Joseph Bologna, 'My Favorite Year' Actor and Oscar-Nominated Screenwriter, Dies at 82

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Joseph Bologna

He is survived by his frequent collaborator and wife of 52 years, actress Renee Taylor.

Joseph Bologna, an actor, playwright and screenwriter who was so memorable as the egotistical King Kaiser in the 1982 comedy classic My Favorite Year, has died. He was 82.

Bologna died Sunday morning at City of Hope hospital in Duarte, Calif. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer three years ago, said his wife of 52 years, actress and screenwriter Renee Taylor.

Bologna received an Oscar nomination for adapted screenplay, shared with his wife and David Zelag Goodman, for his work on Lovers and Other Strangers (1970). The couple had first written it for Broadway in a 1968 production directed by Charles Grodin.

They penned 22 plays in all, including It Had to Be You, Bermuda Avenue Triangle and If You Ever Leave Me I'm Going With You!

Bologna and Taylor penned and starred in the semi-autobiographical Made for Each Other (1971), which Newsweek called "the best love story & comedy of the year," and co-wrote and co-directed Love Is All There Is (1996), which marked one of the first feature appearances for Angelina Jolie. 

The duo also won an Emmy Award for writing the 1973 Marlo Thomas TV special Acts of Love and Other Comedies.

Bologna's most notable onscreen appearance came as the slick King Kaiser, clearly modeled after comedy legend Sid Caesar, in the classic My Favorite Year. Producer Mel Brooks, one of Caesar's writers on Your Show of Shows in the 1950s, insisted that first-time movie director Richard Benjamin use Bologna, and Caesar reportedly was delighted.

"I love Sid," Bologna told People magazine in 1982. "He was a pro, and he did his thing. But he was, like, nuts."

Bologna was able to attend a 35th anniversary celebration of the film on July 27.

A native of Brooklyn, Bologna also appeared in Neil Simon's Chapter Two (1979); Blame It on Rio (1984), with Michael Caine and Demi Moore; The Woman in Red (1984), opposite Gene Wilder; and Big Daddy (1999), with Adam Sandler, a family friend.

On television in the 1990s, Bologna was a regular on the short-lived Married With Children … spinoff Top of the Heap — playing Charlie Verducci, the lowlife friend of Al Bundy (Ed O'Neill) — and Rags to Riches, with Tisha Campbell.

Bologna's final work is a film he wrote and starred in, the soon to be released Tango Shalom. Taylor and their lifelong friend Lainie Kazan co-star; his daughter, Zizi, served as the music supervisor; and his son, Gabriel, directed it.

The son of a shoeshine man, Bologna attended Brown University and graduated with a degree in art history, served in the U.S. Marine Corps and directed TV commercials for products like Right Guard and Gillette.

Taylor, then a stand-up comic, was a regular guest on The Merv Griffin Show when her and Bologna's mutual manager, Buddy Allen, introduced them. She looked into his eyes and thought to herself, "This is the man I'm going to marry," she recalled. Meanwhile, Bologna was thinking, he later told her, "This woman is looking at me very funny."

They planned to marry at Tavern on the Green in New York but were worried that it was going to be too expensive, so Griffin arranged for them to wed in 1965 on his soundstage. He filmed the Jewish-Italian ceremony and aired it on his show.

They celebrated their 52nd anniversary on Friday and over the years renewed their vows five times — in a different religion on each occasion.

A memorial that will include musical tributes to Bologna will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9 at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills.

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