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Ciro 'Mario' Marino, 1932-2009

March 26, 2009 |  1:20 pm

Ciro "Mario" Marino, an Italian American restaurateur who opened his first restaurant in Los Angeles in 1957 and held court at Marino Ristorante on Melrose Avenue for more than two decades, died Wednesday of lung cancer. He was 76.

His family said he died peacefully at his home in Los Angeles.

For more than 50 years, Marino served up familiar, unpretentious Neapolitan-style Italian cuisine -- with plenty of tomato sauce -- at restaurants he worked at or owned across Los Angeles. He opened Marino Ristorante in 1983 down the street from Paramount Studios, where producers, agents and entertainment lawyers came for large helpings of veal scallopine and linguine alla vongole and tall, dense slices of ricotta cheesecake. 

Marino was born in Naples, Italy, on Oct. 26, 1932, the son of a merchant marine and a housewife. He had 10 brothers and sisters, four of whom survived the end of Word War II. At age 16, Marino followed his father's lead and joined the merchant marines, and at age 20, he moved to New York, where he began his restaurant career as a waiter. He landed in Los Angeles in 1952, working at Chianti restaurant and then at Rat Pack hangout Villa Capri. According to Marino, James Dean liked to hang out in the kitchen with him to practice his Italian.

Marino opened his own place -- Via Veneto -- on Sunset Plaza in 1957, claiming: "I created the first outdoor cafe in Los Angeles so popular that Via Veneto couldn't get people to leave until 4 a.m.!"

Marino_2 He then opened Martoni's in 1960 on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood, drawing the likes of Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. The Martoni Marquis opened in 1970, lighted upon by Elizabeth Taylor, John Wayne and Elvis Presley.

Marino decided to move back to Italy in 1976 with his wife, Maria, and their three children. After a few years in Naples, Marino returned to Hollywood to open Marino Ristorante. Maria was the hostess, and his daughter, Rosanna, helped out on the weekends. His sons Mario and Salvatore worked at the restaurant through high school.

Mario Marino continues to run Marino Ristorante and is co-owner of La Bottega Marino trattoria with his brother, Salvatore, who also is chef-owner of Il Grano in West Los Angeles.

"I always asked him, 'How's it going, chief?' " says son-in-law, Stefano Ongaro, owner of All'Angelo restaurant, which, like Marino Ristorante, is located in Hollywood on Melrose Avenue. "He always answered the same way. 'Never a bad day!' "

Marino is survived by his wife, Maria; his daughter, Rosanna, and son-in-law Stefano Ongaro; his sons Mario and Salvatore and daughter-in-law Maja Guldener Marino and granddaughter, Mariasole. Services are planned for Saturday at 10 a.m. at Christ the King Church in Hollywood.

-- Betty Hallock

Photo of Ciro Marino courtesy of the Marino family

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