Happy Columbus Day!
I know, Columbus Day is not politically correct. But something about Indigenous People's Day just makes me cringe. And since Jimmy's family is Italian, I like the idea of following the example of most Italian-Americans and using the day as a celebration of their unique and abundant culture.
So here are my personal top 10 most influential Italian-Americans du jour. In no particular order. And my apologies to anyone who didn't make the list. It's my list and I can put on it whoever I want. And feel like writing about.
1. Frank Sinatra. Francis Albert Sinatra was hands down the best popular vocalist of all time. The Chairman of the Board, baby. The subtlety and depth of emotion he was able to bring to his singing was incomparable. That man could sing a song. He went through ups and downs throughout his life, both personally and professionally, but he managed to evolve and grow and remake himself and always remain relevant. In fact, my favorite Sinatra stuff is from the '70's, when he had a few years on him, and his voice had grown rougher, but more filled with passion and experience.
In 1974, Jimmy's parents and their friends had tickets to see Sinatra at Madison Square Garden. It was his big comeback, the Main Event concert. At the last minute, someone got sick, and Jimmy got to use the ticket and go along. He says it was one of the most amazing experiences of his life. Not only seeing Sinatra in concert, but seeing the way his parents and their friends reacted to him. He'll never forget Aunt Rosie losing her mind and screaming "FRAAAANNNKKIE!" like a teenager. And he says that when Ol' Blue Eyes closed the show with "My Way", it was practically a religious experience. Well, thanks to the magic of YouTube, here it is, the exact moment Jimmy experienced...
2. Frank Capra - Born Francesco Rosario Capra in Sicily in 1897, Frank Capra directed some of the most iconic American movies of the twentieth century. When I was a little girl, I discovered the films of Capra while watching the late, late movie, and became a little obsessed, memorizing whole scenes of dialogue. "It Happened One Night", "You Can't Take it With You", "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and best of all, "It's a Wonderful Life" are among the most beloved of American films.
3. Ernest & Julio Gallo - The brothers founded E & J Gallo Winery in California in 1933, shortly after the repeal of Prohibition, and were pivotal in bringing California wines to the world, as well as making wine drinking popular to all Americans. Woohoo!! They are now the largest exporters of California wine, with more than 50 labels, ranging from the sublime to the...well, can you say Boone's Farm?
4. Robert De Niro - Despite his recent silly comedies, and having produced the single worst southern accent on film (Cape Fear), I still think he's brilliant. Plus, I met him a couple of times, and he was very nice, if really shy. Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Good Fellas, Godfather II and The Deer Hunter are all practically perfect, which is a stunning achievement for any actor. Which leads me to...
5. Martin Scorsese - Born in New York' s Little Italy to parents who worked in the Garment District, Scorsese has always had a passionate love of film. A product of the 1960's NYU Film School, Scorsese became one of the enfants terribles of 1970's Hollywood, who redefined American filmmaking. And directed some of my most favorite movies ever.
6. Joe DiMaggio- Joltin' Joe was a three time MVP and 13 time All-Star. In his 13 years with the New York Yankees, the Yankee Clipper led them to 10 pennants and 9 World Championships. In 1941, he had a 56-game hitting streak, a record that still stands.
The then there's the whole Marilyn Monroe thing. Though they were only married for 274 days in 1954, he reportedly never stopped loving her, and after her marriage to Arthur Miller ended in 1961 and she was basically falling apart from psychiatric problems and pill addiction, he tried to take care of her and clean her up, and supposedly, he was planning to ask her to remarry him when she was found dead. He was the one who claimed her body and arranged her funeral, and he had 2-dozen red roses delivered to her crypt twice a week for 20 years. And he never remarried.
7. Joseph Barbera - Forget Walt Disney. I was always a Hanna-Barbera girl. The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Huckleberry Hound, Atom Ant, Scooby Doo - they were my absolute favorites. The very first movie I ever saw in a movie theater was "Hey There, It's Yogi Bear!". I was three, and I distinctly remember sitting on Mama's lap and watching Yogi and Boo Boo drive poor Park Ranger Smith crazy. One of my great joys as a parent has been sharing all things Hanna-Barbera with Jude. I remember the first time I put on The Jetsons for him, he came running in hysterically laughing saying "Mama, you have to see this, it's the funniest thing!" then proceeding to act out George Jetson running on that outer space treadmill screaming "Jane! Stop this crazy thing!" Good stuff indeed.
8. Louis Prima - Louie Prima personified cool. Absolutely cool, man. My first memory of anything Prima was when he was the voice of King Louie of the Apes in The Jungle Book. I remember playing my little movie soundtrack album over and over, dancing around like crazy singing "I Wanna Be Like You" and trying to scat. Prima was incorrigible and exuberant, a New Orleans jazz daddy, a hepcat hipster, the ultimate swinger.
Prima scored early on as the composer of "Sing, Sing, Sing", which was most famously recorded by Benny Goodman, and became synonymous with the Swing Era. But he really became the ultimate cool daddy during his "Vegas years" of the '50's, when he teamed up with his wife, singer Keely Smith. Louie and Keely had this wonderful, wild, deadpan, funny banter. Crazy, man, crazy.
9. John Fante- The quintessential L.A. writer. Big brother of the beats. Idol of Charles Bukowski. While never a popular novelist, his work has now taken on cult status. The literary movement he spawned has become known as "dirty realism". If you haven't read him, you should. Start with Wait Until Spring, Bandini, then work your way through the Bandini Quartet. You won't be disappointed.
10. Francesco Scavullo- When I was in high school, I became obsessed with the photography of Scavullo. I remember Kaysie and I spending hours on the floor of book stores pouring over the pages of magazines and books of his work until I finally saved up enough money to buy Scavullo on Beauty. Yes, we were odd little girls. But we knew good stuff when we saw it...
Okay, that's my list. And yes, I realize that I skipped both Pacino AND Coppolla. Shame on me.
Looking back over it I've realized that it's all men. And all Italian bad boys. Hmmm. What does that say about me? A weakness? Heh. Probably.
Alright, I'm going to go make pasta and serve it to my Italian-American men to celebrate their day.