Actor Danny Aiello, The Godfather, and Madonna


In his new memoir, stage and screen actor Danny Aiello reveals that he was so poor growing up in New York that he worked as a numbers runner and burglar, specializing in robbing cigarette machines. He was also a street fighter, and bouncer, the type of late-night guard who didn’t hesitate to slam a rowdy patron or rough up someone in the neighborhood who deserved it. 


From the mean streets, Aiello, age 36, had landed a job at The Improvisation comedy club, where his job was to stop hecklers who went too far. Eventually, Aiello took the mike to introduce acts. But it was while playing baseball in a league made up of actors that Aiello was given the chance to act in Bang the Drum Slowly, teaching Robert De Niro how to swing a bat and field balls. That was in 1973.

Aiello went on to become an Academy Award and Golden Globe nominee, appearing in more than 85 films. He has worked with Spike Lee, Woody Allen, Paul Newman, and Sean Penn, among many others. But it was his appearance in Madonna’s music video that unleashed Aiello’s pent up desire to sing professionally. He has since recorded a number of albums.

Aiello tells his story in the book, I Only Know Who I Am When I’m Somebody Else. He told me in our interview that he ad-libbed the line, “Michael Corleone says hi,” while strangling someone in The Godfather: Part II. Director Francis Ford Coppola liked it and kept it in. That line was so memorable, strangers continue to say it to him wherever he goes.

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Danny Aiello: From Club Bouncer To The Oscars

Wednesday on “The Alan Colmes Show,” Alan welcomed longtime friend and Oscar-nominated actor Danny Aiello to the studio to talk about his 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. Danny was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in 1990 for his role in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, and has also appeared in Moonstruck and Once Upon a Time in America.

Danny discussed with Alan how he rose from working for Greyhound and as a bouncer at comedy clubs to becoming an award winning actor. They also talked about what it was like to work with Woody Allen (who never offered Danny the one part he always wanted to play), and Danny expressed his regret over some of the things in his book he wrote about Lauren Bacall.

Listen to Interview here

Huffington Post: Danny Aiello Took Me Off the Hook

Written By: Robbie Vorhaus

In 1979, I worked for the producer of a short-lived Broadway play, Knockout, starring Danny Aiello and David Patrick Kelly (presently Da, in Once the Musical). For several months, we became friendly, hanging out together at the producer’s office on Park Avenue. Knockout opened and closed within months, and everyone involved in the production went their separate ways.

Two years later in 1981, Danny Aiello was starring in Woody Allen’s play, The Floating Light Bulb, and I was writing comedy for network TV, while also performing at New York City’s comedy club, Catch A Rising Star. On busy nights, undiscovered comics like me often worked the entry door to the main room, and one crazy night between sets, I was on “the rope,” that magical divide between the bar and the stage.

It was late, and unannounced, Danny Aiello walked in off First Avenue with Robert Duvall, still riding high from starring in the films Apocalypse Now and The Great Santini. I, along with everyone else in the room, was star struck seeing Duvall and Aiello together, and without thinking, and out of sheer excitement, I loudly blurted, “Danny Aiello! You old schmuck!” Translated, in Yiddish, I essentially said, “Danny, you old penis.”

The instant the words left my mouth, I knew I had screwed up. Danny grimaced, and to make it worse, as the two passed through the red rope, Duvall nodded toward me and said to Aiello sarcastically, “They obviously love you here.” It was a terrible moment.

Management at Catch was upset with me and I was asked to go home for the night. Devastated, I barely slept for several nights. Returning a couple days later, I asked a now-famous comic what I should do. He suggested I write Danny an apology.

In my note to Danny, I expressed remorse for embarrassing him in front of Duvall and others. I wrote that I respected his work, congratulated him on his success. I reminded him of the fun we shared together several years earlier, and profusely apologized for my very public gaffe. Once finished, I personally delivered the typewritten letter to the stage door of the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center and waited for a response.

Several days later Danny called. In his typical New York tough guy voice, Danny sweetly let me off the hook. Danny told me his reaction to my inappropriate outburst was more out of his own insecurity for being heckled in front of Duvall because he said candidly, “I was trying to impress him.” Danny went on to tell me he had already called “Catch,” to make sure they didn’t “punish” me, and not to worry about any repercussions. He finished the conversation saying he was “grateful for our friendship,” and as his guest, to please come to his play and after the show, come backstage “for a hug.”

I thanked Danny for the call; hung-up, and broke down crying out of sheer relief.

Now, more than thirty years later, we’ve both released our first book. Danny’s, I Only Know Who I Am When I Am Somebody Else: My Life on the Street, On the Stage, and in the Movies (Gallery Books, 2014), is a wonderful memoir of a very special man. Buy it.

And my book, One Less. One More. – Follow Your Heart. Be Happy. Change Slowly. (Storytelling, Inc. 2014), is an ageless solution to solving life’s problems, including an entire chapter on the power of gratitude and forgiveness, which Danny Aiello taught me about a long time ago.

Today, whose life can you heal through forgiveness? Who, over the course of your lifetime, inspired you to become a better person? And, who in your life needs to hear you’re grateful for their friendship? As no one is perfect, you can at the very least be kind.

With compassion and forgiveness, Danny Aiello changed my life forever. Now it’s your turn: Who can you take off the hook?


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‘Trash talk’ between Spike Lee and Danny Aiello


A chance encounter between two old friends can lead to a lot of ribbing which is exactly what happened between Spike Lee and Danny Aiello.

The legendary movie director and the legendary actor ran into each other outside the FOX 5 studios on Monday morning.

Lee was leaving the building following his interview on Good Day New York about his new documentary ‘What Is The Triangle Offense’ while Aiello was on his way in to promote his new memoir, ‘I Only Know Who I Am When I Am Somebody Else.’

“He said to me what I always tell him, ‘I brought you to the dance,” said Aiello. “I said all you did before I came was ‘She’s Got To Have It.”

“I hope the reason I haven’t gotten a book yet isn’t because he did a job on me!” said Lee.

“I saw him downstairs. He forced me to give him a book. He was so cheap he wouldn’t purchase it. I said it’s 26 dollars in Barnes & Noble. He’s treated very well (in the book.) As a matter of fact, I treat him a lot better than I should have treated him,” joked Aiello.

The Oscar nominee received that nomination in 1999 for his role in Lee’s movie ‘Do The Right Thing.’

“Don’t bring that (Oscar) up!” warned Lee. “He’s not over it.”

Aiello lost the award to Hollywood heavyweight Denzel Washington.

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CBS News Book excerpt: Danny Aiello’s memoir

Actor Danny Aiello (“Moonstruck,” “Do the Right Thing,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Once Upon a Time in America”) recalls a life in and out of character in his new book, “I Only Know Who I Am When I Am Somebody Else.”

Text copyright © 2014 by Danny Aiello. Published by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed with permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Chapter One

In March 1990, I was sitting in the audience at L.A.’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, waiting for the winners to be announced at the sixty-second Academy Awards ceremony. All around me were gorgeous women and handsome men. The Oscars were the kind of event that showed this New York City kid just how far he had come from his beginnings on the streets of the West Side of Manhattan and the South Bronx.

My stomach was tied in knots. That year, I was nominated as Best Actor in a Supporting Role for my performance as Sal Frangione in Spike Lee’s controversial film “Do the Right Thing.”

The nomination was so important to me. It told me, You’re not only a working actor, but you’ve been accepted by your peers. For a guy who never set foot in an acting class and who only started his career in his mid-thirties, this was a supreme validation.

I recall clearly what else I felt that night, with all the glitter and glamour flowing around me like a river.

No matter where I was, I was an outsider. Even with an Oscar nomination and everybody talking about my performance, I still had a nagging sense that somehow I didn’t belong.

It’s a feeling that I’ve always had. At something like this major awards event, the sense of being an outsider was especially sharp. What am I doing here? I kept thinking. I wasn’t a member of the Hollywood inner circle. I grew up working-class, not privileged. I’m street. And here I was, surrounded by people who were more like avenues, landscaped boulevards, private drives.

The thing about being an actor, though, is that you’re never alone. With me that evening were all the characters I had ever portrayed in the movies and on the stage. They whispered in my ear, telling me that while winning isn’t everything, losing doesn’t have a hell of a lot to say for itself. Those voices are always present.

Throughout my life, I’ve always been searching for me. Creating characters is part of that search. At the Oscars that night, the truth was both simple and complicated.

I only know who I am when I am somebody else.

It sounds like a riddle, but it’s the reality of my life. When I’m playing a character, only then do I know who I am, only then am I complete.

I’ve experienced dark times in my life when I’ve been an outsider even to myself. I’ve been so depressed and confused that I’ve experienced a loss of self. Acting helped save me.

Geena Davis, who was presenting the Best Actor in a Supporting Role award that evening, stepped up to the podium onstage. She introduced all the contenders, my name among them. I was up against some heavy hitters: Marlon Brando, Denzel Washington, Martin Landau, and Dan Aykroyd.

“The Academy Award for this year’s best supporting actor goes to . . .” She struggled opening up the envelope.

The moment hung in the balance for me. In a lot of ways, it represented a culmination of the journey I was on, leading me to great heights and devastating lows, transporting me to places like the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.

I want to invite you, the reader, on this journey in search of self. It’s my hope that this personal journey of mine might help you on yours.

Come on along.

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The Draft offers a look inside the NFL’s Draft Day

Wil Mara’s critically acclaimed book is perfect reading for Draft Day fans!
Now available in eBook format!

(April 10, 2014) Draft day is coming to NYC on May 8th, and what better time to pick up a copy of The Draft, the first title in award-winning author Wil Mara’s popular series of ‘NFL novels.’ Written with the full cooperation of the National Football League during Mara’s ten years of intensive research and firsthand interviews, The Draft tells the unforgettable story of one General Manager’s attempt to wheel and deal his way to the first overall pick in the draft in order to obtain a gifted young quarterback that many consider the best prospect in a generation. After grueling rounds of tense and sometimes antagonist negotiations with other GMs, the story’s hero finally gets what he wants—or does he? The surprise ending will blow you away in this funny, fast-paced, and realistic look at the behind-the-scenes world of the NFL.

The Draft is available now online and at bookstores everywhere—including, for the first, time, in all popular eBook formats. For further information about The Draft and Mara’s other novel in the series, the acclaimed The Cut, please visit

* Also be sure to check out the short piece Wil wrote about NFL draft trivia, originally published on and now available at

For more information, please contact Tracey Miller & Associates,


What the Pros Have Said about Wil Mara’s The Draft—

“The Draft is an entertaining and realistic look inside the NFL. Any football fan will find it ‘must’ reading.”—Bill Polian, President, Indianapolis Colts

“Wil Mara’s foray into the sometimes unfriendly confines of the NFL draft room provides an intriguing insight into a process that can be as competitive as those that occur on the gridiron itself.”—Marv Levy, Hall of Fame Head Coach, Buffalo Bills

“Wil Mara’s first novel set in the world of professional football offers not only an intriguing storyline but also a remarkable attention to detail not often found in sports fiction. NFL fans will enjoy every page of The Draft.”—Gil Brandt, Vice President of Player Personnel, Dallas Cowboys (1980-1989) / Senior Analyst,

“The Draft is a fascinating novel about what can go on behind the scenes in an NFL front office—the intrigue and maneuvering. It is terrific reading for the fan who wonders how these trades and deals are made.”—Ernie Accorsi, General Manager, New York Giants

“Wil Mara goes inside the NFL draft like never before. He details the personalities and complications that go into every draft decision, making for good reading and good drama.”—John Clayton, NFL Analyst and Senior Writer, ESPN

“The Draft is a smartly crafted and highly engrossing novel about deals, decisions, and desperation in the world of pro football. The characters are marvelously drawn, and the writing is razor’s-edge sharp. If you are a fan of this game, then The Draft is one book you absolutely must read.”—Peter Golenbock, author of Cowboys Have Always Been My Heroes: The Definitive Oral History of America’s Team