Audiences mistakenly believed Vito Scotti's characters were played by different actors

He might be one of the most convincing character actors on classic TV.

In the first season Addams Family episode "Art and the Addams Family," Grandmama looks up "Picasso" in the phone book to find an art teacher.

On the other end of the line is Sam Picasso, an Italian man unrelated to the famous painter by the same name, who agrees to come to the Addams mansion anyway, despite not being an artist.

Comedy ensues, and in particular, the brand of comedy that only character actor Vito Scotti could deliver.

Known as a man of a thousand faces, Scotti was trained in the Italian commedia dell’arte style of theater. That meant he liked joining ensemble casts where he could improvise in stock scenes, endlessly exploring how far he could take his characters within the bounds of TV episodes where he featured.

Considered a lost art today, this style of performance is what Scotti believed set him apart as a character actor.

On The Addams Family, his portrayal of Sam Picasso was so funny, the series brought him back to revive the character in the second season.

In 1964, a TV critic for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette praised his performance, proclaiming, "Character actor Vito Scotti has a field day in the role of a phony artist."

For Scotti, who acted in hundreds of TV and movie roles in his long career from 1949 to 1995, he preferred doing character work, as opposed to seeking starring roles.

"I sacrificed recognition to practice my craft – that of being a character actor," Scotti told the San Bernardino Sun in 1982.

His passion for acting started at the age of 7 when his vaudeville-performing parents "pushed him onstage."

"Now nobody can get me off," Scotti joked to The Lincoln Star in 1968.

That year, Scotti departed from his beloved character work and joined the cast of The Flying Nun, after producers created a character just for him. It was his second time as a TV star, following a short stint on the sitcom Life With Luigi in 1953.

"I didn’t want to be tied to any one series before this," Scotti said of joining The Flying Nun. "I was having too much fun playing different parts, but the part of Capt. Fomento was written expressly for me. It’s perfect for me and fits me like a glove. I have a free reign on the part, and I can do as I wish with it."

In short, it was the perfect vehicle for Scotti’s rare brand of comedy.

And after more than a decade playing a variety of roles, where he said many audiences actually believed that his roles were all played by different actors, he was ready for a little recognition from fans.

He was ready to show them his true face.

"I accepted the series to get some personal identification, to let them know what I really look like," Scotti told The Baltimore Sun in 1968.

Over his long career, Scotti said the only job he ever took on that he regretted was one of his earliest.

"On my first trip to Hollywood from New York, they asked me if I worked with animals," Scotti said. "I said sure. I’m thinking of dogs and cats. So, they put me in a Hindu show, and I’m supposed to ride an elephant and walk around with a tiger. I was scared stiff. So, the animal trainer starts bawling me out. He tells me I’m making his animals nervous because I’m afraid. The trainer tells me how safe it is to work with animals and calls me a coward. Then I look at his back – he’s got his shirt off – and it’s a mass of scars, and there’s a shoulder blade sticking out. And he is telling me it’s safe."

Scotti did eventually conquer that fear of working with animals, though. On The Addams Family, he notably appeared in an episode featuring Kitty-Cat, the family’s pet lion.

Despite his stand-out performance on The Flying Nun series, Scotti struggled to be recognized for his immense talent by producers as much as by fans.

He told the St. Joseph News-Press that even after 50 years of working in theater and Hollywood, he was still forced to audition.

"The younger producers and the younger casting people don’t know me, although I think they should," Scotti said. "So, they ask me to audition for them. And I do it, but I don’t think I should have to after all these years."

Toward the end of his career, Scotti dealt with some struggles at home, including helping his daughter Carmen, as she became one of the first patients to undergo a pioneering spinal replacement surgery.

After going through that hard time with his family, Scotti used his small fame and ample fortune from all his acting work and started the Carmen Fund to help other disabled high school students afford the medical treatments that they needed.

For Scotti, he had ample free time to support the Carmen Fund, alongside his acting obligations, because sliding in and out of different characters became second nature and he didn’t have to waste much time preparing for any role.

Whether he was playing Carol Burnett’s landlord or an immigrant baker in The Godfather, his improvisational skills only got better with time.

"After nearly 50 years of acting, I just change the makeup and the characterization follows," Scotti said.

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KnowsOldShows 14 months ago
Great article! We've been fans of master chameleon Vito Scotti for years, and enjoyed learning more about the man himself and his approach to the craft.

One of my favorite bits is his turn in the film "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," as the flute player in the jazz club where Stella Stevens plays the drums.  (It's especially amusing because you rarely see one of his characters trying to pick up women!)  Check out the wordless communication constantly passing between the musicians on stage.  Wonderful!

Another typecast-busting part was his dramatic role as the Asian bodyguard, Soto, in the "The Rifleman" episode 'The Sixteenth Cousin.'   Granted, the makeup was every bit as terrible and racist as you'd expect for that time period -- in fact, I didn't even recognize him until the very last scene, when they abandoned the eyeliner and he began to look strangely familiar.  Once his identity was revealed, I was even more impressed by Mr. Scotti's embodiment of this very serious character. 

What a talent.
TomLawrence 24 months ago
Typo alert!
It’s free rein, as in the controlling lines on a horse, not reign, as in royal duty. Don’t even get started with rain, or Claude Rains, for that matter.
Nala92129 25 months ago
Vito Scotti and Jay Novello were GREAT character actors!
JeffBaker 25 months ago
He was absolutely wonderful!
CJLV 25 months ago
Hey Vito Giusto Scozzari , I 💕 every time he was on Columbo (what a character actor - my favourite type!)
RichLorn 25 months ago
I've always loved character actors. If I see one with a familiar face but can't recall a name to connect to it, I make it a point to wait for the credits.
BrittReid 25 months ago
Major Bonachelli
Coldnorth BrittReid 25 months ago
I knew he looked familiar
F5Twitster 25 months ago
“ On the other end of the line is Sam Picasso, an Italian man unrelated to the famous painter by the same name, who agrees to come to the Addams mansion anyway, despite not being an artist.”

I should expect so: the real Picasso, Pablo Picasso, was Spanish, not Italian.

As for

“The part of Capt. Fomento was written expressly for me. It’s perfect for me and fits me like a glove. I have a free reign on the part, and I can do as I wish with it."

It’s free REIN, as in the reins of a horse, not the reign of a king.
Robertp 25 months ago
It was a pleasure to see Scotti on Gunsmoke and the Rifleman. But you are right, he was everywhere.
MrsPhilHarris 25 months ago
When I was a kid I found it odd to see Vito Scotti in The Godfather after seeing him in sitcoms.

That's how I best remember him.
NO ONE sucked up to power like Enzo The Baker.
Zip 25 months ago
I know the title of "The man of a thousand faces" is attributed to Lon Chaney, but Russell Johnson(The Professor on Gilligan's Island) also referred to Vito Scotti by that title in his book. He was very talented and could play just about anyone.
Runeshaper 25 months ago
Sounds like Scotti was a very talented man.
eddiecantorfan 25 months ago
On Gilligan's Island. when Vito
Scotti played Dr Boris Balinkoff
he had an assistant IGOR played
By Mike Mazurki and in his second
Appearance as Dr Boris Balinkoff
his assistant was IGOR a monkey
The writers of Gilligan's Island
Must Like The name IGOR.
Mad Scientist Assistants are *always* named Igor. [mad grin]

"It's pronounced eye-gor."
"They told me it was ee-gor."
"Well they were wrong then, weren't they?"
There was also an IGOR on
Happy Days in the episode called Welcome To My Nightmare which was FONZIEs
Nightmare where s mad scientist Dr Ludlow (Dick Gautier) wanted to steal FONZIEs COOL and IGOR was
played by Al Molinaro who also
Played Al on Happy Days.
LoveMETV22 CaptainDunsel 25 months ago
LOL, Eye-gore, Classic.
Love that movie!
Moverfan CaptainDunsel 25 months ago
Dr. Frankenstein: Werewolf?
Igor (points in the distance): There wolf! There castle!
WordsmithWorks 25 months ago
Scotti is definitely one of those "seems familiar" actors. When the article mentioned "The Flying Nun," that triggered the recognition.
Peter_Falk_Fan 25 months ago
Such a versatile actor. It was always nice to see him, esp. on "Columbo". I also liked him as the Italian train engineer in one of my favorite WWII movies, "Von Ryan's Express".

The most episodes of any guest star on "Gilligan's Island" (4).
Henderson Peter_Falk_Fan 25 months ago
I loved him as the Japanese sailor on Gilligan's Island. He was a very talented actor.
Michael 25 months ago
You couldn't watch tv (and some movies) in the sixties and seventies without seeing him. And may e because of his name, it wasn't "there's whatshisname". It's not worth mentioning credits, too many.
eddiecantorfan 25 months ago
Vitto Scotti played Dr Boris Balinkoff
On 2 episodes of Gilligan's Island
And he also played a Japanese
guy on Gilligan's Island.
He also played one of the gypsies
that Andy tried to run out of
town in a color episode of The
Andy Griffith Show.
I liked the color episodes of
The Andy Griffith Show but
someone was missing from
I would also like to see an Article on Lookalike Actors
HERBIE FAYE and Ned Glass
Who both appeared on The
Dick Van Dyke Show and
I would also like to see an
ARTICLE on actors Bernie West
Who played a crooked lawyer
Wayne Himshaw on GOMER Pyle USMC and Alan Oppenheimer who played
Mickey Malph on Happy Days.
I wonder if Vito Scotti ever appeared on GOMER Pyle USMC.
Barney Fife (Don Knotts) was
Missing from the color episodes of The Andy Griffith Show except for Barney's guest appearances on the color episodes of TAGS.
LoveMETV22 25 months ago
Like Vitto Scotti. What a versatile actor with many credits to his name. Very recognizable actor who has appeared on several MeTV programs: Wagon Train, Bonanza, The Twilight Zone, The Rifleman as well as other past and present.
Pacificsun LoveMETV22 25 months ago
Umm, quite a few....

Sure enough in the WWW and MFU
LoveMETV22 Pacificsun 25 months ago
LOL 247 credits for Filmography, Soundtrack, Self and Archival footage, that's just the credit part.
If factoring some of the credits with multiple episodes it adds to an impressive number.
cperrynaples 25 months ago
Life With Luigi has a very interesting history! It debuted on radio in 1948 with J, Carrol Naish in the title role! Like Scotti, Naish had multiple ethnic characters, even playing Charlie Chan in several movies! His buddy Pasquale was played by Alan Reed, best remembered as Fred Flintstone! It debuted in September 1952 after I Love Lucy and was a smash hit! However, Italian Americans didn't like that Luigi was played by Naish, who was Irish by decent! The show was suspended for 4 months and returned with Scotti in the title role! It didn't help that the show was moved to Thursday and paired with the even more offensive Amos 'N Andy! By June 1953, Luigi was gone and never seen again!
justjeff cperrynaples 25 months ago
J. Carroll Naish has the distinction of playing virtually every ethnicity except his own - Irish!

As an aside, when the NAACP forced the cancellation of Amos 'n' Andy, the Black actors from the cast were upset - because it put them out of work!

However, you can see Alvin Childress (Amos) play a preacher in an episode of "Sanford and Son"...
cperrynaples justjeff 25 months ago
Yes, and you can still see ANA on YouTube, whereas you can only hear the radio version of LWL!
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