Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Twilight of Albert Salmi

As I've mentioned, my latest project is to watch every single episode of the original Twilight Zone, and one thing that makes this such an enjoyable experience is the brilliance of the casting. You will very often see performances from people who turned into stars shortly after the series' 1959-1964 run: Robert Redford, Telly Savalas and Peter Falk show up, as well as Burt Reynolds, doing a note-perfect Brando imitation. There's a whole flock of future sitcom stars: Jack Klugman (four times!), Dick York, Buddy Ebsen, Agnes Moorehead in a brilliant, wordless performance as an isolated farmwife terrorized by alien invaders. Bill Shatner has two starring roles, including his turn in the hysterical "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet."

One of my favorite Twilight Zone regulars was a beefy, round-faced actor named Albert Salmi, who took the lead in two episodes: "Execution" and "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville." Neither one of them was exactly successful. In the first, Salmi was a horse thief about to be executed in 1880 when he's whisked into the future (or into the present, if you will) by the instantly typecast Russell Johnson as a physics professor. The first half of the episode was pretty good, but eventually a small-time hood tries to rob Johnson's lab (as if physics professors kept a lot of cash lying around), then kills the much-bigger Salmi in hand-to-hand combat, all for no apparent reason except they couldn't think of a better ending.

In "Cliffordville," which boasts one of the series' best episode titles, Salmi plays a rapacious business tycoon who arranges with a female devil (future Catwoman Julie Newmar) to get sent back in time to his Indiana hometown, so he can build his fortune all over again. He fails at this, for reasons the script never quite makes clear. But as in "Execution," Salmi is eminently watchable, obviously delighting in playing the villain. It's rare to see someone so blatantly enjoying his acting. Both performances would have you noting to try to catch anything else you can featuring Albert Salmi.

Salmi never became a star, but he was awfully busy throughout the 1960s and 1970s, making several appearances on Gunsmoke and Bonanza and popping up in series from Toma and Kung Fu to Scarecrow and Mrs. King. He was a regular on Petrocelli, and played Danny Noonan's father in Caddyshack.

By the end of the 1980s, the parts were drying up, and Salmi moved with his wife to Washington State, where he planned to write his memoirs. But Albert suffered from depression, and his wife, Roberta, moved out of their Spokane home. I've seen it reported that Roberta was terminally ill, and that during their separation Albert had gone to live in Idaho.

On April 23, 1990, Albert Salmi drove back to the house he had once shared with his wife. He walked into the kitchen, shot Roberta dead, then went upstairs and pulled the trigger on himself. Albert Salmi was 62.

14 comments:

  1. Not very interestingly, in his Italian movie work (and there was too much of it), the actor was known as "Alberto Salmi."

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  2. And, not to make heavy weather of it, but I thought Redford as Death was sort of a lovely little performance.

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    1. I thought so too; a very kind Death to someone who obviously was afraid to die.

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    2. Me too. That's my fav all time Twilight Zone

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  3. That info on Salmi's death is surely going to pop into my head the next time I come across Caddyshack.

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  4. I'd respectfully disagree that the "Cliffordville" title was even good. One of my biggest problems with "The Twilight Zone" was its unremitting pretentiousness, and that title fits the bill.

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  5. I enjoyed his depictions in characters..god bless his pains along with his wife's and childrens angst..I had no idea till now of there demise.

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  6. Albert Salmi is one of my all-time favourite actors. His last ever role was done here in Australia in 1989, when he played the role of Richard Kester - a neo nazi who tried to establ;ish a network of like minded people. Also remember him as Yad in Daniel Boon and Pete in Petrocelli

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  7. I think the script was clear as to why he didn't make a fortune, the land had oil but the technology to drill to the proper depth wasn't available for another 20 years

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  8. I just read his autobiography "Spotlights and Shadows" (Albert Salmi) He was clearly mentally ill (in real life) and had a real funny way of solving his problems (murdering his wife and then killing himself). In the book, there's some ridiculous reference to him committing his crime in order to leave what was left of his estate to his pregnant and unmarried daughter (Wow! What a great way to show your "love" to someone else! Murder their mother and then kill yourself!) His other daughter from his first marriage was basically written off by him (because his 2nd wife didn't like her)...and that poor girl died before even reaching 40 years old. Albert Salmi was no icon by any stretch of the imagination. I just saw "The Execution" this morning (Who knew it'd be on?) and in it he mentions how he's been to hell and he wasn't going back. Well, I don't wonder where you are now, and believe me, it sure isn't heaven.

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    1. He suffered from mental illness (clinical depression)... Judge not...

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    2. Wow condemning a mentally ill person. If he's judged that harshly what chance do we have.

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  9. I used to workout at Vince's Gym in Studio City in the mid 1980's at which time I also saw Albert trying to keep in shape at there at the same time. He appeared to myself to be a big drinker due to his looks and complexion and generally in a non jovial manner. So I was not surprised when I later read of his later yers and terrible end. Possibly his acting carrier drying up around that time did not help. After being so busy for close to 20 years, retirement probably was not the best thing for his mental health.

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  10. I used to workout at Vince's Gym in Studio City in the mid 1980's at which time I also saw Albert trying to keep in shape at there at the same time. He appeared to myself to be a big drinker due to his looks and complexion and generally in a non jovial manner. So I was not surprised when I later read of his later yers and terrible end. Possibly his acting carrier drying up around that time did not help. After being so busy for close to 20 years, retirement probably was not the best thing for his mental health.

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