Italian-American TV Show Hits Note 'The Sopranos' Doesn't

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), June 2, 2007 | Go to article overview

Italian-American TV Show Hits Note 'The Sopranos' Doesn't


Byline: Burt Constable

A lot of people are anticipating next week's much-hyped TV show featuring Italian-Americans doing what Italian-Americans do best.

Namely, settling in Chicago, establishing careers, raising families and spreading throughout the suburbs.

What? You were expecting some scoop about how fictional mob boss Tony Soprano will get whacked on "The Sopranos" finale?

While next Sunday's last episode of the HBO mob drama will grab more media coverage, Tuesday's full-length premiere of "And They Came to Chicago: The Italian American Legacy" (7:30 p.m. on WTTW- TV, Channel 11) offers an entertaining dose of reality.

"It's an antidote to the way the media, primarily the entertainment industry, portray Italian-Americans as mobsters and lowlifes," says Paul Basile, editor of Fra Noi, the Chicago area's monthly Italian-American newspaper.

Tony Soprano stomps heads and snuffs out the life of his own nephew in the make-believe world of cable TV, but real Italian- Americans such as Mother Cabrini, Enrico Fermi and John Cuneo worked to improve the lives of the community and beyond. It's history, not fiction.

"Listen, I do see the point of view of people who don't like these negative portrayals of Italian-Americans," says Gia Marie Amella, who wrote, directed and served as executive producer for the documentary. "But I wanted to tell a good story. I wanted to make a great film."

An award-winning film-maker who splits her time between Chicago and her home in Tuscany, Amella made a documentary that mentions Al Capone without glorifying his criminal life. It also shows Italian immigrants who were contemporaries and the opposite of Capone.

"There was a brilliant businessman named John Cuneo making legitimate millions," notes Bill Dal Cerro, a teacher at Fenton High School in Bensenville and national vice president of the Italic Institute of America, which helped bring the project to the screen. Cuneo's printing business was one of the early Italian- American success stories. The printer's estate in Vernon Hills now is the Cuneo Museum and Gardens.

Having spent a year and a half (and much of her own money) to produce the show, Amella says she's "telling a story most Italian- Americans don't know about. …

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