In Memoriam

Elliot Stout: Citizen Stout

In Memoriam - Elliot Stout

Here’s the bit.

That’s but one of many lines for which Elliott Stout, theatre historian and founder of the cinema department, will be fondly remembered. (Others include “It’s good enough for government work” and “We don’t want it brilliant, we want it Tuesday.”)

In Stout’s case, the bit, or crux of the story, could well have been the basis for a Hollywood film: an inspiring, eccentric cineaste becomes a father figure to several generations of adoring students, many of whom go on to work in theater and film.

In fact, it did become a film: Citizen Stout, a loving tribute modeled after Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, assembled by former students and presented to Stout at his retirement party in 2004, the year he began waging war against the leukemia that would eventually kill him.

A once-aspiring actor who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Turkish theatre, Stout came to Denison in 1966 to teach theatre history. When a student in one of his classes expressed an interest in film, “he came home and said, ‘We have to buy cameras,’” recalls Ann, his wife of 47 years.

Soon after, Stout–a cigar-smoking, martini-drinking, ping-pong playing intellectual who treated the classroom as his stage–founded the cinema department in the basement of Morgan Theatre, and began dazzling students with his encyclopedic knowledge, personal charisma, and rapier wit. (If you want to get a sense of just how knowledgeable and articulate Stout could be, just watch “It’s an Idea,” by his former student, filmmaker Clark Bavin.)

Stout didn’t just talk about films, however, he also made them. In the 1970s, for example, he used his old contacts in Turkey to begin making tourist films for the government of North Cyprus, taking student crews abroad with him and drawing a number of Cypriot students back to Denison.

Still, teaching “was probably the most important thing to him,” says Ann. After retiring, Stout filled the void by leading weekly Sunday morning quizzes for the Granville community. First prize was one million Canadian dollars in the Bank of Nova Scotia, and the topics ranged from film to South American dictators. “Elliott was just a font of knowledge,” says Prof. Tony Liska, a regular attendee. “He knew more about culture and film than anyone I’ve ever met in my entire life.”

Stout died on August 11, 2000. He is survived by his wife and daughter.

Published November 2010