With his trademark heavyset figure and attitude of manic glee, the genial Dom DeLuise rose to prominence as one of America's most beloved comedic character actors. Born Dominick DeLuise in Brooklyn in 1933, the future star attended the High School for the Performing Arts in Manhattan, then graduated from Tufts University in Boston. DeLuise wasted no time in making a beeline for television, and though early efforts were low-profiled, including a turn as Tinker the Toymaker on the daytime children's show Tinker's Workshop and the portrayal of a bumbling detective named Kenny Ketchum on The Shari Lewis Show, DeLuise's popularity spread, carrying him swiftly into other formats and venues.
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DeLuise initially graduated to primetime variety courtesy of The Garry Moore show, where he enjoyed recurring sketches as an inept magician named Dominick the Great. He then appeared on innumerable subsequent variety programs (often as a regular contributor) including The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, The Dean Martin Show, and The Flip Wilson Show. The comic made the leap into filmdom as early as the earnest Cold War thriller Fail-Safe (1964) (as an edgy flier), but drama didn't serve him well. He found a much stronger suit in comedy, initially courtesy of Mel Brooks, who cast him in films beginning with The Twelve Chairs (1970), as a shifty priest, Father Fyodor. Their collaborations extended to the 1976 Silent Movie (as studio man Dom Bell), the 1981 History of the World, Part I (as Emperor Nero), the 1986 Spaceballs (as the voice of Pizza the Hut), and the 1993 Robin Hood: Men in Tights (as the godfather-like Don Giovanni).
The actor received additional screen exposure via friendships with Gene Wilder (in whose outings The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother and The World's Greatest Lover he co-starred) and Burt Reynolds, who -- in one of either's finest moments -- cast DeLuise as an around-the-bend asylum resident who tries to assist Reynolds' character with a suicide bid in the jet-black comedy The End (1978). Unfortunately, additional Reynolds collaborations didn't fare so well -- they included such schlocky vehicles as the Cannonball Run series -- but helped DeLuise maintain a familiar profile. He teamed with Mel Brooks' wife, Anne Bancroft, for a starring role in that actress' directorial debut, the comedy-drama Fatso (1980), but it earned mostly lukewarm reviews. In the meantime, DeLuise himself took the director's chair for the nutty caper comedy Hot Stuff, which gleaned a generally positive critical and public reception.
As time rolled on, DeLuise unfortunately drifted into filmic material that suffered from serious lapses in quality and judgment, witness his performances as a porn lord in Bob Clark's wretched buddy farce Loose Cannons and convict Dr. Animal Cannibal Pizza in the horror send-up Silence of the Hams, both enormous box office flops. Taking critical and public reactions to these efforts as a cue, the comic accepted fewer and few assignments as the misfires happened and instead began to place a strong emphasis on his own cooking skills; the gifted chef authored two well-received cookbooks, the 1988 Eat This...It'll Make You Feel Better! and the 1997 Eat This Too!...It'll Also Make You Feel Better. DeLuise also published a series of books for children, such as the 1990 Charlie the Caterpillar and the 2007 The Pouch Potato. Dom DeLuise died in May 2009 at the age of 75. He was survived by his wife since 1965, actress Carol Arthur, and three sons, Peter, Michael, and David. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi