Rosario. A. Iaconis


OpEd: Martin and Lewis — A Comedy Duo For the Ages

comedy duo
Lewis and Martin. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Following the Great Depression and a cataclysmic global war, America hungered for laughs. And on July 25, 1946, nearly one year after General Douglas MacArthur accepted Japan’s formal surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri, comedy made a comeback.

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis debuted at the 500 Club in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

No one in attendance, including the two on-stage protagonists, had any inkling that this unlikely pair would become the greatest comedic duo in show business history.

Unlike other teams — Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, or even Crosby and Hope — Dino Crocetti and Joseph Levitch brought a madcap, unpredictable dynamism to the stage.

In addition to breaking the fourth wall with abandon, Dean and Jerry interspersed mirthful mayhem and irreverence with rich verbal humor. Their extemporaneous two-man revue spoofed societal norms while providing singing, dancing, and sotto voce satire.

But that’s just the tip of the slapstick.

Martin and Lewis supplied guffaws by the bellyful, pioneering a brand of zaniness that would influence comedy well into the 21st century. Steve Martin, Saturday Night Live, Jerry Seinfeld, and David Letterman owe a great debt to Dean and Jerry.

Rather than simply recycling hoary vaudeville routines, the boys played off their physical differences: the suavely handsome Italian singer-cum-straight man pitted against a pratfalling Jewish pagliaccio.

Shattering conventional show business wisdom, these wacky revelers introduced a combustible commedia dell’arte dimension to the proceedings — all the while evincing a genuine, almost brotherly affection for one another.

It was a love story between two goofy men who endeared themselves to a nation.

The boys clowned around as much with themselves as with band leaders and the audience. In between trading impromptu quips, Martin & Lewis overturned tables, cut ties, sheared suits, and spritzed seltzer on one and all in a frenetic pursuit of fun. Both critics and fans could see that Dean and Jerry were having as much of a ball as the audience.

As Carl Reiner noted, spontaneity was their mantra: “I saw what I thought was the funniest ad-libbed thing I had ever seen. It was a riot and we never stopped laughing.”

Martin and Lewis were the kings of all media, conquering radio, nightclubs, television, and the silver screen. From 1949 to 1953, the partners headlined the Martin & Lewis radio series. Having made their initial TV appearance in 1948 on The Toast of the Town (which later became The Ed Sullivan Show), Dean and Jerry periodically co-hosted The Colgate Comedy Hour. Moreover, from 1950 to 1956, the Martin and Lewis-led programs frequently beat Sullivan in the ratings. These episodes set the highest record of any NBC show at that time.

The 60-minute Martin and Lewis extravaganzas, which were televised live, brought the boys’ theater-of-the-absurd hilarity directly into the homes of everyday Americans. (Luigi Pirandello would have been proud indeed.)

It wasn’t long before Hollywood beckoned. In 1949, Dean and Jerry finally made it to the big screen in My Friend Irma. The film’s success engendered a sequel — My Friend Irma Goes West. Audiences simply couldn’t get enough of the daffy duo, clamoring for even more Martin and Lewis flicks. All told, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis starred in 16 motion pictures together, not counting a cameo in The Road to Bali (a Bob Hope and Bing Crosby film.)

The Martin and Lewis oeuvres were veritable cash cows at the box office. Sailor Beware, which cost less than $750,000, amassed $27 million worldwide — a heady sum in 1952. However, in pursuing the bountiful bottom line, producer Hal Wallis tended toward the formulaic: before he gets the girl, debonair Dean must contend with the antics of Jerry, his needy nebbish of a sidekick.

Still, there were more than a few gems in the duo’s body of filmic work. Though Jerry remained the peripatetic clown, Dean’s smooth-as-silk persona, innate acting prowess, and ingratiating on-screen charm centered the celluloid narratives.

Indeed, Jerry always understood that his partner was the fulcrum around which the act pivoted, calling Dean “the greatest straight man in the history of show business” and a “genius.”

Some of the most notable Martin & Lewis films include: The Caddy, Artists and Models, You’re Never Too Young, Living It Up, The Stooge, and That’s My Boy.

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis gave their final performance at the Copacabana in New York on July 25, 1956 — 10 years (to the day) after they’d teamed up as a comedic duo.

Though Dean and Jerry crossed paths in a humorous cameo on The Eddie Fisher Show in 1958, the two officially reunited in 1976 when Dino strode onto the stage and surprised Jer at the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon.

Jerry returned the favor in 1989 when he joined Dean at Bally’s Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas to celebrate the King of Cool’s 72nd birthday. Wheeling out a huge cake, Jer sang “Happy Birthday” and said, “Why we broke up, I’ll never know.” Touched by his old partner’s gesture, Dean replied “I love you, and I mean it.”

Now that’s truly amore.

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OpEd: Dean Martin’s Christmas Classics Reign Supreme

Original studio publicity photo of Dean Martin for the film Bells Are Ringing (1960)

Make way, Mariah Carey. Hit the road, Jose Feliciano. Bye-bye, Bing Crosby.

Christmas is Dean Martin’s domain.

Yes, winter is coming. But it need not be a season of unremitting gloom and doom. Let’s put aside our political differences and pandemic fears — at least for one day — and celebrate a festive Yuletide Saturnalia with Dean Martin, the King of Cool.

And Long Island, which boasts a bevy of Dean Martin impressionists, is wall-to-wall Dino country.

As Christmas crooners go, Dino Paul Crocetti evokes the warmth of a hearth fire on a snowy winter’s morn. Listening to his mellifluous Italianate baritone has long been a Christmas tradition in households around the world. From “Let It Snow” to “Marshmallow World” to “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” Dean’s wintry melodies embody both the mirth and the majesty of the holiday season.

Social distancing has made it difficult for families to congregate this year, but Dino’s rendition of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” will warm the cockles of even the most Scrooge-like relative’s heart. Not to mention Dean’s “Silver Bells.” And his melancholy “Blue Christmas” puts the Elvis Presley platter to shame.

Throughout his fabled career, Dean Martin was no stranger to outperforming other musical stars. In 1964, he topped the Beatles’ “Heart Days Night” on the music charts with his smash single, “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime.”

In 1977, Dino sang a heartfelt “White Christmas” on his Christmas in California TV special. Afterward, Greg Garrison, Dean’s longtime producer-director, received a telephone call from Irving Berlin, who’d penned the iconic song long ago: “Mr. Garrison, I just want to tell you I just love your (show’s) star, and I want you to know that the White Christmas Dean did on the air was the best version I have ever heard.”

So there, Der Bingle!

And Dean Martin’s “Silent Night” is a reverential ode to the season’s spirituality.

On the cheeky side of Christmas, Dino warbles “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” a saucy take on a snowbound couple’s duet of flirtation and love. Politically correct pundits who rail against this holiday classic are nothing more than modern-day Ebenezers.

Manning a one-horse open sleigh, the Dean of Christmas takes us for a frolicsome trek through a winter wonderland in his jaunty version of “Jingle Bells.”

At the 75th anniversary celebration of the NBC television network, comedian Bob Newhart poignantly praised Dean as “the most talented man” he’d ever known. Along with his films, which throughout the 1960s were never out of the top ten at the box office, Dean Martin hosted a TV variety show for nearly a decade — making him an American icon.

During Apollo 7’s mission in space, Commander Wally Schirra echoed Dean Martin’s bon- homie by holding aloft a sign for all of Earth to see: “Keep those cards and letters coming in, folks.”(It was Dino’s tag line, which he invoked at the end of his hourly variety show every Thursday night.)

In truth, Dean Martin was a multi-threat entertainer whose image as a boozing bon vivant belied an artist of considerable range and diversity. Whether starring with John Wayne or Montgomery Clift in classic Hollywood films, recording smooth romantic ballads, or hosting one of television’s greatest programs, Dino Paul Crocetti achieved international stardom by holding true to his inner creative voice.

When Howard Hawks needed a highly emotive actor to play the drunken deputy to Duke Wayne’s stolid sheriff in “Rio Bravo,” the last person he envisioned was the singing straight man of a disbanded comedy team. Yet Dino’s nuanced Oscar-caliber performance as the fallen lawman who reclaims his honor — and the respect of his peers — wowed the veteran director.

Vincente Minelli, Billy Wilder and George Seaton also found Dean Martin to be a conscientious thespian whose cinematic appeal was equaled by a strong commitment to his craft.

Though not a practitioner of the Stanislavski “Method,” Dean brought an uncommon emotional intensity to his roles. This is especially evident in such dramatic films as “Rio Bravo,” “The Young Lions,” “Some Came Running,” “Ada” and “Career.”

Dino also delivers a powerful performance in the film adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s play, “Toys in the Attic.”

Martin is superb as Captain Vernon Demarest, a debonair, nerves-of-steel airline pilot who must contend with a morose bomber aboard a flight to Rome in “Airport.” This film is as suspenseful today as it was in the movie theaters half a century ago.

And in “Mr. Ricco,” his last starring movie role, Dean Martin plays a principled defense attorney who champions civil liberties and upholds the rule of law while solving a bizarre murder mystery.

After a cozy Yuletide dinner — serenaded by Dino’s dulcet holiday tunes — kick back and relax with a classic Dean Martin film. Though he passed away on Christmas Day twenty-five years ago, Dean Martin remains evergreen in our hearts.

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The Holocaust And The Humanity of A People

On April 27, 1940, Heinrich Himmler the head of Adolf Hitler’s bestial SS officially opened Auschwitz, paving the way to the Final Solution.

Yet in a recent study conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, two-thirds of American millennials have no knowledge of Auschwitz.

Moreover, anti-Semitic violence has increased at an alarming rate in the United States from the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, Pa. to the 2019 stabbing of five Hanukkah celebrants at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, N.Y.

France, the U.K., Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands have all experienced outbursts of Jew-hatred.

Björn Höcke, a leader of Germany’s ultra-right AfD party, scorned Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial: “Germans are the only people in the world who plant a monument of shame in the heart of the capital.”

However, Italy has a long history of Judeophilia even in the worst of times.

During Nazi Germany’s reign of terror, many countries remained callously indifferent to the greatest crime in human history. Vichy France delivered foreign-born Jews to the Germans with gleeful alacrity. In 1942, of the 75,000 French Jews ultimately deported by the collaborationist Vichy government, 42,000 had already been expelled.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt forbade Jewish refugees on the SS St. Louis from entering the U.S. And both he and Winston Churchill refrained from bombing the death camps.

But the Italians were among the few to resist Hitler’s Final Solution.

Though Italy was an Axis power during the Second World War, its populace, military and government ministries defied their genocidal German allies to provide succor, shelter and safety to the Jews.

In fact, according to Dorothy Rabinowitz, these imperfect servants of Mussolini’s Fascist state “undertook extraordinary efforts to rescue Jews in their zones of occupation” (France, Yugoslavia and Greece).

Whereas the French prefect of the Alpes Maritmes dutifully knuckled under to the SS and placed all Jews in his sector into concentration camps, the Italian High Command which controlled an area stretching from Toulon to the Swiss border near Geneva adamantly refused to similarly herd the Jews.

Soldiers of the Italian Fourth Army surrounded the French police of Annecy and forcibly prevented the gendarmes from deporting Jews. Italian carabinieri guarded Jewish synagogues in Nice to ensure that the Vichy police could not enter. And Italian generals rescinded the French order to force Jews to wear the yellow star. Such a stigmatizing practice was deemed “inconsistent with the dignity of the Italian army.”

This fierce Italian resistance to the Final Solution repeated itself in Dalmatia, Croatia, and Serbia enraging the likes of von Ribbentrop, Himmler, von Bismarck (Minister at the German Embassy in Rome) and Hitler himself. The Germans were furious that Mussolini would not directly order his generals (Ambrosio, Bastianini, Picche, and Roatta) to simply turn over the Jews.

Greek Jews in the Italian zone of occupation, which included Athens, were also shielded from Nazi barbarism. Until the armistice of September of 1943, they led normal lives. In 1941, the Athenian Jewish population increased by 5,000 when refugees fled to the Italian sector in search of safety. The Italian consuls in Salonika also intervened to rescue Jews by any means possible.

As Jonah Goldberg notes in Liberal Fascism: “Not a single Jew of any national origin under Italian control anywhere in the world was handed over to Germany until 1943, when Italy was invaded by the Nazis. Mussolini actually sent Italian troops into harm’s way to save Jewish lives.”

Despite the repugnant racial laws of 1938 and the subsequent alliance with Germany, the brusque Italian dictator, who had thwarted Hitler’s attempted anschluss of Austria in 1934, intervened to impede the extermination of the Jews.

Ultimately, however, it was the bravery and humanity of the Italian people that earned them the sobriquet “righteous Gentiles.” In The Last Man Who Knew Everything: The Life and Times of Enrico Fermi, Father of the Nuclear Age, David N. Schwartz notes that “cultural or political anti-Semitism was virtually unknown in Italy.” (Laura Capon, Fermi’s wife, was Jewish. Her husband was not.)

Elizabeth Bettina’s It Happened in Italy describes how Harry Arlin, Max Kempin and other Jewish internees were safeguarded from German eliminationism in the Ferramonti Campo di Concentramento in Calabria: “There were doctors, dentists, bakers, teachers, rabbis. They even had their own form of government.” Children were born and educated. Cantors sang. Ice cream vendors sold gelati. According to Kempin: “There were even a few weddings, at least three or four that I was aware of.”

While other nations may have vacillated in the face of evil, Italy stood implacably in defiance of the Holocaust. Hannah Arendt noted that in protecting Jews, the Italians evinced the “automatic general humanity of an old and civilized people.”

Rosario A. Iaconis is chairman of The Italic Institute of America and an adjunct professor in the Social Sciences Department at Suffolk County Community College.

Christopher Columbus And The Daughters of Italianita`: An Often Overlooked Aspect of This Holiday

Christopher Columbus Barcelona Sailor Monument Port

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a national holiday in 1937, he hailed the Admiral of the Ocean Sea as a “brave navigator” whose voyage “was the culmination of years of bold speculation, careful preparation, and struggle against opponents who had belittled his great plan and thwarted its execution.”

These are the selfsame qualities epitomized by Columbus’ female counterparts through the ages — the daughters of italianita` — who have blazed a trail of discovery in the tradition of Mother Cabrini, Maria Montessori, Ella Grasso, and Geraldine Ferraro. Not to mention the radical activism of Maria Barbieri , Maria Roda, Ersilia Grandi, and Annie Lo Pizzo. Yearning for labor equality and social justice, Barbieri issued “Ribelliamoci” (Let’s Rebel!), they issued an eloquent, if incendiary, call to action in 1905.

“To my women comrades, these are the thoughts of another woman worker dedicated to you,” they said. “It is in my thoughts and the beating of my soul that I feel all the social injustices, that for centuries we have been humble and obedient slaves; it is in rebellion, to rise up against all of these inequities, that I invite you to struggle.”

Today, the daughters of italianita` in America have excelled in every field of human endeavor.  Intellectually rigorous and supremely competent, they continue to inform, enlighten, and enrich the nation — and the world.

Though demonized at every turn by GOP troglodytes, timorous Democrats and pugnacious cable-TV pundits, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi enabled former President Barack Obama to pass the most comprehensive healthcare reform in American history. In fact, her stewardship of the House of Representatives has been nothing short of historic.

Speaker Pelosi is now spearheading the drive toward the inquiry that could well result in the impeachment of President Donald Trump, who may have violated his oath of office in committing high crimes and misdemeanors.

Carolyn Porco is the planetary scientist who served as the leader of the Imaging Science Team on the Cassini mission to Saturn. A staunch advocate of a robust human presence throughout the solar system, Porco remains true to the spirit of exploration exemplified by Columbus, Caboto, Vespucci, and da Verrazzano: “the future is boundless, and it belongs to us.”

Recently, astronomers at University College London discovered the presence of water vapor in the atmosphere of K2-18b, a possibly habitable Earth-like planet situated 110 light years from our world.  

“To our great surprise we saw a pretty strong signature of water vapor,” said Professor Giovanna Tinetti, a London-based physicist from Turin and member of the UCL team. “It means first of all that there’s an atmosphere, and second that it contains a significant amount of water.”

In It Happened in Italy, author Elizabeth Bettina details the valor of “Italy’s army of Schindlers,” (a phrase coined by Dorothy Rabinowitz), officials, and everyday Italian citizens who rescued Jews from perishing in the Holocaust. Rather than acquiescing in Hitler’s Final Solution, the Italians intervened to preserve a people. 

And in the Ferramonti Campo di Concentramento in Calabria, Jewish internees were shielded from German eliminationism: “There were doctors, dentists, bakers, teachers, rabbis. They even had their own form of government.”  

Children were born and educated. Cantors sang. Ice cream vendors sold gelati.

“There were even a few weddings, at least three or four that I was aware of,” according to Max Kempin.

Of course, the values of a society must coexist with a nation’s security concerns.

Janet Napolitano, a no-nonsense former governor of Arizona, helmed Homeland Security, the agency that must be as vigilant as it is proactive in protecting the United States from all foreign and domestic terrorist threats.

When it comes to unlocking the secrets of the universe, physicist Chiara Nappi has few equals.  In addition to her research on string theory, particle physics, black holes, and mathematical physics, this Princeton University professor has written extensively on women in science. Nappi earned her Ph.D. in physics from the University of Naples.

Across the final frontier, Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, an Air Force pilot and engineer, holds the record for the longest uninterrupted spaceflight of a European astronaut.

Italy was in the vanguard of feminine education for centuries. In 1415, Constanza Calenda served as the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Salerno. She later became the medical dean at the University of Naples.  

Rebecca Guarna contributed greatly to medical literature, penning scholarly works on “Fever” and the “Embryo.” In fact, women have been practicing medicine throughout Italy since the twelfth century. During the first century of its existence, the University of Bologna boasted women professors in nearly every department.

Though it has long been obscured by puerile stereotypes, the grand Italian tradition of female excellence in education, law, medicine, science, and the arts dates back to the Roman emancipation of women.

According historians Roger Vigneron and Jean-Francois Gerkens, this ancient Italian notion — “the very idea of equality of men and women” — is based on Celsius’s famous dictum in the Emperor Justinian’s Digest: “The law is the art of goodness and fairness.” Moreover, “inside the Roman people itself, the role of juridical equality was the duty to be pursued.”

And it is the ancestral sine qua non that inspires the daughters of italianita`.

Moon Landing Anniversary Renews Martian Interest

This is an artist's concept of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft approaching Mars in 2012.

On July 20, the 50th anniversary of humanity’s first lunar landing, America celebrated the moment when we slipped the surly bonds of Earth to alight on an alien shore.

Few feats in the annals of exploration or discovery — the journeys of Christopher Columbus, Giovanni Caboto, and Giovanni da Verrazzano; Marco Polo’s trek to Cathay; the flights of Charles Lindbergh, and Italo Balbo — come close to equaling the epochal voyage of Apollo 11. The Tranquility Base (Statio Tranquillitatis) landing site is hallowed ground. 

“We choose to go to the Moon,” enunciated President John F. Kennedy, “because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

And that U.S. victory on the south-western corner of the lunar lava-plain of the Mare Tranquillitatis was indeed a triumph of liberty over Soviet tyranny. Long Island’s historic Grumman Corporation in Bethpage played a key role in designing and building the Lunar Module. However, the voyage of Apollo 11 also underscored the inherent universality of America’s lunar mission.

Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins boldly trekked to an alien world. Yet in planting Old Glory on the surface of the Moon, Armstrong and Aldrin (with Collins circling above in the Columbia Command Module) arrived “in peace for all mankind.” 

But then we abandoned the final frontier. Had the United States not squandered its commanding lead in space exploration following the Apollo program, Mars would already be an American preserve.  

According to planetary scientist Carolyn Porco, an alumna of Stony Brook University who led the Imaging Science Team on the Cassini mission to Saturn, NASA had plans for “an integrated human flight program that would expand on the developments of Apollo: the establishment of a 50-person lunar base, a 100-person Earth-orbiting space station and human landfall on Mars all by the mid-1980s.”

Moreover, Dr. Porco noted that NASA’s plans “also included a 50-person semi-permanent Martian base by the end of the 20th century.” Instead, “we renounced the Moon, abandoned Apollo and the Saturn V (rocket) and retreated to low Earth orbit, where we’ve spent the last 25 years going around in circles.”

Rather than frittering away the nation’s precious material resources, financial capital and technological acumen on multiple military misadventures, the American political establishment should see beyond partisan wrangling and engineering and propulsion obstacles and commit to a decade-long pathway approach for landing astronauts on the Red Planet. 

In addition to providing the U.S. economy with a sinewy economic boost, a Martian mission would confirm Buzz Aldrin’s cri de coeur: “America’s reach for the red planet is a litmus test for determining the health of our spacefaring nation.”

Yet there’s another reason for a sojourn to the solar system’s fourth planet.

Last year, Italian scientists discovered what appears to be a buried lake on Mars, the first known stable reservoir of liquid water found on that world, and a strong indicator of past or even present life on the Red Planet.

The discovery occurred under the auspices of ASI, the Italian Space Agency, INAF-National Institute of Astrophysics, Roma Tre University, D’Annunzio University, CNR-National Research Council and Sapienza University of Rome.

Announced at a press conference in Rome, the results were documented in a study published in the July 26, 2018, edition of Science.

“The presence of a body of liquid water beneath Mars’s south polar cap has various implications, opening new possibilities for the existence of microorganisms in the Martian environment,” said Sebastian Lauro, a study co-author based at Roma Tre University in Rome. “Moreover, it provides a valuable confirmation that the water that once flowed abundantly over the Martian surface in the form of seas, lakes and rivers filled the voids in the subsurface.”

In 2020, ExoMars, the ESA (European Space Agency) mission under Italian leadership, will reach Mars searching for signs of life at a depth of up to two meters (6.5 feet) below the surface of the Red Planet.

NASA, phone Rome.

Green Book: A Symphony of Ethnic Strereotypes

Viggo Mortensen and Academy Award Mahershala Ali star in Oscar-nominated Green Book. (Universal Studios)

Despite garnering five Academy Award nominations, Green Book is kryptonite to Italian Americans.

Indeed, with its plethora of repugnant anti-Italian tropes, this Peter Farrelly opus represents nothing so much as a vowel-inflected minstrel show.

And Viggo Mortensen’s depiction of  Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga as a dumb-downed bouncer with Mob connections reinforces Hollywood’s institutionalized Italophobia. It matters little to the film’s creators that orchestra, concerto, a capella, opera, maestro, allegro, adagio, and pianoforte, are all the handiwork of a fine Italian mind.

Tinseltown is besotted with the schadenfreude engendered by The Godfather trilogy, Goodfellas, Casino, Donnie Brasco, Married to the Mob, Prizzi’s Honor, Analyze This, Analyze That, The Untouchables, A Bronx Tale, Shark Tale, Mafia! and The Family.

David Chase’s Sopranos prequel, The Many Saints of Newark, will continue this repellent cinematic tradition, as will Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, a Mob flick rife with violent sausage-and-pepper thugs.

Also, let’s not forget that Spike Lee, who has received a Best Director nomination for BlacKkKlansman, rose to fame and fortune by aiding and abetting La La Land’s anti-Italian canon via Jungle Fever, Do the Right Thing and Summer of Sam.

Green Book‘s co-screenwriter Nick Vallelonga has added to such ethnic vilification, making a mockery of his father and his heritage. In one of the movie’s car-bound scenes, Tony Lip informs Dr. Don Shirley, the African-American classical pianist, that he has no problem with people who find “guineas” to be pizza-guzzling, meatball-sucking oafs.

The movie gleefully features a bevy of corpulent linguine-inhaling capos and goombahs.

In his nightclub riff about ethnicities, comedian Sebastian Maniscalco, who has a small role in Green Book, pays homage to his wife’s Jewish roots but refers to Italians as “brick-layers, not doctors.” Apparently, Maniscalco has never heard of Dr. Joseph Giordano, who headed the trauma team that saved President Ronald Reagan’s life following an attempted assassination in 1981. Nor is he aware that Dr. Francesco Crucitti saved Pope John Paul II after gunshot wounds to the pontiff’s abdomen that same year. Born in Reggio Calabria, Italy, Dr. Crucitti was the director of the Institute of General Surgery at Catholic University in Rome.

And chances are that neither Nick Vallelonga nor Sebastian Maniscalco knows that Dr. Emil Naclerio helped save Martin Luther King’s life in 1958 after the civil rights giant was stabbed with a 7-inch steel letter opener that had reached King’s aorta.

As for Viggo Mortensen, one wonders if he actually believes his boilerplate spin on stereotyping. “I’m sensitive to the fact that there’s not only a lot of great Italian-American actors out there capable of playing this role [but also] a history of memorable Italian-American characters, on TV and in movies,” he was quoted as saying. “So I didn’t want to offend anyone.”

Mortensen’s disingenuous spiel is emblematic of Hollywood’s contempt for Caesar’s heirs. Journalist Clyde Haberman has noted that “Italian Americans continue to be shown only as Mafiosi and foul-talking louts obsessed with cheating on their wives and shooting controlled substances up their noses.”

Rather than depicting Italians as a largely professional and entrepreneurial class of achievers whose lineage includes the Pax Romana, the Renaissance, modern science, accounting, capitalism and America’s res publica Tinseltown’s moguls have enshrined the scions of Italy as olive-oil-and-garlic Stepin Fetchits.

Whether it’s patrimony envy or embedded intolerance, such demonization should be expunged if we are to clean house and foster diversity in Hollywood. For as Filippo Mazzei explained to Thomas Jefferson: “All men are created equal.”

And if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is serious about bridging the diversity divide, then it should embrace an ancient Italian maxim: E pluribus unum Out of many, one.

Stan Lee: Avenger of Intolerance

Stan Lee

No matter what Bill Maher may say, Stan Lee matters.

Following the death of the comic-book icon, Maher callously asserted that “America is in mourning. Deep, deep mourning for a man who inspired millions to, I don’t know, watch a movie, I guess.”

And then the smarmy late-night comedian posited a bizarre convolution of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy: “I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to suggest that Donald Trump could only get elected in a country that thinks comic books are important.”

So why did Maher accept a check for his cameo appearance in Iron Man 3?

Stanley Martin Lieber revolutionized the dormant comics industry by creating characters with human foibles to go with their superhuman powers. He introduced nuance, continuity and neorealism to a medium that had become ossified and formulaic. With a bevy of multitalented cocreators — Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby and John Buscema — Stan Lee dovetailed derring-do and pulse-pounding prose to comment on the human condition, enthralling young and old alike.

And like Edmund Burke, he showed us how to forestall the triumph of evil.

Writing ex officio in “Stan’s Soapbox,” Lee admonished: “Let’s lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed super villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them — to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are.”

Stan Lee no doubt channeled his Jewish heritage and the concept of tikkun olam to repair the world.

But Bill Maher knows nothing of the better angels of our nature. When he hosted Politically Incorrect on ABC-TV, Maher referred to Italian Americans as “My Cousin-Vinny-guineas.”

Unlike Maher’s bigoted body of work, Stan Lee’s career was a cri de coeur against intolerance — and a resounding success.

Just ask Jeremy Dauber, the Columbia University professor who, along with writer Danny Fingeroth, notes that Lee’s business strategies “have become integral to how the entertainment industry operates.” In fact, Avengers: Infinity War grossed over $2 billion worldwide.

A longtime Long Islander, Lee helped create Spider-Man and the Hulk while living in Hewlett Harbor.

Stan Lee’s cinematic approach to comic books was first noted by none other than Italy’s filmic genius, Federico Fellini. In 1965, the director of La Dolce Vita met the maestro of Marvel at Stan’s office on Madison Avenue. The two visionaries bonded instantly, becoming lifetime friends.

One of Fellini’s most famous quotes might well serve as a fitting tribute to Stan Lee’s creative vision: “There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the infinite passion of life. ”  

NY Politics: A Game of Thrones

President Donald Trump and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Politics in New York resembles a Game of Thrones.

Rabid ideologues clash with pragmatic progressives in a fierce power struggle over governance of both city and state.

Last year, when called upon to expunge the statue of Christopher Columbus from Gotham’s skyline — and the pages of history — Gov. Andrew Cuomo crossed swords with feckless New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, defying the false gods of revisionism and declaring: Not today. And not ever.

In 2018, Cynthia Nixon relied on identity politics, a far-left agenda and her fame as a thespian to mount an ultimately futile gubernatorial primary campaign to wrest the gubernatorial Democratic nomination away from the governor.

Like Bill de Blasio, Nixon failed miserably.

In honoring his Italian heritage, championing Western civilization and defeating the uber-ideological wing of his party, Cuomo paved the way for a possible White House bid. Though Mario Cuomo missed his rendezvous with presidential destiny in 1992, the current governor of the Empire State is well positioned to make a full-throttle run for the Rose Garden in 2020.

Cuomo the younger values performance over populism. That is, he favors solid accomplishments over sturm und drang identity politics. This leitmotif combines the legal acumen of Ferdinand Pecora with Niccolo` Machiavelli’s virtu`.

From the Excelsior Scholarship program to gun-control legislation to LGBTQ rights to infrastructure revitalization and environmental protection, the governor has demonstrated profoundly astute leadership. What’s more, by persuading IBM, Intel, Samsung, Globalfoundries and TSMC to spend $4.4 billion in New York, Cuomo has also laid the groundwork for making the state a global nanotechnology center in the 21st century.

And in lauding New York’s fabled diversity, Andrew Cuomo has cited e pluribus unum — “Out of many, one.”  But America’s national motto is not just a point of pride for the Empire State. It derives from the governor’s ancestral Italian roots in antiquity’s Pax Romana.

While he may never attain the rhetorical heights of his eloquent paterfamilias, Andrew Cuomo remains utterly sui generis: a pragmatic progressive untethered to ideological orthodoxies.

He takes immense pride in the august Italian jurisprudential tradition — and in the blood, sweat and toil of his grandparents who first made the trek to America.

Such cultural bona fides would play well in Potsdam, Patchogue and, yes, Peoria.

Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election created a void in the Democratic Party. Enter Gov. Cuomo.

A contest between Andrew Cuomo and Donald Trump calls to mind Marcus Aurelius’s timeless juxtaposition: “A noble man compares and estimates himself by an idea which is higher than himself; and a mean man, by one lower than himself. The one produces aspiration; the other ambition, which is the way in which a vulgar man aspires.”

By Rosario A. Iaconis is an Italian Heritage Educator at Suffolk County Community College

The Historic Flight of a Flawed Aviator

Italo Balbo

July 15, 2018, marked the 85th anniversary of the first large-scale trans-Atlantic flight. Yet few Americans have ever heard of the event.

One reason may be that Italo Balbo, a member of Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime, spearheaded this trailblazing aerial trek.

The world is grateful that Fascism has long since been cast into the ash heap of history. However, one can acknowledge an aeronautical achievement while repudiating the repellent ideology under which it occurred.

Though historians have castigated Charles Lindbergh for assorted pro-Nazi sympathies prior to Dec. 7, 1941, they still laud his solo Spirit of St. Louis journey.

Italo Balbo headed the-then Kingdom of Italy’s Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica). Having hobnobbed with Orville Wright and Henry Ford, he had been an early advocate of flight, presaging the advent of regular intercontinental air travel.

After years of technological and logistical planning, he led the voyage across the Atlantic in 1933. Spearheading a squadron of 24 Savoia-Marchetti SM.55X seaplanes in formation, the Regia Aeronautica’s air marshal flew on to Chicago in time for the Century of Progress World’s Fair.

General Balbo and his squadron departed Italy on June 30, 1933, arriving in the Windy City on July 15, with some refueling stops in Amsterdam, Londonderry, Reykjavik, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Montreal.

At Chicago’s Soldier Field, 100,000 well-wishers welcomed the crew. Mayor Edward Kelly declared “Italo Balbo Day” and named a street in the aviator’s honor. In New York, a ticker-tape parade was held down Broadway. And Balbo visited President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House.

Such accolades did not–and do not–mitigate, condone, support or embrace the harshness of Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship.

In fact, Italo Balbo publicly denounced the repugnant racial laws of 1938. An outspoken opponent of Germany’s virulent anti-Semitism–and a fierce critic of the eventual Pact of Steel–Balbo invited Ferrara’s Jewish Mayor, Renzo Ravenna, to dinner at a restaurant frequented by the Fuhrer.

Jonah Goldberg has detailed the anomaly of the Axis alliance: “Not a single Jew of any national origin under Italian control anywhere in the world was handed over to Germany until 1943, when Italy was invaded by the Nazis.” Il Duce “actually sent Italian troops into harm’s way to save Jewish lives.”

In July of 1934, Balbo saw Mussolini mobilize 75,000 Italian troops at the Brenner Pass to thwart Adolf Hitler’s first attempted Anschluss of Austria. Along with FDR, Italy’s Air Marshall cheered when the German dictator backed down.

Still, Italy eventually joined the Axis.

But in The Wall Street Journal of Dec. 22, 1993, in an article titled “An Army of Schindlers From Italy,” Dorothy Rabinowitz wrote of “Hitler’s allies, the Italians, whose government ministries and army and highest political circles moved heaven and earth to see to it that no Jews under their governance fell into German hands.”

Rabinowitz noted how “Berlin was naturally bitter over this intransigence.” In fact, “The answer from the Italians was an unbending–if silent–‘Never.’ And, indeed, so long as Fascist Italy remained independent, and until its occupation by the Germans in 1943, the answer was the same.”

Moreover, she reported that “Not only would the Italian government–reflecting the popular attitude of the citizenry at large–resist deportation, its army and consuls undertook extraordinary efforts to rescue Jews in their zones of occupation. As an Axis partner, Italy’s forces occupied a large sector of Greece, part of Yugoslavia and eight sectors of southeastern France, including Nice.”

Italo Balbo did not meet Mussolini’s ignoble end. He was felled by friendly fire over the skies of Libya in 1940–long before Pearl Harbor. Consequently, it was Balbo’s aeronautical achievement of July 15, 1933–not his association with Il Duce’s regime–that prompted the-then NATO commander Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1950 to hail General Balbo as “a great leader and a gallant aviator.”

Rosario. A. Iaconis is Chairman of The Italic Institute of America and an Adjunct Professor of Social Sciences Department at Suffolk County Community College