Al Mancini: Actor in 'The Dirty Dozen'

Saturday 22 December 2007 01:00

Alfred Benito Mancini, actor: born Steubenville, Ohio 13 November 1932; married 1965 Denny Dayviss (marriage dissolved), 1973 Carlyn Clayton (marriage dissolved); died London, Ohio 12 November 2007.

His move from New York to the London stage with the satirical revue The Premise was the catalyst that brought Al Mancini the recognition that had eluded him in his homeland after a decade of acting. The television producer Ned Sherrin, who was planning That Was the Week That Was, the groundbreaking satirical BBC programme that stormed on to television screens in 1962, spotted Mancini in The Premise at the Comedy Theatre in the West End. As a result, Mancini joined TW3 as it came to be known which had David Frost as its host and a cast that included Willie Rushton, Kenneth Cope, Lance Percival, Roy Kinnear, the singers Millicent Martin and David Kernan, and the political commentator Bernard Levin.

The sharp wit provided in scripts by writers such as Christopher Booker, Bill Oddie, Keith Waterhouse, Willis Hall, Dennis Potter and the Labour MP-to-be Gerald Kaufman bit hard into the Establishment, with the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan then in its death throes, Britain's empire crumbling and the country awaking to the new dawn of the Swinging Sixties. The fresh-faced group of actors, mostly new to television, appeared both together as a team in sketches and individually in monologues. Mancini is best remembered for his solo effort as a vicar espousing, in reverential tones, the benefits of London's first Hilton hotel.

When the team did a tribute to John F. Kennedy following the American president's assassination, the whole programme was given over to it. For once, it was entirely serious and delivered with solemnity and sincerity, and the cast was subsequently flown to the United States to do it all over again in Madison Square Garden, New York.

After the abrupt departure of That Was the Week That Was at the end of 1963, when the BBC got cold feet with a general election looming, Mancini stayed on in Britain, taking character roles in many popular television series. But he became best known for the Second World War film The Dirty Dozen (1967), in which he played Tassos Bravos, one of two soldiers who die defending a crossroads from a German platoon in the climactic battle scene.

Directed by Robert Aldrich and based on the novel by E.M. Nathanson, with its subtle references to themes relevant at the time of the Vietnam War, the film told the story of 12 Americans all in prison or on death row being trained as commandos to mount an attack on German officers. They are promised pardons if they survive. Mancini appeared alongside big-name stars such as Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Telly Savalas and Charles Bronson.

Born in Steubenville, Ohio in 1932, to parents of Italian descent, Mancini was brought up across the state in London. His shoemaker father, Marino, acted in amateur theatre during his spare time. This hobby rubbed off on Al Mancini, who graduated in commercial art from Kent State University, Ohio, but decided he wanted to go on the stage professionally, having acted at school and college.

Moving to New York, he began to get work in the theatre, then started to land small roles on television, in programmes such as I, Don Quixote ("DuPont Show of the Month", 1959), before moving to Britain. Following TW3, Mancini appeared in several films, including the thrillers The Dirty Game (starring Henry Fonda and shot in Germany, 1965) and Madame Sin (with Bette Davis and Robert Wagner, 1972), and the comedy Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River (playing a Portuguese chauffeur, alongside Jerry Lewis and Terry-Thomas, 1967).

On television, he was in various plays, as well as episodes of the cult hit The Prisoner (as a radio announcer, 1967), Department S (1969), the producer Gerry Anderson's live-action, sci-fi series UFO (1970-71), The Protectors (1972) and Special Branch (1974). In several episodes of Colditz (1974), he played an American Officer, Captain Harry Nugent.

Mancini also had a successful stage career in Britain, most prominently as the gay prison inmate Queenie in the John Herbert play Fortune and Men's Eyes (Open Space Theatre, 1967-68, Comedy Theatre, 1968).

Returning to the United States in the mid-1970s, Mancini continued to take character roles on the small screen, in popular programmes such as Rhoda (1976), All in the Family (1977) and NYPD Blue (1996). His voice was heard as a storyteller in Jackanory (1971) and a feisty fish in the film Babe: Pig in the City (1998).

Among his many film parts was Tic-Tac in Miller's Crossing (1990), which provided him with one of the lines much-quoted by aficionados of that Prohibition-era mob drama: "I told you to put one in his brain, not in his stinkin' face!"

For 30 years, Mancini also performed and taught drama at the Beverly Hills Playhouse and, in 2002, he won the Los Angeles Ovation Award for his performance in The Time of Your Life.

Anthony Hayward

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