adidas pt trainers journey explored in new PBS documentary series
My maternal grandfather came to the United States from Naples, Italy, in the early 1920s. He was part of the last big wave of Italian immigrants that came to this country after World War I. restricted immigration of Southern and Eastern Europeans. Tuesday and Feb. 24. Speaking from Brooklyn, where he now lives, Maggio says he usually makes films about stories attached to larger truths.
So it was a little daunting to him when PBS prompted by the success of Jewish Americans approached him to make the documentary on Italian Americans. then I thought, don really know much about my own family history. So that motivated me. thing that everyone knows about Italian Americans is that family is important. The only problem is that in popular culture that means Godfather. Based on a book by Mario Puzo and directed by Francis Ford Coppola both Italian Americans the movie classic and its sequels have created something of a false history of Italians in America. Throw in Sopranos and Shore, and it becomes a rather skewed picture.
I told people I was going to make this film the first question on their minds was, are you going to do about the Mafia? says Maggio. became the challenge, and I didn want to go down the rabbit hole of trying to get to the origins of the Mafia. as he says, who doesn think Godfather is one of the greatest films ever made and, minus the guns and killings, Italian Americans saw themselves in the movie. Even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, whose father was a Sicilian immigrant, notes in the documentary that the macaroni they served in the film reminded him of his grandmother dish.
And, yes, family is important. We just not all involved in olive oil importing or the waste disposal business.
But with Italian Americans, Maggio didn set out to correct the record. Instead, he wanted to tell a fuller and more varied story of the 4 million Italians who immigrated to this country from 1890 until 1924 and what their legacy was.
like many immigrant groups, Italians came here looking for work, and were immediately looked down on as they struggled to make a living.
Narrated by actor Stanley Tucci, the documentary first episode, Famiglia, begins with the 1890s flood of Italian immigration. Maggio great grandfather came then and lost a leg working on the railways. He was what was called bird of passage at first, just here to send money to his family in Italy, but like many, ended up settling here.
On the bottom rung economically, Italians got the worst jobs, often in terrible conditions. Eventually, they began to want to move up, and so they fought back. The Lawrence, Mass., textile strike of 1912, made up of largely Italian workers, including many children, created a landmark change for better working conditions and pay for everyone in America.
The Italian American story,
though, isn a simple through line. Many went to the West Coast, mostly San Francisco, where they prospered in the fishing industry. Then they were nearly wiped out by the earthquake of 1906. Giannini, his Bank of Italy helped many of them rebuild. By the way, it now called Bank of America.
Maggio, whose credits include Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr. on PBS, also covers darker chapters in Italian American history, like the anarchy movement. That would lead to the infamous Sacco and Vanzetti case. The two admitted anarchists were convicted of murder in 1921 and later executed. Their guilt is still disputed today, but it contributed to an anti Italian prejudice prevalent at the time. It could also be argued that it contributed to the climate that brought about the Immigration Act of 1924 restricting immigration from Italy.
Nevertheless, after that, Italians began to make strides in American culture. Rudolph Valentino became the biggest name at the box office in the 1920s, although he had to play sheiks and pirates because he was considered too dark for other roles.
Fiorello La Guardia was elected mayor of New York City in 1934, and Joe DiMaggio became the star slugger of the Yankees. On the other hand, the names of mobsters Al Capone and Lucky Luciano were being splashed across front pages, and some Italian Americans grew fascinated with Benito Mussolini rise in Italy.
When World War II began, Italian Americans who weren naturalized citizens were considered enemy aliens. was nowhere as bad as what the Japanese Americans went through with the internment camps, but some 600,
000 Italian Americans were forced to carry the special pink ID card, Maggio says.
On the West Coast, between 10,000 and 20,000 Italian Americans, many who worked in the fishing industry, were relocated to east of the 101 Freeway, away from their homes and livelihoods.
The final episode of Maggio documentary, American Dream, examines 1945 to today, with many Italian Americans becoming prominent in the political, entertainment and sports worlds. The most iconic of them would be Frank Sinatra. The Chairman of the Board, who would have turned 100 on Dec. 12 of this year, was one of a number of Italian American singers who topped the charts from the through Among them: Perry Como, Vic Damone, Dean Martin and Tony Bennett, who just performed at the Grammy Awards.
think they had a certain swagger, says Maggio,
who points to the bel canto style of singing in southern Italy as their inspiration. comes from that operatic tradition the ability to sing a song to the audience and emote. some 15 million Americans, I can claim Italian heritage. And as Maggio notes, we often pick what parts we claim. The only thing I can make in the kitchen is pasta sauce, which I learned from my mother and takes all day, just like in Godfather.
Maggio says he was amazed at how many connections to his own life he found in making the documentary and how much he learned about the journey of Italian Americans. Riots began in 1992. In 1993, he made the move to features, and in 1995 became the Entertainment Editor for 15 years. He returned to writing full time in 2010. Throughout his career he has interviewed a wide range of celebrities in the arts. Rob has covered theater, dance and the fine arts as well as reviewing film, TV and stage. He has also covered award shows and written news stories related to the entertainment business. Although we do not pre screen comments, we reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane,
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