Italians in Hollywood
The birth of the motion picture industry in the United States coincided with the immigration of millions of Italians to America. Behind the camera, Italian immigrants played an integral role in the development of Hollywood. On screen, however, their portrayal was overwhelmingly negative. Today, Italian Americans are among the industry’s most noteworthy talents, yet the media continue to promote harmful stereotypes of Italian Americans as an ethnic group.
Victor Venti with Marlene Dietrich (1942/1948) by Laura Lara/IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
ITALIANS IN EARLY HOLLYWOOD
As masons, designers, artists, musicians, and tailors, many Italian immigrants and Italian Americans found work on Hollywood movie sets, where their skills were in great demand. Victor Venticinque, known by his stage name Vic Vent, worked for several studios as a musician. In this image, he instructs German American actress Marlene Dietrich, one of the highest-paid stars of her time, how to play the musical saw.
Victor Venti's Musical Saw, Bow, and Mallet (1920/1940) by IAMLA/UnknownItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
As a studio musician, Vent worked alongside Rita Hayworth in Gilda and Down to Earth. Vent used this musical saw, which produces an ethereal tone when played with a bow, during performances and to produce sound effects for films such as Wuthering Heights.
Made possible by a loan from the Venti-Lara family
Tony Campanaro with Laurel and Hardy (1930) by IAMLA/The Campanaro and Santillo familyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Another such immigrant was Antonio Campanaro, who arrived in the United States in 1913, and settled in Los Angeles. Campanaro, pictured left with comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, appeared in several early Hollywood films but is best remembered as Hal Roach’s animal trainer in the Our Gang (Little Rascals) and Laurel and Hardy series.
Tony Campanaro's Pete the Pup with his Puppies (1925/1930) by The Campanaro/Santillo family/IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Campanaro’s pit bulls Pal and Pete were known on screen as Pete the Pup, or Petey. The dogs’ distinctive dark ring around one eye, partially created with makeup, made them among the most recognizable canine characters in film history.
Buster Keaton with Josephine the Monkey (1928) by MGM/Buster KeatonItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Famous for her antics, Campanaro’s beloved monkey, Josephine, appeared alongside Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Thelma Todd. Because the practice of listing a film’s complete production team did not arrive until much later, many individuals who worked in the early motion picture industry, including Campanaro, were seldom recognized for their work.
Peter Mole (1945/1955) by Mole RichardsonItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Sicilian-born Peter (Pietro) Mole arrived in the United States in 1897 at the age of six. Mole studied engineering in college and joined the staff of General Electric Company, where he helped develop a searchlight, among other devices. In 1923, Mole moved to California and accepted a position at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM).
Peter Mole with the Little Rascals (1927/1932) by Mole RichardsonItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
At that time, the carbon arc lamp was the industry standard. After Eastman Kodak introduced Panchromatic black-and-white film, which was sensitive to the various hues of the color spectrum, Mole developed the first color temperature compatible incandescent tungsten lamp. In addition to being quieter, which was increasingly important following the advent of sound in motion pictures, the lamp provided softer, more natural light.
Mole Richardson Truck (1927/1934) by Mole RichardsonItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
In 1927, Mole cofounded the Mole-Richardson Company and began manufacturing a variety of specialized studio lights, which forever changed the face of Hollywood. Later that year, Mole and his company won three Academy Awards for technical achievement. During World War II, Mole devised and manufactured military searchlights, aircraft landing lights, and a classified tank with a strobe light, for which he was honored by the State Department. Today, Mole-Richardson remains one of the most trusted names in the industry.
Tina Modotti in Film (2016) by Francesca GuerriniItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Born in Italy in 1896, Tina Modotti immigrated to the United States in 1913, and settled in San Francisco, where she frequently appeared in Italian-language theatrical productions. Modotti moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the motion picture industry and appeared in a number of silent films, including The Tiger’s Coat.
Tina Modotti and Frida Kahlo in Mexico (1921/1928) by Attributed to Edward WestonItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Modotti detested Hollywood's rampant typecasting and stereotyping, and later relocated to Mexico City and opened a studio with acclaimed photographer Edward Weston. Gravitating to Mexico City’s bohemian art scene, Modotti became acquainted with artists Frida Kahlo, pictured here on Modotti's right, Diego Rivera, and José Clemente Orozco.
Modotti Photography Montage (2016) by Francesca GuerriniItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Viewing photography as an implement for social change, she positioned herself as the official photographer of the muralist movement, and became increasingly involved in the Communist Party. The Mexican government exiled Modotti in 1930; she spent time in Russia and Spain before returning to Mexico under a pseudonym. She died in Mexico City from a heart attack at age 45.
Rudolph Valentino (1920/1925) by UnknownItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Nearly a century after his premature death from a perforated ulcer at the age of 31, Rudolph Valentino remains one of Hollywood’s most famous personalities. Born Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguolla, in Puglia, Italy, Valentino immigrated to the United States in 1913 and worked as a waiter and taxi dancer in New York.
Rudolph Valentino (1920/1925) by UnknownItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Hoping to become an actor, Valentino moved to Los Angeles and secured a role in the 1917 film Alimony. During an era when Italians faced considerable prejudice, Valentino was seen as an “other” and was typically cast as a villain or gangster because of his “exotic” looks and conspicuous ethnicity.
Rudolph Valentino Tango Scene (2016) by Francesca GuerriniItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Valentino achieved stardom in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), an epic tale about an Argentinean family that fights on opposite sides during World War I. His role as Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan in The Sheik, also released in 1921, cemented his image and legacy as the “Latin lover.”
Rudolph Valentino on Cover of Photoplay Magazine (1922) by Photoplay MagazineItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
“The Sheik is a [fake] Arab… he is really an Englishman whose mother was a WOP or something like that.” ─Writer Dick Dorgan, in a 1922 issue of Photoplay magazine, one of the nation’s first celebrity film magazines.
Rudolph Valentino Typewriter (1920/1927) by IAMLA/Steve Soboroff/RemingtonItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Whereas Valentino hand-wrote his personal correspondence, this Remington typewriter was used at his Beverly Hills estate, Falcon Lair, for business matters. Luther Mahoney, Valentino’s personal aide, preserved the typewriter for many years following Valentino’s death.
Made possible by a loan from Steve Soboroff
Rudolph Valentino in Beyond the Rocks (1922) by ParamountItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Among the silver screen’s first male sex symbols, Valentino ascended to fame during the 1920s and embodied the revolution in social mores that took place in urban America at that time. Sex had been a taboo subject in the Victorian era; Valentino’s passionate, dark sensuality fascinated audiences and forever changed how generations of people, especially women, thought about sexuality and seduction.
Chicago Tribune Valentino Quote Powder Puff (2016) by Clyde CrossanItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Rudolph Valentino in the Sheik (1921) by Famous Players-LaskyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Whereas women idolized him and some men emulated him, others regarded Valentino as a threat to “American manhood.” Citing his manicured looks, dancing skills, long eyelashes, and the androgynous outfits and earrings he wore on screen, Valentino’s masculinity was frequently questioned, and he was often blamed for the country’s perceived “degeneration into effeminacy.”
Robert G. Vignola (1917/1925) by UnknownItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
ROBERT G. VIGNOLA
Robert G. Vignola immigrated to the United States from Basilicata, Italy, at age three. As an actor, Vignola starred in what is considered the first “mafia”-themed movie ever made, The Black Hand (1906). He also appeared in one of the most successful films of the silent era, 1912’s From the Manger to the Cross.
Robert Vignola Film Declasse (1925) by Paramount PicturesItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Vignola directed nearly 90 films, such as The Vampire (1913), which is frequently cited as Hollywood’s first femme fatale film, along with Great Expectations (1917) and The Scarlet Letter (1934). His films feature early on-screen performances from legendary actors, including Rudolph Valentino and Clark Gable.
Frank Capra on Set of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington with Jimmy Stewart (1939) by Columbia PicturesItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Sicilian-born Frank Capra immigrated to the United States at age five and settled in the Little Italy district of Los Angeles. Early in his career, Capra served as a writer on Hal Roach’s Our Gang series and for slapstick comedy director Max Sennett. In 1928, he was offered a position at Columbia Pictures, where he directed many successful films, including It Happened One Night, Lost Horizon, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
Frank Capra Working on Why We Fight (1943) by U.S. GovernmentItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Following the United States’ entry into World War II, the United States War Department selected Capra to create a series of documentary films titled Why We Fight. Capra had never produced a documentary, and although the United States was at war with the nation of Capra’s birth, his allegiance was never questioned. Designed to educate the American armed forces about the reasons for the nation’s involvement in the war and the necessity of combating the Axis powers, the films were also shown to the public to generate support for the war effort.
After watching Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will, which presented Hitler as the leader who would return Germany to greatness, Capra decided to “use the enemy's own films to expose their enslaving ends. Let our boys hear the Nazis and the [Japanese] shout their own claims of master-race crud, and our fighting men will know why they are in uniform.”
Frank Capra Wins an Oscar (1934) by AlamyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Why We Fight: Prelude to War won the Academy Award for best documentary film in 1942. Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) is considered among the most inspiring films in American movie history.
Tony Gaudio (1940/1950) by UnknownItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Born Gaetano Antonio Gaudio in Calabria, Italy, Tony Gaudio immigrated to the United States in 1906 and, soon thereafter, began directing feature films. In Douglas Fairbanks’ The Mark of Zorro (1920), Gaudio pioneered the use of montage sequences in film. He won the Academy Award in 1936 for best cinematography and was nominated for five other Academy Awards over the course of his career.
Scene from High Sierra Tony Gaudio Cinematographer Bogart and Lupino (1941) by AlamyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Gaudio, in collaboration with fellow Italian immigrant cinematographer Sol Polito, created the “Warner look,” the studio’s signature unglamorous style that used chiaroscuro, or contrasts between light and dark, to evoke mood and atmosphere. The aesthetic became the precursor to the film noir genre that emerged in the late 1940s.
Poster from The Adventures of Robin Hood Starring Errol Flynn (1938) by AlamyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Gaudio worked with Hollywood legends including Howard Hughes, Greta Garbo, and Carl Laemmle, and shot over 150 films, including The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), starring Errol Flynn, and Little Caesar (1931), which starred Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Adrianna Caselotti (1937/1947) by Unknown/Adrianna CaselottiItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
ITALIANS IN ANIMATION
Italians figure prominently in the world of animation. Walt Disney hired vocalist Adriana Caselotti, born to immigrant parents, as the voice of Snow White. While her contract prevented her from appearing in other media, Caselotti, named a Disney Legend in 1994, received minor roles in The Wizard of Oz and other productions. Disney later selected another Italian American, Mary Costa, as the voice of Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty.
Spaghetti Scene from The Lady and the Tramp (1955) by Clyde GeronimiItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
During his career at Walt Disney Studios, illustrator Aurelius Battaglia worked on the films Dumbo and Fantasia, and co-wrote Pinocchio. The credits of Academy Award-winning animator and director Clito Enrico “Gerry” Geronimi include Cinderella, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty, and One Hundred and One Dalmatians. The sequences he created, such as "Ichabod Crane chased by the Headless Horseman" in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad; the "spaghetti scene" from Lady and the Tramp, pictured here, and the "mad tea party" in Alice in Wonderland, are among the most memorable of Disney’s features. Geronimi later worked on other animated series, including Spider Man.
Donald Duck by Walt Disney Studios- Al TagliaferroItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Created by Walt Disney, artist Al Taliaferro developed Donald Duck's signature style and personality. Taliaferro also created Donald Duck's nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie.
Tom and Jerry Cartoon Still (1940/1967) by Hanna BarberaItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Born in New York’s Little Italy, Joseph Barbera met his creative partner, William Hanna, while working at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s cartoon unit in 1937. Two years later, they had formed a partnership that would endure sixty years. The team’s most popular creation, Tom and Jerry, would ultimately win seven Academy Awards. The Hanna-Barbera cartoon, The Flintstones, became the nation’s first successful primetime animated series. Hanna-Barbera also created Scooby Doo, The Jetsons, Yogi Bear, and over 95 other cartoon series.
Flintstones Production Cel (1987) by Hanna Barbera/Eric EisenbergItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
This hand-painted production cel, depicting the characters Fred and Barney, is from the 1987 Hanna-Barbera television film The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones.
Made possible by a loan from Eric Eisenberg
Woodie Woodpecker (1940/1960) by Walter Lanza/Walter LantzItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Walter Lantz, whose original surname was Lanza, received a position at Universal Studios as a cartoon series director, and later became an independent producer. While on his honeymoon, Lantz and his wife, actress Grace Stafford, heard a woodpecker tapping incessantly on their roof. Stafford encouraged her husband to develop a character based on the bird, and Woody Woodpecker was born. Mel Blanc, the voice actor behind Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig, originally supplied Woody’s voice; he was later replaced by Stafford. Lantz created several other characters, including Space Mouse.
Scene from Mob Wives (2011/2014) by VH1Italian American Museum of Los Angeles
CINEMATIC REPRESENTATIONS OF ITALIANS
Although Italian immigrants and their Italian American counterparts have created some of the most memorable motion pictures in American history, the negative portrayal of Italian Americans as an ethnic group can be traced to the earliest days of Hollywood and continues to dominate the entertainment industry.
Italians in Silent Films (2016) by Francesca GuerriniItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
The majority of early Hollywood films were written, directed, and produced by Anglo-Americans and often reflected the anti-immigrant sentiments of the era. Anglo actors were typically cast to play Italian and Italian American characters who appeared on screen as overly emotional, intellectually inferior, and incapable of becoming mainstream “Americans.”
Fisherman's Wharf Movie Poster (1939) by AlamyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Italian American actors, like African Americans and other ethnic actors, were relegated to small, caricatural parts, such as organ grinders, butchers, and barbers. Gino Corrado and Henry Armetta were two such character actors who were cast in hundreds of films to depict Italians in a comical, yet stereotypical, light.
Little Caesar Movie Poster (1931) by AlamyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
THE MAFIA MYTH
By 1930, a new genre had emerged in Hollywood: the mob film. The Mafia’s power and disregard for the law frightened and thrilled American audiences, which flocked to see films such as Little Caesar and Public Enemy, and the film industry capitalized on this infatuation.
Scene from the Original Scarface (1932) by AlamyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Set in 1920s Chicago, Scarface (1932) is loosely based on the life of gangster Al Capone. Although the film was released prior to the creation of the Motion Picture Production Code in 1934, which forbade nudity, drug use, and explicit depictions of crime, the film’s creators were pressured into eliminating or altering numerous scenes. Scarface remained the most violent film of its time. It definitively linked Italian Americans to organized crime and created a “standard” for future mob movies to follow.
Cover Art from The Godfather (1972) by AlamyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Francis Ford Coppola’s critically acclaimed film The Godfather, based on Mario Puzo’s best-selling novel, continues to captivate generations of viewers decades after its release.
Scene from The Godfather (1972) by AlamyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Spawning two sequels, The Godfather, the epic saga of a fictional Italian American crime family, differed tremendously from previous films of the genre. Written and directed by Italian Americans with a largely Italian American cast, Coppola’s monumental work expressed the notion that the mafia, driven by profit and the protection of its interests and power, was a metaphor for American capitalism.
Scene from The Godfather (1972) by AlamyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Although earlier films had made audiences spectators to the world of organized crime, The Godfather drew audiences into the counterculture. Viewers sympathized with the film’s characters, despite their morally reprehensible behavior, and identified with The Godfather’s expression of the immigrant experience.
Snoop Dogg's The Doggfather Album Cover (1997) by Death Row RecordsItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Few films have influenced popular culture as extensively. Dozens of lines from the Godfather Trilogy, among them “leave the gun, take the cannoli,” and “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse,” have become assimilated into the American vernacular. The Godfather has inspired dozens of films, television shows, and video and social media games, along with “mafia” tourism and merchandise. Many have attempted to explain The Godfather’s popularity as a reflection of American values, including wealth and power or the universal ideals of family and dignity. Others contend that the Mafioso archetype embodies the modern-day version of the Wild West outlaw hero, such as Jesse James.
Scene from The Godfather (1974) by AlamyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Whereas films captured the public’s imagination for decades, The Godfather made the mafia the primary expression of Italian American identity in popular culture. Rooted in neither reality nor truth, the mafia myth became real and true.
Casino Movie Poster (1995) by AlamyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
ITALIAN STEREOTYPES AND THEIR CONSEQUENCES
Over the past century, 75 percent of films featuring Italian or Italian American characters portray them negatively, as gangsters, racists, bimbos, and ignoramuses. How does Hollywood’s portrayal of Italian Americans affect the public’s perception of this ethnic group?
Take the quiz! According to the FBI, what percentage of Italian Americans are involved in organized crime?
Less than ¼ of 1 percent of Italian Americans are connected to organized crime.
Dr. Robert Gallo (2000) by Institute of Human VirologyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
A recent poll of American teenagers revealed that 78 percent associate Italian Americans with organized crime and 74 percent of adults link Italian Americans to criminal organizations. Although the percentage of Italian American college graduates exceeds the national average and the majority of Italian Americans are employed in professional fields, most Americans associate Italian Americans with blue-collar work and ignorance.
Pictured here: In 1984, Dr. Robert C. Gallo co-discovered the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to be the cause of AIDS and pioneered the development of the test that screened blood for the AIDS virus.
Italian Stereotypes in Movies (2016) by Guerrini-GattoItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Why, in the age of cultural sensitivity, does the media continue to perpetuate such stereotypes about Italian Americans? Why is the promotion of such falsehoods deemed acceptable?
Scene from Goodfellas (1990) by AlamyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Generating billions of dollars in revenue, the perpetuation of the mafia myth and other stereotypes proves a lucrative business. Many Italian Americans have come to embrace the cultural representations of their ethnic group set forth by the media. For many, it is the only reflection of their heritage.
Anne Bancroft and Steven Tyler (1967/2010) by AlamyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
To avoid being typecast and to appeal to the broadest audience possible, many Italian American artists and actors have changed their surnames. These include Anne Bancroft (Anna Maria Louisa Italiano, pictured left), Guy Williams (Armand Joseph Catalano), Tony Bennett (Anthony Benedetto), Steven Tyler (Stephen Victor Tallarico, pictured right), and Connie Francis (Concetta Franconero). Some Italian American actors lament the scarcity of positive roles for their ethnic group. “It’s either pasta or the mafia,” one actor stated, referring to the characters for which Italian Americans are cast. “We can’t play roles that don’t exist.”
Annette Funicello's Homework (1959) by IAMLA/Annette FunicelloItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
As a child, Annette Funicello was one of the first Mouseketeers on the original Mickey Mouse Club, a popular children’s television program of the 1950s. She achieved legendary status while co-starring with singer Frankie Avalon in the Beach Party film series. Funicello received her high school education in the Little Red Trailer at Walt Disney Studios. The IAMLA purchased this homework assignment, written in Funicello’s distinct cursive, from the Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases, which was established upon Funicello’s death of complications from multiple sclerosis.
Italians in Hollywood (2016) by Francesca GuerriniItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Other Italian Americans in Hollywood have transcended the confines of ethnic stereotyping or make concerted efforts to seek roles that accurately portray the complexity of the Italian American experience.
Russo brothers at premiere (2017) by GettyImages-943430508Italian American Museum of Los Angeles
THE RUSSO BROTHERS
Directors Joe and Anthony Russo, best known for their work on the top-grossing Marvel Comics superhero films Captain America and Avengers, cite the values they learned growing up in their Italian American family as pivotal to their success.
russo family group photo circa 1980 (1984) by Russo familyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Anthony and Joe Russo were born one year apart in Cleveland, Ohio, to parents Basil and Patricia Russo (née Gallupoli). Hard work, education, discipline, heritage, and faith were among the most important values in the Russo home. From a young age, Joe, Anthony, and their sisters, Gabriella and Angela, developed a keen sense of respect for the sacrifices that their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents had made.
photo of gallupoli family soon after arrival in US (1920) by Gallupoli familyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
The Russo and Gallupoli families’ American journey began over a century ago when, fleeing poverty and political unrest, they emigrated from the humble villages of Longi and Caccamo, Sicily, and Spoltore, Abruzzo for the promise of a better life. Settling in Ohio’s steel mill towns, the families worked in the forges and foundries that helped build the American nation.
image of Russo brothers as children (1980) by Russo familyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Joe and Anthony’s passion for film can be traced to their childhood. Inspired by directors Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, the brothers were captivated by the storytelling and artistic aspects of filmmaking. But in their Cleveland suburb, with no connections to Hollywood, the film business seemed a million miles away.
Anthony and Joe Russo in High School (1990) by Russo familyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
After graduating from high school, Anthony and Joe earned undergraduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Iowa, respectively. Anthony intended to pursue a career in the legal field, but left law school to enroll in Columbia University’s graduate film school. Joe, meanwhile, attended UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television, and earned a master’s degree in theater at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
image of Russ brothers in early filmaking years (1995) by Russo familyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
When the brothers learned that Robert Rodriguez had purportedly produced the 1992 film El Mariachi for only $7,000, Joe and Anthony grew intent upon making movies. Their decision to pursue filmmaking as a career concerned their father, Basil, a retired judge and attorney, who was the first in his family to attend college, and feared his sons were jeopardizing their future by pursuing an unattainable dream.
Pieces cover (1997) by Joe and Anthony Russo, Basil RussoItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
The brothers financed their first film, Pieces, using student loans and credit cards. It was shot in Cleveland at their uncle’s salon and featured family members and friends as the cast. Despite the tremendous support their family provided—including the homemade feasts their mother and sisters prepared to feed the cast and crew—with limited funds and mounting debt, it seemed the brothers would never realize their dream.
Hollywood Quote_Russo (2018) by Clyde CrossanItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Russo family at Cannes (2002) by GettyImages-109518382Italian American Museum of Los Angeles
Witnessing their sons’ struggle, and moved by their passion and dedication, Basil and Patricia made the fateful decision to liquidate a portion of their savings to help their sons complete the film. Thirty members of the Russo family then took to the road to promote the film. Although Pieces never received a theatrical release, it caught the attention of filmmaker Steven Soderbergh at the Slamdance Film Festival in 1997. Soderbergh, an Academy Award-winning director known for films such as Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven, and Erin Brockovich, approached Anthony and Joe and offered to produce their next film.
Arrestedd Evelopment (2014) by NetflicksItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
The brothers’ second film, Welcome to Collinwood, was screened at the Cannes Film Festival and led to extensive work in television, where Anthony and Joe directed and produced hit series, including Arrested Development, Community, and Happy Endings. Creating a distinctive visual style that was instantly popular among audiences, Anthony and Joe won an Emmy for their directorial work.
Captain America Shield Loan 17_001 (2014) by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Created by cartoonists Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Captain America first appeared in American comic books in 1941. Conceived as a patriotic soldier with enhanced human abilities who fought the Axis nations during World War II, Captain America was among the most popular superhero characters of the era. Though the appeal of superheroes waned during the post-World War II years, Marvel Comics revived the character in 1964, and Captain America has remained in publication since. In 2008, Marvel Cinematic Universe released its first of a series of superhero films, including The Avengers and Iron Man.
Captain America’s shield serves as the character’s primary defensive and offensive piece of equipment. Over the years he has used a number of shields of varying composition, color, and design. This shield, created by prop master Barry Gibbs, was used by actor Chris Evans in Captain America: Civil War (2016). It is made of aluminum, weighs approximately twelve pounds, and has brown leather and metal straps on the back.
Anthony and Joe Russo on Set (2014) by MarvelItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
After their success in television, Joe and Anthony were selected by Marvel Studios to direct the Winter Soldier installment of the Captain America movie franchise, which opened to critical acclaim in 2014 and grossed $715 million. Marvel tapped the brothers to direct the sequel, Captain America: Civil War, which grossed $1.1 billion worldwide, making it the highest-grossing film of 2016, and the 15th-highest grossing film in history. The brothers also directed Avengers: Infinity War, and are currently working on the next installment of the series, which will be released in 2019.
Italian American Film Forum (2016) by Italian Sons and Daughters of America/NIAF/Russo brothersItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
In 2016, Joe and Anthony Russo, in collaboration with the Italians Sons and Daughters of America, and the National Italian American Foundation, launched the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum. The program, the first of its kind in the nation, aims to preserve the Italian American legacy for future generations, and provides grants to aspiring filmmakers whose work explores the Italian American experience. Joe and Anthony have also established a production company, AGBO, which is based in Los Angeles, and seeks to empower and cultivate filmmakers.
Russo family at premiere (2017) by GettyImages-950538232Italian American Museum of Los Angeles
Although Joe and Anthony reside in Los Angeles with their wives and children, they return to Cleveland frequently, and make multi-generational pilgrimages to their ancestral villages in Italy. In an effort to promote economic development in Cleveland, the brothers selected the city to serve as the backdrop for portions of the recent Marvel films. Family and community exist at the very heart of the brothers’ personal and professional world.
Frank Mancuso Sr. by Frank Mancuso/MGMItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
FRANK G. MANCUSO
Frank G. Mancuso was born in Buffalo, New York, to a Sicilian American family. “Boredom is the worst career move you can make. You have to have a dream,” Frank’s high school teacher often said. One evening, Frank's teacher invited him to see a play, and what Frank saw on stage ignited a spark within him.
Mancuso Quote (2015) by ChecchiItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Lafayette Theater in Buffalo New York by Frank MancusoItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
At age 15, Frank found work at a theater, which allowed him to study the story telling side of film making. Later promoted to assistant manager of the LaFayette Theater, a 2,200-seat movie palace, he learned the exhibition side of the film industry.
Post Card Downtown Buffalo, NY (1950/1960) by UnknownItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
After graduating from college, Frank was hired as a film buyer and programmer for a circuit of theaters in New York state. The following year, Paramount Pictures offered Frank a position as a film booker, and later promoted him to branch manager.
Mancuso with Leonard Nimoy as Dr. Spock on Star Trek by Frank MancusoItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
In 1970, Frank Mancuso, seen here with actor Leonard Nimoy, was promoted to general sales manager for Paramount’s Canadian arm, and later, all of Canadian operations. In Canada, he became president of Canadian Motion Picture Association.
Paramount Stars 75th Anniversary Photo, 1987 by Paramount PicturesItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Frank returned to the United States in 1975 and became head of Paramount’s Western Division. One year later, he was named Senior Vice President of Domestic Distribution, and the following year, Senior Vice President of Distribution. By 1980, he had become President of Distribution and Marketing, and in 1983, President of Paramount's Motion Picture Group.
Frank Mancuso with Francis Ford Coppola (1990) by Frank Mancuso/IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
In 1984, Frank, seen here with director Francis Ford Coppola, became the first Italian American studio head when he was named Chairman and CEO of Paramount.
Mouth Organ Used in The Godfather (1960/1993) by IAMLA/UnknownItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
After the filming of Godfather III concluded, Francis Ford Coppola gave Frank Mancuso this jaw harp, which was used in the film’s scene “Don Altobello,” as a keepsake. The musical instrument, known as the marranzanu in Sicilian, and scacciapensieri in Italian, is one of the oldest in the world. Its metal reed is placed in the mouth and plucked to create a unique vibrato.
Indiana Jones ans Top Gun Made Under Frank Mancuso's Leadership (2016) by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Frank’s Italian American upbringing influenced his leadership style and work ethic. With Frank at the helm, Paramount enjoyed box office successes such as Top Gun, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Indiana Jones, Fatal Attraction, Star Trek, Crocodile Dundee, Ghost, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Hunt for Red October, The Untouchables, and Godfather III, to name a few. Frank read and approved every script that the studio made into a movie.
Cheers and Family Ties Made Under Frank Mancuso's Leadership (2016) by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Frank’s television successes include Cheers, Family Ties, Entertainment Tonight,” and The Arsenio Hall Show. While at Paramount, he partnered with MCA/Universal to build the USA Network into one of the most-watched cable networks in the country.
Mancuso with Nicholas Cage by Frank MancusoItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
In 1993, Frank, seen here with actor Nicolas Cage, left Paramount to head Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), during which time the studio produced the immensely successful Leaving Las Vegas, Species, Ronin, The Birdcage, Stargate, The Thomas Crown Affair, and Get Shorty, and shepherded the return of the James Bond franchise with Golden Eye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough, and others.
Frank and Fay Mancuso by Frank MancusoItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
After 22 years of working 14-hour days, Frank, pictured here at the Academy Awards with Fay, his wife of over sixty years, retired from MGM in 1999 but remained a member of the board until the company's sale in 2005.
Frank Mancuso Family (2013) by Mancuso family/IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Frank and Fay have two children—Frank Jr., a producer and screenwriter, and Maria, a fashion designer—and seven grandchildren. The Mancuso family gathers every Sunday for dinner.
Lady Gaga was born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta in 1986 and grew up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Her great-grandparents emigrated to the United States from Italy in the early 1900s. Tradition figured prominently in the Germanotta household. On Sundays, three generations of the family gathered to enjoy a home-cooked dinner.
Lady Gaga As a Child by Haus of Gaga/The Germanotta FamilyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Lady Gaga’s parents were the first in their families to attend college, and the tightly knit family placed a tremendous value on education. Lady Gaga learned to play the piano at age four. Later, she was accepted by the prestigious Juilliard School but chose instead to attend a Catholic school. By age 13, Lady Gaga had written her first song, and the following year she had her first performance at a night-club.
Lady Gaga Quote (2016) by Clyde CrossanItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Lady Gaga Age 19 (2005) by Germanotta familyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Although Lady Gaga was bullied by her peers for her appearance and eccentricities, she continued studying music, performing, and expressing her feelings through song. At age 17, she was one of twenty students worldwide to be granted early admission to New York University's Tisch School for the Arts. Two years later, she withdrew from school to pursue a musical career. She formed a band that achieved local popularity and assumed the name Lady Gaga after “Radio Ga-Ga,” a song by the British rock band Queen.
Lady Gaga The Fame (2008) by InterscopeItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
In 2005, Def Jam Records signed Lady Gaga, only to drop her just months later. The rejection devastated Lady Gaga, who promptly channeled her disappointment into a greater devotion to her art. In 2007, at the age of 20, Lady Gaga accepted a position at Interscope Records as a songwriter for artists such as Britney Spears and New Kids on the Block. She was later signed to Interscope Records’ Kon Live, where she wrote and recorded her debut album, The Fame.
Lady Gaga Poker Face (2008) by RedOneItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Lady Gaga's debut single, "Just Dance," was released in early 2008 and received considerable acclaim. The song was nominated for a Grammy Award, and Lady Gaga reached number one on the pop charts the following year. The release of the single "Poker Face" earned Lady Gaga even more success; the song topped charts worldwide. Lady Gaga’s popularity grew with her subsequent albums, The Fame Monster and Born This Way. In 2014, she released Cheek to Cheek, an album of jazz duets with Tony Bennett, which later won a Grammy Award.
Donatella Versace cape designed for Lady GagaItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Designer Donatella Versace created this cape especially for Lady Gaga, who wore it during the Born This Way Ball tour.
Made possible by a loan from Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga Quote (2016) by Clyde CrossanItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Lady Gaga and Mother Born This Way (2012) by Born This Way FoundationItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
In addition to her outrageously creative outfits, Lady Gaga established herself as an outspoken advocate for a number of causes, including LGBT rights, AIDS education, poverty, cancer research, and mental health issues. In 2012, Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, founded the Born This Way Foundation, an organization dedicated to empowering youth to create a kinder and braver world.
In February 2015, Lady Gaga showcased her immense abilities as a vocalist by performing selections from The Sound of Music at the Academy Awards for the 50th anniversary of the musical’s release. Later that year, she co-starred in American Horror Story: Hotel, for which she earned a Golden Globe.
Lady Gaga at Academy Awards (2016) by Academy of Motion PicturesItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Lady Gaga returned to the Grammy stage in 2016 where she performed a tribute to the late musician David Bowie, who was among her greatest musical influences. At the 2016 Academy Awards, United States Vice President Joseph Biden introduced Lady Gaga, who performed "Til It Happens to You." The Academy Award-nominated song is from the 2015 documentary The Hunting Ground, which examines the issue of sexual assault on college campuses.
Content Author- Marianna Gatto
Design- Robert Checchi
Curation- Robert Checchi and Marianna Gatto
Video Projections- Christopher Sprinkle
Graphics- Robert Checchi and Clyde Crossan
GCI Videos- Francesca Guerrini
Images Courtesy of the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles, Alamy, CBS (Unforgettable Licensing), Chuck LaChiusa, Disney, Elena Santillo Valencia, Frank Mancuso, the Venti-Lara family, Margaret Herrick Library, Mole-Richardson Co., Lady Gaga, University of Southern California Digital Library, Viacom (VH1), Lantz family estate, Buffalo Historical Society, Paramount Studios, MGM STudios, the Germanotta family and Haus of Gaga.
Special thanks to Lady Gaga, Steve Soboroff, Frank Mancuso, Eric Eisenberg, the Venti-Laura family, the Annette Funicello Research Fund, Francesca Guerrini, Marilyn Gonzalez, and Haus of Gaga.