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Tony Lo Bianco, actor who played tough guys and famous mayor, dies at 87

Tony Lo Bianco, actor who played tough guys and famous mayor, dies at 87
Tony Lo Bianco, actor who played tough guys and famous mayor, dies at 87

 


Tony Lo Bianco, a New York taxi driver's son who brought a gritty realism to his portrayal of cops, boxers and all manner of tough guys, including playing a gangster in The French Connection and portraying one of most irascible mayors of his hometown, Fiorello La Guardia. , in a one-man show that he performed around the world, died June 11 at his horse farm in Poolesville, Maryland. He was 87 years old.

He suffered from prostate cancer, said his wife, Alyse Lo Bianco.

A Golden Gloves veteran who grew up near the Brooklyn waterfront, Mr. Lo Bianco was attending vocational school, daydreaming during classes, when one of his teachers encouraged him to enter a declamation contest. He won and subsequently launched a six-decade acting career during which he appeared in Broadway plays and more than 100 films and television shows, usually in macho roles where he flashed a smile taunting with a gun while operating from the wrong side. of the law.

For his breakthrough role in the acclaimed crime film The Honeymoon Killers (1970), he oozed what New York Times reporter William Grimes described as a thrilling, disgusting smarminess, adopting a Spanish accent to play a con artist who targets single women while going on a murderous rampage with his partner (Shirley Stoler).

The following year, he appeared on The French Connection as Sal Boca, who uses his Brooklyn restaurant as a front while helping a criminal syndicate smuggle heroin from overseas. Starring Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider as two morally questionable police detectives, the modestly budgeted film became an unexpected sensation, winning five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for William Friedkin.

The French Connection was my second film, Mr. Lo Bianco told the website. Pop Entertainment, exaggerating slightly. (He had small roles in a few previous films.) I was always lucky to find work. I was lucky to be from Brooklyn and to have an environment that made me understand the human condition. In fact, this is the story of my life: watching, learning and benefiting from history.

Mr. Lo Bianco continued to play crime figures in films including The Seven-Ups (1973), which reunited him with Scheider; FIST (1978), with Sylvester Stallone; City Heat (1984), with Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds; and Nixon (1995), as a gangster who knows the titular president (Anthony Hopkins).

He found a wider range of roles on the New York stage, winning an Obie Award in 1976 for his role in Jonathan Reynolds' one-act comedy, Yanks 3 Detroit 0 Top of the Seventh, as a aging big league pitcher attempting a comeback.

The play, directed by Alan Arkin and running for months at the American Place Theater, allowed the burly 5-foot-10 Mr. Lo Bianco to show off some of his athletic abilities. He had been a star first baseman in high school, earning a tryout with the Dodgers at a time when the franchise was still based in Brooklyn (according to the temperature(he had a nosebleed the moment he took the field) and continued to play ball for years, sometimes turning down acting roles that interfered with his Central Park softball games.

While the play was in rehearsal, he threw a perfect softball game with his left hand. He threw with his opposite hand on stage, noting that the character was supposed to be right-handed. I like the idea of ​​staying true to the script, he explained.

Mr. Lo Bianco got his start in theater, making his Broadway debut in 1964 with a small role in Arthur Miller's war drama Incident at Vichy. The following year, he was offered a supporting role in an off-Broadway revival of Miller's A View From the Bridge. He turned it down and missed the production, he said, after saying he should play the lead role, a role that earned him a Tony nomination nearly two decades later when he performed on Broadway in 1983.

Reviewing the production for The Times, theater critic Frank Rich had reservations about the play but was overwhelmed by Mr. Lo Bianco's performance as Eddie Carbone, a Brooklyn longshoreman with a destructive love for his 17 year old niece. Volatile one moment, totally withdrawn the next, the actor travels in a cloud of impenetrable turbulence which visibly shakes everything around him, Rich wrote.

The production was shaped in part by Mr. Lo Bianco's memories of his childhood in Brooklyn, until linoleum pattern he recommended for the whole.

Growing up in this neighborhood, it must be in your blood, he said. You know a lot of things people do and how they think and act.

The second of three sons, Anthony LoBianco (he later added a space to his last name) was born in Brooklyn on October 19, 1936. His grandparents had emigrated from Sicily and his mother looked after the house while his father worked as a servant. taxi driver.

Mr. Lo Bianco studied at the Dramatic Workshop, a theater school in New York, and in 1963 he co-founded the Triangle Theater, where he produced and staged plays at the Church of the Holy Trinity in the Upper East Side.

Soon after, he was also appearing on television. Mr. Lo Bianco starred in the NBC detective series Police Story (he also directed a few episodes), played a Roman officer in Franco Zeffirellis' all-star miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (1977), and based on his teenage boxing experience to play Rocky Marciano, the undefeated heavyweight champion, in the TV movie Marciano (1979).

His first two marriages, to Dora Landey and Elizabeth Natwick, ended in divorce. In 2015, he married Alyse Best Muldoon, a writer and health consultant.

Besides his third wife, survivors include two daughters from his first marriage, Yummy Helmes and Nina Landey; two stepchildren, Tristan Hamilton and Lanah Fitzgerald; a brother; and 10 grandchildren. Another daughter from his first marriage, Anna Avila, died in 2006.

Mr. Lo Bianco has remained a prolific film actor, appearing in films including Bloodbrothers (1978) and, more recently, Somewhere in Queens (2022), in which he plays Ray Romano's father. But toward the end of his career, he was perhaps most closely associated with a stage role, that of La Guardia, the firebrand mayor who ruled New York for three terms from 1934 to late 1945.

Mr. Lo Bianco, who acquired his character by gaining weight and raising the pitch of his voice, first played La Guardia in a one-man show, Paul Shyres Hizzoner!, presented in Albany, New York, in 1984 and on Broadway. during two difficult weeks in 1989. (Mr. Lo Bianco had to move on stage after breaking his foot during previews. He reportedly slipped too fast on a fire hydrant during a scene that reflected the mayor's undying love for firefighters.)

The play, which imagined La Guardias on his last day in office, was extensively reworked by Mr. Lo Bianco, who wrote and directed a later version called The Little Flower. He took the show on the road, performing at universities and community colleges as well as cities in Russia and Italy, and stored parts of the whole at home, sometimes keeping the desk and vintage telephone in the living room of his Manhattan apartment.

Interviewed by the Times in 2015he called the show a way to express my concerns about the public and the political mess that we find ourselves in, that we continue to find ourselves in, I think, and to try to connect the answers to the failure.

The beautiful thing is that it appeals to both sides of the aisle, he added. Democrats and Republicans both think I'm talking to them.

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