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Arts & Culture

Actor Danny Aiello, The Godfather, and Madonna

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In his new memoir, stage and screen actor Danny Aiello reveals that he was so poor growing up in New York that he worked as a numbers runner and burglar, specializing in robbing cigarette machines. He was also a street fighter, and bouncer, the type of late-night guard who didn't hesitate to slam a rowdy patron or rough up someone in the neighborhood who deserved it. 

From the mean streets, Aiello, age 36, had landed a job at The Improvisation comedy club, where his job was to stop hecklers who went too far. Eventually, Aiello took the mike to introduce acts. But it was while playing baseball in a league made up of actors that Aiello was given the chance to act in Bang the Drum Slowly, teaching Robert De Niro how to swing a bat and field balls. That was in 1973.

Aiello went on to become an Academy Award and Golden Globe nominee, appearing in more than 85 films. He has worked with Spike Lee, Woody Allen, Paul Newman, and Sean Penn, among many others. But it was his appearance in Madonna's music video that unleashed Aiello's pent up desire to sing professionally. He has since recorded a number of albums.

Aiello tells his story in the book, I Only Know Who I Am When I'm Somebody Else. He told me in our interview that he ad-libbed the line, "Michael Corleone says hi," while strangling someone in The Godfather: Part II. Director Francis Ford Coppola liked it and kept it in. That line was so memorable, strangers continue to say it to him wherever he goes.

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GUEST: 

  • Danny Aiello is an actor, producer, and singer. His memoir is called I Only Know Who I Am When I'm Somebody Else: My Life on the Street, on the Stage, and in the Movies.

MUSIC:

  • “Gne Gne,” Montefiori Cocktail, from the Dinner Rush soundtrack
  • “Papá Don't Preach,” Paco Nula
  • “Pennies from Heaven,” Danny Aiello
  • “Fly Me to the Moon,” Danny Aiello

Lori Mack and Jonathan McNicol contributed to this show.

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