Character actor Walter Noel Greaza (January 1, 1897 – June 1, 1973) served three terms as Shepherd of The Lambs from 1953-1956 all while acting full time on stage, screen, radio, and television. He helped usher in live TV on an early NBC test program and was a working actor for 50 years.
His guidance of The Lambs was during the McCarthy Era; some of the older members of the Club felt that it needed to take a stand to denounce Communism and Communist Party sympathizers. It left bitter feelings when politics entered the Club. Greaza was the last Shepherd of a completely male dominion. Following his tenure in 1956, women were admitted to dine in the Grill Room of the 44th Street clubhouse, but they would not be admitted as members for another 20 years.
Walter Noel Greaza (pronounced greeZAY) was born January 1, 1897 in St. Paul, Minnesota, to Canadian immigrants Albert Edward Greaza, a department store buyer, and Mary Elizabeth Frickelton. He studied business law and political science at the University of Minnesota. Greaza started acting with the university’s drama department. He served in the U.S. Navy in World War I. Back home and in civilian life, Greaza became active in local stock in St. Paul. In 1922, he was hired for the juvenile lead with May Robson in Mothers Millions, a play that toured the country and brought him to New York.
In the 1920s Greaza made perhaps a record number of stock company performances in the New York City vicinity. He was featured in more than 30 Broadway shows in the region.
Greaza was elected to The Lambs in 1927 and served on multiple committees and on Council, edited the Lambs’ Script for nine years, and was Boy from 1947-1953. During World War II he was a member of The Lambs’ Servicemen’s Morale Corps (forerunner of the Lambs’ Foundation), and presided over weekly dinner shows to entertain men in uniform. He contributed to the unglamorous, work-a-day journeyman jobs of theater and club life.
In 1953 the Club was divided over the election of the new shepherd to replace the retiring William Gaxton. Some wished to have the charismatic star Conrad Nagel, who was extremely well-known and had been a Lamb since 1918. The Club was divided until Nagel stepped aside because he knew Greaza would be a better fit for the times. In August 1955 Shepherd Greaza took his Brother Lambs, along with members of the American Theater Wing, to visit and perform for 850 children at a summer camp for underprivileged city kids in Rockland County.
Greaza’s Broadway career stretched from 1927, the Corning White flop Love in the Tropics at Daly’s 63rd Street Theatre, to 1958, when he was a replacement in the smash hit Auntie Mame when Greer Garson stepped into the lead. Post World War II he worked as a director of summer stock shows in the Newburgh (NY) Summer Theatre. He also performed in stock in the 1950s and 60s. On radio he was on the Kate Smith Hour, spent nine years playing Inspector Ross on Crime Doctor, and as the editor on Big Town.
Greaza had small roles on the big screen and small. In 1949 he had a part in The Great Gatsby (the terrible one with Alan Ladd and Betty Field) along with another Lamb, Ed Begley. His last motion picture role was in It Happened to Jane (1956) with Doris Day and Jack Lemmon, then he was a series regular on television shows filmed in New York. Greaza was on Sgt. Bilko with Phil Silvers and appeared on the Milton Berle and Jackie Gleason shows. From 1956-1968 he was the recurring character Winston Grimsley on the soap The Edge of Night. In the 1960s he played a judge on The Defenders, and as a series of cops and agents on Brenner, Treasury Men in Action, and Martin Kane. In May 1969 he celebrated his 50th year as an actor while in the cast of The Edge of Night; Greaza was the only original member remaining since it’s debut in 1956.
Greaza was appointed national administrative chairman of the American Guild of Variety Artists in 1942 and served eight years as assistant executive secretary of Actors Equity beginning in 1943.
His first wife was singer-dancer Mary Young, a member of the Twelfth Night Club, who died in 1947. The following year he married actress Helen Ambrose, who passed away in 1966.
Greaza was a longtime resident of Forest Hills, Queens. He died at the Kew Gardens General Hospital on June 1, 1973, from cardiac arrest. He was 76 years old.