R.I.P. Art Metrano, comedian and ‘Police Academy’ star
He won Johnny Carson over with his simple but hilarious “magic” act and appeared in ‘Joanie Loves Chachi’ as Uncle Rico.
Art Metrano was born in Brooklyn in 1936, the son of a garment maker. After playing college football in California, he decided to pursue a career in show business. The gigs came slowly at first.
He played a truck driver in the 1961 Cold War propaganda film Rocket Attack U.S.A. and started performing comedy in the Catskills. In the late Sixties, he won small roles in shows like Mannix, Bewitched and The Mod Squad. His first real film role (credited as Arthur Metrano) came in director Sydney Pollack’s grueling 1969 film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? with Jane Fonda and Michael Sarrazin.
Though he was a working actor and comic, he hadn’t yet received his big break. That all changed after appearing on The Tonight Show. A producer for the Johnny Carson program saw him in a variety show airing on local California television. Metrano wasn’t the only actor from the regional program to make it big. The cast included Mclean Stevenson before M*A*S*H, Craig T. Nelson before Coach and Barry Levinson, who went on to direct Diner and Rain Man.
Metrano won the coveted spot on the couch next to Johnny Carson after his performance left the iconic host doubled over with laughter. It was a simple yet amusing act. Metrano pretended to be a great magician while “moving” fingers back and forth between hands and “revealing” the missing leg he had lifted up behind his jacket – all while humming “dah duh dah-dah” from the showtune “Fine and Dandy.”
After his 1970 Tonight Show appearance, Metrano took his act around the country and won larger guest spots in shows like Ironside, All in the Family and Wonder Woman. He also played a lounge entertainer in Elaine May’s 1972 comedy The Heartbreak Kid.
Metrano’s best-known roles came in the 1980s. He was Uncle Rico in the Happy Days spinoff Joanie Loves Chachi and played Mauser, the subject of many hilarious pranks in two Police Academy sequels.
In 1989, at the height of his career, Metrano suffered a huge setback. He fell off a ladder while working on his roof and fractured three vertebrae, leaving him without the use of his legs or hands for a time.
Nevertheless, he turned his hardship into comedy. His wife brought a voice-activated tape recorder to his hospital bed and eventually those tapes were turned into the one-man show Metrano’s Accidental Comedy. The stage production featured a few steps out of his wheelchair, highlighting his remarkable recovery.
Metrano continued to work through the next decade, even reuniting with Craig T. Nelson in an episode of The District. He passed away this week at his home in Florida. He was 84.