Sunday, September 5, 2010

Vincent Barbi (1912 - 1998) in The Blob

I thought I'd take a look at the cast list for The Blob (1958) once again.  Yesterday we covered Olin Howland, the first Blob victim in the movie.

Vincent Barbi played George the cafe owner.  I will assume that was the diner where the Blob met an electrifying end, because I don't remember any other cafe in the film.  The diner used in the film is often mistaken for a diner that was near the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville.  That Phoenixville diner has been torn down and replaced by a large chain pharmacy.  The diner used in The Blob was located about 18 miles from the Colonial Theater, in Downingtown, PA.  A new diner has been erected on the same foundation as the original diner, but I believe it is still open.

Back to Vince.  Vince Barbi was born in Italy and his first few films were made there.  He worked with some great stars in his early days.  Richard Attenborough in The Baby and the Battleship (1956) (A film I have never seen or even heard of), and Audrey Hepburn, and Henry Fonda in War and Peace also in 1956.

He worked with James Cagney and Shirley Jones in Never Steal Anything Small (1959, just after The Blob) another one I am unfamiliar with.  Cagney would have been about 60 when he made this musical.

Many of his mid-career films seem dark, with titles like Pay or Die (1960), Confessions of an Opium Eater (1962) and Convicts Four (1962).  Perhaps to retain his sanity he also appeared on "The Jack Benny Program" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show" on TV in that era, and Vince made some comedies as well.

It seems that he fell into less main-stream projects after that, making The Astro-Zombies in 1968 and an X-rated film Lady Godiva Rides in 1969.  Then more terrible titles...Bunny and Clod and Lisa's Folly (1970), The Exotic Dreams of Cassanova, Sweet Sweetback's Badasssss Song and The Corpse Grinders in 1971, Blood Orgy of the She Devils (1972), and even more.

In 1975 he was cast in a small role in Capone with some real stars, Ben Gazzara, Harry Guardino, Sylvester Stallone, etc.  He also was way down on the cast list in Raging Bull in 1980.  At this point in his career he is approaching 70 years old, and I don't know how his health is.

He made eight more films, listing a total of 65 roles in film and on TV, from 1954 to 1994, and I am unfamiliar with the majority of them.  Once again, we see the life of a non-star, but an important part of movie making, the Bit Player.

7 comments:

  1. I became friends with Vince Barbi in 1976 when living in the same apartment complex on Yucca Avenue in Hollywood. The complex was just 100 feet behind the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, which faced Hollywood Boulevard.

    While laying around the pool one day, Vince started a conversation with me. Can't remember what it was - just small talk. But as we talked a bit more, we shared some laughs. I mentioned to Vince that I was studying acting at the Strasberg Institute, and without another word he asked me, "Do you wanna be in a movie? I can get you in a movie, kid."

    Vince explained the details about the movie, told me where and when to report, and added that when I arrived at the set, just tell anyone there that Vince Barbi sent me.

    The next thing you know I was appearing in my first movie part - a very small, uncredited part as a man in a bar heckling Ben Gazzara, who was starring as "Cosmo Vittelli" in the classic film "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie", directed by the legendary John Cassavetes. Not a bad introduction for a kid with virtually no experience on a real movie set.

    Vince was a friend of Cassavetes, and had also appeared "A Woman Under the Influence", another great film by the director.

    Vince Barbi was a genuine character. He told me that during the period of his life when he was a prize fighter (I believe his ring name was Kid Curry), he knew Lucky Luciano, and that Luciano had died in his arms.

    One night at my apartment complex, I heard gunshots near the pool area. I grabbed my .45 and ventured out to see what was going on so close to home. I found Vince in the West driveway, holding his pistol in his hand, waving it around in the air, and yelling some profanities to someone who had wanted to intrude on the complex - perhaps break into some cars.

    Vince was a character. A decent man. I moved to New York six months later, and never saw Vince again.

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  2. Thanks for writing, Harry. It is wonderful to have a first hand experience like yours. The actors and actresses I have met have all been warm and open about their lives and careers, always willing to share stories. It appears that Vince and you are no different.

    You have six credits on IMDb, but The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) wasn't one of them. I sent in the correction for you. It usually takes a few days to be posted.

    Once again, it was a pleasure reading of your memory. I hope to hear more from you, and you can contact me off-blog at bitactors@gmail.com, anytime.

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  3. Vincent Barbi was one of the most beautiful, kind, thoughtful and caring human beings that I had the pleasure to meet many years ago when he was a guest in my home.
    Your heading ". Bit part players" was truly inapropriate. Whatever he did as a performer he did with 100 percent conviction.
    There are no " bit players" in life just the ones who choose to see them that way.
    Rest in peace gentle man.

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  4. Thanks for writing. I have no doubt that Mr. Barbi was a wonderful man to know, and that he worked hard. In no way is my term, Bit Actor, ever meant to be a put down. Notice that I always capitalize the term.

    I am writing this blog to celebrate the people who play the smaller parts in film and on TV. They don't receive recognition elsewhere, so this is my tribute to them.

    I have met a good number of them myself. I know how hard they work and how dedicated they are to their craft. If you take some time to do a web search for Mr. Barbi or any of the many actors and actresses I have written about, you will not find much. There are some short bios, and web sites that sell movies with these people in the cast lists, but no real tributes.

    I have even taken some big stars and bestowed the term, Bit Actor, on them. In my writing, it is a term of great respect.

    All my best to you. please write back with some personal remarks about your encounter with a great Bit Actor. Also, please read the first comment above from Harry Governick. It was also good to have his memories to share.

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  5. Thank you for the clarification.
    My children to this day remember and talk about the movie star we brought home from the airport. People starred as if to say "I know this man, but I don't. So familiar was his face.
    The children were enthralled as he spoke of his life in California and of all the Stars he knew.
    For all of us having that wonderful time of sharing( which was too little) we are grateful.
    May you in this sharing have continued good and blessings for those who passed and need to be brought back into the light of remembering.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks again for writing about your encounter with Vince Barbi. Memories like this can have an effect on children and how they develop. This sounds like it was a great experience for your family and it will change how they see movies, since now they have an insider's advantage.

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  6. Richard (1) WesterlundJanuary 2, 2013 at 9:46 PM

    Vince Barbi was the dad of one of my best friends, Richard....When i got out of the Army, i was going to school and needed a job. Busch Gardens, of Van Nuys CA was the job....Rich (#2) was my supervisor in the parking lot. in jan 1970 till about 1973. But we stayed friends.....He has now met his maker too. (BEER) was our culprit...in 05 ....Rest in peace my friend...........forever will the argument be. Just who was number ONE (1)...LOL....later for now...Richard Westerlund.....(1)......

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