Hollywood lost another great talent this week when actor and writer-director Joseph Bologna died Sunday at the age of 82.
The highly praised artist passed away in the Los Angeles area after a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer. He had received a lifetime achievement award this past February at the Night of 100 Stars for the Actor’s Fund of America.
“Joe was a loveable man, a kind soul, a good friend, and always a pleasure to be with,” Bologna’s manager, Matt Sherman, told the Associated Press.
Before his long career in television and film, Bologna was born in Brooklyn, New York, and served in the Marine Corps.
He was nominated for an Oscar for best adapted screenplay in 1981 for “Lovers and Other Strangers.” He also won an Emmy for best writing achievement in comedy, variety or music in 1973.
Besides his writing, Bologna was a beloved actor who worked on hits such as 1982’s “My Favorite Year” and 2006’s “Ice Age: The Meltdown.”
The performer’s best role, though, came in the form of a supporting part in his most commercial project, 1999’s “Big Daddy,” with Adam Sandler.
While Sandler has been mocked by critics as of late for his film’s simple storylines and sometimes broad humor, he was once a somewhat praised leading man.
Fresh off “Saturday Night Live,” Sandler turned in beloved comedy films in the ’90s such as “Happy Gilmore” and “Billy Madison.” “Big Daddy” was one of the actor’s first big commercial hits, and it wasn’t just because it was funny; it pulled at the heartstrings — due in large part to the presence of Bologna.
Bologna is only a voice on a telephone in the film before he makes an appearance in the third act. We hear through the character Sonny (Sandler) how harsh, stern and unfair his father was. When Sonny comes into possession of an orphan child and lies to keep custody of the child, he does everything the opposite of his father.
When he finally fights in court to retain custody of his “somewhat” adopted son, Sonny comes face-to-face with his father, a man he’s grown to understand through different eyes.
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The scene works because of Bologna. He commanded the screen and spoke his lines with authority. When he chides his son on the stand in the film, it sounds like the improvisational tough love so many fathers have doled out before.
And when things turn and Bologna’s walls are crumbled, the viewer takes that journey with him.
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Bologna’s scene in “Big Daddy” is the heart of the film. Without it and without his talent, it’s simply an amusing, sometimes ridiculous movie about a man-child growing up. With his scene and his work, it’s suddenly a comedy far deeper and richer than it probably ever deserved to be when first conceived.
Bologna’s scene in “Big Daddy” is the heart of the film.
Sandler has pulled off some impressive dramatic roles since “Daddy,” but he’s never been known as a diverse actor. It’s clear in the interactions that Bologna is carrying the scene, but it works. Just a cut to his eyes helps us feel the father-son bond on the screen.
“Big Daddy” may not be considered the best film in Bologna’s filmography, but we’d be hard-pressed to find a scene that better expressed the immense talent he had as an artist.
Bologna is survived by a son, Gabriel, and by his wife, fellow performer Renee Taylor. Taylor and Bologna married in 1965 and worked together numerous times as writers and performers, including playing love interests in the sitcom “The Nanny.”
The 84-year-old Taylor said in a public statement about her late husband, “He had a beautiful life.”