The NYC legend behind Viggo Mortensen’s character in ‘Green Book’

The NYC legend behind Viggo Mortensen’s character in ‘Green Book’

One evening in the early 1960s on the Copacabana nightclub, Frank Sinatra made a ruckus on the coat verify when an attendant couldn’t discover his beloved fedora. Ol’ Blue Eyes had requested it’s handled with the utmost care, however it obtained misplaced anyway. Livid, Sinatra threatened to by no means return to the well-known music venue on East 60th Road and left in a huff.

Tony Lip, the Copa’s bouncer, shot into motion.

A giant, broad and well-liked man, Lip looked for — and located — the misplaced hat in the coat room, left the membership and returned the headwear to its grateful proprietor. Sinatra tipped him $100.

That memorable encounter is re-enacted in the brand new film “Inexperienced E-book” (Sinatra’s title is neglected), a drama a couple of 1962 street journey by means of the segregated South by Lip, an Italian from The Bronx, and Donald ley, a black pianist. However that’s only a small glimpse into the fascinating lifetime of Lip, who died in 2013 on the age of 82.

The man was a residing New York folks story: a Lindy Hop aggressive dancer, a garbageman, an almost-pro bowler, a minor-league baseball participant, a hairdresser for The Rockettes, a veteran of the Korean Battle, a detailed pal to singer Bobby Darin, a hot-dog-eating contest winner and an actor who performed Carmine Lupertazzi on “The Sopranos” when he was in his 70s.

“If any individual requested him what it was wish to turn into well-known so late in life,” Lip’s youngest son, “Inexperienced E-book” author Nick Vallelonga, instructed The Put up. “He’d say, ‘Honey, I used to be well-known earlier than I used to be well-known.’ ”

Nick Vallelonga
Nick VallelongaWireImage

Lip was born Frank Anthony Vallelonga on July 30, 1930, in Beaver Falls, Pa. Lip’s mother and father had moved to the US from Italy that very same yr to search out work and deliberate to stick with kin in Beaver Falls for a couple of months earlier than heading to New York Metropolis. His mom, Nazzerena, was pregnant with him through the journey.

“All people requested him, ‘Had been you born in Italy?’ ” Frank Vallelonga Jr., Lip’s eldest son and proprietor of Tony Lip’s Italian Restaurant in Franklin Lakes, NJ, instructed The Put up. “Effectively, two weeks earlier he may’ve been.”

A number of months later, the Vallelongas arrived at what would turn into their decades-long residence on 215th Road in The Bronx, then a largely Italian neighborhood. Lip’s father, Nicholas, based a grocery retailer and — unthinkable to New Yorkers at this time — a farm, full with chickens.

In addition they had pleasant neighbors: The Gottis, who had 13 children. Lip cast a childhood friendship with John Gotti, who was 10 years youthful and later grew to become the infamous boss of the Gambino crime household.

“When the Gottis have been rising up, that they had virtually nothing,” mentioned Lip’s brother Rudy Vallelonga, who performs his personal dad in “Inexperienced E-book.” “Individuals in the neighborhood used to present the youngsters garments to heat them up.”

When Lip was about eight years outdated, he acquired his colourful nickname.

“He’d simply bulls- -t, bulls- -t, bulls- -t” mentioned Nick. “He was the most effective talker. They usually known as him . . . ‘Lip’ in Italian. And it caught.”

For Lip, bulls- -tting wasn’t mendacity — it was a lifestyle. He noticed it as a capability to speak different individuals into doing issues, a particular ability that may show an asset as a nightclub bouncer and actor.

“I at all times instructed him, ‘I want I had your present of gab,’ ” mentioned Rudy. “He may discuss individuals into something.”

Lip obtained solely a ninth-grade schooling. At 16, he was drafted by the St. Louis Browns and left residence to play in the minor leagues. Throughout a sport, Lip was on third base and noticed the shadow of a well-known determine approaching. “It was his father,” mentioned Nick. “He grabbed him, took him by the ear proper off the sector and again to The Bronx.”

Copacabana Nightclub
Copacabana NightclubGetty Photographs

Within the ’50s, he served in the Military through the Korean Battle. Upon his return to New York, he took benefit of the GI Invoice and went to high school to be taught a commerce — hairdressing — and commenced reducing the locks of the Radio Metropolis Rockettes.

Finally, he grew to become the bouncer on the Monterey Membership in The Bronx, later shifting to the Wagon Wheel — “an actual bust-up-type joint, numerous pictures and beers and sailors and troopers and hookers,” mentioned Frank Jr. — and the famed Peppermint Lounge, each on West 45th Road.

However Lip’s most starry reminiscences have been made on the outdated Copacabana, the place he labored for 12 years as bouncer and finally maitre d’ till it closed in 1972. The membership was scorching through the ’60s, when an extended line repeatedly fashioned exterior the door. Except you have been a star or Mafioso, it helped should you knew any individual on the within — like Lip. There, he grew to become pals with Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole and different celebrities. Generally, he was on Tom Jones responsibility.

“My father truly used to sit down onstage to catch ladies that may soar from the balcony,” mentioned Nick. “Get ladies who would rush the stage, to drag ’em off Tom Jones. To choose up the bras and panties they have been throwing onstage. It was loopy.”

The work hours have been lengthy. Sometimes, Lip would get up not lengthy earlier than his shift started and are available residence as late as eight a.m., after having fun with a couple of drinks with Sinatra on the singer’s favourite bar, Jilly’s on West 52nd Road.

“I by no means noticed my father put on something however a tuxedo for the primary 5 – 6 years of my life,” mentioned Nick. “I believed he was a film star.”

One evening in 1970, he grew to become one. On that fateful night, Francis Ford Coppola walked into the Copa with a number of casting individuals of his upcoming Mafia movie. “He noticed [Lip], and mentioned, ‘You gotta be in this film,’ ” mentioned Nick. “They picked him, after which they mentioned, ‘You’ve gotten children? We’d like children for the movie.’ ” Lip and his sons, Nick and Frank Jr., who additionally seems in “Inexperienced E-book” as his Uncle Rudy, all acted in the opening marriage ceremony scene of “The Godfather.”

Frances Ford Coppola
Frances Ford CoppolaVivien Killilea

“My father obtained the bug to behave,” Nick added. “He mentioned, ‘That is a simple solution to earn cash. I’ll simply do that!’ ”

Lip, who had relocated his household to Paramus, NJ, grew to become the go-to man to play gangsters and cops on display after the Copa closed. Though he held odd jobs — operating accommodations and a pizzeria for some time — appearing grew to become his fundamental gig. He appeared in lots of the most well-known and acclaimed mobster motion pictures of all time in small character roles: “The Pope of Greenwich Village,” “Goodfellas,” “Donnie Brasco” and lots of extra.

His pals say the untrained performer was a pure.

“That each one got here from the Copacabana earlier than he grew to become an actor,” Lip’s buddy, actor Danny Aiello, as soon as instructed the Bergen Report.

His large break got here earlier than Season three of HBO’s hit drama collection “The Sopranos.” Lip’s spouse of 41 years, Dolores, had not too long ago died, and he was in a funk. Throughout that point, Lip was repeatedly known as in to check for what could be his best-known function.

“What do I care about this present ‘The Sopranos?’ ” he instructed Nick. “I don’t even watch it, and your mom’s not right here to see it. I’ve accomplished all of it. I don’t have to do the rest.”

However his sons satisfied Lip that their mom would’ve needed him to get out of the home, and he grew to become Lupertazzi crime boss Carmine. The character was speculated to be in solely two episodes.

Lip did 3¹/₂ seasons.

“We walked into Little Italy, and he was like one among The Beatles,” mentioned Nick. “At Yankee Stadium, he had armed guards take him to his seat.”

Mahershala Ali (left) and Viggo Mortensen in 'Green Book'
Mahershala Ali (left) and Viggo Mortensen in ‘Inexperienced E-book’Patti Perret/© Common /Courtesy Everett Assortment

Nick has labored for many years as an actor, author, director and producer in Hollywood, however the one story he at all times needed to inform was about his dad’s time driving Shirley on a live performance tour through the early ’60s. Identified across the metropolis for his capability to win a struggle, Lip took the job on the pianist’s request throughout a renovation closure on the Copa. And over a yr and a half on the street, he acquired a lifetime of tales.

Solely Lip’s household and pals knew concerning the journey, and so they helped Nick, who was simply 5 years outdated on the time, put collectively the screenplay. That features Shirley, who died in 2013 and requested the movie not be launched throughout his lifetime. Lip gave enter, too, and instructed Nick to painting him how he truly was — at occasions racially offensive, if not hateful — and the way a lot he grew through the journey.

“He mentioned to me inform the precise fact as a result of it’s vital,” mentioned Nick. “And present how he modified by being with Dr. Shirley.”

Ever the showman, Lip additionally knew that his life story would make a rattling good image. In “Inexperienced E-book,” he’s performed by Viggo Mortensen.

“My father would say, ‘After all it’s good. It’s about me,’ ” Nick mentioned. “They need to’ve been making motion pictures about me a very long time in the past.”

Leave a Reply

Notify of