Durante, an electronics supervisor at a factory in Brooklyn, arranged his time sheet to give him Fridays off so that Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights he could drive his Coupe de Ville, a 1988 model with only 13,000 miles on it, down the equable silence of the Belt Parkway into Manhattan and stay out drinking wine spritzers and settling arguments and telling dirty jokes and complimenting waitresses on their figures until it is light out the next day.
Some of Hollywood's interest in Durante, if you want to call it "Hollywood" and "interest," has to do with the way he looks and dresses and carries himself. Durante is 67 years old, with a lead-white pompadour that rolls across his head in a motherwave, a strong chin, and blue eyes made liquidy by cataracts. His walk is more of a relaxed march, like that of a boxer taking the ring before a bout. His style of dress is equal parts high pimp and City-of-London wideboy gone Carnaby Street dandy, with a streak of good old reliable Nathan Detroit on the side.
The actor Chris Noth saw Durante another time at Marylou's. He kissed him on both cheeks, goombata-style, and said by way of greeting, "Let me put you in my next movie. I love the fucking clothes you wear." At this particular moment, Durante was wearing a double-breasted pink jacket of shantung silk and salmon-colored linen trousers, the slubby textures of which stood in contrast to the candied finish of his end-on-end, black-on-black shirt and his satin tie (also pink). His jacket narrowed to the waist, with a double vent and four buttons on the cuffs (real buttonholes) and lapels halfway to Canarsie. His pants had two rows of reverse pleats and creases that held their edge and cuffs that broke across his instep. His shoes were dainty, pointy-toed black slip-ons he calls cockroach catchers, because of the way you could line one up with the corner of a room.
Durante wears a square-edged gold ring with a hypertrophic garnet-colored solitaire on one pinky finger and, on his other pinky, a very intricately cut ring with five diamond chips in the middle of a raised gold base. "It's the nice high raise on it that makes the ring," Durante said. The ring was designed by Durante's brother, Chick, who was a designer for Cartier. "Chick's signature is the high raise," Durante said.
"A lot of guys don't wear pink," Durante said as Noth turned his attention to someone else at the table. "I like pink." He has jackets of aquamarine, jade, copper, banana yellow, and maroon. He bought four silk jackets just like the ones he had before he went to Vegas and went up a size on account of the buffet tables. This forced him to get rid of about ten other jackets, giving them to a drug dealer who used to hang out at some of the spots Durante likes. Durante has ten more for him already. "I got 200 ties, cheap and good," Durante said. He buys clothes at Barneys and he buys clothes at the faceless department stores on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn. "I'm a tonal dresser, which means I just dress to suit colors and tones. I always liked a Harlem style of clothes. I was wearing purple suits before it was purple suits."
Durante has a double-tiered, wall-to-wall closet fifteen feet long, with a ladder for the upper track's clothes, but his wardrobe is so big that it spills into his basement and most of his garage. He has more than twenty suits, 50 sport jackets, 100 dress shirts, all on hangers, and on the two levels of shelves he has 50 pairs of shoes. "I'm like a Filipino queen," he said.
He takes meticulous care of his wardrobe. "Summer clothes, you got to take them to the cleaners after half a day," he said. "Pleats are a pain in the ass." He said that just the night before, he'd pressed and starched 22 dress shirts and hung them on a steam pipe across his den.
"Everything I do I collect," Durante said. "I started with women; it got expensive. Now it's magazines, books, old 78 records, Cadillacs. I only got a Taurus and my Cadillac, but the Caddie I treat like a collectible -- magnesium wheels and the whole megillah." He also has more than 27,000 videos, mostly commercial films, though there is a substantial cache of adult titles. His actor friends -- Tony Danza, Joe Viterelli, Noth -- often phone, trying to hunt down a copy of some obscure movie. Durante rents a minimum of five movies each time he stops in the Royal Video Exchange on Flatbush Avenue, then sets about dubbing whatever he's brought home, feeding them into the 23 VHS machines stacked like pizza ovens in his living room.