The role of Tony Vincenzo remains one of Simon Oakland’s most endearing and memorable roles. On the surface, Tony seemed to be a rather easy man to read; all he wanted were facts---facts that could be verified. Much to his chagrin, of course, it was all but impossible for Carl Kolchak to prove his unbelievable stories, leading to clashes between the editor and the reporter more than once.
In an old newspaper article from 1967, Simon was described as an actor who studies all aspects of a character before bringing him to life. Though the article was referring to his villain characters, it’s obvious that Simon took the same approach before becoming Tony Vincenzo; there is so much more to Tony than the loud-voiced skeptic on the surface.
Though Tony’s role (and subsequent characterization) in the first Night Stalker movie was limited, it was clear even then that Tony respected the forever-unlucky reporter, particularly in their last scene together. This is expanded upon even more in The Night Strangler; in the beginning of the movie, Tony happens upon a half-drunk Carl at a press bar in Seattle, and though his tone suggests that he very well knows that he’s setting himself up for another series of headaches in dealing with the reporter, Tony still walks over and says hello, and then helps him get a job with the paper he’s currently working for. After the events of the first movie (and all of the clashes they had been through), Tony had every opportunity to just ignore Carl and leave, yet that was the one thing he did not do. No employer would willingly seek to hire a former employee who gave him so much trouble; this is our first hint at the unspoken friendship between Carl and Tony that we see more hints of in the series.
The series, though lasting only twenty episodes, gave us even more depth to Tony’s character. We get more confirmations about his unspoken friendship with Carl, but we also see another side to him: his genuine concern for Carl. Tony is screaming with worry at him in “The Trevi Collection” (despite, ironically, saying that he can’t afford to worry about him), immediately checks up on Carl after he lets out a yell of fright in “The Spanish Moss Murders” (leaving a party in his office, I might add), insists that he take a rest in his office after Carl collapses from exhaustion in “Firefall,” and even keeps a vigil over Carl in the end scene of “The Energy Eater” after the reporter’s latest misadventure leaves him frostbitten and unconscious, among other examples.
Simon’s portrayal of Tony also shows us something else. If there is the right kind of evidence, Tony will be far less likely to dismiss Carl’s story. We see this in “Primal Scream,” where Carl gets convincing photographs of the monster ape he’s trying to chase down. Rather than telling him to get off the case as he usually does, Tony instead encouraged him to keep following the story (much to Carl’s surprise, too). Even after their superiors told Carl to get off of the story, Tony still encouraged him to keep going; clearly, if Carl can prove his unbelievable stories, then Tony will be willing to print them.
In just two movies and twenty episodes, we got an incredible amount of characterization for a character who was clearly multifaceted. One can only wonder how much father Simon could’ve taken the character had the series not been canceled; there was already a script for a third movie, plus scripts for three more episodes. One of these lost episodes, “Eve of Terror,” was adapted into comic form by Moonstone, and if their comic is any indication of the script, then we would’ve seen even more character development of Tony. At one point, Tony openly expresses his regret that he can’t support Carl’s story, even apologizing to him; it’s a very powerful scene, and one that I would’ve loved to have seen Simon bring to life. At another point in the story, we also see Tony show off what I like to refer to as Swivel Chair Judo, which consists of him sending a swivel chair careening across the office floor to knock another chair out from under Kolchak via the domino effect (I should point out that this was well before the considerably more heartwarming scene, and that Tony did have a reason for it); I would’ve loved to have seen Simon do that, as well, for no other reason than that it would’ve been incredibly cool.
I know that I certainly can’t complain with what we have. Simon managed to breathe so much life into Tony Vincenzo with just two movies and twenty episodes. Yet there will always be a part of me that will wonder how much deeper a character was he. As good as Moonstone’s original comics are in helping explore that (including showing us what would happen if Carl and Tony took on a monster together), there is nothing that will ever compare to the joy of seeing Simon bringing Tony to life.