Al Molinaro: Che Naso Buffo!

TV Guide feature, 1970s

There’s not a huge amount to say about the late Al Molinaro (1919-2015) other than he was funny and universally beloved. He may have had the most epic beak in show business history, beating even Jimmy Durante, and he made loads of self-deprecating comedy about it. I seem to remember on one episode of The Odd Couple, he stuck it through the peephole of a door to announce who was knocking. He also had a really sweet quality, not unlike that of the Muppet Snuffleupagus. Come to think of it, they could have been relatives.

As for his actual relatives, Molinaro could have had a much easier time of it if he had just swum with the current. His father and brothers were bigwigs in local Wisconsin politics. His father, an immigrant from Calabria, was a leader in Kenosha’s Italian-American community. His brother Joseph became a D.A. and then a judge in Kenosha County; his brother George was a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly. Both brothers served in their posts for decades. Al probably could have gotten some plum government job if he wanted one, but apparently, he didn’t.

Instead, he went out to Hollywood, worked in various lines for many years, and finally made enough profit from a real estate deal such that he could retire his day job and take a proper stab at his long-time dream of becoming an actor. He met Penny Marshall in an improv class, and THAT is how he became a familiar figure to television lovers everywhere. First, he was cast as Murray the Cop on the TV version of The Odd Couple (1970-75) — sorry Herb Edelman! And then he was hired to replace the departing Pat Morita on Happy Days (1976-82), retaining his role as “Al” on Joanie Loves Chachi (1982-83). The casting was doubly fortuitous. Molinaro may have been the only person on the Milwaukee-set show with a genuine Wisconsin accent.

Oh, there were other credits, but this was really like 95% of it. He also had guest shots on Love American Style, Laverne and Shirley (in that gap between The Odd Couple and Happy Days), That Girl, Green Acres, Bewitched, The Love Boat, and Fantasy Island. He has small roles in the TV production of the musical It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…It’s Superman (1975), as well as Freaky Friday (1976), and the tv movie Mayday at 40,000 Feet (1976). Molinaro was also a regular on the short-lived sitcom The Family Man (1990-91) starring Gregory Harrison. In 1991, he starred in a sitcom pilot called (no word of a lie) The Ugily Family. It wasn’t picked up. He retired in the mid ’90s.