Richard Conte (born Nicholas Peter Conte; March 24, 1910 – April 15, 1975) was an American actor. He appeared in numerous films from the 1940s through 1970s, including I'll Cry Tomorrow, Ocean's 11 and The Godfather.
Life and career
Richard Conte was born Nicholas Peter Conte on March 24, 1910, in Jersey City, New Jersey, the son of Italian-Americans Julia (Fina), a seamstress, and Pasquale Conte, a barber.
Conte held a variety of jobs before becoming a professional actor, including truck driver, Wall Street clerk, and a singing waiter at a Connecticutresort. In 1935, he was discovered by actors Elia Kazan and John Garfield during his job at the Connecticut resort, which led to Conte finding stage work. He eventually earned a scholarship to study at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City, where he became a standout actor.
He made his Broadway debut late in Moon Over Mulberry Street in 1939, and went on to be featured in other plays, including Night Music and Walk Into My Parlor. That led to his first film performance in 1939, Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence, in which he was billed as Nicholas Conte. His career started to thrive during the Second World War, when many Hollywood actors were away in the military. In 1942 Conte signed a long-term contract with20th Century Fox. He then changed his name to Richard Conte. His first Fox film was Guadalcanal Diary (1943). During the World War II years, Conte played mostly soldiers in war dramas, including The Purple Heart (1944) and A Walk in the Sun (1945).
Conte appeared in many films noir after World War II. Conte appeared in the espionage movie 13 Rue Madeleine (1947) and in such Fox crime dramas as Cry of the City and Call Northside 777 (both from 1948), and Thieves' Highway. Conte appeared in Otto Preminger's classic film noir Whirlpool, co-starring Gene Tierney (1949). He also starred with Susan Hayward along with Edward G. Robinson and Luther Adler in House of Strangers (1949) as Max Monetti, a lawyer who defends his father (Robinson) against government charges of banking irregularities and goes to prison for jury tampering.
In the early-1950s, Conte, now not working for Fox, began appearing in films for various studios. Critics and fans consider his best films from that era include the film noir B-movies The Sleeping City (1950), The Raging Tide (1951), Highway Dragnet (1954), The Blue Gardenia (1953) and The Big Combo (1955). He also was featured in a leading role opposite Susan Hayward in the 1955 film production, I'll Cry Tomorrow, a biopic about singer/actress Lillian Roth. In 1959, Conte starred in The Twilight Zone episode Perchance to Dream.
He appeared as one of The Four Just Men (1959) in the Sapphire Films TV series for ITV.
Once film noir became less popular in the 1960s Conte’s career was at a standstill. He guest starred on the ABC 1962-1963 drama series, Going My Way, and in the ABC sitcom, The Donna Reed Show. He and Anne Francis guest starred together in the episode "Hideout" of CBS's short-lived drama series, The Reporter, starring Harry Guardino in the title role as New York Cityjournalist Danny Taylor, with Gary Merrill as city editor Lou Sheldon. In 1966, Conte landed a supporting role in the short-lived CBS sitcom, The Jean Arthur Show.
Conte appeared as Lieutenant Dave Santini in two Frank Sinatra crime films, Tony Rome (1967) and Lady in Cement (1968). He had also appeared with Sinatra in the 1960 film Oceans 11 and the 1966 picture, Assault on a Queen.
Conte eventually moved to Europe and acted in a number of films. Later in life, Conte acted one of his most memorable performances in The Godfather (1972) as Don Barzini (he was at one time also considered for the title role, a role that Marlon Brando eventually filled.)
He continued to work in European films until his death. His most notable of over sixty films include The Godfather (1972), Oceans 11 (1960), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), and Call Northside 777 (1948).
Conte was married to the actress Ruth Storey, with whom he fathered a son, film editor Mark Conte. He married his second wife, Shirlee Garner, in 1973; they remained married until Conte's death. His grandson is Chicago Bears safety Chris Conte. Chris is the son of Mark Conte.
He died of a heart attack on April 15, 1975, aged 65. He is buried in the Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California.