Al Ruscio, Character Actor and Acting Teacher, Dies at 89

Al Ruscio, Character Actor and Acting

Al Ruscio, a film, television and stage actor who was also a noted acting teacher and served on the board of directors of the Screen Actors Guild, died in his home on Nov. 12. He was 89.

Ruscio was already an accomplished actor by the time he arrived in Hollywood, soon after which he starred in “A View From the Bridge” at the Players Ring Theater. He also began to play major guest roles on series including “Bonanza,” “Mr. Lucky,” “The Untouchables” and “Playhouse 90,” and he appeared in the film “Al Capone” with Rod Steiger.

During this time, he was serving on SAG’s board of directors. He began touring in George Bernard Shaw’s “Don Juan in Hell,” playing the role of the Devil.

Ruscio’s career took a bit of a left turn at this point as he became actor-in-residence, chairman of the theater department and managing director of the Fine Arts Festival at Midwestern College, a new school just opening in Iowa. For five years he acted, directed, or produced some 25 plays there, including: “Darkness at Noon,” “The Lark,” “Caine Mutiny Court Martial,” “The Music Man,” “Of Mice and Men,” “Barefoot in the Park” and “The Seagull.”

He also acted in or directed a number of plays and taught acting classes at Canada’s University of Windsor and served as artistic director at the Academy of Dramatic Art, Oakland University’s professional acting school in Rochester, Mich. During this time he also appeared as an actor with Nick Adams in “Fever Heat.”

Then he returned to California and became a busy character actors, racking up hundreds of guest appearances as well as recurring roles on several television series. His TV credits include “The Rockford Files,” “One Day at a Time,” “Starsky & Hutch” and, in a recurring role as recovering alcoholic Carmine Rossi, “Lou Grant.”

His first series regular role as on “Shannon,” in which he played Kevin Dobson’s fisherman father-in-law. In the 1980s, he had a memorable role on “St. Elsewhere” as Rawley Moreland, an outspoken maintenance supervisor, and he played multiple roles on both “Barney Miller” and “Hill Street Blues.” He also made multiple appearances on “Night Court,” “Cagney & Lacey” and “Scarecrow & Mrs. King.”

From 1989-93, Al played the opera-loving grandfather on “Life Goes On.” The following year, he was a regular on “Joe’s Life.” In addition, he appeared in the pilot of “Seinfeld” as the restaurant manager, as well as on “Mad About You,” “The Wonder Years,” “ER” and “NYPD Blue.”

He was Elder Number Four on “The X-Files,” and he played the character Kosta Kanelos on soap opera “Port Charles.” Most recently, he appeared in the comedies “Malcolm & Eddie” and “Til Death.”

His film credits includes “The Godfather: Part III,” in which he played the ill-fated mobster Leo Cuneo; the notorious “Showgirls”; “Any Which Way You Can,” with with Clint Eastwood, “Romero,” with Raul Julia, and “Guilty by Suspicion,” with Robert De Niro.

Ruscio also appeared regularly on the Los Angeles legitimate stage. He played Mizlansky in “MizlanskyZalinsky,” Jon Robin Baitz’s first play, and won the LA Weekly Award for his performance. He played Bart Keely in “Geniuses” at the Coronet. He won Drama-Logue Awards for his performances in “They Knew What They Wanted” and “The Man in the Glass Booth.” He was standby for Jack Lemmon in “Tribute,” played Maurice in the world premiere of “The Geography of Luck” at South Coast Repertory Theater and Bernie Ludd in “The Soliloquy of Bernie Ludd” at the Actors Studio West.

Throughout this entire time, he also taught master classes in acting, beginning with his association with veteran acting teacher and fellow actor, the late Jeff Corey.

He and his his wife, the actress Kate Williamson, also conducted acting workshops specifically designed for animators.

Ruscio was also the author of “S0, THEREFORE…,” published this year by Rutledge in the U.K., as well as four books of poetry.

Ruscio was born in Salem, Mass., and began his theatrical career in earnest after serving in the Army Air Corps during WWII. While attending Staley College during the day, he acted with the New England Shakespeare Festival at night.

The following summer, he joined the North Shore Players where he played roles in “Dream Girl” with Lucille Ball and “Burlesque” with Bert Lahr. The summer after, he was playing leads opposite Martha Scott in “The Barretts of Wimpole Street” and Robert Alda in “The Male Animal.”

His senior year, he was selected by director Henry Hathaway to appear in the film “13 Rue Madeleine,” with James Cagney and Richard Conte. It was Conte who suggested that Al study in New York. After graduating from college, and armed with Conte’s recommendation, Ruscio studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse School for the Theater for two years with Sanford Meisner, David Pressman and Martha Graham.

He then began teaching a class called “Acting—The Professional Approach” at Brooklyn College. At that time, he also began to work in live television, appearing in episodes of “Kraft Theatre,” “Lux Video” and “Robert Montgomery Presents.” During the summers, he acted in summer stock in a variety of theaters in Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Pennsylvania.

In this early stage of his career, he toured with Kim Stanley in “The Country Girl,” with Steve McQueen in “A Hatful of Rain” and with Gertrude Berg in “Arsenic and Old Lace,” and he played Max Levene in the road company of “Heaven Can Wait.”

In addition to his wife, Ruscio is survived by three daughters, Elizabeth Ruscio, an actress and poet, set designer Nina Ruscio and Maria Ruscio; son Michael Ruscio, a director and editor; and five grandchildren.

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  1. Lynn mapoy says:

    Al Ruscio was a very warm hearted person, a loving husband to his wife kate Williamson and a loving father to his four children and grand children..I’ll always cherish the days working with him he will be missed and will always be in my heart…

  2. Jim says:

    A with a capital “A,” GREAT ACTOR!

  3. An Aspring Filmmaker says:

    I used to bag his groceries at a prominent grocery store in Encino. He was a true gentleman. He knew I was an aspiring filmmaker and told me in a brash east coast accent to “Never give up!” My dear mother passed 8 years ago on the same day ironically enough. So there will be two beautiful souls I will be remembering every November on the twelfth day. I can’t remember the last time I saw Al, I haven’t worked at the grocery store since last year, must’ve been sometime then but he was a stand up amazing guy and it was a pleasure to know him and I will never give up on my dream to be a filmmaker. To AL…have a peaceful journey my friend.

    • Frank W says:

      Yeah Filmaker, don’t give up. I got side-tracked by my job, but at the time making industrials for them, I didn’t see I was losing at what I really wanted to do.

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