JERSEY BOYS PREMIERES ON THE BIG SCREEN
INTERVIEW WITH FOUNDING MEMBER – TOMMY DEVITO
By Marla Santos
From the very beginning there was Tommy DeVito. His constant focus was on the group. He was the originator, the motivator, the drill sergeant, the older brother figure, the soul of The Four Seasons.
“Back in the day, I met this kid Frankie Valli, and I gave him a job in my band, and we became famous as The Four Seasons. With the success of ‘Jersey Boys’ on Broadway, I’m famous all over again. Mostly I’m famous in my old neighborhood in New Jersey. People there say: ‘Why do you come here? You’re a celebrity.’ I don’t feel that way. I was born in New Jersey. Where am I supposed to hang out…in Beverly Hills? I don’t know anyone in Beverly Hills.”
Jersey Boys, the Tony Award-Winning Musical, rated the #1 show in Vegas, has now gone from stage to screen. Directed by Hollywood legend, Clint Eastwood, the Jersey Boys movie has been released across the U.S.A. and in 50 countries worldwide. Naturally, a comparison is being made between the stage and movie version. The movie was exciting, but Eastwood focused more on the storyline, than the songs that made The Four Seasons so famous. Clint even put himself in the movie, making a Hitchcock-styled appearance. Keep your eyes open for a scene with a TV that’s playing an episode of the television western show, “Rawhide”, in which Eastwood originally starred.
Jersey Boys is the fascinating musical story about four young performers from New Jersey who rose to fame and became one of the biggest American pop music sensations of all time. Vincent Piazza is cast as Tommy DeVito, John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli, Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio, and Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi. Each tell their own story about the highs and the lows of becoming stars, the stress of dealing with being on the road touring, tough times with family problems, personal clashes, and the impact of success.
Jersey Boys has it all – the band, the mob, the groupies, a flamboyant producer, betrayals, adultery, and even heartbreak. The stage show accents Tommy DeVito being the cocky wise guy at times, but the movie makes it abundantly clear that, without the foresight and dogged persistence of DeVito, there never would have been The Four Seasons. Castmember Vincent Piazza, who portrays DeVito, was the only member of the group that hadn’t starred in one of the Jersey Boys live stage productions, and yet Piazza’s portrayal of DeVito is the strongest and most captivating in the film. For the first 90 minutes, it’s DeVito’s story and Piazza’s charismatic depiction of the singer, revealing that Tommy was the band’s most dynamic and interesting character.
On a recent visit with Tommy, the original Four Seasons member, we were anxious to hear what he had to say about the Jersey Boys movie and to wish him a happy 86th birthday. Walking into Tommy DeVito’s home in Las Vegas, that he shares with his wife Edda, you are greeted by lots of family photographs. There’s an atmosphere of love and a life that now revolves around kids and grandkids. It’s not until you get to the living room, where you see all the gold records, albums, and a Jersey Boys poster, that you see what brought Tommy to this place in his life. For all the fame he’s had, Tommy DeVito doesn’t brag or boast. He’s not that kind of person.
As he reminisced about the early days of The Four Seasons, he explained: “I’ve known Joe Pesci, of Goodfellas fame, since he was seven. He was the one who brought Bob Gaudio to us, because he was a songwriter and we needed one.”
About the story’s portrayal of him, Tommy said: “They should have come to me to get the real story from the horse’s mouth. It’s just not completely the truth. That part where they said I peed in the sink…that’s bullshit! I’m 5’6” and I’d have needed a chair. Then they had Nick Massi say that I wouldn’t change underwear for three days.” Cracking up, he continued: “I don’t wear underwear! You can ask my doctor.”
As far as the storyline of the show, he explained: “There were times that I was in rough spots, but the show would be boring without my story.” DeVito has admitted to having borrowed money to gamble and to fund the group for everything from clothes to motels, and to even paying Bob Crewe for their first recording session. But he also insisted: “I was never part of the mob.” According to the show and the movie, the claim was that the mob forced DeVito to go live in Las Vegas when he left the band. “Why would they send me to Vegas if they thought I had a gambling problem?” says DeVito. “I came to Vegas in 1970, under my own free will. I had just had it up-to-here with the traveling, taking two planes, and then driving 100 miles to do a date, and then getting on stage and doing the same stuff…I had just had it.”
Asked if the group drank and did drugs, he answered: “Drugs? I don’t understand that, because when I wake up in the morning, I want to remember what I did last night. What they did behind closed doors, I don’t know and didn’t care, as long as they were on time for rehearsals and the shows.”
What makes Tommy happy today? “The happiest moments I have right now are with Edda and my kids and grandkids. They’re all here in Las Vegas now. I’m married 44 years to Edda. She’s easy to be married to. A lot of wives will jump on you every 10 seconds and Edda never jumps on me for anything! Edda is a wonderful cook and used to make all homemade pasta and Italian dishes, but we eat out more now.” Tommy’s eyes lit up as he thought about pasta. “Ooooh pasta, any kind ...and with marinara sauce.”
I asked Edda what first attracted her to Tommy and she said: “He made me laugh.” Tommy chimed in about meeting her: “I thought I’d like to go with her for about 20 minutes!” Edda added, that to have a good marriage, you have to have a lot of patience and understanding. She smiled when explaining how Tommy is very caring and has helped so many people, and: “He’s easy to live with!”
Tommy and Edda go back to New Jersey every summer to see old friends and do some charity work. “I probably played for at least seven or eight different hospitals and raised money for them. I do it every year with Joe Pesci and we do a golf tournament for Saint Barnabus Medical Center in New Jersey and raise money for the burn units. We like doing it because it’s helping people.”
“I’m so lucky, and thank God that I’m still here to see all this. It’s really something at this age to have this. People really like the show because it’s a rags to riches story.”
Tommy is so right! The Jersey Boys story just strikes an emotion in people. I asked Tommy: “If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?” He answered without missing a beat: “You did a great job, Tommy! The only problem is, I might be all alone up there.”
Some writers reviewing the show have focused on the negative portrayal of Tommy that pervades the show’s storyline. The truth to those who really know DeVito is that even through the tough times, he’s always been a good person and a loyal friend with a big heart. The truth is, that without someone holding it together back in the day… the group never would have found success. DeVito was the glue.
NEVER A DULL MOMENT WITH JOE PESCI
Tommy DeVito, founder of The Four Seasons, is still close with friend, actor Joe Pesci, best known for playing some tough, volatile characters, (like his portrayal of Tony Spilotro in Martin Scorsese’s classic film, Casino). Pesci, himself, has admitted that he is probably like a lot of the characters he plays. Comedian George Carlin hilariously described the actor in one of his comic routines about religion.
Carlin: “I don’t pray to the sun. You know who I pray to? Joe Pesci. Two reasons: First of all, I think he’s a good actor, okay? To me, that counts. Second, he looks like a guy who can get things done – Joe Pesci doesn’t fuck around. In fact, Joe Pesci came through on a couple of things that God was having trouble with. For years, I asked God to do something about my noisy neighbor with the barking dog. Joe Pesci straightened that cocksucker out with one visit. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with a simple baseball bat.”
Tommy DeVito: “Here’s a funny DeVito-Pesci golf story. So one time Joe Pesci and I went to play golf at Wynn’s Cascada here in Vegas. We were to play with two guys, one of whom had won a contest on the radio in Cleveland, Ohio, to play golf with Joe Pesci. When the two guys came out of the clubhouse, one of them was holding the other by the arm. When they came up to the tee, the one guy said: ‘Hello Mr. Pesci, this is Bob, the fellow that won the contest.’ It was obvious the guy could see nothing. He was blind! He could see nothing! Pesci asked the second guy how Bob could hit the ball. He said: ‘I line Bob up and, once in a while, he hits it.’ I said to Pesci: ‘We’re going to be here ‘til Christmas.’ He got Bob lined up for the first swing, and he muffed it. Pesci says: ‘You almost had it…try a little lower.’ Bob gets lined up again and misses again. Pesci says: ‘Wow, you were close that time. You’ll get it now.’ Bob misses for the third time and Joe says: ‘Come on, Bob. Keep your fuckin’ head down.’ Bob and the rest of us got laughing so hard we could hardly stand. Bob finally hit the ball off the 1st tee and he said: ‘I think I went to the right.’ Pesci said: ‘What the fuck, are you blind?!’ Bob laughed all the way around the golf course. He said it was the best time of his life!”