Ursula Ryan, a woman whose name has been synonymous with acting in South Jersey for close to 40 years, died Friday at Shore Memorial Hospital in Somers Point.

Ryan, 80, of Smithville, owned and opened Weist-Barron-Ryan Acting Studios in Atlantic City.

For decades, Ryan’s offices were on Atlantic Avenue in Atlantic City before she recently moved to the Black Horse Pike in Pleasantville. She trained Miss New Jerseys and Miss Americas as well as people who appeared on TV, in movies and in commercials.

Ryan’s daughter, Stefanie Showell, and grandson, Quinn Showell, added the casting division and will continue to operate WBR Acting Studios & Casting.

Linwood-based vocal coach Sal Dupree used to send his students to study acting with Ryan, who was based in Philadelphia at one time. Dupree said he convinced Ryan to open an acting studio in Atlantic City.

“For TV commercials, Ursula was the one. ... Ursula would train a lot of kids,” said Dupree, who added they remained friends over the decades.

Ryan, a native of Frankfurt, Germany, was a different breed, Dupree said.

“Ursula wasn’t the Hollywood know-it-all. She was just this lovely lady from Germany. She was very, very sweet, kind, caring, considerate, would mentor the kids and make them understand,” Dupree said.

Through Weist-Barron-Ryan, actors were cast in TV shows such as “Blue’s Clues,” “Sex and the City” and “The Nanny,” commercials or industrial films for Caesars Atlantic City, Ryder Truck Rental and One Stop Car Audio.

If major motion pictures were filmed in Atlantic City, Ryan had actors cast in them. Examples include “The Long Kiss Goodnight” with Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson, “Rounders” with Matt Damon and Edward Norton, and “Warrior” with Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte.

Steve Gorelick, executive director for the New Jersey Motion Picture & Television Commission, said Ryan was a huge advocate for productions filming in South Jersey and would never let state officials forget about the southern counties.

“I was shocked,” said Gorelick of Ryan’s death. “I didn’t even know she was ill. I had seen her not too long ago.”

During the last week of Ryan’s life, there was talk of closing the acting studio this week, but Ryan said she would strike her daughter with a bolt of lightning if she did that, according to Stefanie Showell.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be given to the Ursula Ryan Memorial Arts Fund GoFundMe page.

The plan is to receive designation as a 501c3 nonprofit and set up the Ursula Ryan Memorial Arts Foundation to sponsor area children in the arts and establish scholarships if enough money is raised, Showell said.

A memorial will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at the Irish Pub in Atlantic City. All are welcome to attend. Attendees are encouraged to bring photos, stories and anything else they would like to share.

Staff Writer

Twenty years as a staff writer in the features department, specializing in entertainment and the arts at The Press of Atlantic City.

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