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Wagner College alumnus Robert Loggia died Friday at the age of 85.

Loggia, a native Staten Islander, had a long, highly successful career as a film and TV actor known especially for his “tough guy” roles — but it all started with his performance in a 1949 Wagner College promotional film, where he played a character called “Bob.”

Watch Loggia in this newly redigitized version of “Beautiful Upon a Hill” — then scroll down to read about his homecoming visit to Grymes Hill in 2007.


Left: Robert Loggia in the 1949 Wagner College film, "Beautiful Upon a Hill." Right, during a Wagner College Theatre student seminar in 2007.
Left: Robert Loggia in the 1949 Wagner College film, "Beautiful Upon a Hill." Right, during a Wagner College Theatre student seminar in 2007.

For Robert Loggia, it all worked out OK

By JAY PRICE, Wagner Magazine, Spring 2007

Actor reflects warmly on his experiences playing football
for Wagner College and his roles on stage, TV and film

The guys from the ’48 team were busy trading war stories over coffee and cake in the Hall of Fame Room at Wagner College’s Spiro Center when Walt Hameline, the football coach, showed up with a freshly painted game ball — the kind they usually give the kid who just scored the winning touchdown at Homecoming — for Bob Loggia, the actor.

“See if you can punt it without getting it blocked,” Jim Gilmartin said, which set off another round of storytelling about the days when they were all playing ball on the hill for Jim Lee Howell, the part-time coach who graduated a few years later to his own version of Broadway, coaching the Giants to three conference titles and an NFL championship.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to go for Loggia, a one-time Advance paperboy from Grant City: Swapping lies with old teammates on the back nine of an acting career that stretches from “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” the 1956 bio of boxer Rocky Graziano, to “The Sopranos.”

Turns out he had to play football at Wagner to find out he wanted to be an actor.

He was the smart one, the athlete Elizabeth Smith and Sol Feinberg, his teachers at New Dorp High School, had figured for more than just another neighborhood jock.

“They had it all mapped out for me,” Loggia was saying on the way to a surprise screening of “Beautiful on the Hill,” a 1940s Wagner recruiting video that is surely his first film role.

“The way they figured it, I would go to the University of Missouri to study journalism.

“Then I’d go to the New York Giants.”

Not that he didn’t have other offers.

Loggia was walking past the storefront next to Le- Mole’s drugstore in New Dorp, the one everybody knew was a bookie joint in those days, when one of the proprietors flagged him down.

“Hey, kid,” he said, “you want to work for me?”

A scene right out of “A Bronx Tale,” one of the few movies Loggia didn’t do.

“No, thanks,” he told his would-be benefactor. “I want to go to college.”

He was already playing ball when Nicholas Moss, director of the school theater company, drafted him to play Petruchio in Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”

Sixty years later, he can still do the big scene, “the seduction of Kate,” from memory, and with feeling.

Everything else — the Actor’s Studio; the Academy Award and Emmy nominations; the signature scene where he and Tom Hanks dance on the giant electronic keyboard on the floor of F.A.O. Schwarz in “Big” — came after that, and after that Wagner recruiting film where Loggia plays the role of “Robert Allen,” a freshman finding his way on campus.

“It sounds corny,” he says, “but I knew I’d found a calling.”

He was 17 when he got to Wagner — a three-sport athlete who learned to kick barefoot at Semler’s Oval, a piece of the Island that’s not there anymore, and changed sports with the season — on a campus full of older guys just out of the Army, the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard, going to school on the G.I. Bill.

Now he was back, almost 60 years and 100-plus movies later, white-haired but still moving like the single-wing halfback he used to be, swapping stories with Gilmartin and Ted Doerzbacker and Chris Kartalis, and mourning lost friends like Chester Sellitto.

For a laid-back Arkansas farmer, Howell ran a tight ship.

“Like infantry basic training,” Loggia said.

The football players lived in barracks in those days, and did odd jobs around campus as part of their scholarship, which is how Loggia found himself painting a fence in the middle of winter.

“It was snowing, and somebody left me with a bottle of wine, which led to me running naked across campus.

“I thought they were going to kick me out of school,” he said, banking on the statute of limitations having run out on streakers.

“The place is different now,” Loggia was saying, looking out a second-floor window in the Spiro Center.

And that’s not all that’s changed since the days when he went to Wagner to play football for ol’ Jim Lee, invented streaking, and found out he wanted to be an actor.

“It worked out OK,” he was saying on the way to meet with a Wagner theater class.

The old football players were saying their goodbyes, Loggia stopping to hug Chris Kartalis on the way back to his other life.

“Yeah,” he said, “you could say it worked out OK.”

 
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