MARRIED TO THE MOB
Angela DeMarco has everything laundered money can buy.
But when her husband leaves for work, she has no idea if he’ll be home for dinner or out on bail. Her Long Island home is decorated in a dazzling diversity of styles, depending on what recently fell off a truck. Her seven-year-old son doesn’t want a toy gun; he knows where Daddy keeps the real thing.
She can’t stand her friends. She hates the life. She wants out.
The opportunity comes with surprising suddenness. When Angela’s husband, Frankie “The Cucumber” DeMarco, ices the “Fat Man” on the 8:10 commuter special out of Mineola, he enjoys the accolades of his business colleagues at the King’s Roost Restaurant. But when he detours to the Fantasia Motel for a quick dip in a Roman bath with cocktail waitress Karen Lutnick, he makes a grievous error in judgment.
Karen is the private property of Frankie’s boss, Tony “The Tiger” Russo, who does not take kindly to employee pilfering. The next morning two bodies are found in a tepid hot tub, wearing only identical bullet holes.
Angela is free to start a new life — provided the mob and the FBI will let her.
Michelle Pfeiffer, Matthew Modine and Dean Stockwell star in MARRIED TO THE MOB.
As the young widow who tries to escape the past, Michelle Pfeiffer has what she calls a “dream role.”
“I can identify with Angela,” says the actress. “I think a great many women can. Ever since she came out of high school, married Frankie and had her son Joey, Angela has been told what to do, where to go, how to behave, whom to be nice to. Now she’s taking control of her life, which is both exciting and terrifying.”
That her husband was “connected,” adds director Jonathan Demme, obviously intensifies the challenge.
“Angela has lived well from blood money. Now she makes a conscious decision that from this moment on, she is going to be good. That’s not as simple as it sounds. In this day and age, surrounded as we are by corruption on every level, trying to be good can seem crazy to many people.
“We don’t want good people around. They make us look bad. There’s a tremendous pressure to conform to corruption. Those who resist are treated with suspicion.”
Still, Angela DeMarco moves out of her home and gives away its contents to Goodwill (apologising that she can’t find any sales receipts). Her next residence is a railroad tenement on New York’s Lower East Side, where the paint is peeling away in chunks, the bathtub is in the kitchen and the windows overlook the street — completely — in favour of an air shaft.
In the words of Tony Russo, who has traced her from long Island, the apartment is “a real shithole.” Tony is confused. Angela obviously finds him attractive; all women do. And since he put the make on her, even before he cooled off The Cucumber, why won’t she accept his well-known generosity?
FBI agent Mike Downey is equally baffled. Armed with surveillance photos of Angela and Tony in a passionate clinch at Frankie’s wake, he has persuaded his superiors to let him tail the widow DeMarco and “catch Tony with his pants down.” But the last place he expected the stake-out to take him was a roach-ridden firetrap on Rivington Street.
He must move in closer, perhaps use his mastery of disguise. Thus it is that Angela DeMarco encounters “Mike Smith,” a flu-ridden handyman, in the graffiti-scarred elevator of the tenement building.
Matthew Modine, who plays Downey, describes the G-man as a “woeful misjudge of character.” He doesn’t know that when Tony embraced Angela after the funeral, she was caught by surprise — and revolted. As she takes her son to school and searches desperately for a job, he sees an ulterior motive in every move she makes. Is she running numbers? Making a drop? Hustling crack? What’s coming down?
“Then he gets to know her,” says Modine, “and everything turns inside out. He tries to sabotage the investigation he started in the first place. He dismantles his own phone bugs, files false reports, leads a double life.
“Finally, he informs his superiors that Angela is innocent. They don’t want to know. They prefer his original theory, even if it’s wrong. They order him to step up the pressure on Angela — and nail her.”
Modine, who describes MARRIED TO THE MOB as a “sardonic romantic comedy,” admits he’s attracted to “roles which force me into areas I know nothing about.” Thus, a lunch was set with a veteran police detective (“Jonathan Demme’s cousin’s husband,” he recalls) to discuss the fine points of undercover sleuthing. “It was fascinating,” he says.
Writers Barry Strugatz and Mark R. Burns, devoted considerable research to their first produced screenplay. A film editor and location scout respectively, they sat in on mob trials in Brooklyn and New York to “assimilate a sense of today’s underworld and the arrogance of people like Tony Russo,” says Strugatz. “Some of the hoods are pretty close to life, but we’ve changed the names to protect ourselves.”
Adds Burns: “The current generation of gangsters isn’t confined to the mean streets. They’re people who live next door to you in suburbia. They’re very much into equal opportunity.”
The writers brought the screenplay to the production partnership of Joel Simon and Bill Todman, Jr., whose two-year teaming has sparked some ten projects in development with major studios.
”It was refreshing to find a comedy which grew out of character ••• and had its own quirky viewpoint,” says Todman. Equally gratifying, he goes on, was that when Orion Pictures bought the property, “everyone agreed that Jonathan Demme should direct it, provided, of course, that he shared our enthusiasm.”
He did. Demme’s feeling for the gangster genre dates back to his origins as a youthful movie critic who crossed over into filmmaking with Roger Corman.
“I’ve never known whether the classic gangster portraits of actors like Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson and George Raft were based on actual hoodlums or if the mobsters took their cues from the movies,” Demme observes. “Probably a little of both.”
But in any case, the era of ‘Little Caesar’ and ‘Public Enemy’ seems centuries away. The filmmakers found in their research that today’s upwardly-mobile gangster lives comfortably and discreetly in the stockbroker belt. As far as the neighbours (and the IRS) are concerned, he’s the senior vice president of Acme Toxic Waste Removal or the South Shore Cement Works. His 2.3 kids go to school in the station wagon. His wife is active in the PTA. On Sunday afternoons, there are backyard barbecues.
The onus on the families of upscale hoods is to keep up a respectable facade, adds actress O-Lan Jones. As one of a quartet of mob wives, she explains, “I can’t be bothered by things like extortion, gambling, prostitution and murder. My husband takes care of business. Mainly, I keep house.”
As Tony Russo’s wife Connie, however, Mercedes Ruehl confronts a common hazard of the sybaritic suburbs, a cheating husband.
Her response, depending on her mood swings, is to “be so warm and loving that Tony will have no desire to stray, or to do something nasty to his private parts which will ultimately have the same effect,” says Ruehl. “Connie makes Medea look mild-mannered.” Adds director Demme: “Mercedes brings an operatic passion to the role.”
A classically-trained actress, Ruehl developed an accent which she describes as “affluent Long Island, two generations removed from the slums of Bensonhurst.” It was achieved, she explains, “by speaking mostly with the lower lip, moving the top lip as little as possible so it doesn’t get wrinkles.”
Demme cast Dean Stockwell as Tony Russo, he says, after running across a photo of the actor in a trade paper ad. “I’d always loved his work,” recalls the director. “Looking at Dean’s picture in the Hollywood Reporter, I felt then — with great excitement — that Tony “The Tiger” was sneering back at me.
Stockwell, now deep into his “third career” as a character actor (after childhood stardom and youthful roles in films like “Compulsion” and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”), describes Tony “The Tiger” as a “charming, personable guy with legitimate business interests and a way with women.” Wearing an Alphonse Capone fedora and an ankle-length yellow coat for which a colony of vicunas made the ultimate sacrifice, he tells a visitor to the New York location: “That’s my story. I hope you agree, because you seem to have a nice, useful set of kneecaps.”
Extricating his tongue from his cheek, Stockwell adds: “If I played this same character in a super-realistic gangster film, he’d be a lot darker. And I wouldn’t be having nearly as much fun.”
To producer Edward Saxon, who collaborated with Demme on “Something Wild” and “Swimming to Cambodia,” the humour of MARRIED TO THE MOB is rooted in paradox. “The cold-blooded routine of the Mafia, dealing drugs, dumping toxic waste, wanton murder, is in striking contrast to their strong family values,” he points out. “Think of the phrase, ‘kiss of death.’ Could anything be more ironic?”
Producer Kenneth Utt, who has roamed New York with sound gun and camera as associate producer of films like “Midnight Cowboy,” “The French Connection” and “All That Jazz,” calls MARRIED TO THE MOB “one of the toughest shoots I’ve been involved in. The script was loaded with short scenes in tricky locations throughout Manhattan, Long Island and eventually Miami, which had to be brought in on a realistic budget.”
The pressure might have been eased, Utt goes on, if Demme had succumbed to “lower bids” to film the story outside New York or utilise studio interiors.
Instead, “only one set was constructed for the entire film” notes production designer Kristi Zea. “For the murder of Alec Baldwin as Frankie DeMarco in the Pantheon Room of the Fantasia Motel, it was necessary to flood the set.” When the risk of water damage made movie immortality an offer any innkeeper could refuse, “we built a swimming pool under a sound stage, then installed the motel room above it,” says the designer.
Otherwise, the crew took to the streets, always open to serendipity. Recalls associate producer Ron Bozman: “At one point, we encountered a wonderful street musician known as ‘Mr. Spoons.’ Jonathan was entranced, and Mr. Spoons is in the picture.”
Manhattan’s pulsating Lower East Side, in the shadow of the ancient Williamsburg Bridge (which would be closed to traffic within a few months when its beams seemed in imminent danger of collapse), proved a colourful, ethnically diverse backdrop for Angela DeMarco’s “new life.”
It is also a neighbourhood with a soaring crime rate, notes location manager Steve Rose. “We took elaborate security precautions. Still, the caterer turned his back for just a few minutes and when he returned the coffee bar was missing. How do you hock a 40-gallon coffee urn?”
Nearby on Centre Street, art and life collided when the camera crew’s dolly track overlapped the entrance to the federal courthouse. Although it was late at night and the building was deserted, the unit was confronted by armed officers who politely — but firmly — suggested that filming on federal property would be frowned upon.
Throughout the location-scouting process, continues Rose, negotiations were conducted in a mixture of tongues — including Spanish, Chinese, Korean and sign language — with merchants who spoke little English. Among the prized sites was the Solidaridad Humana Community Centre, converted from an old schoolhouse, where Mike Downey and Angela DeMarco celebrate their first date by joining a spirited “Cuando” dance.
With the live music of the Brazilian powerhouse samba band, Pede Bai, for encouragement, the requisite number of takes was completed. Then the cast and crew stayed on, joined by friends, relatives, extras and local residents, for a storm of samba that continued well into the night.
Such rhythms are important to Demme, a respected ethno-musicologist, whose work has included the trend-setting concert film, ”Stop Making Sense,” and music videos in a wide range of idioms.
Among some 50 songs scattered through the soundtrack of “Something Wild” was the closing theme, “Wild Thing,” performed by reggae star Sister Carol. Delighted by that performance, he offered the Jamaican-born singer a costarring role in MARRIED TO THE MOB. As Rita, the soulful proprietress of the Hello Gorgeous beauty shop, she befriends Angela, incurring the wrath of the FBI — and landing on the hit list of the INS.
Other cast members drawn from contemporary music include rocker David Johansen (alias Buster Poindexter), a winner of seven top honours at the 1986 New York Music Awards, led by Best Male R&B Vocalist, and Chris Isaak, whose “Dancin'” video caught Demme’s eye.
Johansen plays a Mafia priest, while Isaak, described by Demme as a “minorkey mix of Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison,” is seen as a hit man.
Even music supervisor Gary Goetzman, who produced “Stop Making Sense,” puts in a cameo appearance — as the lounge pianist at Tony Russo’s favourite hangout who sings a simpering tribute to the big-tipping ”Tiger.”
Under Goetzman’s supervision, the soundtrack features songs by exciting newcomer Jane Child and Q. Lazzarus, who introduced Denvne to her ballad, “Transformation,” when he rode as a passenger in her taxicab.
One last musical contribution merits mention. When Matthew Modine tracks Michelle Pfeiffer through the Lower East Side, he briefly, but enthusiastically, joins a troupe of street musicians — portrayed by the doo-wop group, True Image — rather than blow his undercover cover.
Describing such scenes, Pfeiffer says that she frequently “felt like the Martin Sheen character in ‘Apocalypse Now.’ I was trying to be straight, and here were all these wild characters, doing crazy things around me.”
To personify that spirit, says casting director Howard Feuer, he joined Demme in “avoiding the obvious, taking a step or two to the right or left.” Included in key roles are Alec Baldwin (almost unrecognisable from the ghostly innocent he plays in ”Beetlejuice”) as ambitious gunsel Frankie DeMarco; Oliver Platt, an alumnus of the Manhattan Punch Line Theatre Group (where he was spotted — and recommended to Demme — by Bill Murray), as junk-food addict G-man Ed Benitez; and Paul Lazar (of the avant-garde Irondale Ensemble) as Tony Russo’s wiry bodyguard, Tommy.
The proprietor of the mob wives’ makeshift forum, the Chez Ray Beauty Salon, is played by Charles Napier, who has appeared in all of Demme’s films since “Handle With Care.” Another favourite actor, Tracey Walter, is the manager of the Chicken Lickin’ fast-food franchise where Angela De Marco is introduced to sexual harassment in the workplace — and the job interview.
While veteran character actor Trey Wilson plays Mike Downey’s relentless FBI boss, Franklin, his tough-talking aide (in an unbilled cameo) is producer Kenneth Utt.
Cinematographer Tak Fujimoto, in his seventh collaboration with Demme, notes that the film’s satirically colourful characters to some degree dictated his own approach. ”Most directors want realism,” he explains. “But for the mob war between rival thugs, for example, we shied away from graphic violence in favour of melodramatic shadows and silhouettes. The lighting style had to match the acting style.”
So, too, did the garish and exotic locations which mirrored the mobsters’ taste in pop culture. “Some people were reluctant to lease their homes -or mansions — to us when they heard the title,” admits Kenneth Utt. On the other hand, the Long Island Railroad had no qualms about providing a commuter train for the film’s opening gangland execution.
“Anywhere but New York, we’d have been in trouble,” Utt explains. “But the Long Island Railroad knew that people would accept it as fiction and that nothing we did could tarnish its image.”
ABOUT THE CAST .••
Shot into instant widowhood, all that Angela DeMarco can bring to her dash for freedom are a dangerously naive determination, a high school diploma -and a face of elegant planes and eloquent eyes. She is played in all her valiant, spike-heeled vulnerability by MICHELLE PFEIFFER.
Most recently seen as one of the tantalising “Witches of Eastwick,” Pfeiffer, who has been called “drop dead gorgeous” by Time Magazine and “one of the ten most beautiful women in the world” by Harper’s Bazaar, had to get past those same assets to be taken seriously as an actress. The role she credits for the breakthrough was Elvira St. James in Brian De Palma’s “Scarface,” ironically enough the wife of a mobster.
A patrician WASP with an escalating cocaine habit, Elvira was the capper to the American dream for Al Pacino’s “Marielito” drug czar, Tony Montana. As such, she could not have been further removed from Angela DeMarco. “Elvira survived in a violent world by never going beneath the surface of her feelings,” explains Pfeiffer, “while Angela lets every joy and fear and hunger hang out.”
Born and raised in Southern California, Pfeiffer lived close enough to Los Angeles to bus in for acting lessons while attending Fountain Valley High School.
The daughter of a conservative Orange County businessman, Pfeiffer clerked in a supermarket to pay for her lessons, but landed an agent through a fluke, when a friend secretly entered her in a beauty pageant. (Miffed at first, Pfeiffer went through with it and won the title — Miss Orange County — as well as representation in Hollywood.)
Just 18 at the time, she was soon cast as “The Bombshell” — “a part so small it had no name” — in the television series “Delta House,” and a month later landed her first film role in the low-budget “Falling in Love Again.” Not wanting to pass up either opportunity, she spent her days with the series, and her nights and weekends working on the movie, for a hectic two-month period.
Then came a rash of small, lightweight roles — a carhop in “Hollywood Knights,” a dizzy debutante in “Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen” and the flamboyant “Pink Lady” in “Grease 2” (which she won after entering a nationwide talent search). It was also during this time that Pfeiffer appeared in television’s “Callie and Son,” and co-starred in the TV films “Splendour in the Grass” and “The Children That Nobody Wanted.”
After her superb and critically-acclaimed portrayal of Elvira in “Scarface,” Pfeiffer’s film roles grew meatier and more memorable ••• from Rutger Hauer’s doomed love in Richard Donner’s medieval fantasy, “Ladyhawke,” to the imperiled jewel smuggler who cured insomniac Jeff Goldblum in John Landis’ “Into the Night,” to the dual role of starlet Faith Healey and patriot Mary Slocum in Alan Alda’s “Sweet Liberty.”
In addition to “Witches of Eastwick,” Pfeiffer was most recently seen in a return to television drama, starring in the PBS adaptation of John O’Hara’s “Natica Jackson.” (“Played superbly by Michelle Pfeiffer, who is absolutely wonderful,” wrote critic John O’Connor in the New York Times.)
When first encountered in MARRIED TO THE MOB, G-Man Mike Downey is so devoted to the principles of J. Edgar Hoover that his conservative business suit hangs above his bed, ready to be donned at the drop of a felony.
By the time he’s deep into the “DeMarco case,” he’s unplugging his own wiretaps, lying to his partner, and posing as a polyester tourist to prove his quarry’s innocence.
The role marks MATTHEW MODINE‘s first foray into romantic comedy, fresh from the critical acclaim he received as the explosively angry young kidnapper of Alan Pakula’s “Orphans.” (Modine goes head to head with Albert Finney, and takes your breath away,” wrote Esquire Magazine.) One of two films to which Modine contributed vivid performances in 1987, it followed Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” in which he played Private Joker, the narrator/observer of the Vietnam experience.
Although he has developed an increasingly singular screen persona in the five years since his bow as Rosanna Arquette’s college boyfriend in John Sayles’ “Baby, It’s You,” Modine has always followed an unconventional trail.
Born the youngest of seven children in Loma Linda, California, he grew up in Utah, where his father was the manager of a drive-in theatre. “I saw so many movies that I’m sure it influenced my desire to be an actor,” he recalls. But at 18 he headed for New York and the theatre rather than Los Angeles and movie-making.
Supporting himself as a chef in a natural-food restaurant, he enrolled with famed drama coach Stella Adler, then made his professional bow doing television commercials.
From there he landed a brief role in the daytime drama “Texas” and appeared in an After School Special entitled “Amy and the Angel,” before segueing into movies with “Baby, It’s You.”
After starring opposite Phoebe Cates in the teenage hi-jinks caper, “Private School,” Modine was cast in Robert Altman’s searing screen version of David Rabe’s anti-war play, “Streamers.” Playing Billy, the drama’s bright but sexually confused anti-hero, Modine shared a unique acting honour when the Venice Film Festival’s Best Actor Award was bestowed on the entire cast.
He next joined Rob Lowe, Jodie Foster, Beau Bridges and Wilford Brimley in Tony Richardson’s “Hotel New Hampshire,” based on John Irving’s bestselling novel. Then came the moody “Mrs. Soffel,” in which he starred with Diane Keaton and Mel Gibson; “Vision Quest,” in which he played a mystical high school wrestler, and “Birdy,” Alan Parker’s harrowing fable about a young man whose lifelong yearning for freedom led him to schizophrenia -and a mental ward.
When Tony “The Tiger” Russo looks in the mirror, says DEAN STOCKWELL, what he sees is “a charming warm-hearted guy whom women find irresistible and other men admire.”
That, of course, excludes “the FBI buffoons who couldn’t find their noses if they looked cross-eyed,” and fellow hoods, like Frankie DeMarco, who cross — or double-cross –his predatory path.
Now riding the crest of the third wave of his acting career, Stockwell in recent years has scored as the hard-boiled Army commander of “Gardens of Stone” and the pansexual drug dealer of David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet,” as well as in co-starring roles in “Paris, Texas,” “To Live and Die in L.A.,” “DUNE” and “BEVERLY HILLS COP II.”
The son of Broadway performers, he was born in North Hollywood, California, and made his stage debut at seven in a Theatre Guild production of “The Innocent Vioyage.” By the age of nine he began a lengthy career as a child film star, appearing in close to two dozen movies before he reached 15. Included were “Valley of Decision,” “Anchors Aweigh,” “Gentlemen’s Agreement,” “The Boy With Green Hair,” “The Secret Garden” and “Kim.”
Looking for life beyond the studio back lots, Stockwell left Hollywood and roamed the U.S. for five years, then returned to start the second wave of his career with the lead in “Compulsion.” His portrayal of an intellectual young murderer (based on the infamous Leopold-Loeb duo) brought him the Best Actor prize in Cannes, as did his subsequent performance as Edmund Tyrone in Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”
After working nonstop throughout the late 60s and early 70s, Stockwell again took a sabbatical. But with the advent of marriage, fatherhood and a move to New Mexico some five years ago, his zest for motion pictures returned. “I’m enjoying my work in ways I never did before,” he says. “It’s the best time of my life.”
Next up for Stockwell: the soon-to-be-released films “Blue Iguana” and “Tucker.” The latter, directed by Francis Coppola and starring Jeff Bridges, gives Stockwell a bravura role as Howard Hughes. Then comes “Ronnie Rocket,” a “bizarre project” from “Blue Velvet” director David Lynch.
With the passion of diva gone berserk, MERCEDES RUEHL‘s Connie Russo takes dead aim at anything which threatens her marriage — including other women, guilty or not, and her husband’s anatomy. She does not fear Tony Russo -she engulfs him.
In likening Connie to a modern Medea, Ruehl knows whereof she speaks. A classically-trained actress, her portrayal of the willful sorceress who murders her own children brought Ruehl national attention when she played the title role in “Medea” at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.
Born in New York to an FBI agent and his schoolteacher wife, Ruehl grew up in Silver Springs, Maryland, where she remembers “wanting to be an actress since the age of seven.”
After completing her education she moved back to Manhattan to study acting with noted coaches Uta Hagen and Tad Danielewski, among others. Regional theatre stints in the works of Shakespeare and Moliere led to modern comedies off Broadway, and an Obie for her performance in Chris Durang’s “The Marriage of Bette and Boo” at New York’s Public Theatre. Ruehl also played Judd Hirsch’s daughter for a year in the Broadway hit, “I’m Not Rappaport.”
Her screen credits include “Heartburn,” “Radio Days,” “The Secret of My Success,” “84 Charing Cross Road” and “Big.”
As G-Man Ed Benitez, OLIVER PLATT is Mike Downey’s long-time — and longsuffering — partner. Describing crime-stopping as a “lonely business,” he “sublimates his sexual urges through his bizarre eating habits,” says Platt. “But the job has its compensations; he loves wearing disguises.”
Such character traits attracted Platt to his screen debut. Currently a member of Off-Broadway’s Manhattan Punch Line Theatre Group, he was performing there when he caught the eye of comic Bill Murray, who recommended him to director Denvne.
The son of a diplomat, Platt recalls a stimulating childhood spent in Washington, D.C., and various parts of the Orient. Choosing early to pursue an acting career, he earned a degree in drama from Tufts University, then polished his craft in regional theatres and with such classicallyoriented groups as the British American Drama Academy and Shakespeare & Company.
After helping found Washington’s “Gramm-Rudman Players,” a comedic cabaret, Platt appeared in such contemporary masterworks as “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “The Crucible” as well as in Sheridan’s “The School For Scandal,” then moved to New York in the fall of 1986.
He will also appear on screen in the soon-to-be-released “Crusoe.”
With a house full of free furniture (hot, but what the hey), a kid, a car and a husband on his way up the Family tree, Angela De Marco should be content already. So thinks her hit-man husband, Frankie “The Cucumber.”
“I think these guys sleep like rocks,” says ALEC BALDWIN of his role. “They don’t seem to have any remorse, or any idea that what they do is unacceptable.”
Baldwin is familiar with the breed. A native of Long Island, he grew up surrounded by the Mafia culture. “People actually wanted you to think they were ‘connected,'” he recalls. “My three brothers and I lampooned the Casa Nostra for 20 years.”
Currently on screen as the newly wed, newly dead hero of “Beetlejuice,” Baldwin began his career shortly after completing his training at the Lee Strasberg Institute. Landing the role of Billy Aldrick in television’s long-running soap, “The Doctors,” he stayed with the show three years, and also appeared opposite Hal Holbrook and Lloyd Bridges in the miniseries “Dress Grey.”
The spring of 1987 was the actor’s personal high-water mark. While winning the prestigious Theatre World Award for his New York Theatre debut in the Broadway production of Joe Orton’s ”Loot,” Baldwin also made his screen bow opposite Hannah Schygulla and Deborah Harry in “Forever Lulu.” In quick succession the same year came “She’s Having a Baby” with Elizabeth McGovern and Kevin Bacon, and then the smash hit, “Beetlejuice.”
Friend, Earth Mother — and proprietress of the Hello Gorgeous beauty salon — Rita is the first person to help Angela DeMarco get started in her new life. Conveying the art of survival power with warmth and hipness is Brooklyn reggae princess SISTER CAROL, in her second teaming with director Denvne. (She sang “Wild Thing” to close his “Something Wild.”)
Born Carol East in Kingston, Jamaica, she recalls a childhood spent sneaking down to the corner store to hear Bob Marley and other reggae greats create their spontaneous street music. By the time she emigrated to the U.S. at 14, she had a thorough grounding in its traditions. Soon creating and performing her own songs, she recorded her first album in 1982.
“The words of my songs are to bring people together, to teach them something,” explains Sister Carol, who is now recognised as reggae’s foremost female deejay (rap) performer. (Wrote Beat Magazine: “She has taken the formidable male-dominated world of reggae and infused it with a new and vital consciousness.”)
It was that depth and energy, projected during a 1985 club date, which moved director Jonathan Demme, who was in the audience. “I couldn’t believe the power of this woman,” he recalls. “She left the stage and I was trembling ••• I was determined to find a way that we could work together.”
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS ••.
Calling MARRIED TO THE MOB a “gangster movie with a funny back spin,” director JONATHAN DEMME admits that he found the idiosyncratic humour of the Strugatz-Burns script as irresistible as its surprising central character. “It’s a Mafia movie, with all those melodramatic tough-talking gangsters ••• and yet the story is Angela’s,” he says with obvious relish. “She discovers that there’s good and evil in the world ••• and they’re both out to get her.”
While a fascination with the humour and humanity of eccentric behaviour has long marked the work of the self-confessed “movie addict,” Demme’s lifelong interest in film didn’t crystallize until he was in college. Born in Rockville Center, New York, he was raised in Miami, Florida, and was already enrolled in the University of Florida’s school of veterinary medicine when, after writing film reviews for the student newspaper and the Coral Gables Times, his career direction changed.
Following a brief stint with the U.S. Air Force, Demme worked as a publicist at Embassy Pictures, United Artists in New York and Pathe, and wrote reviews for the trade paper Film Daily. Moving to London, he soon jqined filmmaker Roger Corman during the production of “Von Richtofen and Brown,” then relocated in Los Angeles with Corman’s New World Pictures.
There he honed his talents, as he co-wrote and produced “Angels Hard as They Come,” directed “Caged Heat” and filmed “Crazy Mama.” After directing “Fighting Mad” for Corman and Twentieth Century Fox, Demme directed “Handle With Care” (a spoof of the citizens-band radio craze) and the suspense thriller “The Last Embrace,” followed by “Melvin and Howard.”
The whimsical portrait of loser Melvin Dumar’s “encounter” with hitchhiking recluse Howard Hughes opened the 1980 New York Film Festival, won Best Picture honours from the National Society of Film Critics, won Oscars for writer Bo Goldman and co-star Mary Steenburgen, and brought Demme himself the New York Film Critics’ Best Director award.
He followed with the World War II home-front tale “Swing Shift” (which brought Christine Lahti an Oscar nomination), then indulged his musical enthusiasm with “Stop Making Sense.” Filmed during an appearance by David Byrne and the Talking Heads, the “Walpurgisnacht Boogie” (Time Magazine) brought Denvne his second major award from the National Society of Film Critics — for Best Documentary.
It was that depth and energy, projected during a 1985 club date, which moved director Jonathan Demme, who was in the audience. “I couldn’t believe the power of this woman,” he recalls. “She left the stage and I was trembling ••• I was determined to find a way that we could work together.”
The comically lusty thriller, “Something Wild,” continued Demme’s unconventional approach to filmmaking. Starring Jeff Daniels as a buttondown businessman, Melanie Griffith as a wayward wanton and Ray Liotta as her ex-con husband — none of whom were what they seemed — it led Mike Sragow of American Film to write, ”Demme has evolved into a compassionate observer of Americana.”
Demme followed with “Swimming to Cambodia,” a one-man screen show starring Spalding Gray and his behind-the-scenes adventures as an actor in “The Killing Fields.”
Demme has kept busy in other media as well, directing music videos with UB40 and Chrissie Hynde, Sandra Bernhardt, Fine Young Canibals, Suzanne Vega and the “Sun City” video of Artists United Against Apartheid. For public television, Demme filmed “Accumulation With Talking Plus Water Motor,” a study of Trisha Brown’s choreography; “Trying Times,” a dramatic special by Pulitzer Prize winner Beth Henley, and “Who Am I This Time?” a sensitive romance starring Christopher Walken and Susan Sarandon. He most recently made the impressionistic documentary, “Haiti Dreams of Democracy,” which aired on the Bravo network. Currently learning Haitian Creole, he plans other projects both fictional and documentary, to be filmed on the Caribbean island.
Meanwhile, Demme is preparing to co-produce “Miami Blues” in conjunction with Edward Saxon, Kenneth Utt and Gary Goetzman. George Armitage will direct the film from his own screenplay, based on Charles Willeford’s novel.
Producer KENNETH UIT has been accurately dubbed “the dean of New York production.” His career in motion pictures and television dates back to “the golden age” of live TV dramas, most of which originated from Manhattan studios.
Born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, he graduated from Elon College, then won a fellowship to New York’s Juilliard school of music. After a brief time out for World War II — during which he served with Moss Hart’s “Winged Victory” unit — Utt returned to Juilliard to finish his education.
Beginning his career as a featured performer in the hit Broadway musical “Carousel,” he soon turned to production, serving as stage manager on such major Broadway shows as “Peter Pan” and “A Tree Grown in Brooklyn.”
Segueing into television, he served ten years with the legendary “Studio One” and “DuPont Show of the Month,” and was associate producer of such popular series as “The Defenders,” “Coronet Blue” and “NYPD.” He did the Ed Sullivan Show when it was called “Toast of the Town,” served as executive in charge of production with D’Antoni-Weitz television, and later was production manager of “Liza with a Z.” More recently, Utt produced the special and series “Baker’s Dozen,” and the television film “Intimate Strangers.”
Entering motion pictures in the late 1960s, he was associate producer of “Midnight Cowboy,” “The Subject Was Roses,” “The French Connection,” “All That Jazz” and “Eyewitness,” and served as production manager for “Bye Bye Braverman” and “The Wiz.” After producing “Star 80,” Utt served as coproducer of “Something Wild.”
Producer EDWARD SAXON has enjoyed a prolific collaboration with director Jonathan Demme. The executive producer of “Something Wild” and associate producer of “Swimming to Cambodia,” he is partnered with Demme in “Clinica Estetico, Ltd.,” a production company active in feature film documentaries, public television and music videos. Saxon worked with Demme on the Grammywinning documentary “The Making of Sun City,” then co-produced Demme’s “Accumulation with Talking Plus Water Motor” for the PBS series Alive From Off Center. Their most recent teaming was the provocative documentary, “Haiti Dreams of Democracy.”
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Saxon attended McGill University in Montreal, where he remained to co-found the Care Theatre, which showcased avant-garde performing artists. After producing and directing several shows by the Cafe’s own troupe, he moved to Los Angeles, enrolled at USC, and received his master’s degree from the university’s motion picture producing programme. During his two years as a student there, Saxon produced and hosted “E.D.,” a half-hour weekly experimental series, on cable television.
MARRIED TO THE MOB marks the first of ten motion-picture projects which executive producers JOEL SIMON and BILL TODMAN, JR. have developed with major studios since they formed Todman-Simon Productions two years ago. During this same period they have also signed an exclusive television term deal with Lorimar Telepictures.
Both are New Yorkers. Simon was born and raised in Manhattan. After earning his BA degree from the University of Miami, Florida, he settled in Los Angeles, where he formed his own company, Simon Marketing. During thirteen years of creating worldwide promotions for such major firms as McDonalds, he became increasingly involved in a wide range of entertainment ventures.
His new career direction was cemented by the partnership with Bill Todman Jr., and the development of MARRIED TO THE MOB.
Todman, who was born in suburban Scarsdale, was raised in a show-business atmosphere. The son of Bill Todman, Sr., co-founder of the Goodson-Todman television game-show empire, he was educated at Hobart College in New York and Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. After earning his BA, he put in his tutelage with the family firm, then segued to MGM-TV, where he served as programme executive for such hit series as “Chips,” “Fame” and “Chicago Story.”
Following a brief stint as in-house television producer at Twentieth Century Fox, Todman moved to Lorimar, where he joined forces with Joel Simon. He is 32.
More than ten years after they met at film school, screenwriters BARRY STRUGATZ and MARK R. BURNS combined their long-standing friendship and comedic rapport into the creation of MARRIED TO THE MOB.
After leaving their shared alma mater — New York University — both enjoyed success in separate areas of film production.
Brooklyn-born Strugatz worked as a location scout and production assistant on “Hair,” “They All Laughed,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo” and others, while also producing and directing documentaries and industrial films.
Burns, a native of Long Island, served as editor of such films as “Death of a Salesman,” “Love is Ever Young,” “Almost You” and “Old Enough,” and constantly found himself drawn to writing. “As an editor,” he recalls, “I would sometimes feel that the real problem lay in the material.”
In 1987, each took a break from regular work, sat down and “plunged into the story of MARRIED TO THE MOB.”
“We wanted to write something with a strong woman character,” says Burns, “and we thought the situation of a mob wife trying to break away would make an interesting story. We saw it from the outset as a comedy.”
“The mob may be an intriguing subject,” says Strugatz, “but from the point of view of a woman, it’s the most oppressive of environments ••• one of cultural strangulation. A lot of the characters’ misconceptions in our story stem from the mob’s attitude toward a woman in a man’s world. Angela has to fight that stereotype.”
Next up for the duo: “Life and Loves of a She-Devil,” a dark comedy of revenge to be directed by Susan Seidelman for Orion.