I have good memories of James Gandolfini. Besides the fact that I loved him as an actor, he made an impression on me. Though I never met the man, I worked with people who did. There was a period when I worked with John Turturro and Elaine Stritch on a production of Endgame by Samuel Beckett. Most of my job was making sure Elaine was where she needed to be when she needed to be there. I have dozens of stories about that, but they are for another time. John made a wonderful movie called Romance and Cigarettes where James Gandolfini and Elaine played son and mother respectively. I remember loving the musical numbers in the movie because all the songs were played by the original artists, like Sinatra, while the actors sang over them. Gandolfini’s voice was rough, real, and represented something that kept him as an everyday blue collar guy, despite the fact that he was crooning.
On opening day of Endgame I got a call saying that James Gandolfini was having gifts delivered to Elaine and John and that I needed to get over to the theater to meet the driver. Once I figured out when they were getting there I hustled over to make sure the gifts made it into their dressing rooms. When they arrived I was both amused and perplexed. They were not flowers, candy, or some keep sake for opening night. They were two 5 foot long, 6 inch wide sausages from an Italian meat market in Brooklyn. I left them in the dressing rooms and went to finish work until I had to be back to meet Elaine.
That night I went over to make sure she showed up for her call and had forgotten about the sausage. I was often up in her dressing room more than John’s because her’s was upstairs near the stage and his was downstairs. She also had the door removed from her’s, again, another story, so I was always walking by, and she could stop me to ask questions or make requests.
I heard as I walked by. I stepped insider her dressing room.
“Yes Elaine.” I said, waiting to see what kind of request she had. These usually ranged from talking about her car at the end of the night, to making sure her public or friends could see her after the show, to a crazy complaint that I could do nothing about.
“What the hell is this?”
She drawled, pointing at the sausage.
“Oh, I forgot, James Gandolfini sent it over.”
She waved her hand at the stick of meat.
“What the hell is he…was there a card?”
“Yeah” I said, “Next to your Insulin, I think it’s a large dried sausage.”
She picked up the card and opened it. She silently read it and then a slow silent cackle emerged from her. She laughed so hard she had to sit. Waving her hand at the gift she handed me the card.
“Read it.” She said.
I looked down at the scrawl on the card, it’s read:
“Dear Mom, Don’t fuck up. Love, Jim”
Take it downstairs and let the crew have it”. she said. “I can’t eat that stuff.”
“Sure thing.” I said as I took it away.
As I walked from her dressing room I heard her say, “What a guy” and laugh.
Yeah, what a guy. What an actor. What a loss.