Abe Vigoda


     Long-faced, rather ashen-looking, instantly recognizable character player, who after a long apprenticeship, has carved a modest, beloved niche in the annals of popular culture with a series of dour, often comically gloomy roles. Vigoda served as straight man for Jimmy Durante and Ed Wynn on TV's "All Star Revue" in the early 1950s, but for many years was busiest on the stage, both in New York and on tour. His extensive stage credits have ranged from "Marat/Sade" to "Richard II" (he played John of Gaunt for the New York Shakespeare Festival) to "Tough to Get Help", in which he played Abraham Lincoln.Middle age, though, brought Vigoda the most success, as his typically slow, soft-spoken delivery and his beautifully drooped features made him ideal
for both saturnine villains and amusing sad sacks. His nasty Mafia boss Tessio in Francis Ford Coppola's landmark "The Godfather" (1972) and "The Godfather, Part II" (1974) really launched a feature film career. TV, though, brought Vigoda his greatest fame when he created his most indelible role, that of the aging, exhausted, cynical Sgt. Fish on the deliciously dry sitcom "Barney Miller". He only stayed with the show from 1975-77 (partly over ongoing salary and billing disputes), but his deadpan delivery briefly made him a TV star, as when one character remarked on Vigoda's remarkable resemblance to Boris Karloff, the nearly comatose Fish quipped, "That's because we're both dead."

     Vigoda even got his own spin-off series, "Fish" (1977-78), in which his retired police detective had to cope with an unruly group of problem schoolchildren. Vigoda, always looking older than his years, has subsequently kept busy in a wide range of features including "The Cheap Detective" (1978), "Look Who's Talking" (1989, as John Travolta's 100 year-old grandfather), and "Sugar Hill" (1994). TV-movies have included "How to Pick Up Girls!" (1978) and "The Dancer's Touch" (1989), and the forever vigorous stage actor was the perfect choice to recreate Karloff's 1940s stage role in a 1986 Broadway revival of "Arsenic and Old Lace".

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