Gene Rizzi (Eugenio Valentino Rizzi)
Photos with Gene Rizzi
BiographyTrento, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
Gene Rizzi was born Eugenio Valentino Rizzi on April 1, 1913, in the tiny village of Tret, Austria (now Italy), near the Italian Alps. His father died seven months earlier after returning to Austria from the United States. Gene's mother, Anna Maria Flor, raised him and his three siblings by herself and eventually moved the family back to Rock Springs, Wyoming, where the Rizzi family had originally had sheep ranching interests. Traveling to and from Europe many times as a youth, Gene settled in Vienna, Austria, to attend the Music Conservatory of Vienna as a violin student. Read more... institution, he began a career as a professional concert violinist. After playing violin in Europe, he moved back to the US to help support his mother and eventually left professional music in favor of an acting career. The Great Depression had just passed its peak and there was a brighter future ahead in Hollywood, and Gene headed there. He began his film career playing tough guys and thugs because of his rugged good looks, and appeared in many features, serials and shorts. These parts included the stranger in The Outlaw (1943), the young tough who discovers to his regret that his draw is not as quick as Billy the Kid's. He also played "Corey" in The Green Hornet (1940) serial. Gene eventually moved on to more substantive parts, appearing with Tyrone Power in Crash Dive (1943) (interestingly, his character in that film was named Rizzi). Other pictures, such as Ten Gentlemen from West Point (1942), took advantage of Gene's abilities with the violin. Still others utilized his expressive, youthful face, as in his uncredited role in To Be or Not to Be (1942) where he utters the Polish RAF pilot's simple pensive line, "Warsaw!" In all of his film appearances, Gene supported the main characters with vigor and intelligence. In the early days of World War II, he was drafted into the US Army and served with distinction with the 396th Signal Corps in China. Shortly after his return to the US at the end of the war, Gene left the film business to devote his life to a new wife and future family. On July 12, 1947, he married Barbara Lee Allen in North Hollywood, California. In 1948, 1951 and 1952 three children were born to the Rizzi family. Gene never discussed his film career with most of his friends and family. Interestingly, though, even his grandchildren could pick out his distinctive voice from old Saturday afternoon replays of his movies. When he died on July 24, 2001, Gene Rizzi left a short film legacy that was perhaps outweighed by his commitment to family. A true artist with many skills, he was first and foremost a husband and father.