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For old time's sake: Chatting with a busy Abe Vigoda

For old time's sake: Chatting with a busy Abe Vigoda
Actor Abe Vigoda at the 1978 People's Choice Awards in Los Angeles. (Jeff Robbins / Associated Press)

This story from the Los Angeles Times archives was published on March 24, 1990. Act­or Abe Vi­goda died Jan. 26, 2015, at 94.

Though "The Godfather" was released nearly two decades ago, people still recognize Abe Vigoda for his role in the Oscar-winner as the Mafia leader, Tessio -- especially airline stewardesses.

"They buy the cassette of the film and read me all my lines," he says. "They go over to me and say, 'Will you get me off the hook for old time's sake?' They say, 'Hello, Tessio. How are you?"'

Vigoda, 69, was a 30-year veteran of the New York theater when he was cast in "The Godfather." Suddenly, he was hot property. Hollywood beckoned and the New York-native landed prominent roles in such films as "The Don Is Dead" and "Newman's Law," and became a major TV star as the grumpy, tired Detective Fish on the comedy series, "Barney Miller." But after Vigoda's spin-off series "Fish" was canceled in 1978, the actor seemed to disappear from the scene.

"When you're not on TV in a regular basis people feel you're retired," Vigoda confesses. "But that was never the case with me. I have always worked."

Vigoda has spent most of the past decade keeping busy by doing theater.

It was out of left field, Vigoda says, that he was cast as John Travolta's feisty 100-year-old grandfather in last fall's surprise blockbuster, "Look Who's Talking?" He hasn't stopped working since.

Vigoda's co-starring in the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan comedy, "Joe Versus the Volcano," and the Mafia comedy, "Keaton's Cop," in regional release.

In "Joe," written and directed by Oscar-winner John Patrick Shanley of "Moonstruck" fame, Vigoda plays an unhappy Polynesian chief. "I had never met John, but he supposedly wrote this part for me," says Vigoda. "The film is sort of an offbeat comedy with tragic social significance. It's an epic."

Vigoda is overjoyed Hollywood is knocking on his door again. "I'd like to continue doing feature films," he says. "But if a new series came along. . . ."

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