Vincent Gardenia

Vincent Gardenia

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 1945–1992

Vincent Gardenia (born Vincenzo Scognamiglio; January 7, 1920 – December 9, 1992)[1] 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's other notable feature films include Murder Inc. (1960), The Hustler (1961), The Front Page (1974), Greased Lightning (1977) and Heaven Can Wait (1978).

Early life

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 emigrated 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). 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.[7] Harry Guardino assumed Gardenia's 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 and 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 German spy trainee Uncredited
1958 Cop Hater Danny Gimp
1960 Murder, Inc. Lawyer Laslo
1961 Parrish Bit part Uncredited
Mad Dog Coll Dutch Schultz
The Hustler Bartender
1962 A View From the Bridge Liperi
1965 The Third Day Preston
1970 Jenny Mr. Marsh
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
1979 Firepower Frank Hull
Home Movies Doctor Byrd
Sensitività Old painter
Goldie and the Boxer Diamond
That's Life
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
1988 Cheeeese Bonjour
Cavalli si nasce Il Principe
1989 Skin Deep Barny the Barkeeper
1991 The Super Big Lou Kritski (Last appearance)


Year Film Role Notes
1954 Twelve Angry Men (Westinghouse Studio One) Bailiff Uncredited. Season 7, Episode 1.
1961 The Untouchables (TV series) Jake Petrie
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


  1. 1 2 "Vincent Gardenia". All Movie Guide. Retrieved June 22, 2009.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Murphy, Mary (January 16, 1974). "Vince Gardenia and the Actor as Coach". Los Angeles Times. p. E1.
  3. "Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television". Retrieved June 29, 2015.
  4. 1 2 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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