James Farentino, Stage and Film Actor, Dies at 73

Obituaries   James Farentino, Stage and Film Actor, Dies at 73
James Farentino, a stage and film actor with a tough, masculine image, and a frequently tumultuous offstage life, died Jan. 24 in Los Angeles. The cause was heart failure. He was 73.

He was born James Ferrantino Feb. 23, 1938, in Brooklyn, the son of Anthony, a clothing designer, and Helen (nee Enrico) Ferrantino, a homemaker. His father, a compulsive gambler, would sometimes suddenly leave for Las Vegas, or embark on quixotic business ventures, such as investing in a California chicken farm. When his parents moved west when he was 16, Farentino stayed put. He attended a Brooklyn technical high school, but dropped out before graduating. He later attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and then studied with Lee Strasberg.

The actor made his Broadway debut playing a bit role in the original 1961 production of Tennessee Williams' The Night of the Iguana. Soon after, he left for Hollywood, becoming one of the last contract players signed by Universal. But he found the work dissatisfying. Hardheaded, he was suspended ten times for not accepting assignments.

Beginning in the 1960s, Mr. Farentino worked frequently on television. Among the many series on which he guest-starred were "77 Sunset Strip," "Route 66," "Ben Casey," "The Fugitive," "Ironside," "Marcus Welby, M.D.," "Police Story," "ER" (playing George Clooney's dad) and "Melrose Place." He was Dr. Nick Toscanni on the nighttime soap "Dynasty." He also starred in many television movies, and was nominated for an Emmy Award for playing Simon Peter in 1977's "Jesus of Nazareth."

After ten years of steady television work, his friend George C. Scott encouraged him to return to the stage and challenge himself. Mr. Farentino accepted the lead in a production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, at the Arlington Park Theatre in Chicago. He was awarded the 1973 Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Guest Artist for his performance in the play. Jules Irving, director of the Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center, saw the show and cast the actor in a revival of A Streetcar Named Desire, playing opposite the Blanche of Rosemary Harris.

"I believe Stanley is a very moral man," he said at the time. "He puts up with Blanche for six months, until he overhears her speech calling him an ape. That's when he gets going, and gets rid of the intruder." The New York Times wrote that he played the part with "considerable complexity." He won a Theatre World Award for the performance. In 1975he was Biff to George C. Scott's Willy Loman in a Circle in the Square production of Death of a Salesman. (He had played Happy in a 1966 Lee J. Cobb television movie of the play.) Off stage, trouble seemed to follow Mr. Farentino. He was much married. His first two unions were to stage actresses Elizabeth Ashley (1962-1965) and Michelle Lee (1966-1982). He had a son, David, by Lee. A marriage to Debrah Farentino lasted from 1985 to 1988. He is survived by his fourth wife, Stella, whom he wed in 1994, even though both parties filed for divorce at different points in the marriage.

In 1991, he was arrested in Vancouver, British Columbia, after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police intercepted a package sent to his hotel room containing cocaine. And, in 1994, he was slapped with a restraining order after being charged with stalking his former girlfriend, singer Tina Sinatra. The incident hurt his career temporarily.

"There are people in this business that for years said, 'He's an alcoholic. He's a drunk. He stalked Tina,'" he said in an interview. "And the clamps were put on me in many ways. Unless you're making big box office, they're going to kill you. And that's OK because one thing they can't take away from me is whatever talent I feel I have, that people feel I have."

In 2003, he bounced back, receiving rave reviews on the L.A. stage playing a Russ Meyer-like porn producer in the play Boy Gets Girl.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his sons David and Saverio.

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