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Obituary: Leona Douglas / Actor Michael Keaton's mother doted on her seven children

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

It was one thing being the mother of Batman or Mr. Mom, but quite another to be the parent of an actor playing a homicidal, imprisoned sociopath.

While Hollywood insiders wondered what critics and moviegoers would think of the 1998 thriller "Desperate Measures," the family of star Michael Keaton fretted about how their mother, Leona Douglas, then 89, might react.

"The movie has profanity. Michael is the bad guy, and he stays the bad guy," said his sister, Diane Douglas McAleer of Coraopolis. "I'm really nervous about Mother. She's such a lady. She has rolled with the show-biz thing, but it's still a concern. That's her little boy up there."

Her little boy, the youngest of seven children, was the one the world knew under his stage name of Keaton, but Mrs. Douglas was proud of all her children, whose photos once decorated her living room in Robinson.

Mrs. Douglas, 93, died Monday at the home she shared with her daughter, Pamela Douglas, in Mt. Lebanon. All seven children were at her side.

As a young bride, Mrs. Douglas had moved from McKees Rocks to Forest Grove in Robinson in 1932.

"She picked the right guy, spent all of her life in Forest Grove until, for health reasons, it wasn't a good idea being in the house by herself," her son, George Douglas Jr. of Coraopolis, said yesterday. She moved into an apartment in her daughter's South Hills home about seven years ago.

Robinson is now a tangle of shopping centers and highways, but it was very remote when the former Leona Elizabeth Loftus and her civil engineer husband, George A. Douglas, relocated.

"If my mother wanted to go into Pittsburgh or McKees Rocks -- and she probably wasn't the only one -- she would go out into the street, probably a dirt road, and wait for a car," George Douglas, serving as family spokesman, said.

A driver would stop and, as testament to how honorable people were, she would get into the car, driven by a neighbor or stranger.

"The measure of trust each person had for one another" was a hallmark of the times, and, Douglas said, "she really continued that trust all through her life; she was never cynical about things."

Mrs. Douglas was a resilient woman, with lively blue eyes, a quick wit and an Irish sense of humor, who had suffered a stroke in 1969 at age 60.

"Her mental attitude was fine," her son recalled. "She had to relearn how to speak and she managed to get that back 100 percent" and trained herself to write with her left hand and duplicate some of the beautiful, textbook penmanship she once had with her dominant right hand. "Driving was over, but as far as communicating, laughing, she had it all," Douglas said.

In addition to rearing seven children with her husband, who died in 1977, Mrs. Douglas was a member of the Forest Grove Community Club and an Ohio Valley Hospital auxiliary called the Cot Club.

She was a member of St. Malachy Church in Kennedy for more than 50 years until moving to Mt. Lebanon. She attended St. Anne's Church in Castle Shannon.

The generosity of her famous son brought Mrs. Douglas some of the high points of her life: flying first-class to California and Keaton's Montana ranch; visiting movie sets, including "Gung Ho" in Beaver; and, especially for the devout Roman Catholic, meeting the pope during a visit to the United States. A favorite family photo shows Pope John Paul II looking at Mrs. Douglas, which was something Keaton, of Santa Monica, Calif., helped to arrange.

"That was a moment where Mike moved into first place," his older brother said with a laugh.

It was from his parents and siblings that Keaton, who couldn't use his given name because the actors' guild already had a Michael Douglas and a Mike Douglas, said he first learned about humor. Everyone in his family was funny, he said in 1990, "from my mother on down. My dad was funny in spite of himself. He put no effort into it; he was just this funny guy."

In addition to her two sons and two daughters, Mrs. Douglas is survived by her other children, Joyce A. Douglas of Wexford, Robert J. Douglas of Pittsford, N.Y., and Paul J. Douglas of Hampton; 22 grandchildren; and 29 great-grandchildren.

Friends will be received from 7 to 9 p.m. today and from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. tomorrow at McDermott Funeral Home, 334 Forest Grove Road, Kennedy. A Mass will be celebrated Friday at 10 a.m. at St. Anne's Church, Castle Shannon. The family requests that friends meet at the church.

Memorial donations may be made to Holy Family Institute, 8235 Ohio River Blvd., Pittsburgh 15202.

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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