Obituary: Victor S. Cianca, Sr./Famous city traffic cop
Victor "Vic" Cianca elevated the work of a traffic cop to a choreographed art, captivating local motorists for 38 years with his comedic repertoire of gestures.
He belonged to Pittsburgh, but he was beloved by a nation; he was a favorite on "Candid Camera" and had a minor role in the 1980s classic "Flashdance."
When he reluctantly retired, his signature white gloves were placed on display at the Allegheny County Police Academy.
Mr. Cianca, of Brookline, died Sunday. He was 92.
People far and wide enjoyed his theatrical antics -- and his balletic calm during traffic jams. Motorists who regularly encountered him brought him gifts.
"I used to drive in every morning, and I'd make a point ... to go by and wave to him," said former Mayor Sophie Masloff. "Everybody came from all over to watch him direct traffic."
Mr. Cianca used as many as three limbs at once to hurry people along. When someone drove too slowly, he would rest his cheek in his hands, miming sleep. If a driver tried to explain away a traffic violation, he played an imaginary violin. He took slow, silly bows, blew his whistles so hard they quit and wore his white gloves so often that he earned the nickname "Gloves."
The son of two Italian immigrants, Mr. Cianca was born in Pittsburgh in 1918. He graduated from South Hills High School and went to work in a steel mill before joining the Navy during World War II.
When he returned from the war, he went back to the steel mill.
He met his wife, Anna Marie, over a cherry soda, said his son, Victor Cianca Jr. The two were married for more than 60 years.
In 1951, along with his brother John, Mr. Cianca took the exam to become a police officer. He assumed his position as a traffic cop in early 1952.
He quickly developed his characteristic routine. Late Post-Gazette columnist Phil Musick called him "the Nureyev of the Intersection."
He rose to fame after he appeared on "Candid Camera" in 1964. In 1965, viewers chose him as the second-best performer ever on the program.
He later acted in Budweiser commercials, appeared on an Italian television series and was featured in "Flashdance," when actress Jennifer Beals imitated him to improve her own dance moves.
His fame occasionally earned him animosity from fellow officers.
"I've gotten more guff from the guys I work with than I ever got from the public," he said in 1982.
When he was invited to New York to accept an award from "Candid Camera," then-Police Superintendent James W. Slusser refused to let him to travel there.
"If he wants to be an actor, he should take a course at Carnegie Tech," Mr. Slusser said, at the time. Mr. Slusser later allowed Mr. Cianca to go, though it was too late for the man to receive his award.
He was forced to retire in 1983 at the age of 65, under mandatory city guidelines.
Later, he ran for city council unsuccessfully. He came out of retirement frequently for guest appearances, even ushering a procession of antique cars in 1986.
"He would have worked 'til 90," said the younger Mr. Cianca. "My dad never stopped."
Besides his wife and his son, Mr. Cianca is survived by another son, Richard Cianca of Brookline, two grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Visitation will be 2 to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at Brusco-Falvo Funeral Home, Mount Washington.
A Mass will be celebrated Friday at 11 a.m. at St. Paul of the Cross Monastery, 148 Monastery Ave., South Side.
First Published January 26, 2010 12:17 am