Vito Scotti: Professional Italian

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Oggi è il compleanno del più eccellente attore caratterista Vito Scotti (Vito Scozzari, 1918-1996).

I know I say everyone is one of my favorite character actors, but Vito Scotti truly is!  Scotti specialized in playing comical Italians in movies and tv shows, but he also frequently could sub for most other nationalities: Mexican most frequently; Japanese most heinously. I think of his heyday as being the 1960s, and can immediately conjure in my mind his performances on shows like Gilligan’s Island, The Monkees, Get SmartThe Flying Nun and Columbo. 

Surprisingly, he was U.S. born (San Francisco) though raised in Naples, so he often did “American” as well, and infused most of his characters with a bit of humorous American attitude. His portrayals were of course based in comforting stereotypes; even his “Italian” was all about the excited emotions and the exaggerated gesticulation. His shorthand for accomplishing a character would be, oh, a chef hat, or a beret, or coke bottle glasses. That he was diminutive, had sort of merry twinkling eyes, and often a smart little mustache stacked the deck in his favor. Trained in commedia dell’arte, he got his start in nightclubs doing magic and pantomime, breaking into films in the late 1940s. His final performance was one of many things to love about the 1995 comedy noir film Get Shorty.

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Scotti was of course nearly always a supporting player; rarely did he have the chance to star in anything. But there were some opportunities. In the late 1940s and early 50s, he played the title character in the radio sit com Life with Luigi. 

For more on comedy history see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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