In this episode, we interview literary and journalistic icon Gay Talese. Talese is a bestselling author who has written eleven books. He was a reporter for the New York Times from 1956 to 1965, and since then he has written for the Times, Esquire, The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, and other national publications. In this first part of a two-part interview, Talese gives a perspective of an Italian American who lived at a time when it wasn’t cool to be Italian American. We also interview Umberto Mucci of WeTheItalians.com in the Italian American Stories Segment of this episode. Mucci has built up a wonderful resource for Italian Americans online and also represents The Italian American Museum of New York in Italy.
Episode Quote – Gay Talese
“People dress up for funerals, why not dress up to celebrate that you’re alive?” – Gay Talese
Tweetables (click quote to tweet)
- “We were American, but we just weren’t sure we were accepted as Americans by anyone else.” – Gay Talese
- “[Frank Sinatra] was the only [Italian American] that had any stature with the larger American public. He was a matinee idol.” – Gay Talese
- “There is so much to be proud of.” – Gay Talese on how far Italian Americans have come
- “Privacy is not really the Italian American way.” – Dolores Alfieri
- “America was the country that saved my father and my country.” – Umberto Mucci on his love for America
Talese opens up about his childhood and how his family struggled as Americans because they weren’t sure if others accepted them as Americans. Some topics include:
- Talese, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and others of this generation, had to deal with being Italian American in an era where the loyalty of Italian Americans was distrusted, due to Italy’s involvement in World War II.
- Italian Americans weren’t very prominent in journalism, which made it hard to deflect negative news about Italian Americans.
- Southern Italians were mountainous people, which forced them in many ways to be narrow minded because they were isolated. This is one of the reasons modern-day Italian Americans tend to be conservative; they want little government, because they never had big government in Italy.
- Italian Americans are people of song, dance, and stage, which is why they’ve been so successful in the entertainment industry.
- One of the reasons there aren’t as many Italian-American authors as one might expect is due to the tradition of omerta and the fact that the isolated time needed to write is in opposition to the communal spirit of la famiglia.