Friday, January 05, 2007

Vincent Sardi Dead At 91

The Bonus Round Site is in mourning today.

Vincent Sardi, Jr., whose parents created* the world famous Sardi's Restaurant, which we have talked about so many times, and which is featured so prominently in The Big Voice, has died at the age of 91. Last night, after the show, Jim, myself, Amy and L. Jay went to Sardi's to have a drink in his honor.

The Times obit is absolutely beautiful. I can't do better than to quote from it to describe what he meant to the Broadway community.

Mr. Sardi ran one of the world’s most famous restaurants, a Broadway institution as central to the life of the theater as actors, agents and critics. It was, the press agent Richard Maney once wrote, “the club, mess hall, lounge, post office, saloon and marketplace of the people of the theater.”

Mr. Sardi understood theater people, loved them and was loved in return. He carried out-of-work actors, letting them run up a tab until their ship came in. (At one point, Sardi’s maintained 600 such accounts.)

He attended every show and made sure his headwaiters did the same, so that they could recognize even bit players and make a fuss over them. At times, he exercised what he called “a fine Italian hand,” seating a hungry actor near a producer with a suitable part to cast.

He commiserated with his patrons when a show failed, and rejoiced with them when the critics were kind. He distributed favors, theater tickets and food, rode on horseback with the local police, and acted as a spokesman, official and unofficial, for the theater district...

Sardi’s shone brightest on the opening night of a Broadway show, and in the 1960s, a show opened nearly every night. The ritual never varied. In a line that stretched down 44th Street, theatergoers, theater insiders and celebrity watchers clamored for a table, hoping against hope to be seated on the first floor, where they could see cast members, producers and the playwright of the moment entering the restaurant after the curtain rang down. As the actors made their way to their tables, the diners would stand and applaud.

Once seated, the actors, producers and playwright would put on a brave face waiting for the reviews. The first 25 copies of The New York Times and The New York Herald Tribune were rushed over to Sardi’s from the printing presses at midnight, with the review pages marked. Mr. Sardi would man the telephone, taking calls from friends of the cast, ticket brokers and newspaper columnists eager to get a read on the fate of the new play. If the reviews were poor, a pall descended over the dining room, and diners would slink out the door. If the reviews were good, it was Champagne all around and a celebration until the wee hours.

“All of us on the staff were caught up in each Broadway play,” Mr. Sardi wrote in Playbill. “We became involved in the raising of money, the casting of roles, the progress of rehearsals, and, after opening night, the success or failure of a play.”
And, as Jimmy tells in our show, it was the proudest day of his life when his (Jim's) caricature went up on the wall of Sardi's -- and when we were allowed to have our opening night party there.

Max (R), who owns Sardi's now, began there as a dishwasher. And Vincent's grandson, Sean (C), continue to run Sardi's keeping the traditions alive. When we got there last night, they were gone and everyone was very sad to have lost this great man.

Vincent hasn't run Sardi's for a very long time, but his legacy and his love of actors continues -- there's an "actor's menu" with lower prices for members of Actor's Equtiy. May Sardi's ever reign over the Broadway. And may the Spirit and love of Vincent Sardi always remain over all the theatre district.

*This is a correction to my original post in which I stated that Vincent created the restaurant. Benny, a reader, corrected me in the comments. Thanks, Benny.
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