Victor Buono

Active - 1962 - 1986  |   Born - Feb 3, 1938 in San Diego, California  |   Died - Jan 1, 1982   |   Genres - Comedy, Crime, Mystery, Thriller, Western

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While attending San Diego's St. Augustine High School, Victor Buono appeared in three plays a year - including the title role in Hamlet! After planning to attend medical school, Buono was rechannelled into an acting career, spending the summer of his 18th year at the municipal Globe Theatre in San Diego, then studying drama at Villanova University. He made his first network TV appearance at age 21, playing bearded poet "Bongo Benny" in an episode of 77 Sunset Strip; this led to 45 TV guest spots over the next three years, during which Buono would later claim he always played "Standard Bad Man 49-B. Buonogenerally played characters much older than himself, his expressive facial features and excess weight helping him pull off the deception. Robert Aldrich cast Buono as the third-rate songwriter who leeches off of faded child star Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962). Davis' was opposed to the casting, insisting that Buono was "grotesque," but after filming finished the actress went up to Buono and apologized for her earlier attitude; even more gratifying to Buono was his Oscar nomination for Baby Jane. Buono's greatest period of TV activity were the years between 1964 and 1970, when he was much in demand to play villains of various nationalities and ethnic origins on the many secret-agent programs of the period. As bad as Buono's bad guys were, he always played them with a rogueish twinkle in the eye just to let the audience know it was all in fun. His best remembered roles during the late 1960s were Count Manzeppi on the adventure series Wild Wild West, and King Tut on the weekly campfest Batman. Also during this period Buono began going the talk-show route, regaling audiences with his self-deprecating poetry, most of it centered on his avoirdupois ("I think that I shall never see / My feet"). These appearances led to nightclub and lecture dates, a popular comedy record album, and a slim volume of poems, It Could Be Verse. In the 1970s and 1980s, Buono's screen characters began to veer away from outright villainy; now he was most often seen as pompous intellectuals or shifty con men. That he could also play straight, and with compassion, was proven by Buono's appearance as President Taft in the TV miniseries Backstairs at the White House, wherein he delivered a poignant tribute to the late Mrs. Taft. Victor Buono was 43 when he died suddenly at his ranch home in Apple Valley, California.

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