I think I first fell in love back in 1970... with the comedy writing of real life duo of Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna in their film Lovers and Other Strangers, based on the Broadway play in which they played the lead roles. These two geniuses wrote like my family lived. I recognized just about every character in the plot... overbearing, guilt-weaponized mother, the always bothered Dad, the son just trying to live his own life his own way, and siblings trying to out-do each other. "What's the story, Jerry" and plastic slip covers are my strongest memories from the plot. This film also has one of the most accurate and funny depictions of an Italian-American wedding that I've ever seen on screen.
But my love of their work grew stronger when I saw them play the leads in their '71 film Made for Each Other, a profile of the stumbling beginnings of a relation between two people who seem anything but made for each other. Again, they reminded me of my sisters or my brother and the way they stumbled into their own relationships and marriages.
Joe and Renee were in fact, made for each other in real life. Their comedy sense and character development were superb. Their timing perfect. We didn't laugh at them as much as laugh at ourselves when we watched them work. Bologna went on to appear in both film and television, one of my favorites being the American version of Blame it on Rio, a sexy May-September romp with co-star Michael Caine.
He could play it as tough as it gets and as funny as anyone would want. He plays a proud Italian-American catering venue owner in Love is All There Is (which Joe and Rene directed), whose Long Island son is wooing a real Italian princess while his own wife is trying to woo her hubby away from napping with his poodle to her bed. The story was based on Romeo & Juliette, except this time the feuding families were the Cappamezzas' (Half Heads) and Malacicis' (Bad Beans). This is one of the funniest films I've ever seen.
This real life tough guy battled pancreatic cancer for the last three years... an unusually long period for this fast moving cancer. “He had a beautiful life and a beautiful death having fully and gratefully experienced three years since being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at Cedars Sinai,” said Renee Taylor, wife of 52 years.
A common face in literally hundreds of TV roles, Bologna will be missed.