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Erik Rhodes, 84; Comedian, Actor

February 21, 1990

Erik Rhodes, the comedian and character actor known to millions of film fans for his portrayals of suave Continental gigolos in many pictures, among them two with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, has died in his home state of Oklahoma.

Rhodes, also a veteran of the Broadway musical stage and radio, was 84 when he died Saturday in a nursing home in Oklahoma City.

He became part of the national scene in 1933 when he created the role of Rudolfo Tonetti, the excitable Italian co-respondent in the Broadway play "The Gay Divorcee." It became an early Astaire-Rogers film with Rhodes re-creating his role as the hired co-respondent. His motto--"Your wife is safe with Tonetti, he prefers spaghetti"--moved into the jargon of the day.

Rhodes portrayed another passionate Latin, Alberto Berdini, in the Astaire-Rogers feature "Top Hat" and from there moved into several secondary features of the day including "Charlie Chan in Paris," "A Night at the Ritz," "Nitwits," "Old Man Rhythm," "Chatterbox," "Music for Madame" and more.

His last film in 1939 was "On Your Toes," the recently revived Broadway musical.

Rhodes was born Earnest Sharpe and attended the University of Oklahoma where he studied French, Italian and German and won a scholarship to study drama in New York. He also was a capable baritone and slipped easily into musicals of the day, commonly playing the effete playboy that became his trademark.

After serving in the Army Air Force intelligence service during World War II as a language specialist, he did some early television work, most notably with Gloria Swanson in a variety show called "Wonder Boy." He returned to Broadway in the 1950s and was featured in Cole Porter's "Can Can."

His wife died in 1984 and there are no immediate survivors.

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