Renie Riano (and the Four Rianos)

A post today about funny character actress Renie Riano (1899-1971), whose first name was sometimes rendered as Rene, Renee, or Reine. (It’s short for Irene and was pronounced “Reenie”). Riano was third generation show biz. Her maternal grandfather Joseph Rice managed a theatre in Philadelphia. Her mother, Irene Rice, married vaudeville acrobat Robert Riano and became part of the act The Four Rianos in the 1890s. The American Vaudeville Museum Collection at the University of Arizona has several clippings about the act, which toured American vaudeville and the music halls of Europe. Renie was born while the family was sojourning in London. As a child she performed with her mother in their own act, in which she was billed as “Baby Irene”. She was all of six years old when she made her Broadway debut in the Thompson-Dundy show A Society Circus (1906-06) at the New York Hippodrome.

Riano’s later Broadway shows included Honey Girl (1920), The Music Box Revue (1921) and The Greenwich Village Follies (1925). Lean and angular-faced, she began to get bit roles in Hollywood films in 1937, often playing tart-tongued store clerks, outspoken housemaids, and the like. Out of 100 screen credits her greatest fame came from playing Maggie in the Jiggs and Maggie comedies of the 1940s and ’50s. You can also see her in several of the Nancy Drew films, Dodge City (1939), The Women (1939), The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Li’l Abner (1940), Ziegfeld Girl (1941), and The Picture of Dorian Grey (1945). Starting in the ’50s she mostly did television work, on things like The Abbott and Costello Show and Mayberry R.F.D. In 1964 she was in Bikini Beach and Pajama Party. Jerry Lewis put her to work in The Family Jewels (1965) and Three on a Couch (1966). Her last credit was a 1971 Partridge Family episode.

To learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic film comedy, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.