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Gardenia at the 1988 Academy Awards
January 7, 1920
|Died||December 9, 1992
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Vincent Gardenia (born Vincenzo Scognamiglio; January 7, 1920 – December 9, 1992) was an Italian-American stage, film, and television actor. He was twice nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, first for Bang the Drum Slowly (1973) and again for Moonstruck (1987). He also portrayed Det. Frank Ochoa in Death Wish (1974) and its 1982 sequel, as well as Mr. Mushnik in the musical film adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors (1986).
Gardenia was born Vincenzo Scognamiglio in Naples, Italy, the son of Elisa (Ausiello) and Gennaro Gardenia Scognamiglio. When he was two years old, the family immigrated to the United States and settled in Brooklyn, New York City, New York.
His father established an acting troupe that presented Italian-language melodramas. As a child, he performed in the troupe in Italian-American neighborhoods in and around New York City, having later said, "the titles changed, but they were usually about a son or daughter who gets in trouble, runs away, then begs forgiveness". He debuted in the company at age five, portraying a shoeshine boy. He graduated to character roles while still a teenager. He remained a member of the company until 1960, five years after his first English-speaking role on Broadway.
Gardenia played a small role in the film The House on 92nd Street and bit parts in other films, including Cop Hater and A View From the Bridge. His first English-speaking role was in 1955, as a pirate in the Broadway play In April Once. The following year, at age 36, he appeared as Piggy in his Off-Broadway debut in The Man with the Golden Arm. He described his role in the film Little Murders as a "turning point". He won Obie Awards in 1960 and 1969.
A life member of The Actors Studio, Gardenia won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play in 1972 for his performance in The Prisoner of Second Avenue, opposite Peter Falk. In 1979, he was nominated for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance in Ballroom.
In television, Gardenia won the 1990 Emmy Award for his performance in Age-Old Friends, with Hume Cronyn. Among his best remembered TV roles is his portrayal of Archie Bunker's neighbor Frank Lorenzo on All in the Family (1973–74) and as J. Edgar Hoover in the miniseries Kennedy (1983). He also played in an episode of Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea titled "Escape From Venice."
In December 1992, Gardenia was in Philadelphia to perform in the stage production of the Tom Dulack comedy Breaking Legs. He was beginning a three-week run as restaurant owner Lou Garziano in the off-Broadway hit at the Forrest Theatre. It was a role he had performed since the show's New York opening in May 1991.
Around 1 a.m. on December 9, 1992, hours after the final preview performance, Gardenia had returned to his Philadelphia hotel after dining with stage director John Tillinger, producer Elliot Martin, and cast members. According to Martin, Gardenia showed no signs of illness, adding, "It was just a jolly evening." According to authorities, when Gardenia failed to appear the next morning for a radio interview to promote the play's run, press representative Irene Gandy and cast member Vince Viverito became alarmed. When they arrived at Gardenia's hotel room, there was no answer. The hotel sent an engineer who opened the door and Gardenia was discovered dead of a heart attack, dressed and clutching the telephone. He was 72.
That evening, in the theatrical tradition of "the show must go on" and just hours after Gardenia's death, the play's official opening took place. The company dedicated its opening performance to Gardenia's memory. Harry Guardino assumed Gardenia's role as the restaurant owner.
Gardenia is interred in Saint Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale, Long Island, New York, along with his parents Elisa (1901–1967) and Gennaro Gardenia Scognamiglio (1896–1965). Gardenia never married and was survived by his brother, Ralph. A section of 16th Avenue in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, where he resided until his death, bears the secondary name of Vincent Gardenia Boulevard in his honor.
|1945||The House on 92nd Street||German spy trainee||Uncredited|
|1958||Cop Hater||Danny Gimp|
|1960||Murder, Inc.||Lawyer Laslo|
|Mad Dog Coll||Dutch Schultz|
|1962||A View From the Bridge||Liperi|
|1965||The Third Day||Preston|
|Where's Poppa?||Coach Williams|
|1971||Little Murders||Mr. Newquist|
|Cold Turkey||Mayor Quincey L. Wappler|
|1972||Hickey & Boggs||Papadakis|
|1973||Bang the Drum Slowly||Dutch Schnell||Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor|
|Lucky Luciano||Colonel Charles Poletti|
|1974||Death Wish||Det. Frank Ochoa|
|The Front Page||Sheriff Pete Hartmann|
|1975||The Manchu Eagle Murder Caper Mystery||Big Daddy Jessup|
|La banca di Monate||Santino Paleari|
|1976||House of Pleasure for Women||Mr. Chips|
|The Big Racket||Pepe|
|Luna di miele in tre||Frankie, the journalist|
|1977||Fire Sale||Benny Fikus|
|Greased Lightning||Sheriff Cotton|
|1978||Heaven Can Wait||Det. Lt. Krim|
|Home Movies||Doctor Byrd|
|Goldie and the Boxer||Diamond|
|1980||The Dream Merchants||Peter Kessler|
|The Last Flight of Noah's Ark||Stoney|
|1982||Death Wish II||Det. Frank Ochoa|
|1983||Odd Squad||General Brigg|
|1985||Movers & Shakers||Saul Gritz|
|1986||Little Shop of Horrors||Mr. Mushnik|
|1987||Moonstruck||Cosmo Castorini||Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor|
|Cavalli si nasce||Il Principe|
|1989||Skin Deep||Barny the Barkeeper|
|1991||The Super||Big Lou Kritski||(final film role)|
|1954||Twelve Angry Men (Westinghouse Studio One)||Bailiff||Uncredited. Season 7, Episode 1.|
|1957||The Night America Trembled (Westinghouse Studio One)||Dick||Season 10, Episode 1.|
|1961||The Untouchables (TV series)||Jake Petrie|
|1965||The Big Valley||John Sample||Season 1, Episode 1 ("Palms of Glory")|
|1967||The Rat Patrol||Colonel Centis|
|Gunsmoke||Season 12, episode 24 (Noose of Gold)|
|Mission Impossible||Vito Lugana||Season 2, episodes 11 & 12 (The Council)|
|1972||The Rookies||Saul||Season 1, episode 8 (Dirge for Sunday)|
|1973–74||All in the Family||Frank Lorenzo|
|1977||The Mary Tyler Moore Show||Frank Coleman||Season 7, episode 24 (The Last Show)|
|1990||L.A. Law||Murray Melman||7 episodes|