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Italian Americans Pg. 1

October is Italian American Heritage Month, This page summaries 10 of 32 famous Italian Americans one for each day of October, and 1 for good luck. When available we link to websites that follow the subject.

Andy Robustelli

December 6, 1925 – May 31, 2011

Andy went to tiny Arnold College,  then in Milford CT.  In 1954 the college was absorbed as part of the University in 1953. The Los Angeles Rams drafted Andy, in the 19th round of the 1951 NFL Draft. Andy became one of the finest defensive ends in pro football history. The Rams dealt him to the Giants for a first-round draft pick. He played 9 years with the New York Giants. He missed only 1 game in 14 NFL seasons. Andy is credited with molding together the 1956 Giants team that won the NFL championship.
A natural leader as well as an outstanding player, his last 3 seasons with Giants  he was  a player-coach. Robustelli was clearly one of the finest pass rushers the game has ever seen.
In 1962 the Maxwell Club selected Robustelli as the NFL’s outstanding player, an honor that up until then was generally reserved for an offensive player. The honor was indicative of the high regard that fans, teammates and opponents all held for the future Hall of Fame defensive end.

Robustelli was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.
He was elected to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1980.

Anne Bancroft

Anne Bancroft was born Anna Maria Louisa (or Luisa) Italiano in the Bronx, New York, September 17, 1931. The middle of three daughters of Mildred DiNapoli, a telephone operator, and Michael G. Italiano, a dress pattern maker. Bancroft’s parents were both children of Italian immigrants. In an interview, she stated that her family was originally from Muro Lucano, in the province of Potenza. She was Roman Catholic.

Anna was an Italian American known professionally as Anne Bancroft, was an American actress, director, screenwriter and singer. Respected for her acting prowess and versatility, Bancroft was the recipient of an Academy Award, three BAFTA Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, two Tony Awards, and two Primetime Emmy Awards.

Anne died at age 73 on June 6, 2005 in Manhattan.

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Willie Pep

Boxer Willie Pep was born Gugliermo Papaleo on September 9, 1922 in Middletown, Connecticut. Dropping out of high school at age 16 to box, Pep was quick in the ring and hard to pin down, earning him the nickname “Will o’ the Wisp.“ As an amateur, Pep won two Connecticut state championships – as a flyweight in 1938 and a bantamweight in 1939 – before turning professional.

From the start, Pep enjoyed the lengthy and admirable continuous winning streaks that would mark his entire career. He had won 53 consecutive fights before trumping Chalky Wright in 1942 for the World Featherweight Championship. With the 15-round decision, Pep was the youngest boxer to earn the title in four decades. The following year brought Willies undefeated record to 62-0. However in fight number 63 he lost a non-title fight to Sammy Angott. Seemingly unbothered by this loss, Pep went on to win another 72 consecutive fights in a row. During World War II, Pep served in the Army and the Navy and was honorably discharged in 1944. Four years later, Pep went up against Sandy Saddler for the first of four memorable bouts. Pep was knocked out in the fourth round but regained his title the following year. In 1950, in their third match, Saddler triumphed after Pep suffered a shoulder injury that forced him out in the eighth round. The pair’s final confrontation came in 1951 and, after a memorable brawl, Pep suffered a serious enough cut to his eye to end the fight in the 10th round. Pep retired in 1959, although he was back in the ring six years later. His nine-fight winning streak was interrupted by a knockout by Calvin Woodward in 1966, and Pep hung up his gloves for good. Over the course of his illustrious career, Pep won 229 matches – 65 of them by knockouts. He lost only 11 matches and only one match that resulted in a draw. He was elected to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1977 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990

Record and Titles

Boxing Record Total Fights = 241 Amazing!
 229 Wins(KO 65) + Lost 11 (KO 6) + Drawn 1 = 241
Rounds boxed 1,956 KO% 26.97  Pep’s record from his first fight on July 25 1940 to May 18 1943 was 62-0! No one else has ever done that. He lost his first fight on May 19 1943. Willie didn’t lose again until Oct. 29 1948. 137 wins  2 losses  and 1 draw. LOOK IT UP!

Named The Ring Fighter of the Year in 1945. 
In 1963, Pep was elected to the Ring Magazine’s Boxing Hall of Fame. 
In 1981, Pep was elected to the World Boxing Hall of Fame.
In 1990, Pep was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
In 1999, The AP selected Pep as the greatest featherweight of the 20th Century and the fifth greatest boxer of the century.
In 2010, Pep was elected to the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame.

After his career ended in 1966, Pep remained active in boxing as a referee. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in its inaugural 1990 class, and often worked at the facility as a volunteer with his friend Carmen Basilio.
Mr. Pep passed away in 2006 at age 84.

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Ella Grasso

The election of Ella Grasso in 1974 gave Connecticut its first female governor and its first governor of Italian heritage. Her election also gave the nation the first woman of any state to be elected governor in her own right, without having run on the record of a husband who had also been governor.

Born Ella Giovanna Oliva Tambussi, her parents James and Maria (Oliva) Tambussi were Italian immigrants who valued education highly and made it possible for her to attend private schools. She attended St. Mary’s School, Windsor Locks, and the Chaffee School in Windsor and won a scholarship to Mount Holyoke College, where she received a B.A. in 1940 and an M.A. in economics and sociology in 1942. Convinced by her educational experiences that she should enter public service, Grasso served with Connecticut’s War Manpower Commission during World War II. In 1942, she married Thomas Grasso. The couple had two children, Susanne and James.

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Bobby Darin

Born “Walden Robert Cassotto” on May 14, 1936

Legendary Italian American entertainer Bobby Darin had a wide range of talent. Darin rose from poor beginnings in Harlem and the south Bronx. He also fought rheumatic fever as a child, which damaged his heart and plagued him throughout his life. As a result of these obstacles, he worked extremely hard to overcome them. Knowing his life would not be a long one, his ambition to succeed was fueled by an overwhelming desire to make it big in show business .

Bobby Darin worked very hard to make it to the top and was often quoted by the press as saying he wanted to be a “legend by the time he was 25.” His many devoted fans believe he achieved this goal in record time. As he continued to give of his all to them, Darin’s life was cut short on December 20th, 1973, when he died following his second open heart surgery at the young age of 37. As in his life, he gave to others following his death, by leaving instructions for his body to be donated to UCLA’s Medical Center for research purposes.

Bobby Darin website

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Bobby Rydell

Bobby Rydell was born Robert Louis Ridarelli on April 26, 1942, to an Italian family, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Jennie (Sapienza) and Adrio “Al” Ridarelli. Bobby’s abilities were fostered by his father, Adrio Ridarelli, who took time to introduce his son to some of the best music ever made. Father and son would frequent Philadelphia’s big band hot spots to take in the lively postwar sounds of legendary acts. The songs, performances, arrangements, and characters of the scene were nourishing to the soul, but not the passion. It was not until one fateful trip to the Earle Theater, when young Robert answered passions call. Amid the genius of Gene Krupa with Benny Goodman’s Orchestra, young Robert said, “Daddy, I want to be him… I want to be a drummer.” Although not officially, this was the moment when Robert Ridarelli became Bobby Rydell.

Today, Bobby Rydell is still using his talent and charm to please audiences all over the world. In fact, he can’t help it – he was, is, and always will be a brilliant entertainer. However, more remarkable then his talent and charisma, is the loving, compassionate, and gracious nature of the man, Bobby Rydell.

The official website for Bobby Rydell

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Rachael Ray

Rachael Domenica Ray was born in Glens Falls, New York, the daughter of Elsa Providenza Scuderi and James Claude Ray. Her mother’s ancestry is Sicilian and her father’s is French, Scottish, and Welsh.

When Ray was 8, her family moved to Lake George, New York. Her mother managed restaurants in New York’s Capital District, including the Lake George Howard Johnson’s restaurant, located near the former Gaslight Village amusement park, which attracted many of the entertainers. In 1995, Ray moved to New York City. She worked first at the Macy’s Marketplace candy counter

Growing up in a family steeped in culinary tradition, Rachael was exposed to a wide range of cooking techniques, from her maternal grandfather who grew and cooked everything his family of 12 ate, to her dad’s family, which embraced the food-rich traditions of Louisiana. The Ray family owned several restaurants on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, before relocating to upstate New York, where her mother worked as the food supervisor for a restaurant chain. “I was surrounded by all different styles of cooking and worked in the food service industry in just about every capacity you can imagine,” Rachael says.

Rachael Ray Website

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Penny Marshall

Born Carole Penny Marshall on October 15, 1943, in New York City, Marshall grew up in the Bronx with parents Tony Marshall, a director and producer, and Marjorie Marshall, a dance teacher. Penny’s Italian-American father changed the family’s last name from Marsciarelli to Marshall before she was born. Penny had two siblings, an older brother Gary and sister Ronny, whom she would later follow into show business


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Liza Minnelli

Liza Minnelli was born on March 12, 1946, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, She is the daughter of Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli.

As a teenager, Minnelli gave up on school and went to New York City to pursue a stage career. She landed a role in the off-Broadway revival of the musical Best Foot Forward in 1963, which brought her strong reviews. Around this time, Minnelli also appeared on her mother’s short-lived television series, The Judy Garland Show. Minnelli also performed with her mother during Garland’s stint at the Palladium in London and wowed audiences and her mother with her vocal prowess. According to The New York Times, Minnelli said “It was like Mama suddenly realized I was good.”

In her first leading Broadway role, Minnelli appeared as the title character in Flora, The Red Menace in 1965. The light musical comedy poked fun at the 1930s communist movement. While it only ran for a few weeks, the musical brought Minnelli a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. She was only 19 at the time, making her one of the youngest performers to ever win the award.

Minnelli went on to co-star in the dramatic comedy Charlie Bubbles (1967) opposite Albert Finney. Playing an offbeat misfit named Pookie, she received her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her work in the 1969 film The Sterile Cuckoo. During the production of her next film, Otto Preminger’s Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (1969), Minnelli suffered a great loss. Her mother died from an accidental drug overdose on June 22, 1969.

Mainstream Success

Two years later, Minnelli landed her greatest film role, playing floundering nightclub singer Sally Bowles in the musical Cabaret (1972), which was set in Germany in the 1930s. The film, directed by Bob Fosse, showcased her singing talents as well as her range as an actress. For her efforts, Minnelli won the Academy Award for Best Actress. The film won eight awards in total, including a Best Supporting Actor award for Joel Grey and Best Director for Fosse. Minnelli’s hot streak continued with the television special, Liza with a Z, which was produced by Fred Ebb and Fosse. The show won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Program—Variety and Popular Music in 1973.

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Marisa Tomei

Marisa Tomei was born in Brooklyn, New York City, the daughter of Adelaide “Addie” (Bianchi), an English teacher, and Gary A. Tomei, a trial lawyer. She has a younger brother, actor Adam Tomei, and was partly raised by her paternal grandparents. Tomei’s parents are both of Italian descent; her father’s ancestors came from Tuscany, Calabria, and Campania; while her mother’s ancestors are from Tuscany and Sicily. Marissa Tomei Website

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