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Richard Conte was born Nicholas Peter Conte on March 24, 1910, in Jersey City, New Jersey, the son of an Italian-American barber.

Conte held a variety of jobs before becoming a professional actor, including truck driver, Wall Street clerk and singing waiter at a Connecticut resort. In 1935, he was discovered by actors Elia Kazan and John Garfield during his job at the Connecticut resort, which led to Conte finding stage work. He eventually earned a scholarship to study at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York, where he became a standout actor.

He made his Broadway debut late in Moon Over Mulberry Street in 1939, and went on to be featured in other plays, including Night Music and Walk Into My Parlor. That led to his first film performance in 1939, Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence, in which he was billed as Nicholas Conte. His career started to thrive during the Second World War, when many Hollywood actors were away in the military. In 1942 Conte signed a long-term contract with 20th Century Fox. He then changed his name to Richard Conte. His first Fox film was Guadalcanal Diary (1943). During the World War II years, Conte played mostly soldiers in war dramas, including A Walk in the Sun (1945).

Conte appeared in many films noir after World War II. Conte appeared in such Fox crime dramas as Cry of the City and Call Northside 777 (both from 1948), and Thieves' Highway. Conte appeared in Otto Preminger's classic film noir Whirlpool, co-starring Gene Tierney (1949). He also starred with Susan Hayward along with Edward G. Robinson and Luther Adler in House of Strangers (1949) as Max Monetti, a lawyer who defends his father (Robinson) against government charges of banking irregularities and goes to prison for jury tampering.

In the early-1950s, Conte, now not working for Fox, began appearing in films for various studios. Critics and fans consider his best films from that era include the film noir B-movies The Sleeping City (1950), The Raging Tide (1951), Highway Dragnet (1954), The Blue Gardenia (1953) and The Big Combo (1955). He also was featured in a leading role opposite Susan Hayward in the 1955 film production, I'll Cry Tomorrow, a biopic about singer/actress Lillian Roth. In 1959, Conte starred in The Twilight Zone episode Perchance to Dream.

Once film noir became less popular in the 1960s Conte’s career was at a standstill. In 1964, he and Anne Francis guest starred in the episode "Hideout" of CBS's short-lived drama The Reporter, starring Harry Guardino in the title role as New York City journalist Danny Taylor, with Gary Merrill as city editor Lou Sheldon. In 1966, Conte landed a supporting role in the short-lived CBS sitcom The Jean Arthur Show

Conte appeared as Lieutenant Dave Santini in two Frank Sinatra crime films, Tony Rome (1967) and Lady in Cement (1968) (He had also appeared with Sinatra in the 1960 film Oceans Eleven)as well as the 1966 movie "Assault on a Queen".

Conte eventually moved to Europe and acted in a number of films. Later in life, Conte acted one of his most memorable performances in The Godfather (1972) as Don Barzini (he was at one time also considered for the title role, a role that Marlon Brando eventually filled.)

He continued to work in European films until his death. His most notable of over sixty films include The Godfather (1972), Oceans Eleven (1960), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), and Call Northside 777 (1948).

Burial site is in Westwood Memorial Park.

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