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John A. Buscaglia, veteran stage actor who performed wide range of local roles

Oct. 24, 1943 – March 6, 2015

John A. Buscaglia, a veteran local stage actor who performed a wide range of roles at nearly every theater in town during a career spanning four decades, died Friday in his Kenmore home. He was 71.

The Buffalo native attended Bishop Fallon High School, where he appeared in all of the plays. Shortly after graduating, he went off to Our Lady of Hope Seminary in Newburgh. He later told The Buffalo News that he lasted “about five minutes” at the seminary. Mr. Buscaglia said he left after he got in trouble for sneaking off, during a group shopping excursion, to see Robert Preston perform in “The Music Man.”

“While we were being yelled at, I thought, this is stupid. It was kind of like, theater was calling me,” he said in a 1992 interview.

Mr. Buscaglia later earned a sociology degree from Canisius College. He opted to stay in the Buffalo area instead of trying to become a star on Broadway or in Hollywood.

“I like Buffalo, I have my family here, I have my friends here. Being famous is not that big a deal for me. I’m having fun and making money,” he said in the interview.

Mr. Buscaglia’s career in theater dates from at least the early 1970s, when he performed at the Packet Inn dinner theater in North Tonawanda. He later acted for many years at the Kavinoky Theatre, the Alleyway Theatre, Desiderio’s Dinner Theatre, the Buffalo Ensemble Theater, Road Less Traveled Productions and Shakespeare in Delaware Park, among numerous other venues. “You could really say his acting career reads like a history of the theater in Buffalo,” said close friend Roger Paolini.

Mr. Buscaglia was equally adept at comedic and dramatic roles. “He was great at Neil Simon. He was the quintessential Felix Unger in ‘The Odd Couple,’ ” Paolini said.

Mr. Buscaglia was coveted for roles where he had to employ a British accent, including a star turn as Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.” He also made a top-notch Ebenezer Scrooge.

He was a generous actor who never tried to upstage a fellow performer, and his timing, phrasing and ad-libbing all were impeccable, according to Jay Desiderio, who hired Mr. Buscaglia more times than he can count for shows at his dinner theater. “We lost a giant in the theater community,” Desiderio said.

Mr. Buscaglia won an Artvoice “Artie” award for supporting actor in 2004, an honor that came three years after he received a Lifetime Achievement “Artie.”

In the 1992 interview, Mr. Buscaglia reflected on his career. “ ‘Pretty’ comes and goes, but the character actors can go on forever. I don’t even like the word ‘retirement,’ ” he said. He worked until a few years ago.

Mr. Buscaglia also did commercial work. He once was hired to appear as Scrooge in a newspaper ad, and he was asked to shave his mustache for the photo. He was supposed to earn $400 for the shoot, and balked at shaving. They asked if he would shave for $700. “I said, ‘Where’s the razor?’ ” he later told The News. Until his mustache grew back, he had to wear a fake from George & Co. for his theater work.

For many years, he acted at night and taught social studies during the day at Bishop Neumann High School, where he was known as “Mr. B” and directed the student musicals.

He was active with the Secondary Lay Teachers Association in the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, serving as a union spokesman during a teachers’ strike and later as the association’s president. In 1977, he earned the Bishop Edward D. Head Outstanding Teacher honor for the diocese.

He also worked as an administrator with the Buffalo Teacher Center, a resource for Buffalo public school teachers.

Mr. Buscaglia was devoted to a dog named Pippin, a schnauzer mix, who died in 1997. “He mourned her until the day he died,” Paolini said. “She was his whole world.”

His late father, Christy J. Buscaglia, was the first Buffalo City Court judge of Italian descent and later an Erie County Surrogate Court judge. Survivors include a sister, Ann Marie Vallone, and a brother, Joseph.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Joseph University Catholic Church, 3269 Main St.

– Stephen T. Watson

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