News Column

Peoria native Steve Vinovich carves out career as an actor

June 15, 2013

YellowBrix

June 15--PEORIA -- The name Steve Vinovich might not ring a bell, but shown a photograph, a lot of people would recognize the actor -- he's had memorable roles in many movies and television shows during his long career.

Another fact most people don't know about Steve Vinovich is that he's from Peoria.

"I grew up on the south side -- Star Street," said Vinovich while sitting beneath the tent at Corn Stock Theatre in Upper Bradley Park recently. "I went to St. John's and Spalding."

Vinovich celebrated his 50th high school reunion with his classmates from Spalding Institute last weekend. He'll be in town through the end of the month, not only catching up with old friends, but also starring in Corn Stock's production of "The Foreigner" Friday through June 29.

"The Foreigner" is one of my favorites," Vinovich said. "It's very sweet and very funny."

Vinovich chose the play for his performance here. He's been planning this event for some time with long-time friend Doug Day, a member of the Corn Stock board of directors who, as a fellow actor, roomed with Vinovich in New York City many years ago.

"He set this up -- he pitched it. He called me and asked what I wanted to do," said Vinovich. "It's a play where the innocent hapless boob becomes the hero. He's never been noticed, never been anything in his life. He has the line 'How does one acquire a personality?' said Vinovich with the deep, hearty laugh of someone well trained in the art of voice projection.

Vinovich displayed an interest in performing at a young age. He loved doing puppet shows for his family and began starring in performances when he was in grade school.

He was also a big fan of television and movies. On Saturday mornings his parents would give him a quarter for the trip uptown to see matinees in theaters now long gone.

"The Beverly, the Palace, the Madison," he said. "Every Saturday morning they'd have a kid's matinee, cartoons, then show a movie- either a horror show or a comedy. It cost 25 cents to get in."

In high school Vinovich's talent became obvious. He wrote his first skits for stunt shows, a competitive event. The best show took the prize.

"I wrote three in high school, three in college, and I starred in them all, and won them all," he said.

Still, Vinovich didn't consider acting a serious pursuit when it came time to choose a major at the University of Illinois in Champaign.

"I didn't think people from Peoria became actors," he said. Instead he majored in broadcast journalism. His talent, however, couldn't be stopped. He ended up starring in several university productions and went on to graduate school at University of California, Los Angeles. There he began acting in commercials to pay the bills.

"Then on a fluke, I got a full scholarship to Juilliard," Vinovich said. While visiting New York, Vinovich ran into an old friend who suggested he audition for graduate school at Juilliard. He quickly pulled together a couple monologues for the audition, then thought nothing more of it. A month later a representative from Juilliard called and offered him a full ride, Vinovich said.

While living in New York, Vinovich did lots of live theater. In 1986 he moved back to Los Angeles where he started doing TV and movies. Over the years he's also done voice-overs and hundreds of television commercials. People might remember him for appearances on "Law & Order," "Malcolm in The Middle," "Home Improvement," and "Hanna Montana." He once had a fun part in "Three's Company" as the man who stole John Ritter's recipe -- Suzanne Somers turned on the charm to get it back. More recently, Vinovich recalls trying out for the part of Cosmo Kramer on the iconic sitcom "Seinfeld." Vinovich believes this was the part that could have catapulted him to super stardom, but he lost out to Michael Richards. With characteristic candor and graciousness, Vinovich said the way Richards played the part was truly funnier.

While he's never gotten the big break that would have made him a household name, Vinovich has made a career of acting, which is pretty rare.

"I've been very, very lucky," he said. "I've never had another job."

Though his parents didn't discourage him, they were always a bit fearful of their only child's choice of a career, Vinovich said.

"They were always a little worried," he said. "Whenever we talked about it they always had the puzzled, furrowed brow, even when I was playing on Broadway. What really resonated with them is when I popped up on television and their friends started mentioning it."

Vinovich's parents have both passed away. He fondly recalls a memory made a few years back when they visited Los Angeles.

"Days of Our Lives" was my mother's soap," he said. "She watched it every day." Vinovich took her to the set and showed her around. Some of the actors were there and he introduced her.

"She was talking to them like she knew them," Vinovich said with a laugh. It was a good day -- he got to share his interesting profession with his parents. "It was a nice gift I could give them."

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If you go

What : Corn Stock Theatere presents "The Foreigner" starring Steve Vinovich.

When : 7:30 p.m., June 21 through 29.

W here: Upper Bradley Park, 1700 N. Park Road, Peoria.

Tickets: $12 for adults and $10 for students through high school (with ID) and are available at the Corn Stock box office, by calling (309)676-2196, or online at www.CornStockTheatre.com

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Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or lrenken@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter, @LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.

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(c)2013 Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.)

Visit the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.) at www.PJStar.com

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