Steve Wayne, 84; Actor Fought Against Illegal Fliers for 25 Years

posted 2004-09-16 11:58:32 by beth

Steve Wayne, an actor known locally for his one-man crusade against junky signs, died Sept. 5 at his home in Los Angeles after a short bout with cancer. He was 84.

Over the last two decades, Wayne tore down thousands of illegal fliers tacked on fences, traffic lights and utility poles. His quest was endless, like trying to wipe out gnats one swat at a time. Yet he never gave up trying to purge the city of the signs, which he regarded as an environmental blight as well as a hazard.

"If everybody just takes down one sign a week, we could clean up Los Angeles easily," he told The Times in 1996.

He kept at it nearly up to the day he died, stopping to rip down signs "even when coming home from his chemo appointments," his daughter, Cathy Wayne, said in an interview.

Wayne made his living for four decades as a television commercial actor who pitched such products as Alka-Seltzer, Ocean Spray, Polident and Wheaties.

He also had bit parts in more than 30 films, including "Bedtime for Bonzo," which starred Ronald Reagan, and on such television series as "Dragnet" and "The Cisco Kid."

He was nearing retirement when his obsession with signs bloomed. One day in late 1979 he noticed that music groups were plastering fliers over official city "No Smoking" and "Fire Area" signs in his heavily wooded Laurel Canyon neighborhood, not far from the site of a major fire that had destroyed homes. He was particularly galled to see someone post an illegal ad over a fire-warning sign while smoking a cigarette.

"I didnīt want my house to burn down," an indignant Wayne recalled.

He began climbing up poles and clawing at the unwanted ads with a garden rake, or going after them while perched on the hood of a moving car with an accomplice at the wheel. But as fast as he tore them down, new ones would replace them.

In 1980 he was so upset by the proliferation of handbills for the Roxy, Troubadour and Whiskey a Go Go nightclubs that he spray-painted "Keep L.A. Clean" on the outsides of the famous establishments.

He was arrested on suspicion of malicious vandalism, a charge that could have brought jail time and a steep fine. After pleading no contest to a lesser charge of disturbing the peace and paying $130 in penalties and court fees, he swore off fighting blight with more blight. But he didnīt swear off sign swiping.

For the next 24 years he yanked down signs nearly every day, often fending off workers angry that he was undoing their efforts. On an average day, he removed 10 or 12 signs. His record for one day was 25.

Although the illegal signage angered him, Wayne was no curmudgeon. He was known around Westside communities as "The Candyman" for passing out caramels and lollipops to strangers, a practice that earned him a commendation from the city of Beverly Hills. "Let this add a little sweetness to your day," he told recipients, who often appeared shocked by the random kindness.

The native of St. Augustine, Fla., maintained another unusual routine: He called up old girlfriends — enough to fill a dog-eared black book — to wish them happy birthday. He started the book in 1937, when he was a high school student in Baltimore. After contacting each one, he would ask for a recent photo, which he pasted into the book next to the name.

His wife, Nancy, a former showgirl who died a few years ago, took the phone calls in stride. Sometimes she got on the line herself to say hello.

To eliminate any doubt that his wife was No. 1 in his life, Wayne bought a bumper sticker that read "I {heart} My Dog" and altered it to read "I {heart} My Wife."

In addition to his daughter, Wayne is survived by brothers Warren and Donald and several nieces and nephews. A memorial service is pending.

Source: Elaine Woo, L.A. Times