He says that if his wife, Terry, a kindergarten teacher, had a lot belongings, they'd need to throw one of their two adult sons out of the house, but fortunately, she doesn't. "My wife was never much for things, for clothes," he told me. "Until she got the teaching job, she was living out of a soft bag."
Several character actors who form the core of Durante's social life have been involved in making their own movie, The Trial, to the tune of a $100,000 budget. One night at Marylou's, Vincent Curatola, one of the film's co-writers and -directors ("Big John" Hoyt is the other), wrote out a treatment for me: "Mortimer Black, a.k.a. Lucifer, prosecutes Frank Rossi, who leads a miserable life (a wiseguy). Lucifer's entire prosecution is shown to the jury in a series of flashbacks." When all appears bleak, "a street preacher, a.k.a. Jesus Christ, appears to Mr. Rossi at the end of the film, promising Mr. Rossi that before this day is over, you will be with me in paradise, thus superseding the jury's decision to have Mr. Rossi walk the earth for 100 yrs. as a nobody . . . no more silk suits, no more money . . . Lucifer is enraged . . . There will be other souls to win, but not this time."
The Trial is a mafia comedy in the same grain as The Sopranos and Analyze This, exploring morality, guilt, and neurosis in this era of the mob's senescence. Production has taken more than two years, with shooting done primarily on weekends and everybody getting paid scale.
Curatola, whose family has a contracting business in New Jersey, couldn't come from a more different place than the film's veteran star and the group's other leading presence, Tony Sirico. Curatola studied filmmaking at NYU night school; before a friend got him into modeling, Sirico did time in Sing Sing and Auburn -- once, it's been reported, for armed robbery. Curatola grew up rich -- on his boyhood paper route in Englewood were Soupy Sales, Rocky Aoki, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Tony Bennett, George Eastman, and the Wrigley family -- and he appeared on the scene at Elaine's only five years ago; Sirico still lives with his mother in Bensonhurst. Perpetually tan, with a bulbous nose and a handsome, hangdog face, Sirico has worked steadily as an actor since he and Danny Aiello played the Rosato brothers in The Godfather, Part II. He's had roles in the last five Woody Allen movies, charmingly playing gangsters or cops.
"I been shot on-screen 25 times," Sirico told me. "I can't exactly do Shakespeare. In Woody's movie Celebrity, I play a serial rapist who's represented by the William Morris agency. I like playing good guys and I like playing bad guys. In The Roaring Twenties, Jimmy Cagney plays Eddie Bartlett, a tough guy with a good heart. When he shoots, he shoots you in the chest; he don't shoot you in the back. And I watched him do that, and I fell in love with him.
"The Trial, I'm a nice guy in that. You put my character on a scale, he tips to the right, not the left."
Most of Durante's friends have roles in The Trial and are even investing tremendous hope in it. But Durante told me he was keeping it at arm's length. "What the fuck would I want a fucking part in a movie for?" he said one night.
He had just come to Marylou's, striding that bantamlike stride into the Jerzy Kosinski Room and finding Curatola, Big John, Frankie Gio, Dave Salerno (who is known as Coffeecake), and a few other movie-business candidates. Everybody stood up.
Curatola planted a double kiss on Durante. He is a sleek man with a flying-V of a face, and he wore an expensive-looking herringbone suit and a beige cashmere turtleneck. Durante asked if he'd gotten it from wardrobe.
The whole table was excited about some of the additions to The Trial's supporting cast. Michael Wright, a black actor who just a few years ago starred in Sugar Hill, was slated to play Mephistopheles (though the plans have since fallen through). Michael Rispoli, who's in Summer of Sam and The Sopranos, will also appear. Same for the journeyman Victor Argo and, they hope, Chris Noth.