Vincent Sardi (1915 - 2007)

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Vincent Sardi Jr., who owned and managed Sardi’s restaurant, his father’s theater-district landmark, for more than half a century and became, by wide agreement, the unofficial mayor of Broadway, died yesterday at a hospital in Berlin, Vt.. He was 91 and had lived in Warren, Vt., since retiring in 1997.
The cause was complications of a urinary tract infection, said Sean Ricketts, a grandson and manager at the restaurant.
Mr. Sardi ran one of the world’s most famous restaurants, a Broadway institution as central to the life of the theater as actors, agents and critics. It was, the press agent Richard Maney once wrote, “the club, mess hall, lounge, post office, saloon and marketplace of the people of the theater.”
Mr. Sardi understood theater people, loved them and was loved in return. He carried out-of-work actors, letting them run up a tab until their ship came in. (At one point, Sardi’s maintained 600 such accounts.)
He attended every show and made sure his headwaiters did the same, so that they could recognize even bit players and make a fuss over them. At times, he exercised what he called “a fine Italian hand,” seating a hungry actor near a producer with a suitable part to cast.
He commiserated with his patrons when a show failed, and rejoiced with them when the critics were kind. He distributed favors, theater tickets and food, rode on horseback with the local police, and acted as a spokesman, official and unofficial, for the theater district.
Mr. Sardi was born on July 23, 1915, in Manhattan and spent his early childhood in a railroad flat on West 56th Street, where his parents took in show-business boarders. In 1921, his father took over a basement restaurant in a brownstone at 246 West 44th Street. He named it the Little Restaurant, but theater people called it Sardi’s, and so it became.
The family lived upstairs. When the building was razed in 1927 to make way for the St. James Theater, Sardi’s moved to its current location, at 234 West 44th.
Vincent Jr., whom his father called Cino, attended Holy Cross Academy on 43rd Street. He got a taste of the theater at an early age, appearing as Pietro, an Italian urchin, in “The Master of the Inn” at the Little Theater when he was 10. The play closed quickly, but not before Vincent learned about the subtleties of the actor-director relationship. When he pointed out that an Italian would say “addio,” not “adios,” he was told to keep his opinions to himself and read the line as written.
In 1926, the Sardis moved to Flushing, Queens, where Vincent graduated from Flushing High School. He entered Columbia University intending to become a doctor, but failed the chemistry examination, in part because, short of pocket money, he had sold his textbook at Barnes & Noble so he could attend a dance. He transferred to Columbia Business School and earned a degree in 1937.
In the meantime, he began working in the family business on weekends, earning $14 a week. “My duties included stints at the cigarette counter, shifts at the cash register and a few attempts at being a Saturday headwaiter in the upstairs second-floor level,” he recalled in Playbill.
He also learned how to cater to Sardi’s unusual clientele. When Broderick Crawford was appearing in “Of Mice and Men,” Vincent was volunteered to take the actor’s Doberman for its nightly walk.
Mr. Sardi spent two years learning the food-service business at the Ritz-Carlton before rejoining Sardi’s in 1939 as dining-room captain. That year he married Carolyn Euiller. The marriage ended in 1946.
In 1946, he married Adelle Rasey, an actress. That marriage, too, ended in divorce.
In 1947 Vincent Sr. retired, and Vincent Jr. took over the restaurant, buying it from his father. Sardi’s was already renowned as a place where deals were made, gossip circulated and actors and producers made it their business to see and be seen. “The restaurant had a central place in the theater,” said Gerald Schoenfeld, the president of the Shubert Organization. “You could walk in at lunch and do a day’s business, see people you hadn’t seen in a long time. You didn’t think of going anywhere else.”
Mr. Sardi, a tall, affable man with a military bearing, perfected the art of seating enemies far apart and putting friends and potential allies near one another. “He was always the soul of politesse, but where he seated you could be crucial to making a deal,” said the producer Arthur Cantor.
Mr. Sardi also knew how to keep temperamental actors happy. “You’ve got to be awfully careful with actors out of work,” he told an interviewer. “They’re very sensitive about their fading prestige, and I know darn well they scrimp to come in here, on the chance that they’ll be considered for a part. Boosting an actor’s ego with a table in a good location is simply my way of giving him a pat on the back.”
When he was not running the restaurant, Mr. Sardi raced cars, played polo and skied. He was also president of the Greater Times Square Committee in the 1960s and the Restaurant League of New York in the 1970s.
If Sardi’s was a club, its rules were mysterious. Only Mr. Sardi knew them, and only he could explain why, for many years, one of the best tables was held for Mr. and Mrs. Ira Katzenberg. The Katzenbergs, who by the early 1950s had attended virtually every Broadway opening for 30 years, took their seats at Sardi’s at 7:15 and ordered, without fail, a brandy and a bottle of Saratoga water. Mr. Sardi called them his favorite customers.
“People like them keep the theater alive, and the theater is their life,” he said. “The least we can do is give them the best table in the house.”
Mr. Sardi could do nothing about the autograph hounds and the photographers who crowded around the entrance. But inside the front doors, his word was law. Diners were not to be disturbed.
Sardi’s shone brightest on the opening night of a Broadway show, and in the 1960s, a show opened nearly every night. The ritual never varied. In a line that stretched down 44th Street, theatergoers, theater insiders and celebrity watchers clamored for a table, hoping against hope to be seated on the first floor, where they could see cast members, producers and the playwright of the moment entering the restaurant after the curtain rang down. As the actors made their way to their tables, the diners would stand and applaud.
Once seated, the actors, producers and playwright would put on a brave face waiting for the reviews. The first 25 copies of The New York Times and The New York Herald Tribune were rushed over to Sardi’s from the printing presses at midnight, with the review pages marked. Mr. Sardi would man the telephone, taking calls from friends of the cast, ticket brokers and newspaper columnists eager to get a read on the fate of the new play. If the reviews were poor, a pall descended over the dining room, and diners would slink out the door. If the reviews were good, it was Champagne all around and a celebration until the wee hours.

Vincent Sardi Biography & Family History

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Birth


New York, NY United States

Death


Berlin, Washington County, VT United States

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Last Known Residence

Waitsfield, Washington County, VT

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Education

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Professions

“All of us on the staff were caught up in each Broadway play,” Mr. Sardi wrote in Playbill. “We became involved in the raising of money, the casting of roles, the progress of rehearsals, and, after opening night, the success or failure of a play.”
In 1946, hoping to capture some of the excitement of Sardi’s, the radio station WOR created “Luncheon at Sardi’s,” an hour long program in which the host moved from table to table, microphone in hand, interviewing celebrities. In 1949, the show spawned a television spinoff, “Dinner at Sardi’s,” which failed to catch fire. The celebrities had a bad habit of using their air time for shameless self-promotion.
Undeterred, Mr. Sardi appeared as himself in two television dramas in the mid-50s, “Catch a Falling Star,” on “Robert Montgomery Presents,” and “Now, Where Was I?” a CBS production. He also turned out a cookbook, “Curtain Up at Sardi’s” (1957), which he wrote with Helen Bryson. It included, of course, the restaurant’s signature dish, cannelloni with Sardi sauce, a homey curiosity in which French crepes were stuffed with ground chicken, ground beef, spinach and Parmesan cheese, then topped with a velouté sauce enhanced with Hollandaise, sherry and whipped cream.
By the late 1950s, Sardi’s was grossing about $1 million a year, and in 1958, looking to expand, Mr. Sardi opened Sardi’s East, at 123 East 54th Street.
Mr. Sardi threw his all into the new venture. He arranged for theatergoers to be taken to Broadway on a London double-decker bus. He hired out-of-work actors as conductors. He lured his father out of retirement and installed him as manager. Sardi’s East never caught on, however, and Mr. Sardi sold it in 1968.
By the 1960s, the Times Square area was deteriorating, the theater district was becoming more dangerous and the vibrant world of culture that had nourished Sardi’s entered a period of decline. To make matters worse, in 1974, Mr. Sardi embarked on a ruinous venture, opening a 700-seat dinner theater in Franklin Square, on Long Island. The theater burned money for two years before closing.
At Sardi’s, critics complained, standards seemed to be slipping. “Those who go to the restaurant to observe celebrities will rarely be disappointed,” Mimi Sheraton wrote in a 1981 review for The Times. “Those who go for good food that is well served will rarely be satisfied.”
Gradually, Sardi’s became a tourist destination. The lunchtime business evaporated. The restaurant was showing its age. In September 1985, Mr. Sardi sold it for $6.2 million to two producers from Detroit, Ivan Bloch and Harvey Klaris, and the restaurateur Stuart Lichtenstein. They announced plans to bring back the old luster and open up a Sardi’s restaurant, hotel and casino in Atlantic City. Instead, they fell behind on payments, declared bankruptcy and closed the restaurant in June 1990.
Mr. Sardi, who had planned to spend a tranquil retirement in Vermont, resumed ownership of Sardi’s in 1991. He gave it a face lift, leaving intact the 700 or so caricatures of theater people that hang on the walls. He also brought in serious chefs, who gradually improved the quality of the food, although Sardi’s, even in its heyday, never owed its reputation to its kitchen. As his health declined, Mr. Sardi spent less and less time at the restaurant, turning its operation over to his partner, Max Klimavicius, who will continue to run the business, a restaurant spokesman said yesterday.
Mr. Sardi is survived by his wife, the former June Keller; three children, Paul, of Coco Beach, Fla.; David, of San Diego; and Tabitha, of Manhattan; a sister, Anne Gina Sardi of Stamford, Conn.; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. A daughter, Jennifer, died earlier.
The family plans to hold a memorial service at a date to be announced but at a location that is certain: Sardi’s.

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Military Service

In 1942 he joined the Marine Corps, which took one look at his résumé and assigned him to run the bachelor officers’ mess at the Cherry Point Air Station in North Carolina. In 1945 he was sent to Okinawa, where he supervised a rest camp. He left the Marines as a captain.

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Male

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Timeline

1915 - In the year that Vincent Sardi was born, The Birth of a Nation opened in February. A silent film, it was the most ambitious film to date and is considered a classic. Three hours long, it starred Lillian Gish and was directed by D. W. Griffith. The movie was based on the book The Clansman and told the story of two families (one pro-Union and one pro-Confederate) and their relationship during the Civil War and Reconstruction. The KKK was shown as "a heroic force".

1952 - When he was 37 years old, on February 6th, George VI of England died from a coronary thrombosis and complications due to lung cancer. His eldest daughter, age 25, immediately ascended the throne as Elizabeth II and her coronation was on June 2 1953.

1971 - When he was 56 years old, on May 3rd, 10,000 federal troops, 5,100 officers of the D.C. Metropolitan Police, 2,000 members of the D.C. National Guard, and federal agents assembled in Washington DC to prevent an estimated 10,000 Vietnam War protesters from marching. President Nixon (who was in California) refused to give federal employees the day off and they had to navigate the police and protesters, adding to the confusion. By the end of a few days of protest, 12,614 people had been arrested - making it the largest mass arrest in US history.

1974 - Vincent was 59 years old when on August 9th, Gerald R. Ford became the 38th President of the United States. He had been Vice President for 8 months when he became President due to the resignation of President Nixon.

1993 - By the time he was 78 years old, on January 20th, William J. Clinton became the 42nd President of the United States. He beat incumbent George H.W. Bush who was seeking his second term. Clinton won 43.01% of the popular vote to Bush's 37.45%. An independent candidate, Ross Perot, won 18.91% - the most votes for an independent candidate since Teddy Roosevelt's run for President in 1912.

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Obituary

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Vincent Sardi died on January 4, 2007 in Berlin, VT at 91 years old. There is no known cause of death for Vincent. He was born in 1915 in New York, NY. We have no information about Vincent's family. We know that Vincent Sardi had been residing in Waitsfield, Washington County, VT.

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