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Leonid Kinskey; Actor in ‘Casablanca’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Leonid Kinskey, the man who dared kiss legendary actor Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca,” has died. He was 95.

Kinskey, a veteran character actor in some 100 films from the early 1930s to mid-1950s, died Tuesday in Fountain Hills, Ariz., of complications of a stroke.

As Sascha the bartender in the 1942 film, Kinskey actually kissed Bogie on both cheeks and said, “Boss, you did a wonderful thing!” after Bogart’s Rick arranged a passport for a desperate young couple.

“Get away from me,” responded Bogart.

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Kinskey was the last surviving member of the “Casablanca” cast.

A drinking and poker buddy of Bogart, Kinskey candidly told The Times in 1990 that he didn’t initially see Bogie’s international appeal.

“When Humphrey Bogart first came to Hollywood,” he said, “I predicted he’d never make it because he was short, homely and lisped. What do I know?”

Although Kinskey played a gamut of parts, he particularly sparkled in comedy roles. Other than Sascha, he is probably best remembered as “Gigolo Galore” Tito in the 1940 “Down Argentine Way” with Don Ameche and Betty Grable.

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Hollywood columnist Louella Parsons once called Kinskey “the maddest Russian on land and sea” and he became known as “the Mad Russian of films and TV.”

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Kinskey worked as a mime with imperial theaters before leaving Russia in 1921 after the communist revolution. He acted on stage in Europe and South America, then gravitated to the United States to work with Al Jolson. He found a home in Hollywood, acting in one silent film, “The Great Depression” in 1926, and then going into talkies with Ernst Lubitsch’s “Trouble in Paradise” in 1932.

Kinskey appeared with the Marx Brothers in “Duck Soup,” with Gary Cooper in “The General Died at Dawn,” with Charles Boyer in “Algiers,” Bob Hope in “Monsieur Beaucaire” and Frank Sinatra in “The Man With the Golden Arm.”

Appearing with Bing Crosby in “Rhythm on the Range” in 1936, Kinskey surprised and delighted colleagues when he proved he could sing as well as act. The unlikely song for a Russian: “I’m an Old Cowhand from the Rio Grande.”

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Kinskey did some television, appearing in the medium’s first situation comedy, “The Spot Lite Club” on Los Angeles’ KTLA in 1948. He also had guest roles on “Perry Mason,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “Hogan’s Heroes.”

In 1965, he returned to mime with the role of Dr. Drosselmeyer in “Nutcracker U.S.A.” produced at the Shrine Auditorium.

But Kinskey largely abandoned acting after the mid-1950s, instead directing and writing industrial films.

“To dramatize a machine or product,” he once said, “requires a great deal more ingenuity than a well-written scene played by able actors.”

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Kinskey also operated a restaurant called Bublitschki on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip for many years, and wrote and translated many stories about Russian people.

Widowed twice (first by actress Iphigenie Castiglioni), Kinskey had been married for the past 15 years to violinist and artist Tina York, some five decades his junior.

“She supports me,” a dapper octogenarian Kinskey told The Times in 1990. “I’m an 87-year-old gigolo.”


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