Richard Conte

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Richard Conte
Conte in the 1940s
Nicholas Peter Conte

(1910-03-24)March 24, 1910
DiedApril 15, 1975(1975-04-15) (aged 65)
Resting placeWestwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery
Years active1939–1975
Ruth Storey
(m. 1943; div. 1962)

Shirlee Garner
(m. 1973)

Nicholas Peter Conte (March 24, 1910 – April 15, 1975), known professionally as Richard Conte, was an American actor.[1] He appeared in more than 100 films[2] from the 1940s through 1970s, including I'll Cry Tomorrow, Ocean's 11, and The Godfather.

Early life[edit]

Richard Conte was born Nicholas Peter Conte on March 24, 1910, in Jersey City, New Jersey, the son of Italian-Americans Julia (Fina), a seamstress, and Pasquale Conte, a barber.[3] He graduated from William L. Dickinson High School in Jersey City.[4]

Conte worked as a truck driver, messenger, shoe salesman, and singing waiter before starting his acting career. He was discovered by actors Elia Kazan and John Garfield during his job at a Connecticut resort, which led to Conte finding stage work.[citation needed]

He eventually earned a scholarship to study at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City,[5] where he became a standout actor.[citation needed]

Conte was a Republican who campaigned for Dwight Eisenhower during the 1952 presidential election.[6] He practiced Roman Catholicism.[7]



He made his film debut under the name Nicholas Conte in Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence (1939) at 20th Century Fox. He played Tony, a hobo who meets up with Joe (Glenn Ford who was also making his film debut) and Anita (Jean Rogers). The three of them make their way west hopping trains. They are later joined by Professor B (Raymond Walburn).

He made his Broadway debut in My Heart's in the Highlands (1939) for the Group Theatre. Also for the Group he was in Clifford Odets' Night Music (1940). He performed in the road company of Golden Boy.[8][9]

On Broadway he was in Heavenly Express (1941), and Walk Into My Parlor (1941). He was in a hit in Jason (1942) then was in The Family (1943).[10][11]

During World War II, Conte served in the United States Army, but was discharged because of eye trouble.[12]

20th Century Fox[edit]

In May 1943, Conte signed a long-term contract with 20th Century Fox, changing his name to Richard Conte. His first Fox film was Guadalcanal Diary (1943), where he was billed fourth.[13]

He followed it with another war drama, The Purple Heart (1944), directed by Lewis Milestone; he was billed second, beneath Dana Andrews.[14]

Conte had a smaller part in Captain Eddie (1945), a biopic about Eddie Rickenbacker, and played an Italian POW in A Bell for Adano (1945).

Conte had the star role in another war film for Milestone, A Walk in the Sun (1945), where he was teamed again with Andrews.


Fox promoted Conte to top billing with a film noir, The Spider (1945). Although a "B" film for the studio, it was successful enough to establish Conte in film noir.[15]

He had a good support role in Somewhere in the Night (1946) directed by Joseph Mankiewicz then supported James Cagney in a spy film, 13 Rue Madeleine (1946), directed by Henry Hathaway.

Conte was borrowed by Enterprise Productions for The Other Love (1947) with Barbara Stanwyck and David Niven. Back at Fox he had an excellent part in Hathaway's crime drama Call Northside 777 (1948), as the prisoner whose innocence is proved by James Stewart.[16]

Conte was teamed with Victor Mature in Cry of the City (1948). MGM borrowed him to support Wallace Beery in Big Jack (1949), Beery's final film, then he did another for Mankiewicz at Fox, House of Strangers (1949) with Edward G. Robinson, playing Max Monetti, a lawyer who defends his father (Robinson) against government charges of banking irregularities and goes to prison for jury tampering.

Conte was top billed in Thieves' Highway (1949), directed by Jules Dassin, and co-starred with Gene Tierney in Otto Preminger's classic film noir Whirlpool (1950).[17]


Conte signed a contract with Universal Pictures, for whom he starred in some crime films: The Sleeping City (1950); Hollywood Story (1951), directed by William Castle; and The Raging Tide (1951).[18]

After doing a boxing film for United Artists, The Fighter (1952), he returned to Universal for The Raiders (1952).

Conte went to Warner Bros to co-star with Anne Baxter and Ann Sothern in The Blue Gardenia (1953) directed by Fritz Lang. Back at Universal Conte supported Alan Ladd in Desert Legion (1953). He made Slaves of Babylon (1953) for Sam Katzman at Columbia. Conte started guest starring on TV shows such as Medallion Theatre, Ford Television Theatre, and General Electric Theater.

Bill Broidy[edit]

In 1953 Conte signed a contract with Bill Broidy to make six films over three years, under which he would be paid 25% of the profits.[19][20] The first was a crime drama, Highway Dragnet (1954), based on a story by Roger Corman and went to England to make Mask of Dust (1954) for Hammer Films director Terence Fisher. He was going to direct The Wolf Pack for Broidy but it was not made.[21]

Back in the US Conte did The Big Combo (1955) for Cornel Wilde's own company, replacing Jack Palance;[22] New York Confidential (1955) for producer Edward Small; and The Big Tip Off (1955) for Broidy.

Conte went back to England for Little Red Monkey (1955) and over to RKO for Bengazi (1955) and Warners for a Korean War movie Target Zero (1955).

Conte broke out of B movies with the second lead in I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955), an MGM biopic about Lillian Roth starring Susan Hayward. Conte and director Daniel Mann announced they would make Play by Play together but it was not made.[23]


Conte made a series of films for Columbia. He was co-starred with Judy Holliday in Full of Life (1956); played the lead in The Brothers Rico (1957); supported Anthony Perkins and Silvana Mangano in This Angry Age (1957); was one of several names in They Came to Cordura (1959).


He continued to guest on TV shows like The 20th Century-Fox Hour and The Twilight Zone ("Perchance to Dream") and played the lead in a TV adaptation of The Gambler, the Nun and the Radio (1960). He had his first regular TV role in The Four Just Men (1959–60).[24]

Conte supported Frank Sinatra in Ocean's 11 (1961) but then focused on TV: Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Bus Stop, Naked City, Checkmate, Frontier Circus, The DuPont Show of the Week, The Untouchables, Alcoa Premiere, Going My Way, Kraft Mystery Theater, 77 Sunset Strip, The Reporter, Kraft Suspense Theatre and Arrest and Trial.[9]

He had a support role in Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed? (1963), Circus World (1964) and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) (playing Barabbas) and the lead in The Eyes of Annie Jones (1964) for Robert L. Lippert. After Synanon (1965) he had the lead in Stay Tuned for Terror (1965), shot in Argentina.

Conte supported Frank Sinatra in Assault on a Queen (1966) and was one of several stars in Hotel (1967). In 1966, Conte landed a supporting role in the short-lived CBS sitcom, The Jean Arthur Show.[25]

He appeared as Lieutenant Dave Santini in two Frank Sinatra crime films, Tony Rome (1967) and Lady in Cement (1968). In between he did a Western in Europe, Sentenza di morte (1968).

In 1968 he released his only film as a director, Operation Cross Eagles, in which he also starred.

Conte's later performances include The Bold Ones: The Lawyers, The Challengers (1970), and The Name of the Game (1970).

The Godfather[edit]

Conte in 1974

Conte had one of his most memorable performances in The Godfather (1972) as Don Barzini. He was at one time also considered for the title role, Don Vito Corleone, a role that Marlon Brando eventually filled.

The success of the film led to Conte being cast in a series of "mob" roles: Murder Inferno (1973), The Big Family (1973), Pete, Pearl & the Pole (1973), My Brother Anastasia (1973), The Violent Professionals (1973), No Way Out (1973) with Alain Delon, Anna, quel particolare piacere (1973), Shoot First, Die Later (1974) and Violent Rome (1975). He did horror films, Evil Eye (1975), A Diary of a Murderess (1975) and Naked Exorcism (1975).


Conte was married to actress Ruth Storey,[5] with whom he adopted a son,[26] film editor Mark Conte. In 1950, Conte and Storey were living at 1366 San Ysidro Drive in Beverly Hills.[27] They divorced in 1963.[5] He married his second wife, Shirlee Garner, in 1973; they remained married until Conte's death. His grandson is National Football League free safety Chris Conte. Chris is the son of Mark Conte.[citation needed]


On April 3, 1975, Conte suffered a massive heart attack and a stroke. He was taken to UCLA Medical Center where the staff worked for eight hours to keep him alive. He was put in intensive care and died on April 15.[2] He is buried in the Westwood Memorial Park[28] in Los Angeles.[29]


Year Group Award Result Film/Show
1960 Golden Laurel Top Action Performance Nominated They Came to Cordura (1959)

Selected filmography[edit]

Radio appearances[edit]

Year Program Episode/source
1946 Reader's Digest Radio Edition Our Lady's Juggler[31]
1946 Suspense "Win, Place and Murder"[32]
1953 Hollywood Star Playhouse Blackout[33]


  1. ^ Obituary Variety, April 23, 1975.
  2. ^ a b "Another Star dies". Wellsville Daily Reporter. April 16, 1975. p. 1. Retrieved June 10, 2015 – via open access
  3. ^ Inc, Marquis Who's Who (September 26, 1976). Who was who in America. Marquis-Who's Who. ISBN 9780837902074 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ Stevenson, L.L. (January 30, 1951). "Lights of New York". Valley Morning Star. p. 4. Retrieved June 10, 2015 – via open access
  5. ^ a b c "Conte made film debut in '43". The Kerrville Times. June 2, 1991. p. 47. Retrieved June 10, 2015 – via open access
  6. ^ Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 34, Ideal Publishers
  7. ^ Morning News, January 10, 1948, Who Was Who in America (Vol. 2)
  8. ^ "Richard Conte, actor, dies at 65". Chicago Tribune. April 16, 1975. p. a9.
  9. ^ a b Mayer, Geoff; McDonnell, Brian (2007). Encyclopedia of Film Noir. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. 136–137. ISBN 978-0-313-33306-4. Retrieved June 10, 2015.
  10. ^ "The Life Story of Richard Conte". Picture Show. Vol. 53, no. 1388. London. November 5, 1949. p. 12.
  11. ^ Schallert, Edwin (May 19, 1943). "Drama and Film: 'Johnny Zero' Number Inspires War Feature Richard Conte of Stage to Make Screen Debut in 20th's 'Guadalcanal Diary'". Los Angeles Times. p. 22.
  12. ^ "Looks Like 'North Star' Hit for Goldwyn". The Salt Lake Tribune. May 24, 1943. p. 6. Retrieved June 10, 2015 – via open access
  13. ^ "Screen News Here and in Hollywood: Warners to Star Ann Sheridan in 'Handbook for Jealousy'". The New York Times. May 15, 1943. p. 13.
  14. ^ Jones, Jack (April 16, 1975). "Richard Conte, Cold-Eyed Movie Gangster, Dies at 61". Los Angeles Times. p. 8a.
  15. ^ "Screen News: Richard Conte and Carole Landis to Be Featured". The New York Times. May 24, 1945. p. 16.
  16. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (August 30, 1947). "Drama and Film: Stewart, Richard Conte to Call 'Northside 777'". Los Angeles Times. p. A5.
  17. ^ Henry, Diane (April 16, 1975). "Richard Conte, Actor, 59, Dies; Played Gangster and Hero Roles: Seen in '13 Rue Madeleine,' 'Northside,' 'Guadalcanal Dairy' and 'Oceans 11'". The New York Times. p. 41.
  18. ^ Pryor, Thomas M. (January 12, 1952). "Universal to Star Conte in Western: Actor Will Require Tutelage in Horsemanship Before He Appears in 'Riding Kid'". The New York Times. p. 10.
  19. ^ "Hecht-Lancaster to Film 'Way West'". The New York Times. October 24, 1953. p. 12.
  20. ^ Hopper, Hedda (October 26, 1953). "Looking at Hollywood: Richard Conte to Make Six Films in Next Three Years". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. d8.
  21. ^ Schallert, Edwin (January 31, 1954). "Directors' Guild and Press Group Honor Zinnemann". Los Angeles Times. p. D4.
  22. ^ "PALANCE LEAVES 'BIG COMBO' FILM: Richard Conte Will Replace Actor in Co-Starring Role". The New York Times. September 1, 1954. p. 32.
  23. ^ Schallert, Edwin. "Drama: Richard Conte to Star in 'Play by Play;' Mason TV Show Slated as Film". Los Angeles Times October 5, 1955. p. B9.
  24. ^ Alpert, Don (February 14, 1960). "Based on Dynamics: Conte Has Own Method Who, Conte Worried About Acting Method? He Has Own". Los Angeles Times. p. G1.
  25. ^ "The Jean Arthur Show". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved January 26, 2009.
  26. ^ "Actor Richard Conte Dies Of Heart Attack". Valley Morning Star. April 16, 1975. p. 9. Retrieved June 10, 2015 – via open access
  27. ^ "Search | 1950 Census".
  28. ^ "Actor Richard Conte Dies". Cumberland Evening Times. April 16, 1975. p. 1. Retrieved June 10, 2015 – via open access
  29. ^ "Richard Conte Dies at 59 of Heart Attack". Los Angeles Times. April 15, 1975. p. 1.
  30. ^ Paul, Louis (2010). "Italian Horror Film Directors". McFarland & Co., Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-6113-4. Page 339.
  31. ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 39 (1): 32–41. Winter 2013.
  32. ^ "Suspense - Win, Place and Murder". Escape and Suspense!.
  33. ^ Kirby, Walter (January 18, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 40. Retrieved June 20, 2015 – via open access

External links[edit]