1. In 1988, Chazz Palminteri, a Bronx-born bouncer and bit-part actor in L.A., decides, “If they’re not gonna give me a great part, I’ll write one myself.” He brings a five-minute monologue into a workshop (about witnessing a shooting when he was 9) and, ten months later, has a 90-minute show. Palminteri plays eighteen parts, including Calogero (Chazz’s real name), who’s caught between the ethics of his bus-driver father and a charismatic local hood. A Bronx Tale goes up in L.A., with help from Peter Gatien (Palminteri had worked the door at the Limelight).
2. Palminteri turns down studio offers of $250,000 and up for the film rights (he wants to write it, star in it, and keep Gatien on as a producer). But then Robert De Niro nails a deal as the show is about to transfer to New York: Palminteri will star as the film’s mobster; De Niro will play dad. Universal’s in for $1.5 million.
3. Universal drops out as the film runs $10 million over budget. De Niro’s Tribeca Productions picks up the pieces. Cast as the teen Calogero is Lillo Brancato, who was discovered at Jones Beach. The movie makes good box office and reviews (though some call De Niro’s directing debut “soft-core Scorsese”).
4. Palminteri gets a lead role in Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway plus a deal to make a movie of his new play Faithful (about a hit man named Tony who sees a therapist) and to write another in which he’ll co-star with Danny DeVito. But the DeVito project never happens, and he’s sued by his old stage director over money due from the adaptation. (They settle out of court.)
5. Palminteri becomes known for variations on his tough Italian persona (The Usual Suspects, etc.), culminating in a commercial in which he strong-arms a boy into drinking Vanilla Coke. Brancato is cast in the second season of The Sopranos.
6. In 2005, Brancato is arrested for a burglary in the Bronx in which an off-duty cop is killed. Friends talk of his drug addiction. “Here he is in the quintessential movie about not wasting your life,” Palminteri says today, “and that’s exactly what he does.”
7. This year, while shooting Yonkers Joe, Palminteri talks the producer, Trent Othick, into reviving A Bronx Tale on Broadway. (He has previously pursued Jimmy Webb and Billy Joel about turning it into a musical.) Palminteri favorite Jerry Zaks agrees to direct, and within five months, they’re set for a run. But it’s not a musical. “This is exactly like the play was,” says Palminteri. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”