Born on April 21, 1939 of French and Spanish heritage, the New York City born Reni Santoni (aka Reni Sands) started his career off in entertainment as a comedy writer. He moved in front of the camera in the early 60s and was performing episodic TV drama (“East Side/West Side,” “The Trials of O’Brien,” “Hawk”) when, out of the blue, director Carl Reiner thought enough of Santoni’s talents to cast the young actor, an unknown, in his semi-autobiography film Enter Laughing (1967).
In the make-or-break role of aspiring actor David Kolowitz, Santoni could have hit the jackpot to become a major movie star but unfortunately did not received stand-out reviews in the still-popular film and never became a name. He played another lead in the Canadian film A Great Big Thing (1968) as a follow-up but nothing came of it. Henceforth, Santoni would be spotted in the supporting capacity in a number of film parts.
Santoni offered potent, reliable secondary turns in film playing good guys, bad guys, serious guys and amusing guys alongside such top names as Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry (1971), Steve Martin in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), which was again directed by Carl Reiner, Sean Penn in Bad Boys (1983) Richard Pryor in Brewster’s Millions (1985), Sylvester Stallone in Cobra (1986) and Gene Hackman in The Package (1989), Howard Stern in Private Parts (1997), and, more recently, Sandra Bullock in 28 Days (2000) and Coolio in Gang Warz (2004). In contrast, he also broke into the voicover business and provided expert characterizations wherever needed.
His steady career employment, however, has been on the small screen. His 70s series work consisted of ably assisting such crimefighters as “Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law” and “Matt Houston. Decades later Santoni received great attention from newer generations of audiences in his occasionally hilarious recurring role as “Poppie” the unsanitary restaurateur on “Seinfeld.” More recently he has offered his vocal skills in Eddie Murphy’s Dr. Dolittle film series.
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