Vincent Gardenia

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Vincent Gardenia
Vincent Gardenia at 1988 Academy Awards.JPG
Gardenia at the 1988 Academy Awards
Born Vincenzo Scognamiglio
(1920-01-07)January 7, 1920[1]
Naples, Italy
Died December 9, 1992(1992-12-09) (aged 72)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Years active 1945–1991

Vincent Gardenia (born Vincenzo Scognamiglio; January 7, 1920 – December 9, 1992)[1] was an Italian-American stage, film, and television actor. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor two times for Bang the Drum Slowly (1973) and Moonstruck (1987). He also portrayed Det. Frank Ochoa in Death Wish (1974) and its 1982 sequel and Mr. Mushnik in the 1986 musical film version of Little Shop of Horrors.

Early life[edit]

Gardenia was born Vincenzo Scognamiglio in Naples, Italy,[2] the son of Elisa (Ausiello) and Gennaro Gardenia Scognamiglio.[3] When he was two years old, the family immigrated to the United States and settled in Brooklyn, New York City, New York.[2]

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,[2] 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.[4]


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.[2] He described his role in the film Little Murders as a "turning point".[2] He won Obie Awards in 1960 and 1969.[2]

A life member of The Actors Studio,[5] 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 film, he was twice nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performances in Bang the Drum Slowly and Moonstruck.

In television, Gardenia won the 1990 Emmy Award for his performance in Age-Old Friends, with Hume Cronyn.[6] 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).


In December 1992, Gardenia was in Philadelphia to perform in the stage production of the Tom Dulack comedy Breaking Legs. He was to begin a three-week run in the off Broadway hit at the Forrest Theatre. Gardenia had performed the role of restauranteur Lou Garziano since the show’s New York opening in May 1991.

Around 1 am on December 9, 1992, just hours after the preview, Gardenia had returned to his Philadelphia hotel after dining with stage director John Tillinger, producer Elliot Martin, and the play's cast after the performance. According to Martin, Gardenia showed no signs of illness, adding, "It was just a jolly evening." According to authorities, when Gardenia failed to appear for a radio interview to promote the play's run, press representative Irene Gandy and a fellow cast member, Vince Viverito, became alarmed. When they arrived at Gardenia's hotel, and there was no answer. They contacted the maintenance department, who opened his hotel room, where they found him dead of a heart attack, dressed and clutching a telephone. He was 72.

In the theatrical tradition of "the show must go on", hours after the sad discovery, the play's official opening occurred that evening. The company dedicated its opening performance to Gardenia's memory.[7] Harry Guardino later assumed his role as the restaurant owner.[8]

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, but he was survived by his brother, Ralph.[4][9]

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.


Year Film Role Notes
1945 The House on 92nd Street spy trainee
1954 Twelve Angry Men (Westinghouse Studio One) Baillif Uncredited. Season 7, Episode 1.
1958 Cop Hater Danny Gimp
1962 A View From the Bridge Liperi
1960 Murder, Inc. Lawyer Laslo
1961 The Hustler Bartender
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)
1971 Little Murders Mr. Newquist
Cold Turkey Mayor Wappler
1973 Bang the Drum Slowly Dutch Schnell Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1973–74 All in the Family Frank Lorenzo
1974 Death Wish Det. Frank Ochoa
1974 The Front Page Sheriff Pete Hartmann
1976 The Big Racket Pepe
1977 Fire Sale Benny Fikus
1977 The Mary Tyler Moore Show Frank Coleman Season 7, episode 24 (The Last Show)
1977 Greased Lightning Sheriff Cotton
1978 Heaven Can Wait Det. Lt. Krim
1980 Home Movies Doctor Byrd
The Last Flight of Noah's Ark Stoney
1981 Odd Squad General Brigg
1982 Death Wish II Det. Frank Ochoa
1986 Movers & Shakers Saul Gritz
Little Shop of Horrors Mr. Mushnik
1987 Moonstruck Cosmo Castorini Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1989 Skin Deep Barny the Barkeeper
1991 The Super Big Lou Kritski

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Vincent Gardenia". All Movie Guide. Retrieved June 22, 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Murphy, Mary (January 16, 1974). "Vince Gardenia and the Actor as Coach". Los Angeles Times ( p. E1. 
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ a b Grimes, William (December 10, 1992). "Vincent Gardenia, Character Actor, Is Dead at 71". The New York Times ( Retrieved December 28, 2012. 
  5. ^ Garfield, David (April 1984). "Appendix: Life Members of The Actors Studio as of January 1980". A Player's Place: The Story of The Actors Studio. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. p. 278. ISBN 978-0020123101. 
  6. ^ Folkart, Burt A. (December 10, 1992). "Vincent Gardenia; Actor Won Tony, Emmy Awards". Los Angeles Times ( Retrieved December 28, 2012. 
  7. ^ Bykofsky, Stu; Nelson, Nels; Daughen, Joseph R. "'Breaking Legs' Cast Pays Tribute To Star Dedicates Opener To Vince Gardenia Who Died In Hotel". Philadelphia Daily News ( Retrieved December 28, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Guardino replaces Gardenia in play". The Baltimore Sun ( January 20, 1993. Retrieved December 28, 2012. 
  9. ^ Rousuck, J. Wynn (December 10, 1992). "Vincent Gardenia's final role indulged actor's twin passions APPRECIATION". The Baltimore Sun ( Retrieved December 28, 2012. 

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