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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Towards a More Perfect Union

From the Metroland Vault Dept.: Meeting larger-than-life actor George DiCenzo in 1987 meant dining with him as well, and we ended up sharing a typically excellent meal at Schenectady’s Appian Way restaurant, livened by DiCenzo’s animated storytelling. He went on to appear in the films 18 Again!, Sing and The Exorcist III, as well as such TV shows as Murder, She Wrote, NYPD Blue, Equal Justice, and Joe's Life. He appeared on Broadway in a revival of On Borrowed Time, directed by his friend George C. Scott. DiCenzo died in 2010.


GEORGE DICENZO WOULD LIKE TO SEE A NEW THEATRE at Union College. But that’s not the reason he sepnt a week there shooting a promotional video for the college.

George DiCenzo in Dynasty.
“I love this place,” he says. “I’m just happy to do it.” DiCenzo graduated from Union in 1962 with the intent to practice law. But he had done enough acting with the college Mountebanks to suggest that he try that somewhat less reliable career – which he has pursued with enough success that he now can choose his own movie roles.

Recent appearances in Back to the Future and About Last Night have made him a recognizable fellow, so when Union alumni watch this new video, they’ll see his burly, bearded figure strolling the grounds of the campus, visiting classrooms, suggesting that the old alma mater is a desirable place to check in with now and then.

Although the video isn’t intended as a fundraising instrument, DiCenzo nevertheless would like to interest the community – and Union grads – in backing the college for a Performing Arts Center. “I’d like to be instrumental in it,” he says. “This college deserves it.”

The video is being produced by Berkshire Film and Video, a Pittsfield-based operation, directed by Bill Mathiessen. Brin Quell, of the school’s public relations department, provided the script, “but it was just an outline,” she qualifies. “George is so marvellous at improvising that he created many of the scenes himself.”

DiCenzo’s theatrical career began after graduate work in the Yale Drama School. “I got a job with a new repertory company in Buffalo, the Studio Arena Theatre,” he recalls, “but it was an administrative position. I wasn’t gutsy enough just to try acting. But while I was there,  I watched Jose Quintero hold an audition. And the people trying out were really lousy, so I thought, "I can do better than this.’ I took off my jacket and tie, auditioned, and got the part.”

After that promising start, and a move to Manhattan, he looked in vain for work. “I starved for a year. I stood on top of a building in Brooklyn thinking, "It won’t take long to hit the ground. It’ll be over fast.”’

He impulsively moved his family to California, driving cross-country in a beat-up VW bus, and, after barnstorming his way into the studios, began getting work. His most signifcant break was as the prosecuting attorney in Helter Skelter.

Right now, DiCenzo has begun shooting a film based on the Pippi Longstockings stories, starring Eileen Brennan. He plays the villain, Blackheart. “I put on 25 pounds for the role. I wear these ugly green contact lenses and an awful-looking set of teeth.”

Between picture, he lives on a farm in Bucks Country, Pa., that he bought a year ago, where he is trying his hand at farming. Leaving Los Angeles means that he is less accessible, “but when you can’t be reached easily, you become very much in demand.”

And he was happy to donate his time to the Union College project. “Things have changed so much since I was in college. I also like to talk to college kids, to tell them to get their minds off the career track and just travel. That’s the most important thing I think you can do when you’re young. But the kids worry me now. They seem to be on treadmill.”

Not long ago, he spoke to a graduating class. “I guess I’m the kind of speaker colleges hate. And parents. I had a few of them call me up and say, "What the hell are you telling my kid? What’s all this get-out-and-travel stuff?”’

He laughs in reminiscence. “I ask the kids who their heroes are. And they don’t know what to answer! You know who my hero is? That kid from West Germany who flew into the Kremilin. He’s a fucking genius! That’s the kind of thing I think young people should be doing today!”
Metroland Magazine, 11 June 1987

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