Vincent Gardenia (born Vincenzo Scognamiglio; January 7, 1920 - December 9, 1992) 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.
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 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. 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.Harry Guardino later assumed his 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, but he 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.
The House on 92nd Street
Twelve Angry Men (Westinghouse Studio One)
Uncredited. Season 7, Episode 1.
A View From the Bridge
The Rat Patrol
Season 12, episode 24 (Noose of Gold)
Season 2, episodes 11 & 12 (The Council)
Bang the Drum Slowly
Nominated--Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
All in the Family
Det. Frank Ochoa
The Front Page
Sheriff Pete Hartmann
The Big Racket
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Season 7, episode 24 (The Last Show)
Heaven Can Wait
Det. Lt. Krim
The Last Flight of Noah's Ark
Death Wish II
Det. Frank Ochoa
Movers & Shakers
Little Shop of Horrors
Nominated -- Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Barny the Barkeeper
Big Lou Kritski
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license