• 30 August 1889
  •  Ischia, Italy

Eduardo Ciannelli


Eduardo Ciannelli was born on the beautiful island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples, which is renowned for its thermal baths. His father, a physician, owned a health spa there and Eduardo briefly followed the same career path and studied medicine at the University of Naples, graduating as a fully qualified doctor. His calling, however, lay elsewhere. He first came to prominence as a leading baritone opera star, performing at La Scala and touring internationally. Then he reinvented himself as a dramatic actor of stage and screen, first in Europe, and, from 1919, in America. He first performed on Broadway in the short-lived play 'Always You' (1920), then had better roles in 'Rose-Marie' (1924-1926), 'The Front Page' (1928-29, as Diamond Louis, establishing his stereotypical later screen persona) and 'Uncle Vanya' (1930,as Telegin). He reprised his stage role from 'Reunion in Vienna' (1931-32) in the MGM movie of 1933. With his heavily-lined face, piercing eyes and erudite Italian-accented manners, Ciannelli was soon cast as Italian gangsters (apparently, there was also some alleged resemblance to the infamous Lucky Luciano). One of his most celebrated roles was as Trock Estrella in Winterset (1936) (re-creating another previous stage performance), which the New York Times review of December 4 described as the film's 'most compelling characterization'. This set the pattern for many of Ciannelli's later efforts, such as the smooth, elegant racketeer Johnny Vanning in Marked Woman (1937) or Rockey in Law of the Underworld (1938). Other notable villains in his repertoire include the maniacal leader of the Kali sect in Gunga Din (1939) and the suave evil genius, titular villain in the Republic serial Mysterious Doctor Satan (1940). Attempting to shake-off his typecast 'bad guy' image, Eduardo appeared as the jovial speakeasy proprietor Giono in Kitty Foyle (1940), and was promptly nominated for an Academy Award. Following that, his screen roles began to diminish. Changing his name to Edward Ciannelli failed to re-ignite his career. In 1952, he returned to Italy to appear in continental co-productions, occasionally re-surfacing in Hollywood sword-and-sandal epics (Attila (1954),Helen of Troy (1956), Love Slaves of the Amazons (1957)). He also continued to portray Godfather-types in film (The Brotherhood (1968),Stiletto (1969)) and on television (Naked City,The Untouchables,I Spy). Among his last roles of note, one must include Houseboat (1958), as Arturo Zaccardi, and a recurring character part, jazz club owner Waldo, in the television series Johnny Staccato (1959). Eduardo died in Rome in October 1969 and is interred at the Cimitero Flaminio in Lazio.