Friday, September 28, 2012

"What I Know About Tony Danza"

A reader recently inquired about Tony Danza.  I would mention the reader’s name but their e-mail disappeared.  I did not delete it.  It simply went away someplace.  Perhaps to the same place my missing socks go, only the cyber-division.

“We don’t talk to socks.”

The following may be more about me than about Tony Danza.  But that’s typical for me.  If I talked about the moon landing, I would fill it up with where I watched it and the television with the coat hanger for an aerial that I watched it on.  And then, oh yeah, this guy did this thing on the moon. 

Maybe that’s simply the nature of blog writing.  Or at least blog writing when I do it.

First of all, in my entire career, I would never hang around with actors.  Actors are a totally different species from me, maybe not “e-mail – socks” different, but different.  Actors are emotional and insecure (even compared to writers.)  There’s a chance they could blow up all over you.  So I generally steered clear. 

I do not know a lot about Tony Danza.  But I do know this.  Tony Danza was the last actor hired for the original cast of Taxi  (Christopher Lloyd was added later.)  When I wrote – see how quickly I get in to me? – the second episode ever of Taxi, my script was called “One Punch Ryan”, because the boxer-cabdriver character at the time was intended to be Irish. 

When Tony, an actual professional boxer in real life, was cast in the role, Tony himself being of Italian descent, the character’s name was changed to “Banta.”  (I was not entirely happy about that.  This was before computers.  I had to “Search” and “Replace” manually.  So more about me.)

Why the name “Banta”?  On the show Rhoda (co-created by Jim Brooks, who also co-created Taxi), there was this wonderful writing team named Pat Nardo and Gloria Banta.  (I worked with Pat and Gloria on a Lily Tomlin special.  See how I connect in everywhere?) 

When the creators of Taxi folks were looking for last names for their characters, they decided to use these women’s last names – “Nardo” for the “Elaine” character, and “Banta” for the now Italian boxer. 

Did they ask permission first?  I have no idea.  But my hunch is, maybe not.  I mean, it’s an honor to have a sitcom character named after you, isn’t it?  Who would have a problem with that?  There was a guest character on Law & Order once named Pomerantz.  I glowed for a week.  And I eagerly look forward to the reruns.  (And so more, once again, about me.)

I will happily report this.  The nicest, most down to earth people on any series I ever worked on were the actors on Taxi, especially Danny DeVito and Tony Danza.  (A close second being the actors on Cheers.) 

Tony Danza was friendly, easy to talk to, respectful of the other contributors to the show (Read: the writers, which is not always the case), and startlingly generous.  When “One Punch Banta” finished filming, Tony came up and thanked me for my script.  I do not recall that ever happening again.  (Wait!  One other time.  With Malcolm-Jamal Warner on Cosby.  But he was twelve.)

I have already mentioned (in my post about Andy Kaufman) Tony’s Vesuvial impatience with having to call Andy Kaufman “Tony Clifton” during the entire week that “Tony Clifton” guested on the show.  When Judd Hirsch carried “Clifton” off of the soundstage, it not only got rehearsals back on track, it may well have saved Tony Danza from an assault charge.  (Maybe even “assault with a deadly weapon”; I am not sure how good a puncher Tony was; it may just be “assault with a annoying weapon.”)

The last time I saw Tony Danza, I didn’t actually see him.  Years after Taxi ended, while visiting family in Toronto, I was working out in the gym at the Four Seasons Hotel.  There were two rows of treadmills, and suddenly, from behind me, I hear somebody call, “Earl.”  I turn my head and look, but I do not recognize anyone.  Maybe it’s my imagination, I thought.  I often imagine people calling my name out in public places.  It makes me feel important.

I turn back and continue treadmilling.  And after a few seconds, there it is again, this time more insistent. 


I look around.  Still nobody looks familiar.  I turn back to my workout, and I hear a resounding,

“Hey, EARL!  It’s DANZA!”

I look around, and sure enough, there he is.  Beaming at me. 

It’s Tony Danza. 

With a substantially reconstructed face. 

You would never guess he had ever been a boxer.

Or was somebody I had once actually known.
The -e-mail suddenly reappeared.  It was from "Chuvalo"  A boxer's name, wouldn't you know.  Thanks for the question Chuvalo.  And ry to steer clear of Irv Ungerman.


Also, I messed up on Benny Kubelsky.  Sloppy writing.  Not my proudest moment.


Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; Mr. Danza sounds like a generous man, a mensch. Given that a show is collaborative effort between many talented (and differently talented) people it must be rare that the participants are not. That we hear of the prima donnas makes stories like yours the rare thing, when I'm sure the converse is the case.


Chuvalo said...

Thanks for answering my question. I'm still thinking that Tony would be a good guy to share a soda with, as you may have on at least one occasion! When I figure out how to do it, I'm going to check out his book (for Kindle) from the local library. Your reference to Irv sent me Googling...only to discover some wonderful videos from the CBC archives featuring George and Irv prior to the first Ali fight ('66, I believe). Irv had some degrading and rather ignorant cracks about Ali and the draft, but most folks that age felt the same in those days. Anyway, I happened to catch George on the Rick Mercer Report last year and other than seeing him fight (on TV) 40+ years ago, I'd not known much about him, other than he was (and still appears to be), one tough, tough man. Based on what I saw of him w/Rick, and what I've read, he's a terrific individual, one whose toughness goes far beyond the ring. Thanks again, have a great weekend.