Jon Polito, known to Millennium fans as Eddie Scarpino Giannini in Omerta, and beyond that, to television lovers for his roles in Homicide: Life on the Street and Modern Family, has passed away.
I’m not going to do the usual exposition of his cause of death, that is a misdirect frankly. We far too often focus on how people die when we hear such news and it shouldn’t matter. In fiction, I tend to argue (and have done so, loudly, over many podcasts) that you can have a crappy first act or a terrible second act, but the audience will never forgive a bad third act; how you end a story will be how people remember it. With people I feel it is better to be contrary – a person’s ending shouldn’t overshadow how they lived. For those close to a death, it is understandable, for those who aren’t immediate, it doesn’t matter. On a personal note, it’s why I really dislike funerals. I prefer to consider people simply “moving on” as they do through life. I’m not really sure why we should consider death any different.
I didn’t know Jon beyond an interview he did for Back to Frank Black, so I feel no claim on talking about his passing – I leave that to those who have to deal with such grief. I do feel, however, as someone who has never forgotten that ninety odd minutes of recording, and who came away thinking “I really like that man”, it seems appropriate that I say a few words. Perhaps just so, in this tiny corner of the internet, before the Future Wars consume it, there is a dignified memory of this man – perhaps more accurately, a reflection of him through my eyes. I guess in someway my reflection is by definition – a unique perspective to offer, and without wanting to sound melodramatic, extends his presence beyond his passing on – an act 2016 seems keen to chuck around the entertainment industry like confetti.
To me, Jon Polito isn’t associated with Millennium first and foremost. To me, Jon Polito was Detective Crosetti in Homicide: Life on the Street. Crosetti was a police detective fixated with the assassination of President Lincoln. Not the most inspiring description, I agree. However, Polito got to play Crosetti as a fictional re-enactment of a true case: a Homicide cop struggling with the shooting of a uniform officer that had left the man blind. It was a touching performance, and as with all the actors in those original seasons of Homicide, Polito looked the part of a real police officer, rather than the chiselled facsimile of law enforcement that so often graces our screens (and did so in Homicide in the seasons following Polito’s exit).
What impressed me about Jon Polito (and I feel uncomfortable calling him “Jon”, suggesting a familiarity that seems inaccurate) was his honesty. He saw himself as an actor who was somewhat problematic in his time on Homicide, with his own personal issues bleeding into his work. He was a passionate man, and that passion could flow forth. He saw, and regretted, how that created issues with his vocation. That sort of candidacy was something I hadn’t expected. Not out of any glorified expectations of an actor, but simply, very few people will be so honest about their past, be they working in an office, or a shop, or a stage.
The second thing that interested me was his love for Millennium. As I’ve said in previous podcasts, he got somewhat terse with my own personal interest in talking Homicide – he had come on to talk about Millennium! He wanted to talk about how the role occurred at a point in his life and had come to mean something – the joy to work with Lance, to work on a quality show, with a script and character that touched him. Again, show aside, it was fascinating to see someone, someone with more than a few credits to his name, speaks so fondly of a one-time gig. Millennium, for all the respect it gets from its fans (and the industry) was not a big show. Declaring your respect and love for a guest role on a cult show is hardly something that carries great actor prestige – it’s not your show, you are an ephemeral moment in a twenty odd episode production. I don’t even recall that Jon was really on the podcast to pitch anything current either, certainly, that was not his motivation for being there. For him, Millennium meant something, and he was willing to express that, to talk about this one show he guested on, and how it meant something to him. I rather liked that.
I guess it’s all about context. Honesty about his faults, honesty about what he loved. Somehow it meant you felt you were talking to someone who had the balls to speak about himself as a person, and as an actor. Yes, many actors do this, I am not for a moment suggesting that Jon Polito was conveying anything unique by being honest in an interview, but to me, at that moment, it was special. I guess in a sense that’s the point of writing this piece: not to add anything new, not to give the information internet gestalt – some new titillating fact, or a fascinating new perspective, but to do what I felt I needed to do, and pay respects to someone who clearly made an impact on me – for whatever reason – and attempt to convey why that was. I don’t think it really matters to really how successful I am at expressing my thoughts or motivations, the fact that I have, shows that on some level – perhaps a level I don’t quite understand myself – Jon Polito became a bookmark in one of the acts of my life. A small moment, far smaller for him, but a moment nonetheless.
And if Back to Frank Black has given me anything, it’s those small, special moments. This, I suppose, is a public way of thanking him for that.