By Penny Landau **** This is going to be one of the hardest obits I’ve ever had to write, one for a dear friend with whom I worked, respected and adored. As you all know by now, Emmy Award-winning and Oscar-nominated writer/actor Joe Bologna passed away on Sunday morning at City of Hope in Duarte, California at the age of 82, from pancreatic cancer, which he battled for three years. He is survived by his wife, actress and writer Renee Taylor and their son, Gabriel, who is a film and TV director. Taylor said Bologna had “a beautiful life and a beautiful death.” He died just two days after the couple celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary.
With Renee, his partner in crime (and writing), Joe co-wrote and starred in the Broadway show Lovers and Others Strangers in 1968, earning them an Oscar nomination for their screenplay adaptation in 1970, which starred Gig Young and Bea Arthur. Taylor and Bologna also won a Writers Guild Award for their 1971 movie Made for Each Other, in which they also starred. Together, they co-wrote 22 plays and collaborated on numerous film and TV projects, including the Marlo Thomas TV special “Acts of Love and Other Comedies,” the series “Calucci’s Department,” HBO’s “Bedrooms” and PBS’ “American Dream Machine.” Joe’s other film credits include 1984’s Blame It on Rio and The Woman in Red, 1985’s Transylvania 6-5000, 1989’s It Had to Be You and Ice Age: The Meltdown.
Bologna also appeared on TV dozens of times, including the 1986 miniseries “Sins,” 1983’s “One Cooks, the Other Doesn’t” opposite future “Friends” star Matt LeBlanc in the 1991 “Married With Children” spinoff, “Top of the Heap,” the 1987-88 dramedy “Rags to Riches” and more recently, guest shots on “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “According to Jim” and “Everwood.”
I first met Joe and Renee twenty years ago when I became the PR rep for Bermuda Avenue Triangle, their comedy about seniors living and loving in a Las Vegas condo. I was either the fourth of fifth PR rep on the show and when I walked into the dressing room to meet them after the show, my heart stopped. Joe looked exactly like my late father, who died in 1975. From that night on, until we closed the show months later, every time I would sit and talk with Joe, I thought about my father, but it wasn’t just his looks. Joe had a calm, sweet demeanor and made me laugh and laugh. We’d talk about art and his dream of becoming an architect and, of course, theatre and film. He was easy to talk to and was a calming influence on all of us in the company, which also included the legendary Nanette Fabray. That’s what I’ll miss most about him; that and the way he would look at his “Reenee,” as he called her, like the way my father looked at my mother.
Their wedding ceremony, one of many almost annual affairs, had a star-studded cast of bridesmaids – Nanette, Bella Abzug, Geraldine Ferraro, entertainment attorney Floria Lasky and actress Denny Dillon. They arrived in a pure white Hansom Cab drawn by, you guessed it, white horses. It was an affair to remember, much like their marriage.
Last month, Joe attended the 35th anniversary screening of My Favorite Year in Los Angeles. He played egomaniacal TV star King Kaiser in the backstage comedy, inspired by Mel Brooks’ experiences as a young TV writer on Sid Caesar’s legendary “Your Show of Shows.”
Bologna’s final project is the upcoming indie film Tango Shalom, a comedy directed by his son Gabriel.
Renee credits Joe’s doctors for keeping him alive long enough to be awarded the “Night of 100 Stars Oscar Gala Lifetime Achievement Award” in February, 2017, celebrating his work in Hollywood. I’d kinda like to think that it was Renee’s love.