Lew Palter, Actor Who Starred In One Of Titanic's Most Devastating Scenes, Dead At 94

Longtime character actor Lew Palter has died at age 94, his daughter Catherine confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter, citing lung cancer as his cause of death on May 21. While his name may not be familiar, his characters most certainly are. His long career included a turn in the film "First Monday in October" as a Supreme Court judge, plus appearances in TV shows as varied as "The Flying Nun," "Delvecchio," and "L.A. Law."

However, Palter may be best known for one of the most memorable scenes from the beloved film "Titanic." He played the real-life figure Isidor Straus, the politician and co-owner of Macy's department store. He and his wife, Ida, were among the passengers of the luxury ship, which sank in the Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912 after striking an iceberg. In one of the film's most heart-wrenching scenes (as seen on YouTube), Palter's Isidor holds Elsa Raven's Ida close in bed as the water rushes into their cabin. In the background, we hear the ship's musicians play "Nearer My God to Thee." (We're tearing up even as we speak.) 

The film originally contained a scene of the Strauses on the deck, where women and children are frantically being ushered into lifeboats. "Please, Ida, get into the boat!" Palter pleads. Raven insists, "No! We've been together 40 years. And where you go, I go. Don't argue, Isidor. You know that's no good." Palter's resigned look and nod tells us everything we need to know.

Lew Palter was an influential acting teacher

Lew Palter is an excellent reminder of the importance of character actors in the craft of performing. The ill-fated romance of Kate Winslet's Rose and Leonardo DiCaprio's Jack may have been the centerpiece of "Titanic," but Palter and his fellow supporting players were what helped give audiences a true sense of the historic tragedy: upper- and lower-class passengers with very different accommodations and privileges were all suddenly thrown together in a desperate race against nature and time. A huge roster of actors helped bring those characters to life: Eric Braeden of "The Young & the Restless," played business tycoon John Jacob Astor, for instance.  

Off-screen, Palter made an even larger impact on the entertainment community. As an acting teacher for 42 years at the acclaimed California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) School of Theater, he helped nurture the talents of future A-listers, like Ed Harris and Don Cheadle, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The college's dean said in a statement that Palter's love for his craft was an inspiration to his students. "His legacy is carried forth in the many careers, lives, and stories he touched, and our collective CalArts thoughts are with his family, friends, and theater community who loved him so," the tribute concluded.