Lelia Goldoni, who sparkled as the lead in John Cassavettes’ Shadows and played a friend of Ellen Burstyn’s character in Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, has died. She was 86.
Goldoni died Saturday at The Actors Fund Home in Englewood, New Jersey, her friend JD Sobol announced.
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Goldoni also appeared in the original The Italian Job (1969), in John Schlesinger’s The Day of the Locust (1975), in Philip Kaufman’s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and in Robert Mulligan’s Bloodbrothers (1978).
A second cousin of famed New York Yankees shortstop Phil Ruzzuto, Lelia Vita Goldoni was born in New York on Oct. 1, 1936. She was raised in Los Angeles, where she was one of the Lester Horton Dancers alongside Alvin Ailey and Carmen de Lavallade.
Goldoni studied acting with Jeff Corey and at age 19 moved back to New York, where she became a student at a drama workshop run by Cassavetes and theater director Burt Lane in midtown Manhattan.
Cassavettes then cast her as the independent, light-skinned Black woman Lelia at the center of his debut film, the independent masterpiece Shadows (1959), and she received a promising newcomer BAFTA nomination for her performance.
In his review of the film for The New York Times, Bosley Crowther wrote that Goldoni “brings a freshness and a touching sort of natural gaucherie to the role of the girl.”
Also in 1959, she guest-starred on the NBC series Johnny Staccato, which starred Cassavettes as a private detective.
After living for about a decade in England, where she acted in films and on television, she came back to the U.S. in 1973 and landed a second BAFTA nom for her turn as Bea opposite Oscar best actress winner Burstyn as the widowed Alice Hyatt in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974).
Goldoni appeared in such other films as Hysteria (1965), Theatre of Death (1967) and Richard C. Sarafian’s Gangster Wars (1981) and showed up on television on Vega$, Cagney & Lacey, Knots Landing, L.A. Law and The Pacific.
She also directed and produced the 1993 documentary Genius on the Wrong Coast, about Horton.
A lifetime member of The Actors Studio, Goldoni taught acting technique and script analysis at The Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, UCLA and Hampshire College and lectured at Stanford, CalArts and the University of Massachusetts.
Survivors include her son, Aaron, daughter-in-law Rebecca and grandchildren Lily and James. She was married to actor Ben Carruthers, a co-star in Shadows, and to writer Robert Rudelson.
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