In the 1960s, Vic Cianca was more famous than the female North Korean traffic cops are today.
Wearing his signature white gloves, he directed traffic in downtown Pittsburgh for more than 30 years. Vic Cianca was not just any kind of a traffic cop, but a phenomenon, a Pittsburgh icon, who triggered laughter and smiles in the ugliest traffic jams. His unconditional positive regard, graceful style and choreographic moves made him the nation’s most famous traffic cop. He became as much a part of Pittsburgh’s traffic as the buses, cars and the city’s infamous potholes.
“Few can keep from smiling when Cianca rests his cheek on his hands like a sleeping child when he chides a motorist for moving too slowly. Or when he plays an imaginary violin as a motorist tries to explain why he missed a red light to cut into the wrong lane of traffic,” The Pittsburgh Press reported.
Vic Cianca loved his job. He believed that policemen and policewomen are the city’s best public relations people and they should try their best to project a positive image with the working public. “Pittsburghers are the greatest people in the world. Where else can you go and have people call you by name though they don’t even know you personally?”
Cianca directed traffic at football and baseball games, aided motorists who suffered heart attacks, helped fix flat tires, put drunks in cabs and buses, helped retrieve lost children and broke up fights. When he retired, he was missed by thousands of Pittsburgh pedestrians, bus drivers and motorists who were used to watching his fanciful and flamboyant moves while he was working traffic.
The son of two Italian immigrants, Mr. Cianca was born in 1918 in Pittsburgh, he graduated from South Hills School where he played basketball, baseball and football. After graduation, he was a busboy for the old Dutch Henry’s Restaurant on Diamond Street (currently Forbes Avenue) and then worked at Republic Steel with his father. In 1942, he joined the Navy and took part in various missions during World War II. He was discharged in 1945.
Mr. Cianca met his wife, Anna Marie Berberich, in a drugstore in Carrick; they were married for more than 60 years.
He became a traffic cop in 1952. Mr. Cianca rose to fame by mastering his characteristic routine so well that people came from all over to watch him direct traffic.Post-Gazette columnist Phil Musick called him “the Nureyev of the Intersection.”
In 1964, he appeared on the television program “Candid Camera.” He acted in Budweiser commercials, was part of an Italian television series and was featured in the 1980s movie “Flashdance.”
Vic Cianca died in 2010 at age 92. But his choreographed art lives on in the memory of many Pittsburghers and on YouTube.