Victor Buono (February 3, 1938 – January 1, 1982), one of the most popular screen “heavies” of the 1960s and 1970s, may have been the heaviest of the “heavies” of his era, weighing in at 280-300 pounds. But Buono was chock full of acting talent and came to Hollywood with a rich background in Shakespearean roles on the stage at the Globe Theater in his native San Diego, California. He was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for 1962’s What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? for his performance as the weird musical accompanist to Bette Davis’ Baby Jane character. He was also famous for playing the villain King Tut on the television series Batman (1966–1968).
Noted for his ability to mix comedy with villainy, Buono played some of TV’s most notorious bad guys with his tongue in his cheek. Among them, the grand Dr. Schubert of The Man From Atlantis, a Capt. Nemo-style villain who roamed the seas in his super submarine; and colorful Count Manzeppi on The Wild, Wild West.
In honor of this talented actor, who passed away 32 years ago today, we’re sharing an excerpt from Ron Miller’s interview from the release You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet! Interviews with Stars from Hollywood’s Golden Era.
Setting the Scene
I met Victor Buono when he was appearing in a 1965 stage production of Moliere’s Tartuffe at the Comedia Repertory Theater in Palo Alto, California. He was absolutely fabulous in this stage role, literally commanding the stage whenever he set foot upon it. He was such a powerful stage performer that I don’t believe his movie and TV fans ever experienced the real Buono if they hadn’t seen him live on a theater stage.
He was the most charming and self-effacing of men and if he was haunted by the limitations of his great bulk, it certainly didn’t show. He struck me as a very happy soul who was quite content in his own skin and really enjoying the great variety of comic and villainous roles that kept coming his way.
MILLER: Like Sydney Greenstreet before you, you seem destined to be typecast as a villainous character on screen. Your reaction?
BUONO: If you weigh more than 280 pounds, you better get out the black hat and forget about getting the girl at the end of the picture. I’ve been shot, stabbed, run over, and been pushed off of, out of, under and over more things than you can imagine. I never get the girl. In fact, I’m not even allowed to have a friend.
MILLER: Given that, what do you consider the ideal role for you?
BUONO: Oh, no doubt, Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff. But ever since I played the sinister mama’s boy in Baby Jane, nobody wants to hire me to play Falstaff.
MILLER: Did you ever think about losing weight and slimming yourself into another category?
BUONO: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to lose weight in order to change the direction of my career. But I always give up and shoot back up to 350 pounds or so.
MILLER: I’ve seen you on the TV talk shows and you always seem to have a pretty amused attitude about your weight.
BUONO: What else can I do but joke about it all the time? I mean, people ask me when I eat breakfast and I usually tell them I sit down to breakfast about 8 a.m. and that usually lasts until 2 or 3 p.m.
MILLER: Does being a big guy present any problems for you doing your parts in movies or TV?
BUONO: Well, let me tell you about one incident. I was playing a bad guy on The Untouchables and they had to show me in a close-up, driving a car. Well, I don’t drive, so they had to tie a rope to the car and have a gang of grips tow me across the set. You can imagine how much they loved doing that.
MILLER: What about your visits to wardrobe? Do they have trouble fitting you with clothes?
BUONO: Trouble? My tailors don’t measure me; they survey me.
MILLER: So, you don’t expect to ever slim yourself down?
BUONO: Well, there’s about as much chance of me losing weight as there is of the Pope being named chairman of the Communist Party.
MILLER: Your villains certainly don’t fit the normal dimensions of movie bad guys.
BUONO: No, I’ve developed my own style. I don’t just torture the hero. I torture him while reciting poetry or enjoying an epicurean feast.
Buono never married and often gave whimsical answers when asked about it. Some sources say he was openly gay, but others say he liked women. Let’s just say that he didn’t seem bothered by the fact that he never “got the girl” on screen and draw our own conclusions about why. Buono died from a heart attack on New Year’s Day in 1982 at his home in Apple Valley, California. He was just 43.