Meet some famous Italian-Americans

By Andrew J. Concatelli - ReminderNews Assistant Editor
Enfield - posted Fri., Jul. 22, 2011
Contributed
Italian-Americans are prominent in film, TV, music, sports and politics. - Contributed Photo

More than five and a half million Italians have immigrated to the United States since the early 1800s. Italian-Americans have overcome the challenges of adapting to a new country and new culture, and they have seen success in widely varied fields. 

Although stereotypes have occasionally distorted the images of individuals, well-known Italian-American figures have high visibility in Hollywood and in the music world, as well as in sports and politics.

What follows is a compilation – by no means complete – of some of the most famous Italian-Americans in high-profile fields, in honor of the upcoming Italian Festival.

Film Directors:

Many of the most celebrated movie directors of all time celebrate their Italian ancestry. These include Frank Capra (“It’s a Wonderful Life”), Francis Ford Coppola (“The Godfather”) and his daughter Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”), Quentin Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction”) and Martin Scorsese (“Goodfellas”).

Film Actors and Actresses:

The list of major Hollywood actors and actresses with Italian roots includes some of the biggest A-list stars of their generation, like Al Pacino (“The Godfather,” “Scarface”), Robert de Niro (“The Godfather Part II,” “Raging Bull”), Sylvester Stallone (“Rocky,” “Rambo”), Nicolas Cage (“Leaving Las Vegas,” “National Treasure”), Susan Sarandon (“Dead Man Walking,” “The Lovely Bones”) and John Travolta (“Grease,” “Saturday Night Fever”).

Also on that list are Joe Pesci (“Goodfellas,” “Casino”), Danny DeVito (“Twins,” “L.A. Confidential”), Ralph Macchio (“The Karate Kid,” “My Cousin Vinny”), Téa Leoni (“A League of Their Own,” “Jurassic Park III”), Janeane Garofalo (“Reality Bites,” “The Truth About Cats & Dogs”), Stanley Tucci (“The Lovely Bones,” “The Devil Wears Prada”) and Paul Giamatti (“Sideways,” “Barney’s Version”).

The younger generation of Italian-American movie stars includes Leonardo DiCaprio (“Titanic,” “The Aviator”), Christina Ricci (“The Addams Family,” “Sleepy Hollow”), Jason Schwartzman (“Rushmore,” “The Darjeeling Limited”) and Jason Biggs (“American Pie,” “Saving Silverman”).

Television Actors and Actresses:

The ranks of Italian-American television stars are just as expansive, and include Ray Romano (“Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Men of a Certain Age”), Alyssa Milano (“Who’s the Boss,” “Charmed”), Tony Danza (“Taxi,” “Who’s the Boss”), Lauren Ambrose (“Six Feet Under”), Leah Remini (“The King of Queens,” “The Talk”), Christopher Meloni (“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”), and James Gandolfini – along with most of the cast of “The Sopranos.”

Late night talk show hosts Jimmy Kimmel (“Jimmy Kimmel Live!”) and Jay Leno (“The Tonight Show”) both have Italian ancestors, as does celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis (“Giada at Home,” “Today”).

Music:

Some of the most successful musicians ever are proud of their Italian heritage. Classic singers Frank Sinatra, Frankie Avalon, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin and Frankie Valli all make this list, as does the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen.

The rock world has its fair share of Italian-Americans, even though many have changed their family names, like Nikki Sixx (born Frank Carlton Serafino Feranna, Jr.) of Motley Crue, Jon Bon Jovi (born John Francis Bongiovi, Jr.) and Bon Jovi bandmate Richie Sambora, and Steven Tyler (born Steven Victor Tallarico) and Aerosmith bandmate Joe Perry (born Anthony Joseph Perry).

Gwen Stefani, of No Doubt, is an Italian-American, and so are Madonna (born Madonna Ciccone) and her most famous admirer, Lady Gaga (born Stefani Germanotta).

Sports:

The sports world is packed with high-achieving Italian-American stars, from the quotable baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra to tennis star Jennifer Capriati.

Some of the greatest athletes in their sports can trace their family roots to Italy, including Yankees Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio, football legends Vince Lombardi and Joe Montana, golf champion Phil Mickelson, heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano, and racecar driver Mario Andretti and his racing family.

Connecticut is also very familiar with two Italian-American sports figures: former UConn basketball star and current WNBA player Diana Taurasi, and UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma.

Government:

Italian-Americans have served in major roles in all levels of government. Most of us know former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, but don’t forget U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the former Speaker of the House, or U.S. Rep. Sonny Bono (R-Calif.), the late pop singer of Sonny & Cher fame.

Here in Connecticut, Italian-American political figures include U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-3rd District), New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, Jr., former lieutenant governor Michael Fedele, and Ella T. Grasso, the first woman elected governor of Connecticut.

The highest court in the country also includes two prominent Italian-Americans: Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito.

And one not-so-Italian…

His iconic film role as mafia patriarch Vito Corleone - “The Godfather” himself - may be inextricably linked with many people’s concepts of what it means to be Italian-American, but actor Marlon Brando was not Italian. Brando’s family is actually of German, Dutch, Irish and English ancestry.


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