Eduardo Ciannelli

Active - 1933 - 1969  |   Born - Aug 30, 1889   |   Died - Oct 8, 1969   |   Genres - Drama, Crime, Mystery, Adventure, Romance

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Italian-born actor Eduardo Ciannelli was mostly known for his sinister gangster roles, but he first rose to fame as an opera singer and musical comedy star! The son of a doctor who operated a health spa, Ciannelli was expected to follow his father's footsteps into the medical profession, and to that end studied at the University of Naples. Launching his career in grand opera as a baritone, Ciannelli came to the U.S. after World War I, where he was headlined in such Broadway productions as Rose Marie and Lady Billy. He switched to straight acting with the Theatre Guild in the late 1920s, co-starring with luminaries like the Lunts and Katherine Cornell. Cianelli's resemblance to racketeer Lucky Luciano led to his being cast as the eloquent but deadly gangster Trock Estrella in Maxwell Anderson's Winterset, the role that brought him to Hollywood on a permanent basis (after a couple of false starts) in 1936. He followed up the film version of Winterset with a Luciano-like role in the Bette Davis vehicle Marked Women (1937), then did his best to avoid being typed as a gangster. After inducing goosebumps in Gunga Din (1939) as the evil Indian cult leader ("Kill for the love of Kali!"), Ciannelli did an about-face as the lovable, effusive Italian speakeasy owner in Kitty Foyle (1940)--and was nominated for an Oscar in the process. During the war, the actor billed himself briefly as Edward Ciannelli, and in this "guise" brought a measure of dignity to his title role in the Republic serial The Mysterious Dr. Satan (1945). He returned to Italy in the 1950s to appear in European films and stage productions, occasionally popping up in Hollywood films as ageing Mafia bosses and self-made millionaires. In 1959, he was seen regularly as a nightclub owner on the TV detective series Johnny Staccato. Had he lived, Eduardo Ciannelli would have been ideal for the starring role in 1972's The Godfather, as he proved in a similar assignment in the 1968 Mafia drama The Brotherhood.

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