Lancaster Ave., Villanova, PA 19085.

Sharon Eberson: or 412-263-1960.

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