" Putting food on the table " is one of those up-and-coming phrases in the United States that come from other times and are still used, for example by women and men who are applying for the Democratic presidential office: food has to be on the table , In a country that still has a rudimentary social network, this is an existential question. In the other, the patriarchal times, the father of the family took on the role of breadwinner. If it failed, the woman had to go. Or the children themselves. No, things weren't always better in the past, and even today there is need in the USA if you have to pay with state-owned food brands at the supermarket checkout.
A life like that of actor Danny Aiello, who died on Thursday at the age of 86, cannot be told and probably cannot be understood if one does not consider the existential concerns that have determined this life for a long time. Aiello, who was born in Manhattan in 1933 but grew up in poor conditions in the Bronx, had to take on the role of breadwinner early on: Danny Aiello's father Daniel, a simple worker of Italian-American descent, had abandoned his family, as it was then called , "It seemed like he only came home once a year, and later my mother had the next child," reporter Michael Norman quotes the actor in a stunning portrait that appeared in the New York Times magazine in 1990. As a child, Aiello said to Norman, he told the people in the neighborhood that his father was never there because he was a detective who chased prisoners who were outlawed in Cleveland, Ohio. Aiello's mother Frances, a seamstress who came from Naples, still loved her husband until her death in 1988. Son Danny apparently found it much harder to forgive the father.
Delivering newspapers, cleaning shoes, working in a grocery store and in a bowling alley: Aiello earned his first money with it. In the bowling alley, he then repeatedly cracked the cigarette machine with his boys gang to get coins. After the eighth grade, Aiello left school, at 16 he went to the Army for three years (for this he needed fake papers that said he was of legal age). Aiello was stationed in Germany. His main job as a soldier appeared to be playing on an Army baseball team that was used to maintain troops.
A life like from "Once upon a time in America"
Back in New York in the late 1950s, he first got a job as a porter at the Greyhound bus company, was elected a union member and later head of the local sub-organization. After ten years, Greyhound kicked Aiello out for supporting an unauthorized strike. Aiello was already married to the Jewess Sandra, something that both sides of society did not like to see at the time. Danny and Sandra already had four children. For a while, Aiello kept the family afloat by cracking safes.
When Danny Aiello became a serious actor when he was around 40 and later became one of the greatest in the supporting roles, his life had long sounded like a film with borrowings from Sergio Leones Once Upon a Time in America (1984) and Martin Scorsese's current film The Irishman : a Italian-American who falls in love with a Jewess (like the main character of the Leone film) and the still colorful role of the unions in the USA, as you can see at Scorsese.
Aiello actually played in Leone's mafia epic, two hours of film are already over when Aiello can be seen for the first time as a corrupt New York police chief with the same last name as the actor. Aiello steps out in front of the police headquarters in parade uniform, a group of reporters is waiting for him. Aiello grins on both cheeks and winks his eyes, kink-crack, he is a blend of joviality, joie de vivre and cunning: you just have to like him. The scene lasts barely a minute, another with him follows, then he no longer appears in the film with Robert De Niro in the leading role (one of Aiello's first film appearances was as an extra in the second part of the godfather in 1974, in which De Niro played the young Don Corleone).
The ambivalence that Aiello bestowed on the chief of police figure in Once upon a time in America in just two scenes has been very typical of Aiello's play; later it certainly affected the roles that were offered to him. Aiello didn't need a lot of material to sketch a character that you don't easily forget - because he got a second level with him. A morally reprehensible agent like the police chief gets something innocently funny and, thanks to Aiello's massive shape, also cozy. Even serious characters always had something comedic about Aiello; and he often gave the comic something sentimental, often melancholy. Apparently he couldn't play really flat.
Aiello's path to drama - to Broadway and Hollywood - began in Manhattan in the early 1970s. As a bouncer (what else!) Of the legendary stand-up stage The Improv on 44th Street, he was occasionally brought on stage as an announcer and play partner for comedians. Aiello obviously liked it there. In the cop film The Bronx (1981), the setting of which was Aiello's old area in the South Bronx, he had his biggest film appearance to date. Paul Newman played the protagonist, and Aiello took the usual place as sidekick.