Art Metrano Dead: Stand-Up Comic, ‘Police Academy’ Actor Was 84
Art Metrano, the stand-up comedian with a mock magic act who was the butt of jokes as the pompous cop boss Ernie Mauser in the second and third Police Academy films, has died. He was 84.
Metrano died Wednesday of natural causes at his home in Aventura, Florida, his son, Harry, told The Hollywood Reporter.
The curly-haired Brooklyn native also played Rico Mastorelli, who managed nephew Chachi (Scott Baio), Joanie (Erin Moran) and their rock band, on the 1982-83 ABC sitcom Joanie Loves Chachi, a spinoff of Happy Days.
On Sept. 17, 1989, Metrano fell off a ladder while working on the roof of his Los Angeles home, landing on his head and fracturing his first, second and seventh vertebrae. It left him a quadriplegic, but he made a remarkable recovery and turned his tribulations into a one-man stage show, Metrano’s Accidental Comedy, in which he emerged from a wheelchair to take a few steps.
“He was at the peak of his career when that happened, and then it just stopped,” his son said. “But he managed to enjoy life and overcome adversity.”
His career skyrocketed in 1970 after he performed as The Amazing Metrano for the first time on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. His magic tricks, like making his fingers “jump” from one hand to the other, weren’t tricks at all, but they were accompanied by the self-satisfied Metrano humming, over and over, “Dah-duh-dah-dah, dah-duh-da-da!” from the 1930 song “Fine and Dandy.” Watch his act here.
On Carson, Metrano was told to quickly leave the stage when his act was done because the show was running long. But the host loved the routine, even falling off his chair with laughter at one point, and motioned him to sit on the couch next to him — a comic’s dream come true.
“I took my bow and there was Johnny waving me to his desk. I went, ‘Holy shit, I’m going to sit next to Johnny!’” he told Kliph Nesteroff in 2015. “It was a great moment. He really liked my act. He was an amateur magician and loved magic of all kinds. So we talked about that and then he brought me back several times.
“He really loved it and became a big fan of mine. He propelled me and many others into having employment — not even a career — just employment. All of a sudden I was doing all these shows. It was just amazing.”
Soon, Metrano was working in nightclubs all over the country. He appeared on The Dean Martin Show, Playboy After Dark, The Tim Conway Comedy Hour and Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, and director Elaine May hired him to portray a crummy lounge entertainer in The Heartbreak Kid (1972).
The son of a garment manufacturer and a housewife, Metrano was born on Sept. 22, 1936, and raised in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. He attended Lafayette High School and then played football for the College of the Pacific in Stockton, California.
Back in New York, he worked as a comic in the Catskills and studied acting with John Cassavetes and Stella Adler, good enough to be taken seriously in the Sydney Pollack-directed drama They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969).
Managed by Wally Amos of Famous Amos cookie fame, Metrano and a friend, future Mel Brooks collaborator Rudy De Luca, were hired as writer-performers on a variety show starring Al Lohman and Roger Barkley that played on California stations after the local 11 o’clock news on Sunday nights. (Also working on the program: Craig T. Nelson, John Amos, McLean Stevenson and Barry Levinson.)
A Carson producer spotted him doing The Amazing Metrano on that and invited him to New York for The Tonight Show.
In 1971, Metrano starred with Dean Jones, John Banner, Huntz Hall and Jamie Farr on a Prohibition-era CBS comedy called Chicago Teddy Bears, but it was canceled after 13 episodes.
He also guest-starred on Mod Squad, All in the Family, Baretta, Ironside, Bewitched, The Streets of San Francisco, Barney Miller, Starsky and Hutch, L.A. Law, The White Shadow and Cagney & Lacey and Hunter, and he played a cop who had suffered a debilitating neck injury on The District, starring his old friend Nelson, in 2001.
In addition to getting an epoxy shampoo in Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment (1985) and having his eyebrows ripped off in Police Academy 3: Back in Training (1986), Metrano showed up on the big screen in Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off (1973), History of the World, Part One (1981), Breathless (1983), Teachers (1984) and How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998).
While hospitalized for two months after his fall, Metrano couldn’t move his hands, but his wife brought him a voice-activated recorder. “In 1990, I had all the little cassettes transcribed. It actually made me cry. It was really cathartic for me,” he said in a 2001 interview.
Actor-director Joe Bologna helped him turn those tapes into his one-man show. In a 1993 review, the Los Angeles Times wrote that “playwright Cynthia Lee has sculpted Metrano’s reminiscences into a tight emotional roller coaster that careens between outrageous humor, black despair and ultimate acceptance. A particularly effective sequence revisits Metrano’s fall, when he lay undiscovered for nearly an hour drifting between humorous memories and dawning horror.”
Some proceeds from the play went to a charity that assisted those with spinal cord injuries, and he wrote a book, Twice Blessed, that was published in 1994.
Metrano filed a lawsuit against the producers behind Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story, a 2005 direct-to-DVD Family Guy spinoff movie, accusing them of stealing his Amazing Metrano routine. He received what he called “a very, very nice settlement.”
In addition to his son, survivors include his wife, Janie, and several grandchildren.
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September 9, 2021 at 11:19AM