By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
L.A. WEEKLY: Why did you choose to write about mobsters?
DAVID CHASE: I‘ve always been interested in the mob, ever since I was a kid. I grew up in New Jersey, I was an Italian-American kid. And when I was very young, I saw The Public Enemy with James Cagney -- there used to be a thing called Million Dollar Movie, Channel 9. They would show the same movie for five nights, so I watched this movie probably five nights in a row. It was very scary to me, and I guess exciting too. But I remember the ending as being very frightening -- in fact, we used it in the show this year. I don’t know, part of my methodology may be to try to master things I‘m afraid of. Later on, my dad and I used to watch The Untouchables. And it was happening in the newspaper in New Jersey, you know, mob stories, guys found in trunks of cars. I was just always interested in it.
As an Italian-American did you feel mob stories were especially related to you?
I did, yes. The Public Enemy is about -- it doesn’t really say what they are, I guess they‘re Irish -- but one of the things that attracted me was that the images looked like images of my dad when he was young, because he grew up in the ’20s. When I realized that Al Capone was Italian, and Frank Nitti on The Untouchables was Italian, I began to see some connection.
I was a kid who lived in the suburbs. My parents grew up in the city of Newark, and we used to go down to my grandmother‘s house in Newark every Saturday night -- my mother’s brothers and sisters, all their spouses and their children -- and have a big meal, eating in the kitchen, a great big room. The kids would go upstairs afterward and watch The Jackie Gleason Show. Some Saturday nights we went even further, deep into the heart of Newark, into the first ward, as a family, to a restaurant called Nanina‘s. It was a fish store on the bottom and a restaurant up on top. I loved that trip back into the past, into the mystery of what seemed to be our roots, I just loved it. And my cousins were there, we’d eat spumoni and get in trouble and run around. And so going back into that, closer and closer to that immigrant life, was interesting to me.
All your grandparents were born in Italy?
Yeah, around Naples. But different towns.
You‘ve traveled there?
The first time I went to Italy was probably 1986 or 1987. I was the kind of person who just worked too much and never even traveled to Europe at all until I was in my early 30s.
What was it like for you? A revelation?
Not really. Obviously it’s a beautiful country with a lot of contradictions. And when I‘m on vacation -- any place -- I always get very excited, I think, ”Man, what would it be like to live here, this is the place to be.“ And then you realize that there are millions of people all around you who get up every morning there and go to work who are probably thinking, ”I wish I were somewhere else.“ But Italy was not that great a revelation to me. France was a huge revelation. The first time I went to Paris I was convinced I’d been there before. I was convinced I‘d been there in another life. I just felt right at home immediately, and I thought, ”You know what? This is it. This is it!“
What was the cultural climate in your own house?
Conservative, conservative Republican. Very middle of the road, Eisenhower-type Republicans.
How did you first rebel against that?
It’s hard to say. I started cursing a lot around the fourth grade. I think there was something of a social sea change already happening at that time: Kids from the ‘50s and ’60s were probably going to curse more than their parents had. And so I started saying shit and fuck -- outside of the house. I didn‘t do it consciously as an act of rebellion, although it must have been, because my mother hated that kind of language. In fact, in my house we weren’t allowed to say something was stupid or use the word kid. Ain‘t was forbidden.
Was there any art in your house?
No. My grandfather had a love of opera, my mother’s father, which my mother preserved. She used to go to the Met with her girlfriends. And there was a show on TV called The Progresso Hour, it was a kind of an opera show in the early ‘50s -- my cousins and I used to have to watch that. But that was it. There was no art.
How did you discover that there was a world of art?
I guess in school, I guess through literature. I do know that as a kid the greatest thing for me was to be taken to New York City. Even Rockefeller Center -- I was talking to my wife about this last night, we were walking up Fifth Avenue -- it has those murals of America on the go and Indians and World War I vets, that kind of 1920s, 1930s Deco. There’s a big statue of Atlas there. I think just being in New York, somehow or other by osmosis I figured out there was something else going on.