Richard Conte was born Nicholas Richard Conte on March 24, 1910, in Jersey City, New Jersey, the son of an Italian-American barber.
The young Conte held a variety of jobs before becoming a professional actor, including truck driver, Wall Street clerk and singing waiter at a Connecticut resort. The gig as a singing waiter led to theatrical work in New York.
Conte obtained a scholarship to study acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse, where he excelled. Conte made his Broadway debut in 1939, and went on to be featured in other plays.
His stage work lead to a movie job, and he made his film debut in Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence (1939), in which he was billed as "Nicholas Conte." His career started to thrive during the Second World War, when many Hollywood actors were away in the military.
During World War II Conte appeared mostly as soldiers in war pictures, though after the war he became a fixture in the studio's "film noir" crime melodramas.
Conte's last hurrah in Hollywood role was as Don Corleone's rival, Don Barzini, in The Godfather (1972), which many critics and filmmakers, including the late Stanley Kubrick, consider the greatest Hollywood film of all time.
Ironically, Paramount - which produced "The Godfather" - had considered Conte for the title role before the casting list was whittled down to Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando, who won his second Best Actor Oscar in the title role. After "The Godfather," Conte - whose character was assassinated in that picture, so does not appear in the equally classic sequel - continued to appear in European films.