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Danny Aiello: Childhood Eczema Made Me Hollywood Outsider

By    |   Friday, 24 October 2014 09:46 PM

Veteran actor Danny Aiello says he's always seen himself as "an outsider" who is not part of the slick Hollywood crowd — and part of that stems from an embarrassing skin affliction he had as a youngster.

"When I was 6 years old I had eczema. Now eczema is not too tough today, but at that time I was hospitalized twice. It required me to scratch like a madman so much that I ripped myself apart," Aiello said Friday on "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.

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"Mama would put me to bed at night and put gloves on my hands. If we couldn’t' afford gloves, she'd put socks on my hands so that I didn't rip myself."

"That molded [me as an outsider] at the beginning because when I was sitting in the front row and the teacher was talking to me, I would see others looking at me, other students. I thought they were looking at me with disgust."

Aiello — author of the new memoir, "I Only Know Who I Am When I Am Somebody Else: My Life on the Street, On the Stage, and in the Movies," published by Gallery Books — grew up in the Bronx, the second youngest of six children.

He's played mobsters, priests, cops and even appeared in Madonna music video — but writing the book may have been his greatest challenge, a challenge that began with insisting on the thought-provoking title.

"I don't like a title that hits something right on the head. I like a title that seems to be intellectual or a person looks at it and says, what the hell does that mean?" said Aiello whose hit movies include "Moonstruck," "The Purple Rose of Cairo," "Fort Apache the Bronx" and "Do the Right Thing," for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.

"What it means, very simply, is I don't know who the hell I am. You've known me long enough, every time you ask me who I am, I don't know. It predated my days as an actor because I've been through so much as a youth and all through my life."

Aiello said only when he began portraying characters did it begin to make sense.

"I know who I am when I'm somebody else because that somebody else is a character. Now, if a character has been written for, I know what I'm going to say before I say it. I know where my character comes from," he said.

"It's a very comfortable situation to be at knowing who you are, knowing what you're going to say, but in life, it hasn't been that easy."

Aiello said that unlike some actors, he goes into restaurants, "not to be seen, [but] to see."

"It's a need for me because some days when I play characters, I'm not sure how I want to play them. I see people walk and I pick up idiosyncrasies that they may have," he said.

"You know I was skinny little kid. I was an undernourished kid, I had these problems and sitting in the front of the class was horrendous for me

"So I asked my mom to ask the teacher to allow me to sit in the back because I didn't want to be victimized by these people looking at me."

He was able to get some relief by playing baseball.

"When I was into sports I had friends, I didn't care because I excelled in sports, but unfortunately whenever I went back to school I had this problem," he said.

"So I went through school and that began to mold who I was going to be in my life.... I shined shoes at the Grand Central Station. I became a pool hustler, I became a runner, I became a part-time thief, I was a petty thief.

"I did it not because I was trying to benefit myself in some way, but because I wanted to put money into the house which all the children in the house did."

That's because Aiello had an absentee father.

"We loved him, we couldn't do anything else because we didn't know him well enough to dislike him. He wasn't home very often, but mama was my hero. My mother was my hero, continues to be," he said.

"I said that my mother could've been the pope had she been a man. Now just recently smoke came out in Rome, a pope was to be named he didn't know what his name was and it comes out later that night and he says, I'm Francis. F-R-A-N-C-I-S. My mother's name is F-R-A-N-C-E-S."

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Aiello said his acting career was sparked after he got out of the army, got a job at Greyhound bus company as union president and then got fired.

"I'm floundering around I go to the Improvisation [Comedy Club] in New York City, [and the owner] looks at me, recognized my talent, and says, 'You're my bouncer.' I became a bouncer and years went by and I became an actor."

Aside from the book, the 81-year-old father of four has also released a new CD titled "Blue Times Two," in which he warbles such songs as "This River" and "Somebody Else."

And next month, Aiello will be seen as an alcoholic priest in the PG-13-rated drama, "Reach Me," which also stars Sylvester Stallone, Kyra Sedgwick, Thomas Jane and Kelsey Grammer.

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Veteran actor Danny Aiello says he's always seen himself as "an outsider" who is not part of the slick Hollywood crowd — and part of that stems from an embarrassing skin affliction he had as a youngster.
danny aiello, hollywood, actor
Friday, 24 October 2014 09:46 PM
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