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There's Something About Geno

A legend among his character-actor friends at Marylou's and Elaine's for his impeccable style and his long romance with the wiseguy life, Geno Durante hasn't been seen much in the movies, but he's played one role to perfection: himself.


Thursdays after closing, Geno Durante has a private appointment at Jasper's, a hair salon on Avenue U in Brooklyn. Not long ago, he sat in the chair of the man he knows as Alex the Sicilian barber, who has been doing Mafia members' hair for 30 years. Durante was only in for a styling, because he'd had it cut the week before.

"You like De Niro?" Alex asked.

"Yeah, he's good, but he's getting to be the same in everything," Durante said into the wall mirror.

Sammy Davis Jr. came on an AM station. "Now, there was a piece of talent," Durante said. "When you think about it, there was nothing Sammy Davis couldn't do."

Geno Durante is a short and thick-chested man who over the past couple of years has become a popular figure with a number of Italian-American actors, directors, and Mafia soldiers. He is particularly admired by actors who play Mafia soldiers, who seek to imitate what they repeatedly describe as his "real" quality. You can often find Durante late at night at Elaine's or at Marylou's, a restaurant in Greenwich Village, or at any of a handful of after-hours bars on the West Side, along with people who range from show-business hopefuls you've never heard of to Antonia Dellacroce, whose father, Aniello Dellacroce, was John Gotti's mentor in the Gambino syndicate, to Danny Aiello, Chazz Palminteri, Dominic Chianese, Eric Roberts, Harvey Keitel, Dabney Coleman, Joe Pesci, and De Niro.

You might say Geno Durante is an inspirational figure to these people. He had, through the sixties, a loose friendship with the Gallo faction of what is now the Colombo crime family, working as a bartender in a few clubs overseen by its associates. And so actors occasionally request his counsel when playing gangsters. His cultlike status is evidence of just how deep into a hall of mirrors the mob's relationship with the movies has traveled.

Not long ago, the director Abel Ferrara approached Durante at Marylou's and asked him to take a walk outside. It turned out Ferrara was planning to make a film based on the story of the Gambino hit man Roy DeMeo, whom Durante once knew, and wanted to enlist him as a consultant. "None of the people around today have the information you have," Ferrara told him. "You lived it."

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