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Walter C. Van Buren, avid motion picture collector Dec. 16, 1911 -- April 12, 2007

Walter Clifton Van Buren of East Amherst had a lifelong fascination with motion pictures, collecting them and even appearing in one that was filmed in Buffalo more than 20 years ago.

Though he had various jobs in other fields before his official retirement from Westinghouse in 1976, Mr. Van Buren was a card-carrying member of the Screen Actors Guild for the occasion of his big screen debut in the Robert Redford film, "The Natural."

Mr. Van Buren died Thursday in the Seneca View Skilled Nursing Home in Montour Falls. He was 95.

Born in Kingston, he had many jobs growing up, including one in which he helped clean a local movie theater in Port Ewen, which fueled his interest in film. He was art editor and photography editor of the yearbook at Kingston High School.

Mr. Van Buren earned his bachelor of science degree in industrial arts education in 1936 from Buffalo State Teachers College, where he was a reporter for the college's newspaper, The Record, and worked on the college yearbook.

After a brief stint as a general shop teacher in Hampton, Va., he moved back to Western New York in 1937 to teach shop and coach tennis at Medina High School until 1942. During that time, he also was freelance correspondent for The Buffalo Evening News and United Press International, and completed graduate school at Cornell University.

He served in the Army Air Forces during World War II, achieving the rank of first lieutenant. Mr. Van Buren worked for the Veterans Administration in Buffalo from 1946 to 1951. After that, he was employed as director of public relations for Moore Business Forms in Niagara Falls until 1971.

He worked as an advertising assistant at Moog Inc. in Elma until 1973, and then was employed as an electric motor assembler at Westinghouse until his retirement in 1976.

Mr. Van Buren had many interests -- restoring antique cars, practicing freelance journalism and collecting stamps -- but throughout, he continued his lifelong hobby of collecting motion pictures. Perhaps, improbably, that culminated in his appearing as an extra with spoken dialogue in the 1984 movie "The Natural," which was mostly filmed in Buffalo.

Mr. Van Buren wrote about his experiences on the set of the film for a 1983 magazine piece in The Buffalo Evening News.

"When the film is finally ready to show in Buffalo . . . I'll get to see myself in the movies at last -- provided, that is, my scenes don't wind up on the cutting-room floor," he wrote.

They didn't.

Van Buren's wife, the former Helen E. Jones, died in 2002.

His is survived by two sons, Roger and Ralph.

A military service is tentatively planned for Friday in Forest Lawn.


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