Father Guido Sarducci: From God’s Lips to Your Ears

Posted on 29 March 2010

A prolific and diverse talent whose contributions span comic, actor, author, screenwriter, director, and producer, Don Novello is probably best known for his alter ego, Father Guido Sarducci.

He was born on New Year’s Day 1943, in Lorain, Ohio, to Eileen (nee Finnerty) and Dr. Augustine J. Novello.  As a hybrid of two races renowned for their love of merry-making, Don seemed predisposed to a life as an entertainer.

Upon graduating the University of Dayton, he invented the character that catapulted him to fame.  At a St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Shop, Don purchased a monsignor’s outfit for $7.50: the wisest investment that the Ohio native ever made.  With the addition of a pair of sunglasses, a mustache, a cigarette, and a thick Italian accent, Father Guido Sarducci, the satirical Catholic priest, was born.  The “good father” first took the stage as a stand up comic in a popular San Francisco nightclub.  Later, he appeared on San Francisco’s TV Channel 20’s Chicken Little Comedy Show, where he caught the attention of successful comic David Steinberg.

After signing Don as a writer, Steinberg introduced him to Tommy and Dick Smothers.  The Smothers Brothers were the well-loved “oil and water” comedy duo of the 1970’s; to appear on their program was quite a coupe.  In 1975, Don realized that accomplishment in the persona of Father Sarducci.  From 1977 to 1980, he was a semi-regular on the irreverent cultural phenomenon known as Saturday Night Live.  Don also made a number of guest appearances on other television shows.

Concurrent with his fame in the ’70’s, Don adopted a nom de plume, under which he’d penned correspondence to celebrities and politicians.  As Lazlo Toth (the name of the real-life psycho who’d vandalized the Pieta in Rome), Don needled his recipients by misstating facts and dropping inside jokes.  Some of the jokes were taken seriously, engendering responses with humorous results.  Don Novello later compiled these letters in three books that achieved publication: The Lazlo Letters, Citizen Lazlo, and From Bush to Bush: The Lazlo Toth Letters.

Don went on to produce SCTV.  Patterned upon Saturday Night Live, this ’80’s show showcased the talents of comic actors Martin Short, the late, great John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, and Catherine O’Hara.  During the same decade, Don parodied the Richard Harris hit single, “MacArthur Park” with “I Won’t Be Twisting This Christmas”/”Parco MacArthur.” Don is credited with the lead vocals on this Warner Brothers release.

In 1981, he discovered that the Vatican did not appreciate his humor.  Disguised as Father Sarducci, Don and his accomplice, a magazine photographer, gained access to prohibited areas of The Holy City.  They compounded this transgression by shooting photos of sights verboten to outsiders.  Although the Swiss Guard arrested the mischief-makers, they dropped the charges.  They never, however, confiscated the film!

In 1984, Don scripted The Blade, a send-up of high school yearbooks in which he portrayed students as sheep.  Although Noble Rot never made it to the silver screen, Novello had collaborated with fellow Saturday Night Live alum John Belushi in creating that script.  Don also narrated Fairy Tale Theater’s third season, Pinocchio.

Don’s career took a more serious turn in 2001, when he was chosen to play Dominic Abbandando in The Godfather, Part III.  A speaking role, this opportunity gave the comic/writer/producer some face time in the film, including an appearance in the final scene on the steps of the Rome Opera House.  This solemn bent, however, did not last long.  The same year, Don lent his voice to Disney’s animated film Atlantis: The Lost Empire, as the character of Vincenzo “Vinny” Santorini.  In the film’s sequel, Atlantis: Milo’s Return, he reprised the character.

Many of us who were raised in the Catholic faith revere and fear men of the cloth.  After all, we enter darkened confessionals to spill our sins to them and receive penance!  Don Novello did the opposite.  By gently satirizing the people we had put on pedestals, he gave the world the gift of laughter, including a new generation of funny men and funny women. 

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14 Responses to “Father Guido Sarducci: From God’s Lips to Your Ears”

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    Tank you for the interesting insight of Father Guido Sarducci

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