Lee Reynolds, an actor who played the seafaring title role on “Cap’n Tugg,” a Washington-area children’s TV show in the 1950s and 1960s, and who later became an announcer, writer and director for the public broadcasting station WETA, died Jan. 27 at Capital Caring hospice in Arlington. He was 87.
The cause was lung cancer, said his wife, Christine Lewis Reynolds.
Mr. Reynolds worked in theater, radio and television before creating “Cap’n Tugg” for WTTG (Channel 5) in 1958 as a live-action variation on the popular “Popeye” cartoon.
In real life, Mr. Reynolds was said to have a passing resemblance to the debonair British actor David Niven. But Mr. Reynolds donned a full beard and foam belly to disguise himself as a sturdy tugboat captain whose Channel Queen sailed the Potomac River.
The show, which aired weekdays, was a hit among area children and ran for eight years. Mr. Reynolds’s ability to portray every character suited the low-budget production values.
In addition to Cap’n Tugg, he played a rival named Capt. Flash Flood, an engineer called Mr. Flanigan and Coast Guard Cmdr. Salamander (“We guard the coast, you know.”). He also doubled as the show’s spy villains, Spike Marlin and Axel Grackle, and the sassy red parrot, Fantail.
He was sometimes promoted as “The Man With a Million Voices.”
The show ended in 1966, and Mr. Reynolds joined WETA two years later. He had a broad portfolio that included work as an announcer, writer and supervisor.
Harry Lee Reynolds was born Aug. 23, 1926, in Norton, a community in southwest Virginia. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Forces and became a deejay and reporter for the American Forces Network radio service in postwar Germany.
He subsequently won acting roles at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Va., and later at Washington’s Arena Stage. He received a bachelor’s degree in television and radio broadcasting and journalism at American University in 1966.
While doing stage work in Washington, he also worked in radio and television, notably creating the role of Grandpa for a show called “Grandpa’s Place” on WTTG in the late 1950s.
His marriages to Ursula Simon, Wania McGinnis and Noel Gayne ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 16 years, Christine Lewis Reynolds of Oakton, Va.; a son from his first marriage, Richard Stockton of Jacksonville, Fla.; a half-brother; a half-sister; four grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
Mr. Reynolds, an Oakton resident, spoke Greek, Arabic, French and German, and at times worked as a sculptor and filmmaker. He was also a sailor, perhaps unsurprising given his most visible TV role.
When “Cap’n Tugg” was on the air, Mr. Reynolds lived on the “Chippewa,” a 45-foot Crosby yawl moored at the Washington Sailing Marina on the Potomac River near Alexandria.
“Saturday and Sunday mornings at the sailing marina would find a long line of youngsters waiting,” Mr. Reynolds once told The Washington Post. “They had heard that Captain Tugg had his boat docked there.”
After his retirement from WETA in 1991, Mr. Reynolds said he flew his own plane, a red Cessna 150, “whenever the sun shines.” But for youngsters who recalled “Cap’n Tugg” as a daily part of their childhood, it was inconceivable that the skipper of the Channel Queen was swooping about the sky.
“An awful lot of people still call me captain,” he told The Washington Post in 1993.