Articles by: Darrell Fusaro

  • Life & People

    Italian-American Nicknames Are No Joke

    Everyone’s familiar with nicknames.  Mikey, Snookie, Noodles, The Situation.  We’ve heard them all.  But the ones given to you by your Italian-American friends?  They always seem to carry more clout.  I learned this while looking for jobs in L.A., making calls trying to land interviews.  I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.  The problem is my name, “Darrell Fusaro.”  Why?  Here’s an example,


    The executive’s receptionist answers: “So and so’s office, how may I help you?” 


                With every ounce of courage I respond: “May I please speak to “So and so?”


    Then she asks the dreaded question: “Who may I say is calling?”


     “Darrell Fusaro.”








    “No, it’s Darrell-


    “I’m sorry, what is your last name?”




    “Gerald Bizarro?”


    Eventually we’d get past my name and the receptionist would promise to pass along my information.  But my confidence would always be depleted.


    Although feeling weak and ineffective, I plodded along with my footwork.  Little did I know that the next call I made was going to be my last.  After the dreaded “Who may I say is calling?”, I blurted out my childhood nickname: “Fuzzy Fusaro.”  The receptionist put me on hold and within seconds there was a man’s voice on the line asking, “Fuzzy Fusaro, what can I do for you?”  For the first time in my life, I was being treated like a “somebody.”  It was remarkable!  Who did he think I was?  Could my Italian-American nickname really make that much of a difference in how I am perceived?  Who cares?  I liked it.

    Next thing you know, I am signed with an agent named “Dick Woody.”  (Yeah, and I thought my name was bad enough). Before the ink was dry on the contract I was starring in TV commercials.  At every shoot it seemed like they rolled out the red carpet for me.  Dick Woody was calling every week to inform me of another director who wanted him to “get Fuzzy.”  I even got a call from Nicholas Pileggi, best known for writing the book and screenplay for the movie “Goodfellas.”  What was the cause of all this new-found respect?  Could it be that my silly childhood nickname, “Fuzzy Fusaro,” was being perceived by Hollywood as that of a Mafioso?  Regardless of what the cause might have been, this true Hollywood story was soon coming to an end.


    The Screen Actors Guild was organizing a strike for higher wages, but Dick Woody was still getting calls for me to work.  I voiced my concern to Dick Woody, but he reassured me I had nothing to worry about.  And just like in every Greek tragedy when the main character chooses to ignore their conscience in the pursuit of fame and fortune, their downfall is for certain.  


    Mine was swift.  Someone dropped a dime about me working on a commercial during the strike and the Screen Actors Guild called me in for questioning.  Just like you’d expect in a Mob trial, I was sitting at a desk with a microphone answering questions from a panel of inquisitors.  The jig was up.  I got five years, no professional acting for five full years.  Dick Woody folded up shop and it was over as fast as it started.


    Humbled, I retreated back to my ordinary life as “Darrell Fusaro.”  At first I felt robbed of my chance to make it big, but now I am grateful for the experience.  Once I settled down, I realized that in all the excitement I was more anxious than happy.  Looks like the simpler life’s for me.  Unfortunately, I have to be reminded of this fact, because every once in a while I get the urge to reemerge as “Fuzzy Fusaro.”


    Lucky for me, he and Dick Woody are currently on hiatus…


  • Life & People

    My Big Break Was a Humble Job in Hollywood.

    Several years ago I received a letter congratulating me on a short video documentary I produced about the doorman at the Four Seasons Hotel, NYC.  It was from the Hollywood Director Joel Schumacher and, in a friendly way, he said, “you are an excellent Director.”  Somehow this letter activated delusions of grandeur.  I decided to leave New York, abandon my art career and move to Los Angeles.  “Hollywood here I come!”

    My girlfriend, Lori, now my wife, was an actress so it was easy to convince her that this move would be great for the both of us.  Within a few weeks we were landing in Los Angeles.

    Spotting celebrities and driving by famous locations seen on television, was exciting!  Soon we began to suspect familiar looking strangers were celebrities, whispering to each other, “I think that’s someone famous.”  But our excitement diminished as our credit card balances grew.

    My focus soon shifted from making it in the movies to just making it, period.  What the hell was I thinking?  Moving to L.A. was beginning to look like a tragic mistake.  To ease my worry I figured out, if worse came to worse, we could survive if I found a job that netted just ten dollars an hour.  So, I took immediate action, filling out two applications a day, the only requirement I had for any job was; it paid ten dollars an hour. 

    As I set out each day I repeated an affirmation I read in the book, “The Game of Life and How to Play it,” by Florence Scovel Shinn; “I have a wonderful job in a wonderful way, I give wonderful service for wonderful pay."  This would squelch my panic and renew my faith that I would have the right job, at the right time, in the right way, if I just stayed the course.  It also helped me accept the fact that even if moving to L.A. was a blunder, nothing happens by mistake, and a wonderful opportunity, if only for growth, would present itself.  To be honest, I was still hoping for something better than just growth.

    Then, out of nowhere, a neighbor familiar with my situation came with good news.   He said his mother was having a difficult time finding an artist for a job she had available and since I was an artist and needed a job, I might be interested.  My enthusiasm rose, see, “nothing happens by mistake,” I told myself.  Maybe I was lead to Los Angeles, not to work in the movies, but to kick-start my art career!  I was very excited about this new possibility.

    He seemed glad that I was eager and went on to explain what the job would be. He said, his mother needed someone with some artistic ability to paint neon bulbs.  What do you mean, paint neon bulbs?  He explained that the job was to dip glass neon bulbs into paint and then hang them to dry.  What the…?  You mean like on an assembly line?  I heard the voice inside my head say, “You exhibited with Andy Warhol in New York and now you’re gonna work in an L.A. sweatshop?  How pathetic.”  But humility, born out of desperation, coerced me to ask, “How much?”  “Ten bucks and hour,” he replied.

    The next day I was alone wearing protective gloves and a mask in an abandoned airplane hangar dipping delicate glass neon bulbs in paint and carefully hanging them on fishing line to dry.  Nothing could be further from my dream to be an art star.

    But I accepted it and surrendered to the fact that this was meeting our needs.  I decided to swim with the current and continued with my silly little rhyme as I dipped each bulb and hung it to dry; “I have a wonderful job in a wonderful way, I give wonderful service for wonderful pay!”

    Soon I began to look forward to my days dipping the neon bulbs in paint.  It became a pleasant form of meditation.  I started to take pride in my daily output, striving to keep up with the load of unpainted neon bulbs that would be delivered by my neighbor’s mom each day.  Her name was Barbara Ryan and she always came delivering the bulbs with a smile and complimented me often, telling me how happy she was that I was willing to take the job.

    After a couple of months, I had completed about a thousand bulbs when, Barbara, came to inform me that, that was it.  I was done painting neon bulbs; my job was finished.  For a moment I thought, “Now what will I do?”  Believe it or not I really began to enjoy this humble labor.  Then she asked, “Can you stay on and work on the set installing them?”  Did she just say, “…on the set?”

    Barbara explained that all the neon bulbs were for a miniature recreation of the Las Vegas strip to be used in a movie.  She also went on to explain that her boss Larry Albright, was a Hollywood legend.  Larry Albright, that funny old man who looked like Einstein?  I had no idea.  He just seemed like a regular guy.  She filled me in on how he was responsible for many award-winning lighting effects, including those seen in Close Encounters, Star Wars and even Michael Jackson’s illuminated shirt and sidewalk in the music video for “Billy Jean.”

    The next day I was on the set, a small airfield in Simi Valley, where a crew was working on the miniature Las Vegas strip.  I was shown a 1/15th scale replica of the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel sign still under construction.  It was my responsibility to install all the neon and illuminate the sign under Larry Albright’s specifications.

    The movie was titled, “Con Air” and all I knew about it at that time was, we were creating the miniatures for a stunt where a large model C-123 Provider plane - nicknamed the ‘Jailbird’ - would smash through the Hard Rock Hotel sign just before crash landing on the recreated Las Vegas strip.  I was amazed at how real the models looked.  This was even better than I imagined it would be.  I reflected back to memories of my childhood fascination watching the behind the scenes making of “Star Wars” on TV.

    Each day was spent carefully adhering and wiring the delicate neon bulbs on the sign and all the while enthusiastically reminding myself, “I have a wonderful job in a wonderful way, I give wonderful service for wonderful pay.”  In two months the sign was completed.

    When we lit up the sign for the first time the aroma of a fresh clean spring day started to fill the room.  Apparently the power packs were emitting some sort of gas.  Even though I enjoyed the fragrance, I had a hunch this may not be good to inhale.  So, I decided to inform the Art Director, Mike Stuart, and ask him if he knew if the fumes were lethal.

    “You would know better than me, you’re the electrical engineer.” He responded.  “What?”  I went on to explain that, “I’m no electrical engineer, I got hired off the street to paint neon bulbs in a shed for ten bucks and hour.”

    “Yeah, right Fusaro.”  Mike responded and he continued, “In any case, I was hoping you would be able to stay on and supervise the stunt.”  Supervise the stunt?

    Since the sign was completed and Larry Albright’s contract was over  I’d be jobless if I didn’t accept his offer.  Once again it was intuitively obvious, “Of course I could stay on.”  Within ten minutes I was signing contracts with Disney as a ‘Special Effects Stunt Supervisor.’

    For the final weeks before and up until the actual filming of the stunt, I was on hand during the rehearsals to insure the sign would operate according to plan.

    When the day finally came to film the stunt, every crewmember and subcontractor that had contributed to the stunt, including Larry Albright and Barbara, came to watch.  At the moment the director shouted, “Action,” the model C-123 “Jailbird” suspended by cables high above the airfield was released smoking with engine fire FX.  It flew perfectly, heading directly into the illuminated Hard Rock Hotel sign.  Immediately upon contact the sign exploded into flames as six high-speed cameras caught the action.  When, “Cut!” was shouted the applause and cheers were spontaneous.

    Six months later sitting in a theater with Lori waiting to see “Con Air,” I realized what an incredible experience this had been and how fortunate I was. I went from painting neon bulbs in an old airplane hangar to Stunt Supervisor on a major motion picture in less than six months.  If I snubbed that ten-dollar an hour job I would have missed out on an unbelievable adventure.  This is one of those indelible incidents forever reminding me that if I ever feel that a job seems to be beneath me, it may very well be God presenting me with an opportunity that is far above me.

  • Life & People

    So, you're Italian-American? Prove it.


    On February 1, 2001, I had to prove that I was Italian-American.  I brought this upon myself a month earlier when I made the mistake of boasting to an acquaintance.   I told her about my going to art school in New Jersey and how often I was invited by my niece’s elementary school to come in and draw for the kids.  So, when the acquaintance asked me if I would like to do that here in Los Angeles?  I said, “Of course!”  She said, “Great!” and invited me to do the same for the kids in a Headstart program located in Watts, CA. Watts?!  What did I just get myself into? I’ve seen the movie “Colors.”  I began to panic, because I thought had nothing in common with these kids.  I thought to myself, “What are they going to think about this blue-eyed devil coming into their school?”  The fact that they were only pre-schoolers didn’t’ matter.  They are going to hate me!  But, I didn’t want to look bad, so I handed her my business card.  She took one look at it and said,  “You’re Italian?  That’s great!  You can tell them what it’s like to be Italian-American.”


    You mean being white and living in the suburbs didn’t set me apart enough?  Then I had a brutal awakening. I’m an Italian-American?!  All of a sudden, I felt as if for the past thirty-nine years I had been masquerading as an Italian-American and now someone was calling my bluff.  How am going to prove it?  I’m not qualified.  I am nothing people expect when they imagine an Italian-American.  I can’t speak Italian, I don’t know how to play the mandolin or accordion, I’m not a tough guy or Mafioso type, I don’t watch soccer, never belonged to an Italian club, the only thing Italian about me is the fact that my grandparents were from Italy.  Even more embarrassing is all those years I ate and enjoyed my grandmother’s authentic Italian cooking I never bothered to learn what any of it was called.  I was beginning to think that all I knew about being Italian-American was what I learned from watching TV.  Oh my God.  I’m a fraud.


    It gets worse; because word got out that an “authentic” Italian-American was doing a goodwill presentation for the unfortunate children of Watts, the Italian Consulate General jumped on board to host the event. What are they going to expect from me?!  Well, on the bright side, I didn’t have to worry about going to Watts anymore. 


    Until, I got a call inviting me to visit their school.  The head of the program wanted me to see how the topic of my upcoming presentation inspired the teachers, parents and students.  When I arrived at the school I was greeted by the head of the program and she seemed genuinely happy to see me.  She was an attractive African-American woman with a British accent who enthusiastically led me to the classroom. The teachers and the children were very excited to meet me. Their classroom was decorated with large pictures of Italy and construction paper maps of Italy the children had made.  The maps had different uncooked pastas, seeds and other tiny items glued to them, representing the places these items and objects originated from. Sweet memories of my childhood began to surface.  I remembered how much fun I had doing the same types of things in elementary school with my classmates.  The program head went on to share how all the parents were making Italian foods at home and teaching the kids everything they knew about Italy.  Wow, the people in Watts were nothing like I imagined.  They were just like me. I expected to be judged and instead I got handshakes, smiles and hugs. 


    That’s when it hit me.  It was our similarities that impressed me.  Recognizing our similarities made me feel included and loved, in spite of the obvious differences.  Funny, when I focus on our differences, I worry, but when I focus on our similarities, I feel good, like one of the crowd. From that point discovering different things about each other is fun.


    That became my inspiration and I got to work preparing for the big day.  I knew one thing every kid loves is cartoons and even more fascinating than that is watching someone draw them.  So that’s what I’d do.  I’d tell the simple story of my grandparents traveling from Italy to America on a boat, how they started a family and from there on the rest of my story is similar to most American kids; I grew up in a house, went to school and loved spaghetti. 


    I started to imagine how great it would be if I had a magic pad.  A pad that magically brought to life whatever I drew on it.  So that’s what I did.  I constructed a magic pad out of a large roll of paper and a clothes rack.  I hung the roll of paper on the horizontal bar of the clothes rack like a giant roll of toilet paper, so I would be able to pull the paper down like a window shade and draw the cartoons that illustrated my story on it. 


    The secret to the magic pad bringing the drawings to life was this; after each drawing I’d have the kids say a magic word and then I’d reach through the paper and pull out the real object that was just drawn.


    On February 1, 2001, the kids were bused from Watts to the Italian Cultural Institute in Westwood.  They were all led into the theatre where my magic pad awaited on stage, sleeping.  It was obvious the pad was sleeping because it had a sleeping face drawn on it.  At the start of the show I apologized in advance to the audience explaining that the pad had a late night and that whenever I wake him up like this he can be uncooperative.  That’s when I told the kids what the magic word was.  Because we didn’t know what to expect from the pad, the magic word was,“Eye-YEH-Yeh!”  “Eye-YEH-Yeh,” is significant for me because its what I say to myself whenever I’m overwhelmed, and, since I picked it up from my grandfather, I assume its Italian.


    So to start the show I drew an outline of Italy, then we all said the magic word together, and instead of pulling out a real map of Italy, I got a shiny red go-go boot instead.  Holding up the boot, I said, “ I guess that’s close, Italy does look like a boot, doesn’t it?”  The kids all laughed and it went on from there, I drew a boat, and pulled out rubber ducks, on and on, one mishap after another had all the children laughing and learning.


    For my final drawing I had the kids help me draw a picture of my grandmother by calling out all the different items our grandmothers’ wear. This grandma had on a; a dress, with a coat to keep warm, a hat, a pair of nice shoes, glasses, a nice purse, and her hair was done perfectly, of course.


    When I was done drawing grandma, we heard a woman’s voice yell out, “Mangia! Mangia!”  Earlier in the show we learned “mangia” was Italian for “Let’s eat!” but where was it coming from?  The kids trying to help me, all pointed to the pad.  Really? From the pad?  Could it be grandma?  I told the kids it how special it would be if they could help make my grandma appear today.  But since the pad had been being funny all morning, they would have to try really hard so the pad knew this was a special request. They were more than willing, so, on the count of three, they yelled the magic word, “EY-YEH-YEH!”  Then I reached through the paper grabbed the hand of my grandma, played by my wife, and pulled her through the pad and on to the stage.  She exactly like the grandma we drew.  The kids all screamed with surprise and delight. 


    After the show, while everyone was being escorted into the atrium to be treated to an Italian feast, compliments of the Italian Consulate, I felt a tug on my pant leg.  I turned around to see three smiling little children who asked me, “Where’s Grandma?”  I brought them to where my wife, still as grandma, was seated.  She was surrounded by children, they all wanted to eat their spaghetti with Grandma.   Well, I may not have been the star of the show but it sure felt great to be a part of it. 


    After everyone had left and I was packing up, the Consul General walked up to me, shook my hand enthusiastically said, “bravo,” and asked how long I have been doing my “Italian-American” presentation for kids?  He said it was wonderful and asked if I’d be willing to do it again sometime?  I said, “Of course.”  Thanks to the kids from Watts, I was able to prove that I’m an Italian-American by realizing I have a lot in common with everyone else.



  • Op-Eds

    An American with an Italian Name. Hindrance or Advantage?

    Personally, I enjoy my last name.  Some say “Foo-SAH-row” while others say “Fuzz-AH-row.”  Even I go back and forth.  Maybe if I were less American and more Italian, I’d know right from wrong.  No problem - I answer to either.  The problem is the lethal combination of “Darrell” and “Fusaro.”  Some things just don’t go together, and my first and last names are a perfect example.  Together they lose their punch.  Darrell Fusaro sounds too rhymey and weak.


    Maybe it’s in the pronunciation?  In New Jersey, which is where I grew up, Darrell’s pronounced, “Daaaah-rel.”  I don’t know.  My father was James and so was my grandfather, which is a perfect compliment to Fusaro.  But Darrell?!  What was my mother thinking?

    Recently, I asked her where the name came from.  Her answer?  “I don’t know.”  Then she said, “Funny, isn’t it?  I never knew of a Darrell before you were born.  When you came out, it just hit me.  Darrell!  Maybe you named yourself?”   Great.  With only myself to blame, I guess I have to learn to accept it, because for some strange reason, the thought of changing it now seems sacrilegious.


    Growing up surrounded by Tonys, Frankies, Tommys, Larrys, Mikes and Jimmys, it didn’t feel good to be a Darrell, but today, there is a bright side, sort of.  Old friends and former nemeses have no problem finding me on Facebook.  I would love to tell you I am the only Darrell Fusaro, but that’s not the case.   If you Google “Darrell Fusaro,” you will discover there is one other, who is also American and approximately the same age.  But that’s where the similarities end.  The other Darrell Fusaro is a martial arts champion living in Minnesota.  That Darrell Fusaro is probably calm, confident and able to defend himself against eighteen men using nothing but a paper clip.  Me?  I’m the guy who after starting an argument with someone bigger than me will mimic a karate stance I saw on some episode of “Kung Fu,” shout, “Hi-yah!” and then immediately turn and run for my life.

    So at least in name, I’m not as unique as I thought, and my last name makes me even less unique since it is clearly Italian.  This puts me into a large and well-known nationality.  Most Italian-Italians, the ones from Italy, that is, always seem to be curious as to how we Italian-Americans are perceived by others in America.  With all the news they’ve heard of Italian stereotypes in America, like the ones put forward in “The Godfather,”  The Sopranos,” “Mafia Wars,” and “The Jersey Shore,” I understand what they expect.

    Once people discover I’m Italian, their reaction is always the same. It goes like this:  “Wow, you’re Italian?”  They seem surprised, most likely thrown off by the name Darrell.  The next thing they say is, “I love Italian food!”


    Disappointing, isn’t it?  No one has ever accused me of being in the Mafia, and in spite of growing up in New Jersey and spending every summer at the Shore, I’ve never been considered a Guido, either.  Apparently, no matter what negative stereotype comes down the pike, it will always be overshadowed by the strength of Italy’s most powerful and effective good will ambassador: its cuisine!  So there’s nothing to fear.  And even with Italian food as my ally, I’ve always been judged more by my behavior than by name.  Which is usually a good thing.


    By the way, if you ever meet another Italian kid named “Darrell Fusaro,” let him know he’s not alone…

  • Art & Culture

    Los Angeles's Little Italy

    LOS ANGELES, CA. If a picture is worth a thousands words, then, with over two hundred pictures, “Los Angeles’s Little Italy,” by Mariann Gatto, reveals quite a bit about the one hundred and ninety year history of Italians in Los Angeles.   

    While Los Angeles possesses the nation's fifth-largest Italian population today, little is known about its Italian history, which has been examined by only a handful of historians over the past 70 years. 

    Much of historic Little Italy has been erased from the map or is masked by subsequent ethnic settlements. However, the community's memory lives on. From pioneer agriculturalists and winemakers, to philanthropists and eccentric personalities, Italian Americans left a lasting impression on the city's social, economic and cultural fabric and contributed to Los Angeles's development as one of the world's greatest metropolises.

    So it seems like a surprising discovery that Italian settlers came to reside in this area nearly a century before those who came to America by way of Ellis Island.  It is even more fascinating to learn how these early Italian settlers were instrumental in the successful development of Los Angeles. Gatto tells their stories through black and white vintage photographs.

    As presented in “Los Angeles’ Little Italy,” the early Italian settlers in this area can be dated back to 1827, that is twenty-three years before California achieved statehood.  They were quite successful agriculturalists, and by 1869, Los Angeles had established itself as California’s wine center, producing four million gallons of wine annually.  Five Italian owned wineries were operating in the neighborhood.  Olvera Street, which runs through a section of downtown Los Angeles that by all appearances seems to be influenced mainly by Mexican settlers, was actually smack in the middle of what was known as Los Angeles’s Little Italy.  It was originally, Calle de la Vignas, “Wine Street.”   The truth is Olvera Street didn’t become the “Little Mexico” it is today until the 1930’s.  

    Author Marianna Gatto likens tracing the history of Italians in Los Angeles to that of “chasing ghosts,” since much of the history hasn’t been preserved.  This fact seems to be due to the Italians’ success in Los Angeles.  Being a very humble and yet progressive group, the Italian immigrant community spent more time perpetuating the American dream in the “land of opportunity” than they did worrying about drawing attention to their accomplishments.  They contributed by working together and cooperating with other early settlers, primarily Mexican, in order to create a new community, Los Angeles.  Some streets still bear the names of those Italians whose positive influence left an impression on this great city. 

    For example, Italian settler, Frank Sabichi was President of the Los Angeles City Council in 1874.  Amerigo Bozzanni who started out by opening a modest bicycle shop with his brothers, Joe and Carlo, and went on to become the California Highway Commissioner who oversaw the construction of the state’s first freeway.  And then there is the Uddo and Taormina families’ coming together to form “Progresso Soup,” which was the very first canned soup in America and still a quality choice of consumers to this day.

    Mariann Gatto, a curator of History and Education for the City of Los Angeles, doesn’t shy away from the notorious.  Depicted are the protests against prohibition, the escalation of criminal influence during prohibition and what is referred to as “una storia segreta” when Italian-Americans were “enemy aliens” during World War Two.  The archival pictures depicting the lines formed to register as “enemy aliens” are dramatic. 

    Open to any page of “Los Angeles’s Little Italy” and you will feel like Indiana Jones uncovering buried treasure in the form of a rare photo and enlightening historical fact.  

    Ms. Gatto’s book, “Los Angeles’s Little Italy,” it is available at area bookstores, independent retailers, and online retailers, or through Arcadia Publishing at (888)-313-2665

  • Art & Culture

    Sunshine & Struggle, The Italian Experience in Los Angeles, 1827 -1927

    SAN PEDRO, CA. When Americans think of their Italian heritage, they think, New York, Chicago, New Jersey, but Los Angeles? So many may be very surprised, and if Italian very proud, to discover the origin of present day Los Angeles owes quite a bit to it’s Italian settlers. It may even be more surprising to learn that these settlers came to reside in this area nearly a century before those who came to America by way of Ellis Island.

    Olvera Street, which runs through a section of downtown Los Angeles that by all appearances seems to be influenced mainly by Mexican settlers, was actually smack in the middle of what was known as Los Angeles’s Little Italy. Matter of fact it was originally, Calle de la Vignas, “Wine Street.” The early Italian settlers in this area can be dated back to 1827, that is twenty-three years before California achieved statehood. They were quite successful agriculturalists, and by 1869, Los Angeles had established itself as California’s wine center, producing four million gallons of wine annually. Five Italian owned wineries were operating in the neighborhood.

    The success of the Italians in Los Angeles early in Los Angeles’s history was mainly due to the fact that because of the cultural similarities between the Italians and the Mexicans they did not face the discrimination that characterized their experience elsewhere in the country. For example, an Italian settler, Frank Sabichi was President of the Los Angeles City Council in 1874.

    Much more of this “Largely Unknown History of Italians in Los Angeles” can be discovered at the current exhibition titled, “Sunshine & Struggle, The Italian Experience In Los Angeles, 1827 – 1927.” It is located at 437 West 6th Street, San Pedro, CA 90731. A storefront has been transformed to reflect the early Italian experience in the area. Discovering the little known facts that are jam packed throughout the exhibit is as fascinating as it is surprising.   Mariann Gatto, curator of this exhibition and author of, “Los Angele’s Little Italy,” has put together the perfect amount of facts and trivia to satisfy and enlighten the curious.

    The exhibition runs from now until December 31st and more information on this show as well as the history of Italians in Los Angeles can be found at

    If interested in Ms. Gatto’s book, “Los Angeles’s Little Italy,” it is available at area bookstores, independent retailers, and online retailers, or through Arcadia Publishing at

  • Art & Culture

    (H)itWeek L.A. Redefines America’s Perception of Italian Music

    The response seemed to be the same from every American interviewed during HitWeek L.A. performances.  When asked what they thought of the performers they all said the same thing, “I can’t believe I have never heard of them.  They‘re great!”  At one concert an audience member held up her cell phone and shouted into it, “Are you hearing this?  You have to contact them.  They’re awesome!”  I came to find out later that her cousin is a Talent Manager and she wants to make sure he knows about these acts.   
    By all accounts the very first HitWeek L.A. was a success.  It appears that Francesco Del Maro achieved his dream to introduce contemporary Italian music and art to the U.S.  It was a little over a year ago when Francesco first had the idea to bring mainstream Italian music to Los Angeles, CA in order to smash the American perception that Italian music is nothing more than just “mandolino and people walking in the streets of Italy singing, Volare.” 

    (H)itWeek: All Darrell Fusaro's interviews
    Organizer Francesco Del Maro
    Giovanni Allevi
    Jesus Was Homeles
    At first what seemed to be an impossible fantasy soon began to gain momentum when top acts from Italy agreed to join the cause by performing and when some of the biggest Italian companies came on board as sponsors it became a reality.  “Although music is the soundtrack” of HitWeek L.A., Francesco added the many cultural aspects that make up today’s Italian lifestyle; arranging art exhibits, movie screenings, wine tasting, fashion shows and even a massive Ducati motorcycle parade, all to take place in Los Angeles during the course of one week. 

    With thirty events lined up everything was in order for HitWeek L.A.’s opening event when a heavy down pour of rain nearly washed it away.  Though the reception was outside on the Patio Mariotti of the Italian Cultural Institute, Francesco didn’t let this discourage him, he had a large clear overhang put in place with dramatic lighting and the show went on.  Although very wet when they arrived, the attendees mood was immediately elevated as the band Afterhours rocked the Institute, performing live in the intimate one hundred seat Sala Rossellini theatre.  The California down pour finally broke on the second day of HitWeek L.A.  

    Americans were treated to artists and performers of which maybe only a few have even heard of prior to HitWeek L.A.  These performances took place intimate settings that would be unheard of in Italy due to some of these artists’ notoriety.  Acts who regularly perform to tens of thousands were giving it their all in venues holding from fifty to a few hundred. There were many surprises for the Americans, who up until now were unaware of music that existed beyond the scope of what is regularly available in the U.S.  One of the biggest surprises was that the majority of the acts sang in English and do so even as they perform in Italy.  

    The performance by Franco Battiato at the 499-seat Broad Stage theatre in Santa Monica, CA, on the last night of HitWeek L.A. was the grand finale.  For Italians it might be hard to believe that most Americans, except for a few who know of his cover of “Ruby Tuesday” on the soundtrack of the film “Children of Men”, have never heard of Battiato.  It maybe even harder to believe that this was his very first live performance in Los Angeles and only his second in the U.S.  

    Watching one of lead singers of Linea 77, the hardest and most aggressive musical act to perform during HitWeek L.A., sitting in the front row with his mates and singing along like a child to a Battiato ballad spoke volumes. 
    Francesco Del Maro stated in our first interview that this was a labor of love and although not sure how it would turn out, he was driven by his passion.  He felt compelled to share his love of music and contemporary Italy with the world.   
    After Battiato’s concert, looking back on HitWeek L.A., Francesco said with a big smile, “I’m happy.” 


    Hitweek L.A. came to a close on October 18th but it’s not over, the ripple effect has just begun.  Those who experienced any one of the thirty events is right now probably doing exactly what the gal shouting into her cell phone at the concert did, enthusiastically sharing their new discovery with their friends

  • Art & Culture

    (H)it Week L.A. The hippest Italian way of life presented in Los Angeles

    LOS ANGELES, CA. “Italian music is not just mandolino and people in the streets of Italy singing, Volare,” says Francesco Del Maro the organizer of the first (H)itWeek L.A.  This fifteen year veteran of the Italian music industry became frustrated with having to explain this to nearly everyone he met.  It was out of this frustration that (H)itWeek L.A. was born, his goal to introduce authentic Italian music to the world will begin in America.  This upcoming week, October 13th through October 18th ,  fifteen of some of the top performers from Italy will perform at various locations through out Los Angeles, CA. 


    Photographs by Lori Fusaro

    Francesco decided upon Los Angeles as the location for the very first (H)itWeek because “it is known to many as the capital of the music business.”   Besides that he says, “Los Angeles is my favorite place to come.”  But Francesco doesn’t want to stop there, he was clear to let know they are the first to hear that he has already laid the ground work for (H)itweek 2010, which will be taking place simultaneously in Los Angeles and New York.  


    It is hard to believe now that when he first brought the idea of (H)itWeek to the attention of his contemporaries, most balked at such an undertaking and many thought he was crazy.  Without funding from the Italian government even he began to wonder if his friends might be correct.  Investing his own money and working for a year and a half with no salary, this has truly been a labor of love for Francesco.  With a generous smile he says that “I have always worked from passion, I have never started something for money only.”  Now with over forty of the top Italian companies joined to sponsor the event and fifteen of the countries top performers participating, the former naysayers are rallying behind him.  “Music is my passion and I am a very very lucky guy because I have got to live in a good way with my passion and most of all I want people to have fun … and maybe people will have fun together with us.” 


    (H)itweek launches Tuesday night, October 13th, at 6:30pm at the Italian Cultural Institute – located at 1023 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024.  From there the week blasts off with DJ sets at The Standard Hotel in West Hollywood, concerts at The Music Box @ The Fonda Theatre in the heart of Hollywood, even a Ducati Motorcycle Parade will take place on Saturday, October 17th, starting from the Italian Cultural Institute at 3pm and traveling all the way to The Music Box.  “The Ducati extravaganza will feature bikes, hot chicks and wine.”   

    Here is an overview of the artists involved. For the full line up and schedule of events go to 


    FRANCO BATTIATO is one of the most worldwide recognized Italian singer-songwriter, composer, filmmaker and, under the pseudonym Süphan Barzani, also a painter.

    He is considered one of the most original personalities in Italian music from the 1970s to now. Battiato's songs are dreamy, controversial collages of images and sensations, very experimental and convoluted, rich of esoteric, philosophical and East Asian religious themes. (Read more >>)
    NEGRITA started their musical career in 1992 by recording two demo-tapes and touring all the most important clubs in Italy for two long years. Soon, they showed the italian audience their impact and energy and started building their profile as a unique live rock band.  (Read more >>)
    GIOVANNI ALLEVI is one of the top pure composers of the current international scene. His compositions outline the tenets of a new Contemporary Classical Music, via cultivated and moving language which distances itself from the dodecaphonic and minimalist trend, and thus declaring a new European rhythmic and melodic intensity.  (Read more >>)

    AFTERHOURS. In 1989 the debut mini album "All the Good Children Go to Hell" is mentioned by the most influential Italian alternative music magazine Mucchio Selvaggio among the best 10 records of the 80s. A year later independent label Vox Pop releases first album "During Christine Sleep" that gets an exciting review by American magazine Alternative Press. A flight to New York follows: the band fronted by Manuel Agnelli goes to represent Italy at the New Music Seminar. They are later invited to the Berlin Independence Days. (Read more>>)

    DANIELE LUPPI’s music, Like the eternal city of Rome, is at once exotic and familiar, sophisticated but funky, sexy yet sinister, sleekly modern and wonderfully timeless. If you’ve listened to Gnarls Barkley’s Grammy-winning St. Elsewhere, or John Legend’s platinum-selling Once Again, you’ve experienced Daniele Luppi’s brilliant cinematic production and arrangements. If you’ve seen HBO’s Sex And The City, Disney's Under The Tuscan Sun (starring Diane Lane), or the acclaimed Brian Grazer-produced documentary Inside Deep Throat, you’ve heard the beguiling soundtrack contributions of this Italian-born composer.  (Read more >>)

    AFRICA UNITE is an Italian Reggae Band from Turin, named after one of Bob Marley’s songs. It is led by charismatic Bunna and Madaski, who produced all their albums and also most of the top reggae bands in Italy.

    They formed in 1981, when R.N.Marley prematurely died.

    For 25 years AFRICA UNITE whose background is top-class reggae, have played hundreds of concerts, have taken part to a good number of international festivals, and have released 11 albums, establishing as the most prestigious and popular Italian reggae bands.  (Read more >>)

    LINEA77. Since their birth – in Venaria (Turin) in 1993 – the Italian rock band have quickly grown, expanding throughout Europe and even stirring up interest across the ocean. It is difficult to believe that this is the same group that began by playing covers of Rage Against The Machine and CCCP, but it was then that Linea 77 first sowed the seeds of what would become the hard core of their fan base. Their constant live performances soon made them a cult: in just one year from their first furious war cry, they were playing to a crowd of 8,000 people at the now defunct Beach Bum Festival in Jesolo.  (Read more >>)

    LE VIBRAZIONI are one of Italy’s main rock bands. The group is composed of Francesco Sàrcina (vocals and guitar), Alessandro Deidda (drums) and Stefano Verderi (guitar).

    2003 is The year: the video “Dedicato a Te” hits Italian music tv - constantly broadcasted, stays at the number one spot for 14 weeks, dragging along their first album Le vibrazioni, with 300 thousand units sold. "Dedicato a te" went platinium and Le Vibrazioni remained in the charts for 40 weeks. (Read more>>)

    BELLADONNA. How many artists can claim to have single-handedly originated a musical genre? Italian quintet Belladonna are amongst that rare breed of bands whose absolute uniqueness enraptures and inspires countless followers and imitators all over the world.

    Rock noir, that Belladonna extraordinary brand of emotionally-charged rock’n’roll melodrama utterly seduced those beautiful hordes of Music lovers sick’n’tired of being force-fed today’s computer-driven, fake-angst-ridden pseudo-rock down their ears.  (Read more>>)

    THE NIRO. Davide Combusti, a.k.a. The Niro, was born in Rome in 1978. His father was a drummer and right from a very early age instilled in him a love for music and the drums, which was actually the first instrument the young Davide learned to play. With the passing of time Davide became a multi-instrumentalist as he added guitar, bass and much more besides to his passion for playing percussion. He then started collaborating with a number of bands as a drummer. In 2002 he decided to pursue a more personal path and formed his own band called “The Niro”, writing lyrics and music to all their songs. After this experience, Davide decided to go it alone as a singer-songwriter and kept the name of the band for his new solo career.  (Read more>>)

    CALIBRO 35. Researches begun years ago, diggin dusty vinyl crates for obscure samples. The discovery of italian '60s and '70s soundtracks was a crucial point; from that moment on nothing sounded as good and interesting as electrifying tracks from exploitation movies.

    By the summer of 2007 time was ready and Tommaso Colliva (Muse, Franz Ferdinand, Arto Lindsay) invited an incredible jam band formed by Massimo Martellotta (Stewart Copeland, Eugenio Finardi, Mauro Pagani) on guitars and lapsteels, Enrico Gabrielli (Afterhours, Mariposa, Morgan) keyboards and brass, Fabio Rondanini (Pino Marino, Roberto Angelini, Collettivo Angelo Mai) on drums and Luca Nano Cavina (Transgender, Lindo Ferretti, Beatrice Antolini) on bass to record at omniaB studios in Milan.   (Read more>>)

    AMANA. Born in Germany, raised around the world, Amana Melome' grew up exposed to a wide variety of music. Both grandparents were heavy in the international Jazz scene; her grandfather Jimmy Woode started as the youngest musician in Duke Ellington’s band and toured as one of the golden men of Jazz until his recent passing.

    “My grandmother was a jazz vocalist and I remember loving listening to her sing while ironing. By the time I was a teenager I knew so many old jazz songs it surprised even her… I enjoyed them so much, they just stuck” she says.  (Read more>>)

    JESUS WAS HOMELESS is a project born on the road during a round trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco. A trip originated from a desire to feel alive again. A travel where freedom of movement became freedom of espression, where the diverse artistic, cultural and social issues arising from those American metropolies enriched and re-ignited the creative sparks of the band founding members, giving birth to their debut album: The Landing, a collection of songs that definitely gathers all the experiences of the road trip in one coherent work.

    This project is then deeply rooted in international grounds, untamed by the Italian scene logics and market, aiming toward wider horizons. The band is a four piece with a mixed musical background: we have Tiziano on vocals and guitar, Amorosi on bass, Maruko on guitars and electronix and Alessandro on drums.  (Read more>>)

    MARCO FABI was born in Rome, Italy in 1977. Initially, he found an attraction to writing and performing songs in English. Later he dedicated himself to transforming what had thus far been a primarily English lyrical affinity. He wrote all of his new songs in Italian, without ever compromising his international tendencies in melody and arrangement.

    Accompanying Marco Fabi will be talented violinist Andrea Di Cesare, who has established himself as one of the country’s most sought after session violinists, working with such notable artists as: Carmen Consoli, Negroamaro, and Ron. (Read more>>)



  • Life & People

    A Magical Little Feast

    HOLLYWOOD, CA.  A wiser man than I once told me that, “a man isn’t happy because he is rich, he is rich because he is happy.”  Today I have my proof.  Restaurateur, Frankie Competelli, an Italian American born on New York City’s renowned Mulberry Street in Little Italy.  He spent his childhood attending the yearly Feast of San Gennaro and he appears to be the richest man in Los Angeles.  Standing with Frankie in the middle of a crowd at this year’s Feast of San Gennaro in Los Angeles, it’s obvious why he’s so happy; he’s one its four founders. 

    Celebrating its eighth year in Los Angeles, located in Hollywood, on Highland Avenue just a block from Mann’s Chinese Theater, it is still unbelievable to the founders of this event, that their dream to bring the Italian American tradition of their ancestors in New York City to Los Angeles, has continued to flourish.  When Frankie Competelli, Late Night Television Host Jimmy Kimmel, Radio Personality Adam Carolla and TV Producer Doug Deluca would get together at Frankie’s restaurant, “Frankie’s New York Italian Restaurant on Melrose,” they would often reminisce about the ol’ “Feast” back in New York City.  Then one day they decided to make a commitment to bring it to life in sunny California.   

    In 2001, with a lot of faith, some luck and the support of Precious Cheese, their very first sponsor, the very first Feast of San Gennaro in Los Angeles took place on a small church parking lot across from the Capitol Records building.  “That was a very magical little festival,” says Frankie Competelli.  Apparently, when looking for their first location, Frankie decided to talk to the Priest at Christ the King Church on Rossmore Avenue and when it was discovered that the Father just happened to be an actual Italian Priest from Naples, Italy, he just knew it was meant to be. 

    Their goal was clear and their motive true.  Bring Italian American heritage to life in Los Angeles with the Feast and in the spirit of St. Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples, Italy, give help to those who need it in the community.  “We formed the San Gennaro Foundation, a non-profit, and all of our proceeds go to helping charitable institutions in Hollywood, such as the Battered Women’s Shelter and the homeless children.”

    A very humble man, Frankie made it clear that credit for the success of the Feast does not just belong to the four founders.  “ There are so many people, Italian Americans from all over Los Angeles that make this possible every year.”  As Frankie begins to name them, he realizes that there are so many to thank he couldn’t possibly name them all. 

    Thanks to Frankie and his friends there has been a new interest in preserving Italian American heritage throughout Los Angeles, CA.  One of the first fruits of the Feast was the formation of a Los Angeles chapter of The Sons of Italy, “the Hollywood Lodge which is four to five hundred people strong from zero.” Frankie proudly notes.   This paved the way to getting a financial commitment from the City of Los Angeles to restore the Italian Hall on North Main Street in downtown Los Angeles, as a showcase of Italian American History in CA. And, just recently, October has been proclaimed as Italian Heritage Month by the City of Los Angeles. 

    California ranks as the third state with the highest Italian American population, after New York and New Jersey.  Los Angeles is the fifth metropolitan area in the US with the highest number of Italians.  For a long time you wouldn’t know it because we were all spread out.  But no longer.  Now gatherings of Italian Americans in Los Angeles are becoming the norm, rather than the exception.


          WHEREAS, The City of Los Angeles supports "Italian-American Heritage
    Month" and recognizes the contributions of Italian-Americans to the City of
    Los Angeles, State of California and  the United States; and
          WHEREAS, In April 1524, Giovanni da Verrazzano, a mariner from
    Florence, Italy, set foot in what is now Rhode Island. His arrival at Block
    Island and his observation that it was about the size of the island of
    Rhodes later gave Rhode Island its name; and
          WHEREAS, Other Italians, like Amerigo Vespucci and Christopher
    Columbus, were some of the first explorers to explore the American
    continents and illustrate the geography; and
          WHEREAS, Italians and Italian-Americans have made great contributions
    to America's society economically, artistically, culturally, scientifically
    and politically; and have won prestigious prizes, such as the Nobel Prize,
    the Pritzker Award for architecture, and the Fields Medal for mathematics;
          WHEREAS, Italians and Italian-Americans invented pianos, violins,
    calendars, radios, telescopes, compasses, microscopes, thermometers, eye
    glasses, steam engines, typewriters, and batteries; and
          WHEREAS, Italian-Americans have toiled and labored while helping to
    build our Nation's infrastructure, including railroads, tunnels, highways,
    and subways; and
          WHEREAS, A great many Americans have enjoyed the entertainment
    provided by Italian-Americans, such as Hall of Fame baseball player Joe
    DiMaggio, singer and songwriter Frank Sinatra, world-renowned composer Henry
    Mancini, and Oscar-winning actor Robert DeNiro; and
          WHEREAS, Great Italian-American political figures, such as Fiorello La
    Guardia, Anthony Celebrezze (who, in the Kennedy administration, was the
    first Italian-American Cabinet member), Antonin Scalia (the first
    Italian-American Supreme Court Justice), and John O. Pastore (who, in 1945,
    became the first Italian-American governor of Rhode Island), have enriched
    the political process and brought national pride to our country; and
          WHEREAS, Over 5.4 million Italians immigrated to the United States
    between 1820 and 1992, which today has resulted in over 26 million Americans
    of Italian descent in the United States, making them the fifth largest
    ethnic group; and
          WHEREAS, The Italian presence in Los Angeles began in 1827 with
    Giovanni Leandri, a native of Sardinia, who established a business and built
    a home in the pueblo, adjacent to where Union Station currently stands.
          WHEREAS, The heart of the Italian enclave was located at what is today
    El Pueblo Historical Monument, Chinatown and Lincoln Heights.
          WHEREAS, Italians made significant contributions to the development of
    Los Angeles and California, from the fields of banking, science,
    agriculture, transportation, and entertainment, and are responsible for
    landmarks such as the Watts Towers, Guasti Villa, Venice Canals, and the
    Biltmore Hotel.
          WHEREAS, the City of Los Angeles' Italian-American community boasts a
    bountiful history and unequaled vitality, adding to the rich cultural
    diversity of the Golden State and, in the process, has made so many
    remarkable contributions that enhance the quality of life in the community;
    now, therefore be it
          NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Council of the City of Los
    Angeles hereby declares the month of October as "Italian-American Heritage
    Month" and recognizes the significant contributions that Italian-Americans
    have made to the City of Los Angeles, State of California, and the United
    States of America.