I flirted with not doing a post on Ron Carey (Ronald Joseph Cicenia, 1935-2007, figuring that my mention in my Barney Miller post about covered it, but, nah, there’s much more to talk about.
Originally from Newark, Carey graduated from Seton Hall, and then broke into stand-up in the ’60s, performing an act that focused on his relatively diminutive stature (5’4″ — actually not that short), and his Italian Catholic identity. By the mid ’60s he was getting TV spots on The Merv Griffin Show, The Steve Allen Comedy Hour, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Mike Douglas Show, et al. A record album, The Slightly Irreverent Comedy of Ron Carey, was released in 1967. He also got bit roles in films, like Neil Simon’s The Out of Towners (1970).
You may shocked to know that Carey was a regular on two sitcoms prior to Barney Miller: The Corner Bar (1973), which only aired six episodes, and The Montefuscos (1975), which only aired three. I am particularly interested in the latter show, which concerned a family of Italian Americans living in Connecticut.
1976 was Carey’s luckiest year. First, he got the supporting part of Levitt on Barney Miller. Initially, a walk-on supporting part, Carey became a big hit with audiences, and the role grew until he became a key part of the ensemble. carey brought everything he had to the part, and it showed. First, there was memorable physical business. Carey could get laughs on how he opened or closed a door, or entered a room. He had a way of rocking on his heels when he was feeling self-important, or of “casually” measuring his height against someone else’s, purely physical things, that provoked guffaws. In addition to this, he had an ongoing story arc that produced pathos. Levitt was a patrolman who wanted more than anything to become a detective, and he was constantly thwarted in the aim. The combination of the physicality and the underdog subplot, to my mind, merits comparisons to Chaplin, if only as an actor. He certainly rates the comparison more than Lou Costello, who’s mentioned in the same breath in the TV Guide article above. Which makes a nice segue to this:
That same year of 1976, Mel Brooks cast him in Silent Movie. For a number of years afterwards, Carey was a member of Brooks’ stock company, appearing also in High Anxiety (1978) and History of the World Part I (1981), as well as Fatso (1980), which was produced by Brooks, directed by his wife Anne Bancroft and starred Brooks’ regular Dom Deluise.
When Barney Miller went off the air in 1982 things slowed down for Carey. A part in Johnny Dangerously (1984) was his last high profile success. In 1983 starred as the title character in a sitcom called Johnny Garage that wasn’t picked up. In 1989 he starred as a priest in a sitcom called Have Faith that only aired seven episodes. In the ’90s he appeared in several spaghetti westerns with Terence Hill. His last feature was an Italian made comedy called The Good Bad Guy (1997), which also featured Deluise, fellow Brooks’ regular Rudy De Luca, Jessica Lundy, Jack Carter, and Ronnie Schell. He was only 71 when he died of a stroke a decade later.
For more on classic comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.