Abe Vigoda: 13 Things You Didn’t Know About ‘Godfather,’ ‘Barney Miller’ Actor

Before there was Tessio, before there was Fish, Abe Vigoda made his name on the stage.

In the 1950s and ‘60s, the actor who died Tuesday at 94 did everything from Shakespeare to musical comedies, from Broadway to Baltimore, from New Haven to San Francisco. His movie career took off after “The Godfather” in 1972, but he was still playing heavies on “Hawaii Five-0” and “The Rockford Files” after the first “Barney Miller” pilot aired in 1974.

Vigoda was such a fan favorite as “Barney Miller’s” Det. Fish that producers quickly ginned up a spinoff after the show’s first season. But behind the scenes, Vigoda and producers tussled publicly over money matters, a spat that played out in the pages of Variety like so many salary fights before and since.

Here are 13 things you didn’t know about Abe Vigoda:

  • Vigoda’s first appearance in Variety came in the April 26, 1950, weekly edition, which noted his upcoming guest shot on ABC’s “Buck Rogers” series.
  • Vigoda had a big month the following year when he logged back-to-back guest roles in May 1951 opposite Jimmy Durante and Ed Wynn on NBC’s “Four Star Revue.”
  • The actor played a tyrannical military captain in the 1960 Off Broadway production of “Dance of Death,” August Strindberg’s tale of turn-of-the-century Scandinavian marital discord. Variety declared Vigoda to have delivered “an effective portrait.”
  • Through the rest of the 1960s Vigoda did everything from Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare festival — “Richard II” and “The Tempest,” where his castmates included James Earl Jones — to way, way out-of-town productions of “Naughty Marietta” and “Wish You Were Here.”
  • After “Godfather” triumphed in 1972, Vigoda was back to Broadway in Carl Reiner’s staging of “Tough to Get Help,” co-starring with future “Good Times” patriarch John Amos.
  • Vigoda’s was a face destined to be in cop shows. In 1973, he went from filming Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation” to a supporting role in ABC’s back-door pilot/movie-of-the-week “Toma.” His co-stars included Nicholas Colasanto, future Coach of “Cheers.”
  • Vigoda finally made Army Archerd’s “Just For Variety” column in the Jan. 24, 1974, edition. The last line noted his casting as “a detective in the ‘Life and Times of Barney Miller’ pilot.”
  • The same year Vigoda did a guest shot on the 150th episode of the original “Hawaii Five-0” with future “Arrested Development” trouper Jessica Walter and Sam Elliott.
  • After the initial pilot for “The Life and Times of Capt. Barney Miller” crept on to ABC’s schedule in August 1974 and “Godfather II” proved another smash, Vigoda was still guesting as heavies on such TV dramas as “The Rockford Files” and “Cannon.”
  • Once the revised “Barney Miller” pilot (with slimmed-down title) made a big impression in January 1975, ABC sent Vigoda out on a four-city promotional tour.
  • By September of 1975, the pilot for spinoff “Fish and Bernice” was seen as the hottest property on ABC’s development slate.
  • A year later, there was strife in the 12th Precinct. “Barney Miller” producer 4D Productions filed suit against Vigoda when he didn’t show up for rehearsals. Showrunner Danny Arnold said Vigoda was demanding a salary hike that was far more than what the company could afford. Vigoda said he was only asking for a raise after his role expanded from the original concept. Vigoda told Variety he skipped work on the advice of his agent. “We’re asking for what we feel I’m entitled to,” he said, sounding just like Det. Fish.
  • The lawsuit was quickly tabled but tempers flared again the following year when Vigoda accused Arnold of shifting the filming schedule on “Fish” and “Barney Miller” to force him to drop out of the NBC miniseries “79 Park Avenue.” Based on the review of the six-hour Universal TV production in the fall of 1977 (“grade-B melodrama” and “pulpy trash”), Arnold may have done Vigoda a favor.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Masters of the Universe: Revelation

    Kevin Smith Announces Anime 'He-Man' Series for Netflix

    Kevin Smith surprised audiences at Sunday’s annual Power-Con convention by announcing a new anime “He-Man” series for Netflix. The new series, titled “Masters of the Universe: Revelation,” will take place in the Mattel toy inspired world and will focus on some of the unresolved storylines of the classic ‘80s show. Smith will serve as showrunner [...]

  • T.J. Dillashaw, right, kicks Cody Garbrandt

    Disney Plans UFC Broadcast for FX

    UFC matches will return to FX  – but not on a permanent basis. ESPN has been showing preliminary bouts to UFC pay-per-view events for the last while on ESPN and ESPN2, and then showing the main card on its ESPN+ subscription video service. In September, the early lineup will air on FX, which the UFC [...]

  • George RR Martin

    George R.R. Martin Says HBO's 'Game of Thrones' Ending Won't Influence Future Novels

    Geroge R.R. Martin is sticking to his original plan when it comes to the future of “Game of Thrones.” In an interview with The Observer, Martin claimed that HBO’s controversial ending for the series would have no affect on the endings of the last two novels. “No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t change anything at all,” [...]

  • Listen: 'Pennyworth' Producer Talks Delving into

    Listen: 'Pennyworth' Executive Producer Talks Delving into Alfred's Backstory

    Bruno Heller may have served as an executive producer on the Batman-inspired series “Gotham” for the past five years, but it’s actually real-life people (not superheroes) that intrigue the producer the most. It’s for that exact reason that Heller’s newest series finds him exploring the origin stories of Batman’s butler Alfred in the Epix drama [...]

  • "Trust Issues" - Dylan and Lizzie

    'Instinct' Canceled After Two Seasons

    CBS has canceled “Instinct” after two seasons. Series creator Michael Rauch announced the cancellation Friday on Twitter, writing, “I’m very sad to relay the news that @instinctcbs won’t be renewed for a 3rd season. We will double up this Sunday and our season/series finale will be Aug 25.” Rauch also thanked series stars Alan Cumming [...]

  • Maisel Day

    My Mostly OK Maisel Day (Column)

    When Amazon announced its first-ever Maisel Day, I was intrigued. For one day, Aug. 15, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” fans and Angelenos (fangelenos?) could hit up various restaurants, theaters and retailers throughout Los Angeles for special deals, all at 1959 prices. Among the gems: $2.50 makeovers, $0.99 pastrami sandwiches and $0.30 for a gallon of [...]

  • Nordisk Film & TV Fond Announces

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond Backs Joachim Trier, Ole Bornedal, Yellow Bird

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond has announced three features, two series and a documentary set to receive $1.4m in financing, as well as distribution, dubbing and cultural initiative support recipients. Doing so, it highlights some of the key titles moving forward in the Nordic region. Already backed by the Danish Film Institute’s largest ever grant [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content