‘All in the Family’: Why Frank Lorenzo Actor Vincent Gardenia Disappeared – ‘Vincent Was So Unhappy’
In Season 4 of All in the Family, viewers were introduced to new neighbors Frank and Irene Lorenzo, played by character actors Vincent Gardenia and Betty Garrett.
Gardenia portrayed the good-humored Italian husband who always had something cooking in the kitchen for his feisty Irish-American wife Irene. The two were guaranteed to irritate Archie Bunker with their frequent displays of affection, liberalism, or Catholicism.
By the end of the fourth season, Gardenia had disappeared as quickly as he had appeared. Here’s what happened to the actor and why his departure was never explained.
Gardenia played three roles on ‘All in the Family’
An actor from a very young age, Gardenia took part in his father’s Italian-language acting troupe in their New York City neighborhood until his teens. His first English-speaking role was in his 30s in the play In April Once.
The Emmy Award-winner appeared in a variety of television programs, showing off his range as both a dramatic and comedic performer, including series such as The Untouchables; The Defenders; The Monkees; The Big Valley; The Fugitive; I Spy; Love, American Style; Maude; L.A. Law; and the television mini-series Kennedy in which he memorably portrayed J. Edgar Hoover.
Most notably Gardenia, who died in 1992, is remembered for his role as the Castorini family patriarch in 1987’s Academy Award-winning film Moonstruck.
Of course, the other role the versatile actor was best known for was that of Archie Bunker’s neighbor for ten episodes in Season 4 of All in the Family. Before his introduction as Frank Lorenzo in the episode titled “We’re Still Having a Heat Wave,” the actor had also appeared on the Norman Lear-created sitcom in two other roles.
He was Bunker’s neighbor Jim Bowman who secretly sells his home to the Jeffersons in ‘Lionel Moves into the Neighborhood,’ in the eighth episode of Season 1. He also was cast as Curtis Rempley the husband swinger in ‘The Bunkers and the Swingers,’ in the show’s third season.
Frank Lorenzo actor Gardenia left ‘All in the Family’ out of boredom
His co-star Betty Garrett on All in the Family opened up to the Television Academy Foundation about his discontent on the show. Because the series centered on Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton’s characters primarily, that left recurring characters such Garrett’s and Gardenia’s sitting around a great deal.
“Vincent was so unhappy,” Garrett said. “Shooting All in the Family, we would sit for four or five days waiting in this huge rehearsal hall. The minor characters always had much less to do than the major characters. So you spent a lot of time sitting, waiting to do your scene and work on your part.”
While the Irene Lorenzo actor would “do crossword puzzles” with co-star Sally Struthers, Gardenia she said, would mope.
“Vince would sit, smoking a cigar, he hated it,” she continued. “He’s a darling man, talented, funny, but I think he wanted out. So Norman [Lear], said ‘Ok, Vince, if you’re not happy.”
Garrett explained why the show never resolved Gardenia’s departure
Once her on-screen husband left, the comedy would from time to time interject a few lines to clarify where his character had gone.
“Every once in a while, Edith would say, ‘How’s Frank?,’ and I’d say, ‘Oh he’s coming back from the road. He’s been on the road now for six months. He’ll be back soon, he’s selling toilet seats, or something,” Garrett said, laughing.
Unfortunately, she said, what happened ultimately was the script would go too long, the writers would look for something to cut, and the portions mentioning Frank Lorenzo would go.
Garrett said: “It was never explained what happened to Frank.”