Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Crocetti Eats Spaghetti

Singer Dean Martin (Dino Crocetti) with a
potful of spaghetti once thought an alien dish. 
Dean Martin was a popular singer, actor and television personality from the 1950s into the 1980s.  Born as Dino Paul Crocetti in Steubenville, OH, his parents came from Abruzzo, a province in the south of Italy.  Most Italian immigrants were from the southern part of the country, which was poorer than the north. American restrictionists often pointed this out when they criticized Italian immigration. They had to concede that Italy had a rich cultural heritage and had contributed so greatly to world art, music, and science, but they insisted that those Italians were entirely different from the immigrants who came in such numbers early in the 20th century. In 1916, Madison Grant even went so far as to say that such great Italians as Dante and Michelangelo were Nordics, a racial type he claimed originated in northern Europe (Grant also claimed that Jesus Christ was Nordic. On his mother’s side, of course).  

Italian immigrants were among the poorest who have ever come to this country. Dean is said to have started public school speaking only Italian and to have taken lumps from schoolmates for his poor English.  Always proud of his immigrant background, Martin belonged to the generation that overcame prejudice against Italian-Americans. Yet, like many performers from ethnic backgrounds who came to prominence in the post-WWII years, Martin believed he needed to “Americanize” his name in order to make it. This was true, too, of such megastars as Kirk Douglas (Issur Danielovitch) and Doris Day (Doris Kappelhoff ).

The photo captures Dean eating spaghetti, probably in the 1970s. It was only a few decades earlier that a movie star would have refused to be caught by the camera eating such an un-American food. It’s hard to believe today, but Americans once thought Italian food was horrible stuff, and Italian immigrants—mostly their children in schools—were discouraged from eating the home cuisine. By the time this picture was taken, spaghetti and meatballs had become an American dish. One can even find photos online of Kirk Douglas and Doris Day gorging on platefuls of spaghetti. The country has changed. An actress like Renee Zellweger has kept her name and when she laments that pasta is her "food vice" the rest of us can empathize.      

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