Angelo DiGirolamo passed away last weekend, one month shy of 93. Angelo was the proprietor of Monterey's Bruce Ariss Wharf Theater on Fisherman's Wharf. But that doesn't begin to describe the sweetest man ever to inhabit our little corner of the world. Angelo was pure light and joy. The beacon of Fisherman's Wharf for much of his long life.
I don't know a lot about his history, only that he owned a restaurant on the wharf called Angelo's for several decades before he opened the Wharf Theater in the 1970s. I had the privilege to know him only because my wife Heidi was the musical director at the theater from 1991 to 2002.
I remember when I met Angelo, the first time I attended one of Heidi's shows. I approached the box office and introduced myself to him as "Mr. Heidi Toy" and I can hear his resulting giggle in my head to this day. He provided me with the first of many complimentary tickets and I made my way inside. After the show he took great delight in telling Heidi that I introduced myself as "Mr. Heidi Toy" and we laughed about it all over again.
Over the years we'd wrap up many, many more shows chatting with Angelo in the little art gallery he operated off of the theater lobby. It was always a fun way to conclude the evening.
Sometime around 2002 or 2003, when I was working as an audio/visual technician, I had a job to provide a sound system for a dinner speaker at Fresh Cream restaurant in Heritage Harbor next to the wharf. I set up the equipment before the restaurant opened then had about 90 minutes or so before the group arrived. I took a walk out on the wharf and while I was there I thought I'd pop in the theater and say hi to Angelo.
We ended up shooting the breeze for the better part of an hour. The subject of computers came up. He said he wasn't interested in learning how to use them. "I'm too old." he said. "If I was younger I'd learn about them, but at my age I don't really have any use for them." Those probably weren't his exact words, but that was the essence.
While I had him to myself I wanted to pick his brain about his involvement with the 1952 movie Clash By Night, which was filmed in Monterey. It included a couple of scenes at Angelo's restaurant. There was a character in the restaurant who looked a little like Angelo, and I wondered if he was in the movie, but he said he wasn't.
But it turned out that he was an extra in two other locally filmed movies. In the 1943 WWII drama Edge of Darkness, where Fisherman's Wharf portrayed a Norwegian fishing village, Angelo played a German soldier. And in another WWII flick from 1949, Sword in the Desert, Angelo portrayed a Jewish soldier on the beach of Palestine, which was actually Monterey's Del Monte Beach.
Angelo also told me he served the Sword director, George Sherman, and several of the film's stars at his restaurant. Sherman discussed his plans for the beach landing scene with Angelo, saying he wanted to film it somewhere east of the Navy School. Angelo told him the surf at that time of year could be quite hazardous there, and he advised Sherman to do it closer to the wharves.
Sherman took Angelo's advice. As it was, one boat overturned during filming and the director thanked Angelo for his advice. Had he filmed the landings farther east, the director told him later, it would have been a disaster and ruined his reputation.
Angelo was full of stories like that. We didn't just lose a sweet man last Sunday, we also lost a fountain of local historical knowledge. I'm glad I was able to capture one little slice of his experience to relate here and incorporate it into my research on locally filmed movies.
And speaking of stories, here's a short video from the Monterey County Weekly with Angelo telling a bit about his life on Fisherman's Wharf.