Making the Wiseguys Weep: The Jimmy Roselli Story

David Evanier, Author
David Evanier, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $24 (256p) ISBN 978-0-374-19927-2
Reviewed on: 11/30/1998
Release date: 12/01/1998
Paperback - 260 pages - 978-0-413-74070-0
Mass Market Paperbound - 352 pages - 978-0-553-58208-6
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Relegated to the sidelines as the other Italian-American crooner from Hoboken, N.J., Jimmy Roselli (b. 1925) has had to fight to escape from the shadow of Sinatra and from the tentacles of the Mafia. In this engaging portrait of the Neopolitan-style tenor, little known outside the New York City area, Evanier (Red Love) traces Roselli's hardscrabble life--from the tenements of Hoboken's Little Italy (where he was raised--after his mother died and his father left--by his grandfather, a longshoreman who spoke no English) to his long years eking out a living as a diner owner and singing in dives. Roselli--whose passionate, big-range voice makes women swoon and mobsters break down--didn't get his big break until his late 30s, with songs such as ""Mala Femmena"" and ""Innamorata"" and the saloon standards ""Little Pal"" and ""When Your Old Wedding Ring Was New."" Evanier documents how Roselli's reluctance to give in to the Mafia hurt his career: while he associated with a few mobsters (he was friends with Sam Giancana and sang at John Gotti Jr.'s wedding), he had to fight the mob bosses who wanted more than their fair share of his profit. As Evanier points out, Roselli's stubbornness and emotional business dealing didn't help either. Evanier lets those who have known Roselli throughout the years--family, friends, promoters and musicians--tell his story and embellishes the text with the singer's own words. As rich as these comments are (Sinatra, says Roselli, ""throws firecrackers, big bombs, under somebody's chair. He don't even know how to have fun, this guy""), the number of quotes sometimes slows the narrative pace. However, Evanier's depiction of Italian-American life is vivid, as is the image of Roselli, the irrepressible singer who shyly opens each sold-out performance with his grandfather's words of encouragement: ""Cante, guaglione, cante!"" (Sing, little one, sing!). Photos not seen by PW. (Dec.)
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