Charles Nolte

Charles Nolte as Billy Budd. (Image: Public Domain)

Charles Miller Nolte was born in Duluth on November 3, 1923. The Nolte family played an important role in the early development and growth of Duluth. Charles’ grandfather, Henry Nolte, came to Duluth in 1882 when he was transferred from St. Paul by the St. Paul & Duluth Railroad. By 1884 he was buying land and he eventually started his own very successful real estate business, Little & Nolte Co. Henry and May Nolte had three sons, Edward, Julius, and Walter. All three worked in the family business, but Julius dreamed of being a teacher. After graduating from Central High School in 1912, he attended Yale University, majoring in history. After service in World War I, he returned to Duluth to work in the real estate firm. Julius married Mildred Miller in September of 1918 and they had four children, Richard, Mildred, Charles, and Jacqueline. The family moved to the Twin Cities in 1934 and Julius eventually became dean of the University of Minnesota’s general extension division.

In Duluth, Charles attended Washburn Elementary School and was involved in plays there. The family lived in a house at 333 West Victoria Street (now Arrowhead Road) until 1931, when they moved to 331 Kenilworth Avenue. Leaving Duluth in 1934, the family moved to Wayzata, and Charles graduated from high school there. He attended the University of Minnesota, but his education was interrupted by service in World War II from 1943 to 1945. After the war, he attended Yale University, graduating in 1946.

Charles remained on the East Coast and became involved in the theater in New York. He eventually acted in nine Broadway productions, most notably in the title role of Billy Budd, by Louis Coxe and Robert Chapman. In New York in the 1940s and 1950s, Charles also had roles in Tin Top Valley, Design for a Stained Glass Window, and The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial. His film roles included Warpaint (1953), Steel Cage (1954), Ten Seconds to Hell (1959), Under Ten Flags (1960), and Armored Command (1961). He also appeared in numerous television programs.

In 1962, Charles returned to Minnesota to work on his master’s degree and, subsequently, his Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota. He was hired there as an assistant professor in the Theater Department in the late 1960s and taught for many years. He also is the author of over ten plays, including A Night at the Black Pig and A Summer Remembered. He also wrote the libretti for two Dominick Argento operas, The Voyage of Edgar Allen Poe (1976) and The Dream of Valentino (1994). In 1997, the University named the Nolte Experimental Theatre in his honor, and in 1998 he was named Professor Emeritus of Theatre. Charles died on Jan. 14, 2010, in Minneapolis, of prostate cancer. His friends said he passed away listening to Bellini’s Norma, one of his favorite operas.

Story by David Ouse. Originally published on Zenith City Online (2012–2017). Click here for more stories by David Ouse.