Chazz Palminteri was born on May 15, 1952, in the Bronx, New York. In 1988, he wrote and starred in the play A Bronx Tale, and went on to star in the film adaptation, directed by Robert De Niro, in 1993. Palminteri next landed a role in Woody Allen’s 1994 film Bullets Over Broadway, followed by a part in The Usual Suspects (1995). Other notable films include The Perez Family (1995), Hurlyburly (1998), Analyze This (1999), Down to Earth (2001) and Push (2006).
Born Calogero Lorenzo Palminteri on May 15, 1952, Chazz Palminteri grew up in an Italian-American home in the Bronx, New York. Palminteri and his two sisters were raised by their mother Rose, a homemaker, and their father Lorenzo, a bus driver. Palminteri has very fond memories of his upbringing in the Belmont section of the Bronx.
"I loved my neighborhood; I loved my childhood," Palminteri remembers. "Was it a little dangerous? Was it a little racist? Sure. But there was a decency there. It was a working-class neighborhood with fathers who woke up every morning to jobs they didn't like but did it for their families. They were firemen or cops or sanitation workers or bricklayers or bus drivers, like my father. These people are the glue that holds together Italian-American communities around the country."
A natural-born entertainer, as a child Palminteri was known as the neighborhood jokester and storyteller. He began dreaming of becoming an actor at the age of 10 when he saw the classic film On the Waterfront (1954) starring Marlon Brando. Palminteri originally attended DeWitt Clinton High School, but transferred to Theodore Roosevelt High School because he did not like the all-boys environment at DeWitt Clinton. Despite being a poor student—"I would make girls do my homework," he recalls—Palminteri graduated from Roosevelt High in 1973 and immediately set out to make it as an actor.
He studied theatre with Lee Strasburg at the Actor's Studio in New York and worked as a singer and doorman at New York nightclubs while landing a few off-Broadway roles. His biggest part during this period was a role in the 1984 film project Fine Line by then-NYU film student Ang Lee.
'A Bronx Tale'
Unable to make any significant inroads into the New York theatre scene, in 1986 Palminteri packed his bags and moved cross-country to try his luck in Los Angeles. He quickly landed guest spots on popular TV shows such as NBC's Hill Street Blues and CBS's Wiseguy, but failed to land any more permanent roles. When he lost his job as a bouncer at a Los Angeles nightclub, Palminteri felt that his career had hit rock bottom. "I had no money in the bank," he remembers. "I started to cry. And then I remembered my dad, who always told me the saddest thing in life is wasted talent."
It was from this despair that Palminteri found the inspiration to embark on the project that would re-launch his career. He recalls, "I got very discouraged and said to myself, if they won't give me a great part then I'll write one for myself and I'll do a one-man show and do all the parts." Palminteri followed through on his ambition, writing and starring as all 35 characters in A Bronx Play (later A Bronx Tale on Broadway), which opened in 1988 to rave reviews at Theatre West in Los Angeles. In 1989, Palminteri moved his one-man show to Playhouse 91 in New York City, where it ran for four sold-out months. Palminteri's semi-autobiographical script for A Bronx Tale follows an Italian-American teenager in the Bronx who navigates his way between two role models: his hardworking and honest bus driver father and a smooth-talking crime boss.
In 1993, Palminteri received a call from legendary actor Robert De Niro, who said that he wanted to transform A Bronx Tale into a feature film. Palminteri agreed and the two co-starred in the highly acclaimed 1993 film adaptation. Propelled by A Bronx Tale, Palminteri landed a role in Woody Allen's 1994 film Bullets Over Broadway, for which he earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. In 1995, Palminteri's career again soared to new heights with his role as a customs officer in the universally beloved crime drama The Usual Suspects. Palminteri's other notable films include The Perez Family (1995), Hurlyburly (1998), Analyze This (1999), Stuart Little (1999), Down to Earth (2001) and Push (2006).
In addition to acting, Palminteri has continued to write and has also forayed into directing. As a writer, he followed up A Bronx Tale with the 1996 films Dante and Debutante and Faithful. He began his directing career in 1999 with an episode of the HBO prison drama Oz, and has since directed two films: Women vs. Men (2002) and Noel (2004).
A devout Roman Catholic, Palminteri first noticed the woman who would become his wife, Gianna Ranaudo, at church in Los Angeles in 1990. The couple married in 1992 and they live with their two children, Dante (born 1995) and Gabriella (born 2001) in upscale Bedford, New York. Palminteri later recalled how his family "used to drive out [to Bedford] and look at those houses and wonder who the hell lives here. Then you know what? One day I said to myself, 'I'm going to live here.'"
Palminteri is known as one of the most productive actors in Hollywood. His good friend Robert De Niro said about Palminteri, "He does a lot, you know? He does more than I can." However, Palminteri says that he was not always the hard worker he has become. When asked about the turning point in his life, Palminteri does not point to any role or film, but instead to a 1997 cancer scare.
Palminteri's masseuse found a growth on his neck that turned out to be a malignant tumor. The cancer was successfully removed and has not reocurred, but it made a lasting impact on Palminteri. "I spent the first half of my life being lazy, and finally I woke up and said I'm not going to waste my talent," Palminteri said about his brush with cancer. "Ever since that day I've tried to be as productive as lean."
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