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While in the midst of a burgeoning, albeit struggling boxing career, actor Tony Danza became a true overnight celebrity thanks to his portrayal of the dimwitted, but good-natured cab driver Tony Banta on the iconic sitcom, "Taxi" (ABC/NBC, 1978-1983), often ranked as one of the best television comedies ever made. Though sometimes overshadowed by his more bizarre co-stars, Danza nonetheless became an instant household name. Right after "Taxi" ended, he starred in the more conventional sitcom, "Who's the Boss?" (ABC, 1984-1992), which ran for a long eight seasons and sat in Nielsen's Top 10 ratings for several seasons. Because of these two successes, Danza earned himself enough clout to become an executive producer with his own production company, leading to numerous specials and made-for-television movies. While he was a force on the small screen, Danza struggled in the feature world, starring in stinkers like "Going Ape!" (1981), "Cannonball Run II" (1984), and "She's Out of Control" (1989). In later years, he even started to struggle on the small screen with short-lived series like "Hudson Street" (ABC, 1995-96) and "The Tony Danza Show" (ABC, 1997). But he found new life on the Broadway stage with acclaimed dramatic performances in "A View from the Bridge" (1998) and "The Iceman Cometh" (1999), while earning respect for a lauded recurring role on "The Practice" (NBC, 1997-2004). Despite the ups and downs of his career, Danza remained an amiable presence in any project.
Born on April 21, 1951 in Brooklyn, NY, Danza was raised in a blue collar home by his father, Matty, a garbage collector, and his mother, Anne, a bookkeeper. When he was older, the family moved to Long Island, where he eventually graduated from Malverne High School. Danza went on to attend the University of Dubuque in Iowa on a wrestling scholarship, earning his bachelor's degree in history in 1973. Upon his return to the East Coast, he became a professional boxer, making the finals in the New York Golden Gloves competition while amassing a 9-3 record as a professional. But acting proved to be his true calling, which he pursued after being discovered in a boxing gym by a producer. Danza soon found himself cast on the show "Taxi" (ABC/NBC, 1978-1983), playing Tony Banta, a good-natured, but mildly dimwitted struggling boxer who works as a cab driver with a group of misfits: a compassionate father figure (Judd Hirsch), a shallow wannabe actor (Jeff Conaway), a divorced mother of two (Marilu Henner), and a burnout from the 1960s (Christopher Lloyd); all of whom are made miserable by their backstabbing, amoral dispatcher (Danny DeVito).
With a ready grin and eager-to-please manner, while looking like an Italian-American character type in the Sylvester Stallone mold, Danza brought a dimwitted, but gentle appeal to the role of Tony Banta. His likeable naïveté clashed pleasingly with his tough-guy appearance and allowed the untrained actor to mold his own character amid a formidable comic ensemble. Though much of the show's attention went to DeVito, Lloyd and Andy Kaufman's bizarre foreigner, Latka Gravas, Danza nonetheless became a star in his own right. In 1980, he received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Following his feature acting debut in the forgettable teen comedy, "Hollywood Knights" (1980), Danza made the mistake of "Going Ape!" (1981), a lame comedy in which he played the heir to a five million dollar fortune who must care for three rambunctious orangutans in order to receive his inheritance. Meanwhile, the year after "Taxi" left the airwaves, Danza returned as the star of his own show, "Who's the Boss?" (ABC, 1984-1992), playing yet another Tony; this one a former pro baseball player and widower who takes a job as a live-in housekeeper for a successful advertising executive and divorcée, Angela (Judith Light), in order to provide a better life for his precocious daughter, Samantha (Alyssa Milano).
Though not as inventive or even as funny as "Taxi," the more conventionally staged "Who's the Boss?" went for broad antics that managed to keep the program's target audience happy for a long-running eight seasons, as well successfully mining the additional perk of a "will they or won't they?" dynamic between Tony and Angela. Throughout that run, Danza earned two more Golden Globe nominations - this time for Best Actor in a Comedy Series. The actor also used his growing clout to mark his debut as a director, co-helming an episode of the show in 1986. Danza next jumped into the producer's game with his first television movie, "Doing Life" (NBC, 1986), in which he played the lead character, a convicted murderer based on the life of Jerry Rosenberg, who managed to escape the electric chair and become one of America's first jailhouse lawyers, leading to becoming a spokesman for the convicts of the infamous Attica uprising. Turning back to feature comedies, Danza starred in "She's Out of Control" (1989) as a overprotective father who suddenly discovers that his blossoming 15-year-old daughter (Ami Dolenz) has turned into a sexual being hounded by many suitors. A failure on all fronts, "She's Out of Control" depressed famed critic Gene Siskel enough for him to briefly ponder quitting his job.
Despite his faulty track record on the big screen, Danza remained a prolific force on television, both in front of and behind the camera. After serving as an executive script consultant on the short-lived "Who's the Boss?" spinoff, "Living Dolls" (ABC, 1989-90), which co-starred a young Halle Berry, he founded his own company, Katie Face Productions, which produced the made-for-television movie, "The Whereabouts of Jenny" (ABC, 1991). Following the last season of "Who's the Boss?" in 1992, Danza remained busy as an executive producer while hosting a variety of specials, including the reality-based "Gettin' Over" (ABC, 1992-95), which explored the problems and challenges of urban youth. He unsuccessfully tried his hand at producing sitcoms with "George" (ABC, 1993-94), starring fellow former boxer, George Foreman, while making a return to feature acting with a supporting role as a washed-up pitcher in "Angels in the Outfield" (1994). That film marked Danza's first performance after recovering from a serious skiing accident on Dec. 28, 1993 in which he sustained two broken vertebrae, crushed ribs, a collapsed lung, bruised liver and kidney, and had his right leg pulled out of the hip socket. After five screws, three rods, a bone fusion and a year of intensive physical therapy, Danza was back on his feet and back to work.
Danza returned to series television as the executive producer and star of "Hudson Street" (ABC, 1995-96), a short-lived sitcom where he played a divorced detective who struggles to raise his son (Frankie J. Galasso) while sharing custody with his ex-wife (Shareen J. Mitchell). Meanwhile, he executive produced fluffy television specials, including the "Before They Were Stars" series (ABC, 1995-96), before returning to series television for "The Tony Danza Show" (ABC, 1997), which became a victim of poor ratings after only five episodes. The show marked the fourth time Danza was a series regular as a character named Tony. The following year, he made his Broadway debut in the acclaimed revival of Arthur Miller's "A View from the Bridge" (1998), taking over the leading role of Eddie Carbone from Tony Award winner Anthony LaPaglia. He next received an Emmy Award nomination for a recurring role on "The Practice" (ABC, 1997-2004), before returning to the Broadway stage for an acclaimed revival of Eugene O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh" (1999), which earned him considerable critical acclaim.
Finding new life on the stage, Danza landed the leading role of former New York City mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia in the musical "Fiorello!" (1999). After joining the cast of the lawyer drama, "Family Law" (CBS, 1999-2002), during its later seasons, the actor hosted "The 81st Annual Miss America Pageant" (ABC, 2001) before playing a burglar who plans a Christmas Eve bank job, only to lose heart after taking a job as Santa Claus in "Stealing Christmas" (USA Network, 2003). Danza next hosted his own daytime talk show, also called "The Tony Danza Show" (syndicated, 2004-06), which featured celebrity interviews along with a song-and-dance number at the end of every episode. Following a brief appearance in the Oscar-winning "Crash" (2005), he returned to Broadway as Max Bialystock in "The Producers" (2006). Expanding his reach, Danza published his first book, Don't Fill Up On the Antipasto: Tony Danza's Father-Son Cookbook (2008), which he wrote with son, Marc, a chef. Going back to his glory days as a boxer, Danza hosted "The Contender 4" (Versus, 2005-09), a reality program that followed a group of boxers trying to make it. He next starred in his own reality series, "Teach: Tony Danza" (A&E, 2010), which focused on the trials and tribulations of him becoming an authentic teacher at Northeast High School in Philadelphia, PA.
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