Who was… Remington Olmstead?

I always enjoy finding ex-pat British or American actors in obscure films, and every time I think I know them all another one pops up in some production or other. Last night, for instance, I was watching La nipote Sabella, a moderately amusing Peppino De Filippo movie, and up pops an obviously American actor playing an amiable oil prospector who has found petroleum under a supposedly barren plot of land owned by Tina Pica. It’s not a big part, but a lot of fun is had with the characters limited grasp of Italian, with him frequently breaking into English whenever he can’t make himself understood. Now I’m guessing that the actor was one Remington Olmstead, who appears midway down the credits, and a cursory glimpse at IMDB would indicate that Mr Olmstead was, indead, an American actor who was active in Italy for some years.

Remington Olmsted
Remington Olmsted

His first film credits are as a dancer or glorified extra in wartime US productions such as presenting Lily Mars (43), but in 1951 he suddenly turned up in Primo Zeglio’s early cape and sword film Revenge of the Pirates. Others followed: Mario Soldati’s The Stranger’s Hand (54, alongside Richard Basehart and Trevor Howard), Marc Allegret’s L’eterna femmina (54), Vittorio De Sica’s The Last Judgement (61) and uncredited roles in Ben Hur (59) and Barabbas (61). Not a huge CV, but curious nonetheless.

A bit more digging around uncovers some more information. The Internet Broadway Database has him listed as appearing in a half dozen productions between 1937 and 1945, almost always in tiny parts or as a singer and / or dancer. A clue as to his post-acting career is found in an article about jazz musician Enrico Rava:

Rava began playing the trombone in Dixieland bands when he was 15 and switched to trumpet at 18 after hearing Miles Davis perform in Turin where moved with his family in 1943. Soon he was getting asked to participate in local jam sessions and in 1963 the Argentine saxophonist Gato Barbieri, who was living in Rome, convinced Rava to join him there. The two honed their skills at a nightly gig that lasted nine months at Meo Patacca, a popular restaurant in Trastevere owned by the expatriate American character actor Remington Olmstead.

A search on Meo Patacca reveals more:

Remington Olmsted, former University of California , Los Angeles football star, dancer and student of opera, did not start his restaurant because of a longing for 18th Century rome, but rather out of nostalgia for old California. After leaving UCLA, Olmsted followed his star to New York and London, ending up Milan, Italy, as a dancer. When he arrived in Rome, it was, as it is to Californians, like coming home. Rome, and many little seaside towns to the south, had the same stone and adobe architecture that remembered ; the beaches were the same as those from Santa barbara to La Jolla, and gentle latin people were like those he had grown up among. He married an italian girl, Diana, daugheter of Daniele Varè, former ambassador and author of “The Laughing Diplomat” and settled down in Rome. Friends, Armando Fontana, Renato Renzi , Romolo Lombardo .. Trasteverini doc, encoureged him to start a restaurant Da meo patacca. His choice of the name explains much of the flavor and spirited abtivity of continuing fiesta and song that floats out on the night breezes from the Piazza mercanti. Olmsted added several troupes of troubadours in the ol Italian style who sing everything from naughty Trastevere songs to the romantic melodies of Naples and from grand opera to American songs.

So there we have it: Remington Olmsted, actor, singer, dancer, football star, restaurateur, Americna in Rome. Whether he’s still alive I don’t know, although there are mentions of him opening a bar in the early 2000s so it would appear possibly so.

About Matt Blake 883 Articles
The WildEye is a blog dedicated to the wild world of Italian cinema (and, ok, sometimes I digress into discussing films from other countries as well). Peplums, comedies, dramas, spaghetti westerns... they're all covered here.

25 Comments

  1. Olmstead played for UCLA (University of California Los Angeles) from 1933-1935. Apparently he had a son Remington Olmstead Jr. who was an actor and who appeared in London in “Oklahoma” in 1947.

  2. Ah, I think that it was the same Remington Olmsted (or Olmstead) who appeared in Oklahoma. I have him marked down as one of those Americans who came to Europe in the immediate post war period, traveled around doing some theatre etc, and enjoyed Rome so much he just stayed behind. The bizarre thing is that he came to Rome as an actor and then stopped during the 60s to do other things; around the time that just about everyone else was moving into the industry, whatever they had been doing previously!

  3. Thanks for the clarification Matt. Maybe he felt he could make a better living as a restauranteur then he could as being a bit actor. Also with the large number of Americans coming over from the States he may have felt they would feel at home and spend time at a place run by an American.

  4. Might well be. Although I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he pops up uncredited in a few later films. There was good money to be made and it sounds like he was part of the whole social scene, so…

  5. I came across to this page while I was looking for some info about “Sor Remy” that is the the nickname that Remington Olmsted was known in Rome by, my city.
    I was longing for knowing more about this bizarre character after listening to the fascinating memories of my father (inspired by a couple of glass of “vino buono”) who owned a ran a restaurant in Trastevere in the 70’s.
    He mentioned this chap “Mr Bob” or “Sor Remy”, a brilliant american guy who literally Invented the typical roman restaurant tradition. It is quite odd to say that but the roman cuisine tradition has been invented by an american. I think that you US people are aware of the fact that in Europe you are famous for so many things and for sure the Art of Cuisine is not among them 😉
    My father owned “I Bifolchi” for about 15 years and very often late in night he received the visit from “Sor Remy” who would drop there for the last drink after spending the evening among the 3 Trastevere’s restaurant of his” Meo Patacca”, “Fieramosca” and “Ciceuracchio”.
    We Roman have to really thank Sor Remy for this little piece of Rome that still belong to us.

  6. Olmstead played the beefy Roman who stopped Jesus from giving water to Judah Ben-Hur in the desert. Confounded by Jesus face, he backed down. One of the most powerful moments in Hollywood film.

  7. Thanks for all of the extra info. I passed your link on to our entire family…some of whom are still in Italy. Da Meo Patacca is on Facebook (with lots of photos of Remy Olmsted). There is also a Da Meo Patacca website.

  8. Remington Olmsted: 06.15.1913 – 04.07.2002 Remington had no children. Remy did do the Judd dance in the original Oklahoma. Remy danced briefly in Radio City and was briefly married to a Rockette, or so he told his family. He later married Diana Vare, the daughter of a diplomat. You can see photos of the two of them on the Da Meo Patacca Facebook albums.

    (I am Remy’s grandniece & keeper of the Olmsted records. Please correct the spelling of OLMSTED…there is no “a”.)

  9. “Da Meo Patacca” was the first of Remington Olmsted’s restaurants in Trastevere. Later, he and others started two more in the same Piazza dei Mercanti, “Fieramosca” and “Ciceuracchio”. Those are the three that Riccardo mentions. Rem also built a beach-place-with-eats called “Aeneas’ Landing”, just north of Gaeta, on the coast between Rome and Naples, and started a fourth restaurant, “A’o Re Burlone,” in the old quarter of Gaeta. He loved all the creative artistry involved, not so much the business side.

  10. Remington Olmsted, my uncle, having been a dancer on Broadway and in London, went to Italy in 1950 to study opera and take voice lessons. Several years later he met and married Diana Vare. They started the first of their restaurants, “Da Meo Patacca,” as a small place where their friends could gather. It became a popular spot in Trastevere, and eventually a full-fledged restaurant. Other restaurants followed, in Rome and Gaeta.

    I think Rem did small parts in films for fun and possibly remuneration in leaner times. After UCLA and before performing on Broadway, he had taken acting lessons at the Pasadena Playhouse in California.

    • Thanks for the info Mary! He certainly wasn’t the only American to do something similar, there were a lot of people who moved to Rome from the States in the 50s and early 60s and ended up doing small roles in films for a bit of extra cash (and because they enjoyed it)

  11. Mr.Olmsted can also be spotted in an early scene of “Helen Of Troy” ( 1954 ). That’s him dismounting in the beach scene, involving Queen Helen of Sparta, to inspect the flotsam of Paris’s ship whilst ‘Paris’ remains hidden and unconscious beneath. His stunning though brief appearance in “Ben Hur” (1959) is a classic of it’s kind. Brutality confronted and tamed by a simple act of humanity. Speaking as an atheist,
    the sequence surely transcends any ‘religious’ connotations.

  12. salve, vivo a Gaeta ed ero un ragazzino quando vedevo il signor Olmstead sempre accompagnato dalla amatissima moglie, passeggiare per le strade della mia città. qui a Gaeta aprì due attività, una di ristorazione: ‘O Re Burlone, che però dopo meno di un decennio chiuse credo soprattutto a causa di motivi logistici, era situata sulla parte alta del centro storico di Gaeta con pochissimo parcheggio per le auto. L’altra attività prevalentemente balneare: Aeneas Landing, è ancora oggi in piena attività. Olmstead vi pose le basi, vi mise le sue idee, la sua genialità, ed anche dopo di Lui, è diventata negli anni una delle più belle strutture di ricezione turistica della costa laziale.

  13. I was a young Navy officer stationed in Gaeta in 1968-69 and briefly dated Rem’s niece (can’t remember her name). She told a great story of Rem’s attempt to make a triumphant and stylish return to California for a UCLA football game. He had his Bizzarini sports car shipped to the States (east coast) and set off on a cross-country drive, but broke down in Kansas, sold the car, abandoned the trip and returned to Italy. I frequently visited his Da Meo Pitaca restaurant in Rome and also his O Re Burlone in Gaeta. I still have a copy of the Da Meo Pitaca menu, which is poster size. His menus were signed “Remintone Olmesto”. What a fantastic character he was!

  14. Back in the early 2000s I became intrigued enough with the actor who refused Jesus water in BEN-HUR to track down his name. This is such a powerful and important scene in the film, one that would fail completely without a compelling performance, that I was struck by the lack of recognition Olmsted has received over the years. There was very little information available on-line and a brief bit about him — minus his name — in Charlton Heston’s autobiography. I compiled the information I had at the time into a short rememberance titled A “Bit” of Immortality. Later, someone in Europe read the piece and offered to provide more information, including the name of his restaurant. I thought I might finally be onto something and tried contacting the family through the website. Alas, no response. I’d still like to do a comprehensive article on Remy — yes, I’ve grown fond of him, too — at least one that I could post on Wikipedia so that more people can identify the man who gave such an unforgettable performance.

  15. about remington olmsted, indeed very difficlt if impossible to find other than his bio, more movies about him. because small roles and uncredited ones are very very hard to find. but i found ONE other picture that he played in. “LA CARROZZA D’ORO” (the golden coach) 1952 historical movie with anna magnani, duncan lamont. MY SOURCE IS BRITISH FILM INSTITUE. (it’s the only source i could find) so maybe he had an uncredited role ? greetings from Belgium, rudy

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