Anthony Caruso, 86; Was the ‘Bad Guy’ in Films, TV

Times Staff Writer

Anthony Caruso, the quintessential bad guy of any required ethnicity, especially riding the range in Westerns or stalking the nether world of gangsters, has died. He was 86.

The veteran character actor died Friday in his Brentwood home after a long illness.

In a career that spanned 50 years, Caruso appeared in more than 120 motion pictures and 110 television shows, as well as on the stage.

Born to Italian American parents in Frankfort, Ind., and reared in Long Beach, Caruso frequently was cast as an Italian -- or as a Greek, Mexican, Spaniard, Slav or American Indian. A ruggedly handsome horseman and boxer with a gravelly voice, he had no problem presenting a tough guy image, whether wearing a Stetson or spats.

Mindful of his famous surname, Caruso set out to be a singer and studied music with some success. But he soon discovered that actors made more money and enrolled at the Pasadena Playhouse.


There he befriended Alan Ladd. Subsequently, Caruso was asked to appear in 11 films starring the well-known Ladd, beginning with 1942’s “The Glass Key.”

Caruso, an adept gardener and Italian cook as well as actor, made his screen debut as a henchman in 1940’s “Johnny Apollo,” starring Tyrone Power and Edward Arnold as a thieving son and father and Dorothy Lamour as Power’s girlfriend.

From that initial casting as a villain, Caruso remained an engaging screen menace through the 1990 film version of “The Legend of Grizzly Adams.” The official description of his character often was simply “henchman,” “gunman” or “thug.”

He was Indian chief Natchakoa in Barbara Stanwyck’s “Cattle Queen of Montana” in 1954 and earned perhaps his greatest screen time in 1976’s “Zebra Force,” which pitted Vietnam veterans against the Mob.

On television, Caruso was always in demand during the heyday of Western series in the 1950s and early 1960s, appearing in episodes of “The Lone Ranger,” “Broken Arrow,” “Gunsmoke,” “Zorro,” “Death Valley Days,” “Laramie,” “Wagon Train,” “Bonanza,” “Maverick” and as the villain El Lobo on “The High Chaparral.”

He was equally popular as a well-dressed bad guy in episodes of “The Untouchables,” “Police Story,” “Ironside,” “Hawaiian Eye” and “Perry Mason.”

Caruso is survived by his wife of 63 years, actress Tonia Valente, and son, Tonio of Brentwood.