Oh, great reviews are the worst. They mislead you more than the bad ones, because they only fuel your ego. Then you only want another one, like potato chips or something, and the best thing you get is fat and bloated. I’d rather just refuse, thanks. Chazz Palminteri AS corny as this sounds, the tale of Chazz Palminteri reaffirms the American dream: a struggling actor from the Bronx achieves Hollywood success. Palminteri toiled for nearly two decades in nightclubs, off-Broadway theatres, and bit television roles before deciding that he would have to create the roles his tough-guy talent deserved. So, at the age of 36, Palminteri wrote and performed a 35-character one-man play that ultimately provided an entrée into the acting world’s elite.
He based that play, A Bronx Tale, on his childhood in New York’s meanest borough, where the Palminteri family lived in a fifth-floor walk-up on a bus driver’s salary. A natural storyteller, Chazz knew from age 13 that he wanted to be an actor. It was his talent as a singer, however, that helped him become a professional entertainer: he spent ten years after high school crooning in hotel lounges and as a member of a pop band. In 1982, he traded in his comfortable music career for the life of a starving actor. He worked as a doorman at Manhattan’s Limelight discotheque to pay the rent while he took acting classes and went on auditions.
Six years and a handful of off-Broadway roles later, Palminteri moved to Los Angeles and soon launched a string of appearances on various television series, beginning with Hill Street Blues. It was a scant two years before a frustrated Palminteri made his now fabled trek to a Laurel Canyon and Ventura Boulevard drugstore, where he purchased five yellow legal pads, and commenced writing the great role that had eluded him. Financed by the Limelight’s owner, A Bronx Tale opened to rave reviews at L.A.’s West Coast Ensemble theatre before it moved to New York’s Playhouse 91 for a sellout four-month run.
Robert De Niro was among the theatre-goers enthralled not only by this play about a boy torn between his father’s love and a gangster’s loyalty but by Palminteri’s stellar performance. Hollywood producers soon came knocking for the film rights, but, with De Niro’s support, the actor-playwright refused to sell unless he was guaranteed the starring role. As a result, it took four years for A Bronx Tale to become a movie, but when it did finally hit the screen in 1993, Palmiteri was indeed in the lead. De Niro assumed a co-starring role and made his directing debut. The film opened to critical acclaim (but lukewarm box office), and the exposure helped him land a role in Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway (1994). Palminteri’s performance as an artistic gangster won him a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
A plateau followed this period of heady career growth, one punctuated only occasionally with interesting opportunities, like his supporting turn in 1995’s The Usual Suspects. He delivered respected performances in such lackluster films as The Perez Family (1995), Mulholland Falls (1996), and Faithful (1996), the latter based on one of his plays. He most recently joined the star-dappled cast of Anthony Drazan’s adaptation of the David Rabe play Hurlyburly, the tale of a group of unpleasant, drug-using, woman-abusing Hollywood wannabes; and reteamed with De Niro for the Harold Ramis comedy Analyze This, the story of an anxiety-riddled mob boss (De Niro) who undergoes therapy with a neurotic shrink (Billy Crystal). 1999 also brought Palminteri a gig voicing an alley cat in Stuart Little, a live-action adaptation of the classic E.B. White children’s classic of the same title.
In his personal life, Palminteri and his wife, actress Gianna Ranaudo, welcomed their first child, a son named Dante, in October 1995. Between dreams of one day coaching Dante’s Little League team, Palminteri wrote a comedic screenplay entitled Dante and the Debutante, about a thief (not his son, despite the title) who falls in love with his victim’s daughter. And no surprise here Palminteri starred in the resulting movie. He has also inked a deal with M-G-M to script and direct a biopic of legendary rock and roller Dion.
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