For more than three decades Hollywood defaulted to a small core group of actors when it came to casting convincing mobsters, gamblers and racketeers. These often typecast individuals included Joseph Ruskin, Bruce Gordon, Neville Brand, Robert Loggia and…Anthony Caruso. Square-jawed, broad-shouldered and gravelly-voiced, Caruso provided a reliable source of menace and was amply utilised in films and in countless television episodes beginning in 1941.
The son of Italian-American parents, Caruso decided to forgo a career as an opera singer and instead took up acting with a stock company in Long Beach, California. A year later, in 1935, he joined the Pasadena Playhouse. He began in films as a bit player, commenting later that “MGM was the place to be, offering us extras a higher quality of lunch”. In his first film, Johnny Apollo (1940), he played a henchman named Joe and there were to be many more of these to come with names like Fingers, Dapper Dan Greco, Chips Malloy, Pinky Luiz and Lucky Grillo. These dastardly nemeses came in a variety of ethnic types, ranging from Italians, Mexicans and Latinos to Greeks and Russians. A close personal friend of the actor Alan Ladd, Caruso featured in eleven of the star’s films (the first as a hitman in Lucky Jordan (1942) ). In 1954, he became a member of Ladd’s newly formed stock company, Jaguar Films. Whenever Caruso was not gleefully portraying underworld figures (The Iron Mistress (1952) , Hell on Frisco Bay (1955), The Asphalt Jungle (1950)) he was effectively employed as Native American chiefs (Drum Beat (1954), Cattle Queen of Montana (1954), The Lawless Eighties (1957)). On television, he had a popular recurring role as the charming but lethal Comanchero El Lobo on The High Chaparral (1967). Even on a planet (far, far away) in the Star Trek: The Original Series (1966) universe, Caruso — as crime boss Bela Oxmyx — was up to his old tricks using James T. & company to eliminate a rival gang and assume control of the government.
In stark contrast to his screen image, Caruso was the consummate family man in private life, happily married for 63 years, and enjoying the simple pleasures of gardening and cooking.
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