The Brooklyn-born actor Dom DeLuise, who died yesterday at the age of 75, was balding and roundish even in his early thirties, when he started getting roles in movies such as Fail-Safe (1964) and The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) and on such TV series as The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. If DeLuise's career had gone in a different direction, he might have gotten typecast as an urban sad sack, of the "I dunno, what do you want to do tonight, Marty?" variety, which would have been a tragic waste. It turned out that, in comic roles, DeLuise could create his own wild man's force field, capable of tearing into a part and investing it with its own glittering, beady-eyed insanity. A skillful actor yet also a burlesque madman, he was, at the peak of his career, both a modern performer and a throwback to the vaudeville-trained character comics of early talkies. And he had an uncanny gift for taking over a scene and making it all his without coming across as pushy or oppressive. He was so wildly likable that, when Anne Bancroft cast him as the lead in her 1980 directorial debut Fatso, more than one heartless movie critic began his review by writing that he sure hoped that Dom was okay with that title.
DeLuise had two major patrons and collaborators, if that's not too grand a term for "guys he seemed to like getting paid to hang out with on the set." He first worked with Mel Brooks--Bancroft's husband--in 1970, when Brooks cast him as the villain in his period film The Twelve Chairs, playing a Russian Orthodox priest on the trail of a lost fortune in jewels. He subsequently appeared in Blazing Saddles (1974), Silent Movie (1976), History of the World--Part One (1981) (as Nero), Spaceballs (1987) (as the voice of Pizza the Hut), and Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993). He also played a villainous opera singer in The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975), a Brooks imitation directed by fellow Brooks regular Gene Wilder. (He also appeared in two other comedies directed by Wilder, The World's Greatest Lover (1977) and Haunted Honeymoon (1986), where he was cast in drag.) His other great association was with Burt Reynolds, who had contributed a cameo to Silent Movie. Reynolds then cast him in a black comedy he directed, The End (1978), in which the director-star seemed no worse than pleasantly bemused by the sight of DeLuise heading over the next hill at top speed with Reynolds's movie tucked under his arm.
Reynolds and DeLuise also appeared together in Smokey and the Bandit II (1980), The Cannonball Run (1981), The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), Cannonball Run II (1984), the animated feature All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989), and countless TV shows, including an episode of Steven Spielberg's mid-80s anthology series Amazing Stories that Reynolds directed with DeLuise in the lead. DeLuise himself directed one movie, the 1979 crime comedy Hot Stuff, in which he starred; he used the occasion to provide the movie debuts of his three actor sons, David. Michael, and Peter DeLuise. (Their mother was the actress Carol Arthur, who was married to DeLuise from 1965 until his death.) DeLuise also directed a 1997 TV film, Boys Will Be Boys, and in later years turned up in movies and on TV (including a voice role as himself on Robot Chicken) when it seemed to amuse him to do so. A noted chef, he also wrote Italian cookbooks, as well as children's books.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Posted by Phil Dyess-Nugent at 5:08 AM