Remembering Vito Scotti was born January 26, 1918 and passed away on June 5, 1996.
Vito G. Scotti was an American character actor, who played many roles, primarily from the late 1930s to the mid-1990s on Broadway, films and later television. He was known as a man of a thousand faces, for his ability to assume so many divergent roles in more than 200 screen appearances, in a career spanning 50 years. He was known for his resourceful portrayals of various ethnic types. Born of Italian heritage, he was seen playing everything from a Mexican bandit, to a Russian doctor, to a Japanese sailor.
Vito Giusto Scozzari was born in 1918 in San Francisco, California. His family spent the 1920s in Naples, Italy, where Scotti developed his gift for farce, modeled after the Commedia dell’arte, a symbolic style of the Italian theatre.
In 1925, after the Scotti family returned to the United States, his mother became a diva in New York City theatre circles. Scotti worked the night club circuit as a stand-up magician and pantomime. He made his debut on Broadway in Pinoccio, where he played a small role.
Scotti entered movies and television by the late 1940s. He made his film debut, playing an uncredited role as a Mexican youth in Illegal Entry (1949).
By 1953, Scotti replaced J. Carrol Naish as Luigi Basco, an Italian Immigrant who ran a Chicago antique store, on the television version of the radio show Life with Luigi. Five years later, he portrayed another ethnic character, Rama from India (among other characters) in the live-action segment “Gunga Ram” on the Andy Devine children’s show, Andy’s Gang. In the mid-1950s, Scotti played the antagonist against Froggy the Gremlin on Andy’s Gang. He was cast as French Duclos in the 1959 episode “Deadly Tintype” of the NBC western series, The Californians.
In 1963, Scotti was cast as the Italian farmer Vincenzo Perugia in the episode “The Tenth Mona Lisa” of the CBS anthology series, General Electric True, hosted by Jack Webb.
He also appeared in television series, such as How to Marry a Millionaire (as Jules in the 1958 episode “Loco and the Gambler”), The Rifleman, Rescue 8 (1959), State Trooper (1959), Sugarfoot (1959), The Texan (1959), Johnny Staccato (1960), The Twilight Zone (Mr. Bevis), (1960), Target: The Corruptors (1962), Stoney Burke (1963), The Wide Country (1963), Dr. Kildare (1963), Going My Way (1963), Breaking Point (1963), The Dick Van Dyke Show (1963), The Addams Family (1964–1965), Gunsmoke (1965–1970), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1965 and 1967), The Wild Wild West, Ironside, several episodes of Columbo, The Monkees, The Flying Nun, Get Smart, Hogan’s Heroes, as one of The Penguin’s henchmen in two episodes of Batman, two episodes of The Bionic Woman (1976), and two episodes of The Golden Girls (1988-1989). He played Geppetto in “Geppetto’s Workshop” in the 1980s.
Scotti was cast as a Mexican bandit in two one-hour episodes of Zorro entitled “El Bandido” and “Adios El Cuchillo” alongside Gilbert Roland. He played the mad scientist Dr. Boris Balinkoff (twice) and a Japanese sailor in different episodes of Gilligan’s Island, and an Italian restaurant owner in episode 35 of season one of Bewitched.
The actor appeared in hundreds of film and television roles, including the train engineer in Von Ryan’s Express, Nazorine in The Godfather (1972), as Vittorio in Chu Chu and the Philly Flash (1981), and most notably as the scene-stealing cook in How Sweet It Is! (1968). In the pivotal scene, Scotti grabs a flustered Debbie Reynolds and plants a kiss on her midriff.
Scotti had a minor role as an Italian Train Driver in Von Ryan’s Express (1965). He portrayed Colonel Enrico Ferrucci in The Secret War of Harry Frigg (1968). And later appeared in the Academy Award-winning comedy Cactus Flower (1969), as Señor Arturo Sánchez, who unsuccessfully tries to seduce Ingrid Bergman’s character.
He voiced the Italian Cat in the Walt Disney animated film The Aristocats, and appeared with Lindsay Wagner on her television special, Another Side of Me (1977).
His last screen performance was as the manager at Vesuvios in 1995 in the comedy, Get Shorty.
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