Tom Pedi

Active - 1942 - 1987  |   Born - Sep 14, 1913   |   Died - Dec 29, 1996   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Mystery

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Biography by AllMovie

Rotund, rough-hewn character actor Tom Pedi enjoyed a 50-year career that took him from touring shows in the late '30s into the original productions of some of the most renowned plays of the 1940s and '50s, and, finally, into top sitcoms and feature films in the 1970s. Born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1913, he was bitten by the acting bug at age five, when he played an angel in a Passion play. His older brothers were involved in local theatrical productions within the Italian community, and he spent a lot of his time with them, soaking up what he could as a boy. After completing high school, in the depths of the Great Depression, Pedi worked at various jobs while trying to break into professional theater. His first role came during the late '30s, in the touring company of Pins and Needles, impersonating Mussolini, a role to which he was so well-suited physically that one Canadian critic remarked that he could have sworn the Italian fascist leader was actually present. Pedi's professional career's start coincided with the gradual end of the Great Depression, at a point when theater was energized by a great many leftist political sensibilities -- he had the good luck early on to cross paths with performers and creative figures whose influence would be lost during the Red Scare of the subsequent decade.

Pedi made his New York stage debut in 1941 portraying The Dasher (a businessman) in the play Brooklyn USA, co-authored by John Bright and co-produced by Lionel Stander, both future blacklistees; that cast also featured a young Sidney Lumet in an acting role. Pedi got to appear in one more production, Johnny Doodle (1942), and made his screen debut in the left-of-center film Native Land (1942) -- alongside future blacklistees Paul Robeson and Howard Da Silva, and authored by future blacklisted screenwriter Ben Maddow -- before the onset of the Second World War resulted in his being drafted. Pedi served in the infantry in North Africa, the invasions of Sicily and in the Salerno landings, and the invasion of Southern France, and was part of the army that crossed the Rhine into Germany, earning a string of decorations along the way. Following his discharge, he returned to New York, and over the next eight years worked in an enviable string of original productions, portraying Rocky Pioggi in The Iceman Cometh (1946-1947), Stanley in Death of a Salesman (1949-1950), and the dice-wielding Harry the Horse in Guys and Dolls (1950-1953). He got good notices for all of them, especially the last, and was well-established on the New York stage by then.

In between stage performances, Pedi had managed to resume his screen career, working in a handful of movies, including Jules Dassin's Naked City (1948), in which he played a detective; Frank Capra's State of the Union (1948), playing a barber; and Robert Siodmak's Criss Cross (1949), portraying a hood. Pedi's husky build and rough features made him equally suitable portraying cops or criminals, although he also worked in lighter fare such as the Deanna Durbin vehicle Up in Central Park and had a big role in the Bob Hope race-track comedy Sorrowful Jones. Pedi also had a co-starring role in a short-lived television series called Stage Door (1950), working with Louise Allbritton and Scott McKay. It was theater that kept him busy for most of the decade, however -- Pedi probably could have done more movies, but his separation from his wife and his desire to have custody of his son, Alex, for part of each week made it necessary for him to base his career in New York for most of the 1950s and '60s.

Pedi worked in such stage productions as New York's City Center revival of Kiss Me, Kate, starring Kitty Carlisle, in which he played one of the gangsters; Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge (1955-1956); and the comedy A Hole in the Head (1957), interspersed with occasional performances on anthology shows such as Chevrolet Tele-Theatre and Philco Television Playhouse. Pedi's performance in George Panetta's Comic Strip (1958), playing the rotund, lazy, comical Officer Hippo got some of the best notices in the play -- Walter Kerr of The New York Times called him "a winning slob" -- and when it was musicalized in 1962 as King of the Whole Damn World, he was back in the same role. While stage compatriots of his such as Michael Constantine and Peter Falk made the jump to series television and the big screen, Pedi was content to work the boards, in revivals of Guys and Dolls as well as new productions, even turning back to serious drama after 15 years of comedy, in Peter Weiss' The Investigation, which dealt with events at Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi concentration camp. He also squeezing in one appearance on The Defenders in the episode "The Sworn Twelve."

Pedi returned to series television in 1970 as a regular on Arnie, playing Julius, the best friend of blue-collar worker Arnold Nuvo (Herschel Bernardi) when the latter suddenly finds himself promoted to an executive job. He also appeared in episodes of Maude, The Odd Couple, and Kojak, and filmgoers of the mid-'70s got to know his rotund presence in several major feature films, most notably Joseph Sargent's The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), as Caz Dolowicz, the excitable, foul-mouthed Grand Central Tower chief; and as Fat Angie Polaterra in J. Lee Thompson's St. Ives (1976), starring Charles Bronson. He also reprised his role of Rocky Pioggi in the American Film Theater production The Iceman Cometh (1973), which is generally regarded as the highlight of that entire series of filmed plays. Pedi had a long-running professional relationship with playwright George Panetta, appearing in a string of his plays across ten years, including Comic Strip, Kiss Mama, and Mike Downstairs (1968). He continued to work in movies right to the end of the 1980s, and died in 1996 at age 83.

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