Leonardo Cimino dies at 94

Character actor played priests, mobsters

Character actor Leonardo Cimino, who brought his signature look — long, thin face and large nose — to a large number of small but evocative roles in film and television, often playing mobsters or men of the church, died in Woodstock, N.Y., of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease on March 3. He was 94.

Cimino also had a long career on Broadway that began in the late 1940s and continued until 1985, when he played the supporting role of Hugo Kalmar in a production of Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh.”

Though he was largely a supporting player onstage, he won an Obie for his performance in a 1958 production of “The Brothers Karamazov” and drew acclaim for his portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh in “Vincent” in 1959 and his work in the lead role in Arthur Miller’s play “A Memory of Two Mondays” on Broadway in 1976. Also notable was his performance as Egeon in “The Comedy of Errors” in a 1975 Public Theater production in which he appeared with Ted Danson and Danny DeVito.

He also played a role, both literally and figuratively, in a key moment in stage history, appearing in the original, Orson Welles-directed 1937 stage production of Marc Blitzstein’s radical musical “The Crade Will Rock.” (Cimino cameo’d in Tim Robbins’ 1999 film “Cradle Will Rock,” about the making of, and furor surrounding, the tuner.)

Cimino made the most of small roles. He was a memorable presence as the Baron’s Doctor in David Lynch’s 1984 feature adaptation of “Dune,” for example, despite having little or no dialogue.

The actor was ultimately most well known for his film and TV work. His gaunt, almost haunted look lent itself to particular roles: He played a Holocaust survivor twice, in the 1985 sci-fi miniseries “V” and in 1987 horror comedy “The Monster Squad,” in which his character was simply known as “scary German guy.” He played a priest in the 1980 telepic “A Time for Miracles,” a cardinal in “Hudson Hawk” and “The Seventh Sign” and the Pope in the 1982 Christopher Reeve starrer “Monsignor.”

Cimino also appeared in Woody Allen’s “Stardust Memories” as Allen’s character’s analyst.

The actor had a small role in Jon Favreau’s comedic crime drama “Made” in 2001 and made his last screen appearance in Sidney Lumet’s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.” (He had earlier played a mob boss in the director’s “Q&A.”)

On television he recurred on ABC soap “Ryan’s Hope” as Alexei Vartova in 1981-82 and appeared on “One Life to Live.” More recently he appeared in a couple of episodes of “Law and Order.”

Born in Manhattan, Leonardo Anthony Cimino studied the violin at Juilliard and acting and directing at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater. He also studied modern dance at the latter and with Martha Graham.

Cimino served in the European theater during WWII, taking part in the Normandy invasion.

He made his Broadway debut in the ensemble of a 1946 production of “Cyrano de Bergerac” directed and starring Jose Ferrer, for whom Cimino would repeatedly work.

The actor had also appeared in “Volpone,” “The Alchemist,” “S. S. Glencairn,” “The Insect Comedy” and “The Liar” by 1950. The roles grew a bit bigger, but there were fewer of them, during the 1950s: parts in Ibsen’s “The Wild Duck” in 1952, “A Handful of Fire” in 1958 and “The Power and the Glory” in 1959. In 1962 he was one of the leads in an adaptation of E.M. Forster’s “A Passage to India.”

In the meantime the actor had begun working in television, guesting on “The Phil Silvers Show,” “Armstrong Circle Theatre,” “The DuPont Show of the Month” and “Route 66” and repeatedly appearing in various roles on “Naked City.”

He made his feature debut in the 1961 crime drama “Mad Dog Coll” and played a doctor for the first time in the 1964 comedy “The Confession,” starring Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland.

Even as he picked up more and more television work, Cimino returned repeatedly to Broadway, appearing in 1965 in “Diamond Orchid,” and in “Mike Downstairs” in 1968.

Cimino is survived by his wife, Sharon Powers.

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