Art Metrano, Actor and Comic Once Felled by an Accident, Dies at 84

Art Metrano, Actor and Comic Once Felled by an Accident, Dies at 84

Art Metrano, a comedian and actor who appeared in more than 120 television shows and films, including the “Police Academy” movies, before a fall from a ladder left him severely injured, an ordeal he turned into a one-man show he performed all over the country, died on Sept. 8 at his home in Aventura, Fla. He was 84.

His son Harry confirmed his death. The cause was not given.

Mr. Metrano first gained attention with a spoof magic act. Introduced as the Amazing Metrano or with some equally grandiose appellation, he would come out and perform a series of tricks that weren’t really tricks. He’d present each hand to the audience, index finger raised, then bang his hands together behind his back and present them again — now, two fingers on one hand would be raised, none on the other.

The schtick got him appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and assorted other programs in the early 1970s. By then he was also building an acting career, having landed small parts on “Mannix,” “Bewitched” and other series in the late ’60s; that run continued in the ’70s with “Barney Miller,” “Movin’ On,” “Starsky and Hutch” and dozens of other shows.

The 1980s brought more acting work, including a recurring role on “Joanie Loves Chachi” and, in 1985, a part in “Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment,” a follow-up to the hit 1984 comedy. He played Mauser, a career-driven officer who becomes a captain and is the butt of jokes; in one scene, he shampoos his hair with epoxy resin. He reprised the role in 1986 in “Police Academy 3: Back in Training.”

But Mr. Metrano’s career was interrupted one September day in 1989. He and his wife at the time had put a house up for sale, and he stopped by to check on it in advance of a showing by a real estate agent. They had work done on the pool, and he noticed that as a result there was gray cement spray all over the back walls and balcony. He decided to hose the gunk off.

“I grabbed the ladder that was leaning against the wall and set it firmly against the balcony,” he wrote in a memoir, “Twice Blessed” (with Cynthia Lee, 1994, later retitled “Metrano’s Accidental Comedy”).

Something went wrong, and Mr. Metrano fell from the ladder, hitting the ground head first and snapping his neck. He couldn’t move. He lay there, imagining the scene if he were still lying there when the real estate agent showed up.

“I’d look up and say, ‘Hi, I’m the owner,’” he wrote in his book. “‘I just broke my neck, but not to worry. House looks great, eh? Nice gourmet kitchen!’”

The humor was characteristic of the way he later told the story in print and onstage (a neighbor eventually came to his aid before the real estate agent arrived), but the injury was serious. He had broken several vertebrae, and permanent paralysis was a possibility.

“When you’re lying paralyzed in a hospital bed,” he said during the stage show, “your past becomes your constant companion because your future is a question mark.”

At first he could neither move nor speak, but he was eventually able to talk again, and to walk, sometimes with the help of a crutch. Within a few years he was telling his story in a one-man show written with Ms. Lee that was performed, under various names, across the country.

When it played in Manhattan in 1996 at the Union Square Theater under the title “The Amazing Metrano: An Accidental Comedy,” Vincent Canby, in The New York Times, said that Mr. Metrano “gives new meaning to the term stand-up comedy: it isn’t the comedy that amazes, but the fact that Mr. Metrano is standing up.”

“‘The Amazing Metrano’ is therapeutic, inspirational theater,” Mr. Canby wrote. “Mr. Metrano is now publicly working through his trauma, finding resources in himself he never knew he possessed.”

Arthur Mesistrano was born on Sept. 22, 1936, in Brooklyn and grew up in the Bensonhurst section of that borough. His father, Aaron, worked in the garment industry, and his mother, Rebecca (Russo) Mesistrano, was a homemaker.

He played football at Lafayette High School in Brooklyn and attended the College of the Pacific in California on a football scholarship, but left college to return to New York to study acting and work on his stand-up comedy. He moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting in 1958.

In his book, he told of trying to worm his way into show business by taking a job selling a phone system that enabled busy people to speed-dial numbers; that got him onto studio lots.

“That was the plan,” he wrote, “sell the product, make some money, meet producers and directors, and then show them my 8×10 glossy and phony résumé.”

It appeared to work, because by 1960 he was getting small roles. In 1971, he landed a leading role in a CBS sitcom, “The Chicago Teddy Bears,” though the show was short-lived. He had another leading role in a 1986 sitcom, “Tough Cookies,” but that show too didn’t last, either.

After his accident, he continued to get occasional TV roles, including on “L.A. Law,” “The District” and “Party of Five.”

Mr. Metrano married Rebecca Chute in 1972; they divorced in 2005. His survivors include his wife, Jamie Golder Metrano; two children from his first marriage, Harry and Zoe Bella Metrano; a daughter from an earlier relationship, Roxanne Elena Metrano; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In 1977, Mr. Metrano reached out to a son he had fathered when younger but who had been given up for adoption. That son, Howard Bald, now a rabbi, performed a memorial service for him over the weekend in Florida.

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