All The Things You Are
Personal Favorite Classic Holiday Films

A story excerpt because we were just talking about this

Okay, two. I'm warming up to write some little vignettes and want to share two here up top for someone who asked. These are from several years ago, but I do a few each year. 6-7 minutes total average read.

Jack walked into the front of the store from his office, where he'd been busy all morning preparing end-of-month details for the accountant, and as he walked he whistled the tune to "Innamorata" by Dean Martin. "I'm at heaven's door, innamorata, want you more and more, innamorata."

"Sounds like someone had a good weekend, Vinny," Tommy chuckled.

Jack shot him a dangerous look, and Tommy grinned, but didn't say anything else.

Jack said, "Can't a guy enjoy a little good music in the morning?"

"Sure, sure," Vinny said. "But that song is from a Martin and Lewis movie. And that Jerry Lewis was a putz. To use one of his own terms. He wasn't cool, or funny. Right, Tommy?

"Yeah, I don't know. That was Artists and Models, right? That's not a bad movie, I think. Shirley Maclaine was in that one."

"Yeah, I know you love Shirley Maclaine, Tommy, but we're supposed to believe a girl like her, even all goofy like that, is all hot and bothered over Jerry Lewis? Never would happen." Vinny shook his head in disgust.

Jack said, "All I knew of Jerry Lewis for a long time was his appearance on the telethon. He was always sweating, and he took himself very seriously, and I couldn't believe it when my parents told me he was a real comedian. So when I finally saw him as one, he was doing some horrible Chinaman act or something, it was embarrassing, even for a kid. And then, you know, the French."

"You figure that's true, how they loved Jerry Lewis in France?" Vinny mused. "Cause I don't really get French movies, so much. And that might explain a few things..."

Tommy said, "I think you were encountering Jerry Lewis during his bitter period. Kind of like Sinatra, you know?"

"Yeah, when I was a kid, I didn't understand at all how anybody could like Frank Sinatra, that bitter old has-been. I think it's why I started to love Dean Martin. He was never not cool, until he got old and sad. But Frank, he spent a good fifteen years just resenting the fact that it was no longer his world with the rest of us just living in it. He probably resented Dean, too, for not even caring."

Tommy said, "I doubt if he resented him. But he might have been jealous, you know, that Dean could just take it easy and nobody made fun of him for it. You know, he never really was a has-been. He just sort of drifted away. But Frank, man, people loved ragging on him. Until New York, New York, then he was suddenly cool again."

"What about Jack Lemmon?" Vinny said suddenly. "Did that make sense, her going for a guy like him, twice in fact?"

"Jack Lemmon could always get the ladies, Vinny. There was Kim Novak, and that one Italian, you know, the bombshell, Virna something. I don't know. And Judy Holliday, too."

"I know this," Vinny said. "Jack Lemmon was much funnier than Jerry Lewis, any day of the week."

"Yeah, but Judy Holliday was better for William Holden. You know about him, Jack? He was good but he was a drunk."

Jack answered, "Yeah, he died when I was in high school. Mom was crushed. She made a videotape of Love is a Many-Splendored Thing and watched it over and over again, crying every time. Dad thought she was nuts."


This one is actually in a post here somewhere, but here's a slightly edited version:

Over at the card table, Tommy and Vinny were arguing again. Today it was about who put on a better show; Tom Jones or Engelbert Humperdinck.

“Did you know that Engelbert Humperdinck’s real name was Arnold? Who goes from Arnold to Engelbert? Somebody who takes himself way too seriously, that’s who!” Tommy shook his head mournfully. “Tom never did that. That’s why he still has a career.”

Vinny laughed, shuffling the cards slowly and deliberately, as he always did. He’s never in a hurry. “Some producer or agent named him that, that’s all. It’s what they did back in those days. Didn’t you ever think about what name you’d take to become a big star, Tommy?”

“And what’s wrong with my name, then, huh? You think there haven’t been plenty of famous people named Tommy before? Tommy Smothers, Tommy Dorsey, uh, Tommy, I don’t know, it was good enough for Tom Jones, wasn’t it?”

“That’s just my point. It’s a belly button name. Too common, too ordinary. And your last name, Gagliardo, nobody would have gone for it back then, too Italian, too hard to spell. They all changed their names, except Sinatra.”

“He didn’t have to.”

Vinny said, “Damn straight. But everybody else did. Dean did it, Tony did it, Bobby, too. And plenty of others. A whole lot of Italian people on TV, but you can’t tell by their names. Look at Alan Alda.”

“Alan Alda? He’s Italian? I guess Alda might have started out longer, eh? But you’re so out of touch, Vinny. Alda ain’t been on TV in years. People don’t change their names so much anymore, either.”

“True enough, but they did. Jack over there, he might be Alda’s cousin. You know about his famous dad, right? Robert Alda?”

Tommy nodded. “Of course. He played Gershwin, back in the day.”

“Yeah, the Jewish guys, they had to change their names, too. He used to be Gershowitz, matter of fact.”

Vinny’s fact bank was overflowing with such information. Tommy was used to him spilling it all out now and then, and provided just enough questions or argument to keep Vinny talking. Tommy won a lot of card games that way, melding left and right while Vinny chattered away.

“Those Jewish guys changed their names, made it big, then Italian guys played them in the movies,” Vinny went on, “Anyway, you ever hear of Alfonso D’Abruzzo?”

“Is that Alan Alda then?”

“Yes, and his father, too. In fact, Robert’s name was Alfonso Giuseppe Giovanni Roberto D’Abruzzo.” Vinny leaned back with a satisfied look on his face.

Tommy demanded, “Why do you know this? Why do you know this stuff? And who has four first names, anyway?”

Vinny answered, “I just know. I read a lot. And my mom had four first names. Well, she had a first name, and two middle names, and then her confirmation name. So.”

“Why did she have two middle names?” Tommy asked. “I never heard of anybody else who did.”

“Well, now you know two. My mother, and Robert Alda. My mother said she had hers because they had her name all picked out but then her parents wanted to name her after the nurse who took care of her in the hospital. So they added it onto the rest. But probably lots of people have two middle names. You’ve got no culture, Tommy, so you don’t know about this kind of thing.”

Tommy yelled over to Jack,”Hey, Jack, is Alan Alda your cousin or something? Vinny here says you have the same for-real last name.”

Jack yelled back, “I dunno, could be. We’re probably all cousins, Tommy. All our grandparents and great-grandparents came from the same places, right?  They just emptied Sicily and Southern Italy onto boats and sent them over. ”

Tommy said, “This is true, sure. But Abruzzo is a whole place, not even in the south.”

“Yeah, but D’Abruzzos, those were undoubtedly some people who left there, went south sometime, and that’s how they were known. ‘From Abruzzo.’”

Vinny said, “What I wonder is if Jack is related to Bobby Darin. Not so many Cassottos around, I think.”

“No, I think there are a lot of those. Jack’s mom’s a Cassotto? Sure, I’ve known a few. Plus, you know, the accordion.” Tommy looked smug as he said this, sure that he was about to one-up Vinny on the trivia field.

“Accordions, sure, my uncle had one. He played it at my wedding, matter of fact.” Vinny had a blank look on his face. He knew Tommy knew something he didn't, but he was not going to ask.

Jack had come over to listen to the conversation, and looked from Tommy to Vinny, back to Tommy, before finally going ahead and asking, “Okay, I’ll bite. What’s an accordion got to do with Cassottos, Tommy? Did a Cassotto invent one?”
Tommy beamed. “No, a cassotto is a box inside the accordion where they put extra reeds, to make it sound better. Though I personally do not think there is much you can do to make an accordion sound better, this is apparently a good thing for one to have.”

Jack replied, “Sure, okay, I think cassotto just means box in Italian anyway, that makes sense.”

“Edward.” Vincent spoke suddenly. “That’s what I picked.”

Tommy asked, “You wanted your name to be Edward? What’s wrong with Vinny, Vincenzo?”

“No, no, I wanted to be Vincent Edward. That was my trumpet-playing name, back in high school. Only then I got drafted, and Vincenzo Mancaruso was good enough for the army, then for getting married, you know.”

Tommy looked annoyed now. “Vinny, nobody ever called you that in high school. I remember, I was there.”

“Yeah, you weren’t in the band, though. We all had names like that, two first names, you know. It was a little trick we all did when we played at dances and clubs.”

Jack interrupted. “Have you ever noticed how many people around here have two first names? Also two last names. It gets confusing sometimes, especially when they go by their last name instead of their first name. Like Officer Craig.”

“Actually, Jack,” Tommy spoke politely, “I never did notice that. Do tell.” He looked over at Vinny and shrugged.

“Oh, well, I just thought of it, there’s nothing else to tell. Think about it; there are a lot of people around like that. And there’s Dean Martin. He had two first names.”

Vinny and Tommy looked at each other with eyebrows raised.

Vinny said, “I never thought of it that way. Huh. I wonder why he picked it.”

The idea that Vinny didn’t know all there was to know about Dean Martin surprised everyone within hearing distance. But that just brought him back to his original subject, which had been the inferiority of Englebert Humperdinck to Tom Jones, both in name and in talent.

“Who gives a guy the name of an obscure German opera composer, anyway? And why such a long weird one? I guess they thought it would make his music sound more interesting but it didn’t work.

“But here’s the real proof that Tom Jones is better, Tommy. He bought Dean Martin’s Bel Air mansion, back in the early 70s. He knew what a good thing that was, and it probably rubbed off on him, that’s why people still like him now.”

“What rubbed off on him?”

“The coolness of Dino, that’s what.”

“Tom Jones is not cool, Vinny.”

“No, he kind of is, I think,” Jack spoke. “He never really took himself too seriously, except maybe for a little while. That’s what being cool is, pretty much. Knowing when not to take yourself so seriously. Knowing how to be amused at the world and what it thinks of you.”

Tommy frowned. “He had the longest sideburns ever grown. Never was that cool.”

“So did Humperdinck. We all had sideburns that long 35 years ago, Tommy. Even when there wasn’t much hair on top, everybody had plenty growing down the sides of their face. We thought women liked it. I don’t think they really did, though.” Vinny mused over this. “We wore our shirts unbuttoned too far down, to show our chest hair, too. We were making sure everyone knew how masculine we were. And nobody was more masculine then than Tom Jones.”