Drama teacher was key in major stars’ careers
Students in Lawrence Carra’s drama classes at Carnegie Mellon University were expected to perform.
He was nationally recognized as a drama teacher who trained such well-known stage, screen and TV personalities as George Peppard, Ted Danson, Sada Thompson, Nancy Marchand, Judith Light and Rene Auberjonois.
Mr. Carra died on Thursday, March 30, 2006, in his Squirrel Hill home. He was 97.
William L. Thunhurst Jr., retired executive producer of the Civic Light Opera, quickly learned what would happen if you didn’t measure up to Mr. Carra’s expectations.
Thunhurst had returned to the then-Carnegie Institute of Technology to complete his senior year and receive his bachelor’s degree in fine arts after having served as a fighter pilot during World War II.
“I had Larry as my teacher,” Thunhurst said. “I was a GI and a bit older than most of his students. So, I kind of goofed off and missed a few of his classes.
“Larry told me on several occasions how much he admired students who served their country. I figured I had it made.
“But when I received my report card, I got a ‘C.’ You had to produce in his class. There were no favorites.”
Mr. Carra was born in Italy and raised in Boston, one of six children of Dom and Angela Carra. His parents immigrated to the United States when he was 3 years old, and operated a grocery store in Boston.
Upon completing high school, Mr. Carra received a scholarship to Harvard University. He graduated from Harvard in 1931, attended medical school in Rome, then returned to the United States to enroll in the drama department of Yale University.
At that time, he married Marguerite Carmosino, a high school classmate. Mrs. Carra, who was a dance instructor, died in 1991.
In 1947, following a stint teaching directing at Northwestern University and the University of Texas, Mr. Carra began his career as a professor in the drama school at Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University.
He retired in 1977 and became a professor emeritus.
Lawrence Carra said his father staged and directed summer stock and repertory theater and produced an off-Broadway play in New York City that launched the careers of George Segal and Lainie Kazan.
As the artistic director of the Civic Light Opera in the 1960s, Mr. Carra directed stars such as Joe E. Brown, Betty White, Andy Devine, Martha Ray, Edward Everett Horton and Hugh O’Brian.
“Those were exciting years,” his son said. “My brothers and I had a lot of fun. We used to visit Dad when he was directing a play at CMU. If they needed an extra kid on the stage, we were recruited.
“Dad was a very kind gentleman who seldom became upset. Like his students, he expected us to do well in our classes. We used to cringe if we brought a poor report card home from school.”
Mr. Carra is survived by three sons, Lawrence, of Clairton; Vincent, of San Anselmo, Calif., and Richard, of Evanston, Ill.; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
A private burial service will be conducted at Homewood Cemetery.
Arrangements are being handled by the A.J. Bekavac Funeral Home, Clairton.