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Will The Real Italian American Actor Please Stand Up?
Continued from page 2
by Cookie Curci
The first famous Italian American actor to change his name for the screen was, of course, the great silent screen star Rudolph Valentino. Whose real name was Rodolfo Alfonzo Raffaelo Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguolla. No matter his name, his dark Latin good looks were unmistakable and irresistible to female fans. Moviegoers of the 1930s and 40s, put stars like Valentino high on a pedestal, for that reason common names had to be changed to attract fans to the box office. Today's Hollywood is just the opposite, they want to create the illusion that their stars are just like the average guy or gal next door. Otherwise stars such as Ray Romano may have easily become Ray Roberts and Joe Mantegna-Joe Martin?.
Many Italian American actors changed the family surname on the advice of their agents. Oscar winning actress Anne Bancroft was in real life born Anna Maria Louisa Italiano. Penny Marshall, Laverne DiFazio, of "Lavern & Shirley", was born Carole Penelope Masciarelli, Connie Stevens was Concetta Rosalie Ingolia, Robert Blake was born Michael Gubitosi, Nicholas Cage-Nicholas Coppola, Vince Edwards was Vincent Zoino, Talia Shire was born Talia Coppola, James Darren-James Ercolani, Rock star Madonna was born Louise Veronica Ciccone, Tony Danza was Anthony Iadanza, Bobby Darin-Robert Cassotto and Dean Martin was Dino Crocetti. Italian Actress Sophia Loren was born Sofia Villani Scicoloni, a name that would leave little room for her co-stars on the marquee.
Hollywood has a large number of actors of Italian descent who have maintained their ethnic identity and achieved stardom despite having names that are not easily spelled or pronounced. These actors light up the marquee with their ethnicity: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Sylvester Stallone, John Travolta, Leonardo DiCaprio, Danny DeVito, Joe Mantegna, Dennis Farina, Scott Baio, Susan Lucci, Annette Funicello, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Ben Gazzara, Tony Franciosa and Danny Aiello.
Hollywood still continues to typecast the ethnic looking actor in roles that are generally restricted to comedy buffoons, cagey detectives, pizza parlor owners, or mobster roles. The rare exception to this rule came when actor Joe Mantegna was offered the role of Supreme Court Justice, Joe Novelli, on the TV series "First Monday". Lets hope this sets a standard in the media for casting American Italian actors in powerful roles that inspire respect, and not fear, from America's viewing audiences.
We all know there is no proof or reasoning behind these portrayals; no psychological study or research that proves Italian Americans are prone to a lack of intelligence and yet these kinds of stereotyping are accepted by the Italian community more readily then the mobster characterizations.
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