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Chick Vennera, who portrayed a bean farmer for Robert Redford in The Milagro Beanfield War and danced atop parked cars outside an L.A. discotheque while wearing leather from head to toe in Thank God It’s Friday, has died. He was 74.
Vennera died Wednesday at his home in Burbank after a battle with lung cancer, his daughter, Nicky Vennera, told The Hollywood Reporter.
Vennera also was a busy voice actor who worked on such animated shows as Animaniacs — he created the characters of Pesto and The God Pigeon — Foofur, Capitol Critters, Darkwing Duck, The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, Cow and Chicken and Batman Beyond.
Famed casting director Marion Dougherty had seen Vennera perform in an off-Broadway production of Jockeys in 1977 — he won a Theatre World Award for his performance — and that led to him being hired to play Sgt. Danny Ruffelo opposite Richard Gere in the World War II-set Yanks (1979).
In his most notable role, he played the happy-go-lucky Marv “Leatherman” Gomez in Thank God It’s Friday (1978).
Outside the fictional Zoo disco in L.A., Gomez tells John Friedrich’s uptight character: “You ain’t going to be happy until you’re free, and the only way you are going to be free is to get loose! And the only way you are going to get loose is to dance! So come on, let me see some of your moves!”
He then shows off his moves, prancing on car hoods and on top of a phone booth in a memorable sequence.
Later, he set the plot in motion as the bean farmer Joe Mondragon in The Milagro Beanfield War (1988).
Born on March 27, 1947, in Herkimer, New York, Francis Vennera came west to study acting at the Pasadena Playhouse. After serving in the U.S. Army, he spent two years with Disney on Parade as a dancer, acrobat and clown on a North American tour and appeared on Broadway in Grease.
In 1975, he appeared on TV for the first time, showing up on episodes of Lucas Tanner and Baretta.
Vennera played consumer reporter Enrique Mas (the boss of Betty White’s Rose) on two installments of Golden Girls in 1989 and could be seen on Vega$, T.J. Hooker, Night Court and Mad About You, among other shows.
More recently, he taught acting at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, where he had studied under Milton Katselas years earlier, and at his own place, the Renegade Theatre and Film Group, from 2009 until the onset of the pandemic last year.
Survivors also include his wife of 40 years, Susanne, and his son-in-law, Jason.
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