Susan Sarandon Who Do You Think You Are? USA


Susan Sarandon

Actress Susan Sarandon researches her family history, including that of her enigmatic grandmother, Anita Rigali, who disappeared when Susan's mother Leonora was a child.


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Susan Sarandon is one of America's most successful actresses,

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with a career spanning more than 40 years.

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She's appeared films as diverse as Thelma & Louise, and The Witches Of Eastwick.

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In 1996, she won an Oscar for her part in Dead Man Walking.

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She lives in New York City and has three children:

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Jack, Eva and Miles.

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Family's always been really important to me. I come from a big family and my immediate family

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is really important but I've always been really curious about ancestors.

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I've done a little digging around here and there.

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But the two mysteries I've never been able to solve

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are what happened to my grandmother Anita, and where her family's from.

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We had lots of rumour but that's it. She seems to have just disappeared when my mom was two.

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We've never been able to figure that out and...you know, keep coming up with dead ends so,

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if we could figure that out it'll be a miracle.

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Susan Sarandon was born in New York in 1946.

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It's here she's raised her family, including youngest son, Miles.

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What if you find out, like, your great-grandmother dominated the ping-pong parlours of New York?

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-That'd be really cool, actually.

-That'd be funny.

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Susan has always been fascinated by her enigmatic grandmother.

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Anita Rigali who she never knew.

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-Wasn't she like...?

-She was rumoured to be a bad girl.

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Bad in the way Shaft was bad or bad in the way that Satan is bad?

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More along the lines of, early teenage pregnancy, can't take care of your children bad.

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We have one photo of her where you can actually see her face and

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that's this laminated photo that was from a newspaper - I don't know why.

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And she looks quite beautiful.

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I heard somehow that she was, you know, a bad mother.

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Then there were rumours about her running numbers, about her in

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a jazz club, and there were rumours - you know, all these kind of things.

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I'd like to know some tales about what kind of people,

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what kind of stock I have in me and what I'm passing on to my kids.

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So I'm on my way to Virginia to interview my mother and find out what she knows about her mother.

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Pretty much everything that I had heard about Anita, my grandmother,

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you know, she was presented as somebody who had abandoned her children.

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So part of me is fearful for my mom.

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At one point when we were trying to find out more about Anita,

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she had very mixed feelings.

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Kind of a push-pull thing, where she wanted to know, but didn't want to be a part of it.

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So I'm not sure what her state is now in terms of how she feels about tracking her down.

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I think it's, understandably, an emotionally-charged...

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search for her.

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It's such a strange thing to think that you could have children and then just never see them

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for the rest of their lives,

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that you wouldn't want to find out how your kids were,

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so we thought, "Maybe she's dead."

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So, Mom, here we are.

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We're going to find out whatever we can about Anita.

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I'm hoping you have some information.

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Cos I don't have much of anything.

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- I hope I can help. - I hope so too.

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Are you excited about this little adventure we're on?

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I'm a little apprehensive.

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Yeah, well, I can see why.

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I have one picture of her.

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Mm-hmm.

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Do you know anything about that?

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I mean, she's... it was laminated for maybe a newspaper or something.

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No, in those years, the nightclubs had photographers walking around tables.

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Do you have any idea where it was taken?

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It was either the Copacabana or another one of that type right at Times Square.

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So she was a party gal?

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-Yes.

-Was she?

-Sure.

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I don't mean that as a euphemism for something else. I mean, what was she doing at the Copa?

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I think in those days they called them showgirls.

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-What do they call them now?

-well, dancers.

-Oh, dancers!

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-She was, like, a dancer?

-Yeah, but they called them...

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-But not a stripper or something?

-No.

-OK.

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Well, I'm glad that we're figuring out because I don't think any of us know, really.

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It must have been really difficult,

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to piece it all together later.

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I mean, when you're younger, you're kind of...

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Well, I always thought that you either had a father

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or a mother, but if you had two, that was just a...

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-Wellness.

-Yeah.

-Ah!

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-So I had a dad, and some people had mothers.

-Uh-huh.

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But I only found out that she was still living when I was nine years old.

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I had always thought she was dead.

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-Really?

-And then they told me...

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Hey, I may cry!

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I might cry too.

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No, they told me that she had died,

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then when I was about nine years old or ten,

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someone let it slip that she really wasn't dead.

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And...oh, good heavens,

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I may...

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We should get some tissues.

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It would be another six years before Susan's mother saw Anita again.

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In 1939, the year the World's Fair came to New York, Anita got in touch and they arranged to meet.

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So what is this, this picture?

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Lenora, right, Anita, left. At New York World Fair 1939.

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What is it?

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-That's me there.

-Completely distorted.

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What's happened to you?

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Oh, you're in the fun house.

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-In the...

-Distorted mirror.

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It was, like, a three-sided mirror.

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-And Dad took the picture.

-Oh!

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-Grandfather took the picture?

-Yeah.

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So he must've been on OK speaking terms if he took the picture?

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Well, he brought me to meet her.

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-Oh! Your father brought you to meet...

-We spent the whole day.

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-Oh, all of you were together.

-Yeah.

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That's you and your mom and grandfather...

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-Look at that, she's got your arm.

-She's got my arm.

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Yeah.

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Oh, dear.

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Don't like to go back, huh?

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I don't know.

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-So you just kind of lost contact?

-Right.

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It's so ironic that the one photo of my mother

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with her mother, just like their relationship,

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it's distorted in a mirror.

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And that was it.

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After that, she just disappeared.

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That was really a revelation.

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We found out so many things about Anita that I never heard before

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and made me really excited about tracking down more bits and pieces.

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And, I don't know, I'm starting to get a kind of picture.

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Pretty interesting picture.

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Uh, I don't think we're going to discover she had a knitting club

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or anything.

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I don't know what we're going to find out, but, um, I can't wait

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to get back to New York and start looking.

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According to Susan's mother, Anita was living in New York in 1939.

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Susan's returned to Manhattan to look for any documentation of Anita's life there.

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She's meeting genealogist and family historian Megan Smolenyak.

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There's lots of really interesting tales about my grandmother Anita, but I don't know the facts.

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What do we have here?

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Well, when you're trying to find somebody who went missing,

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it's kind of useful to step back in time and see what you can learn about their early days.

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-Fortunately, your grandmother did leave a good paper trail.

-Oh!

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During the early part of her life, yeah.

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Starting with her birth certificate.

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Uh-huh. Anita Rigali.

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-And she was born March 9, 1907.

-Yeah.

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And the fa... Oh, they don't put the dad?

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-That's the dad right there.

-Mansueto? And what does that mean?

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-Statue?

-That would be his occupation.

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It's statues. It's badly spelled.

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-Makes statues.

-That could be useful going forward.

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Her mother's name was Angelina. That's sweet.

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-Actually, maiden name Angelina Bonturi. Very pretty name.

-Yeah.

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The father came from Italy. Probably the mother came from Italy.

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But any indication where?

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-No. Unfortunately, all this tells us is that they were from Italy.

-Italy, Italy, Italy.

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The number of previous children - what?

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Nine?

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We're saying now that Anita was one of nine?

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-At least.

-Oh, my God.

-Yeah.

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But now how many now living?

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Three.

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Really?

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-Oh, my God.

-Yeah.

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So this is the 1920 census.

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Oh, there's Rigali.

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Rita and Anita and Joseph.

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So there were three kids living.

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So she was 12.

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And the dad. Mansueto.

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And what does that mean, "W"?

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-Is that widowed?

-Yeah, exactly.

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-Oh, so the mother's gone now?

-Yeah.

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Oh, my God.

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So Angelina was already dead by the time Anita was 12.

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Yeah. See, that's another element of hardship in Anita's life.

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She would have lost her mom probably when she was ten-ish, somewhere around there.

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Oh, poor Anita.

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So after her mother Angelina's death, all that Anita had left

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was her father Mansueto, who worked full-time,

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and an older sister and a younger brother.

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This is my grandmother's marriage record.

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-Right, so...

-Oh, my God.

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Does it say that my grandfather was 21 and she was 15

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when she got married?

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Well, maybe.

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Well, take a look here. This is the date of the marriage...

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February 1st, 1921.

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And we saw her birth date.

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So, in fact, although she's claiming to be 15...

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How old is she?

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-13.

-Oh, my God.

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Yeah.

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Ooh, that scoundrel.

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So she was 13 when she got married.

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Right.

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-So she was already pregnant because my uncle Bob was born just three months after they were married.

-Yeah.

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My grandfather was six years older.

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-Mm-hm.

-He must have had a little bit more of a clue of what was going on.

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-Yeah.

-She was just a baby When she had a baby. Even in those days.

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I felt really bad for Anita.

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Her mom had died when she was so young,

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and so she was really on her own when she got pregnant.

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She didn't have a childhood.

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I'm meeting with Mary Brown, an expert in Italian immigration in New York city.

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I'm hoping she can tell me more about Anita's childhood

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here on the Lower East Side and Anita's parents,

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Angelina and Mansueto.

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This would be your great-grandparents' marriage certificate.

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They were married here, um,

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the 10th of October, 1891.

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Does it have where they lived down there?

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Yes, the address where they first lived would be 35 Madison Street.

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The building where they lived probably didn't come with running water so it would be very hard

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for your great-grandmother to keep anything clean.

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There was no refrigeration, no way to give them a cold drink.

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It was a very crowded neighbourhood.

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It was very hard to get any kind of peace and quiet and any kind of elbow room.

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And it was very hard to isolate someone who was sick.

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So that place was a death trap.

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In the 1900s, Anita's family lived in a tenement-style neighbourhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

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In this working class, immigrant neighbourhood,

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extreme poverty was rampant.

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Living space was cramped and unsanitary

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with dark and airless rooms and no running water.

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Disease spread quickly from family to family.

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Probably the reason so many of Anita's siblings,

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as well as her mother Angelina, died.

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To see this tough, tough life that so many immigrants

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at that time had, it gives you a real sense of perspective.

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I'm sure we could trace them back even further.

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Susan's son Miles has joined her at the New York Public Library to find out more about the Rigalis' roots.

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We're going to try to find out where her parents were from,

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where Anita's parents were from in Italy.

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So if you put in 'Italian surnames map'.

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OK. This it?

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That means surnames, so try Rigali.

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-How you spell that?

-R-I-G-A-L-I.

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Oh, my. They're from Tuscany.

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That's interesting.

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So try Bonturi.

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-So that looks similar.

-So, Tuscany and...

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They're both in the same region...

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in the west of Florence.

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OK, if the surnames were in Tuscany,

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I guess that's where we should go to see...

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any relatives before they came here.

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We didn't have any idea where our great-grandparents came from,

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the Rigalis and Bonturis, so...

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Now it looks like there's a big possibility they're from Tuscany.

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Susan is travelling to Florence, the capital of Tuscany

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to find out more about her great-grandfather's life here.

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And to see how far back she can trace her Italian roots.

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I'm always happy to be in Italy.

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From the first time I came to Italy, I felt inexplicably at home. Now I know why!

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My gene pool is crying out.

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Toscana? Si.

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It'd be great to find out that Mansueto and Angelina had a nice life

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before everything started caving in and all these children

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and hardships and disease and everything happened to them.

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I'm meeting researcher Cinzia Rossello at the Riccardini Library

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to look for proof that Mansueto came from Tuscany.

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So I'm excited to be here to see if there's any records of my great-grandfather.

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Yes. We did some research and I've

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-done some translation for you...

-Thank you.

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..that proves that your family comes from Tuscany.

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Oh, Mansueto Rigali, yes!

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My great-grandfather was born at 2:00 in the afternoon

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on the 12th of July in 1855.

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And the next thing I found is a record of a sort of conscription document.

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Oh.

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See if you can read something here.

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Here's Rigali, Mansueto.

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The beauty of it is that gives us a bit more information about place

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where he was residing.. where he lived.

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Coreglia. Is that a street?

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Coreglia?

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A small town.

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-A, ah, ah.

-And in this column here, it says that he was a colono.

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Means that he owned some land.

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-Oh, really?

-Yes.

-And he's only 20.

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-Exactly.

-Wow!

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-Well...

-Not bad.

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That's interesting.

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-When he got to the United States, he didn't have so much luck.

-No?

-No.

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But anyway, so he was only 20 here. Things are still looking up.

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He's got a little bit of land.

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Exactly.

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And so we should go to Corelia.

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-Coreglia.

-Coreglia.

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Precisely, and you'll find more traces of your ancestors there.

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Cinzi and I are heading into the Tuscan mountains 50 miles northwest

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of Florence to the village of Coreglia, where Mansueto was born.

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This is the church where not only your great-grandfather was

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baptized, but we found records of many more of your ancestors baptized

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-in this church.

-Oh, great.

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Starting from this registry.

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-Oh, Mansueto.

-Mm-hm.

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And this says also the name of his father Egidio

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and his grandfather Michele.

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Oh. Yay.

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-So that's the great-great...

-Exactly.

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There's an echo in here. Great-great! LAUGHS

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So going back, back, back.

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-Look at this book. Oh, my gosh.

-This is in Latin.

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-Wow.

-We think...

-I'm going to start writing like this, it's so beautiful.

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-1758.

-This is Giofrediano, son of Giovanni.

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-Son of Michele.

-Wow. So they repeated Michele.

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Very good. So going back, back, back. Now the mystery... a real mystery.

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Rigali.

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-Francesco, son of Michele, son of Giovanni Rigali,

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So you can go even further.

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Whoa. Oh, my.

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Wow. Back to Michele in 1640.

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Exactly. It means that you have very deep roots here in Italy.

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Yeah. It's unbelievable.

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The church records traced Susan's Italian ancestors back

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an incredible ten generations, to Michele Rigali,

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who was born around 1640.

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-I think you have very classic Tuscan features.

-Really? Yes.

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The colours...

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-That's great.

-Renaissance.

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Renaissance!

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I am officially from Tuscany. Definitely.

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So that was startling to be able to prove it that far back.

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It's gone from being something kind of abstract to being very concrete.

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Susan's great-grandfather Mansueto was a statue maker.

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So before she leaves Coreglia,

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she wants to visit the local museum of figurines and emigration.

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She's meeting local guide Gabriele Calabrese.

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-Hello.

-Hello.

-So nice to meet you.

-Welcome to Coreglia.

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So, is that my great-grandfather there?

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Of course, yes. Here is Mansueto. This is a unique place.

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It's a unique village. It's the place in which the figurine makers and plasters where invented.

0:19:360:19:44

It's not a big town, it's not Milan or Rome or Florence.

0:19:440:19:48

It's a village in which this idea was invented.

0:19:480:19:52

-So if you were interested in learning that trade, you would come to this town to learn it?

-Yes.

0:19:520:19:58

This place is so unique and this little village is dedicated,

0:19:580:20:03

even a whole museum, to the whole phenomenon of the figurine makers.

0:20:030:20:08

-We can go together to see it.

-Good. OK.

-Please...

0:20:080:20:12

You can see immediately...

0:20:140:20:16

Look how many statues around us...

0:20:160:20:18

The typical 19th century style. I would like to show you pictures.

0:20:180:20:25

They were very proud about their work, their job.

0:20:250:20:29

In this one there is an interesting detail - the face of an Indian.

0:20:290:20:36

This means this man was probably in the United States.

0:20:360:20:38

And so, they were very flexible

0:20:380:20:41

to change the style of their figurines to enter certain markets.

0:20:410:20:47

-So do you have any idea when my great-grandfather left here?

-Yes.

0:20:470:20:51

-With his statues?

-We know exactly.

-Oh!

0:20:510:20:55

In 1888, he was one of the first wave of figurine makers that...

0:20:550:21:01

They moved from this village to go to United States.

0:21:010:21:07

And we have the passengers list.

0:21:070:21:11

-Here it is. Mansueto Rigali.

-Exactly.

0:21:110:21:16

-Mansueto Rigali.

-He was 32.

0:21:160:21:19

98 figurine makers decided to move to United States all in that year.

0:21:190:21:25

-Wow!

-That is really incredible.

0:21:250:21:26

That's huge from a tiny village.

0:21:260:21:28

Oh, exactly. That's really huge.

0:21:280:21:31

And they knew what to do with their hands. Like artists. Simple artists. But...

0:21:310:21:35

So they could be more confident because they came with a trade.

0:21:350:21:38

Exactly.

0:21:380:21:40

For more than 500 years, the village flourished as the figurines sold all over Europe.

0:21:420:21:46

But by Mansueto's time, life had become tough for the sculptors of Coreglia,

0:21:460:21:51

and news was coming from America that untold riches could be made there.

0:21:510:21:57

Mansueto was one of 50,000 Italians

0:21:570:22:01

to cross the Atlantic in 1888.

0:22:010:22:03

Between 1880 and 1890, almost five million Europeans

0:22:030:22:07

arrived in search of a new life in America.

0:22:070:22:11

Susan, I would like to give you a present - the symbol of Coreglia.

0:22:110:22:18

The famous...

0:22:180:22:20

-little cat in plaster, as you can see.

-Adorable, thank you.

0:22:200:22:25

-You are so welcome.

-I'd like to thank my mother, I'd like to thank...

0:22:250:22:28

my great-grandfather for this award.

0:22:280:22:31

Fabulous.

0:22:310:22:33

-Cute. Thank you.

-You're welcome.

0:22:330:22:36

It's been wonderful to see that Mansueto, my great-grandfather,

0:22:360:22:41

had such a lovely life in this beautiful little town with turned out to be a major town for statue making.

0:22:410:22:49

I'm happy to find this little piece of beauty and art and family here.

0:22:490:22:57

I know that the Rigali name came from this area, so I'm hoping if I go to

0:23:020:23:06

a phonebook, maybe I can find out if there are any other Rigalis listed.

0:23:060:23:11

In which case, maybe I'll find a living relative which so far has eluded me. So, that's the next step.

0:23:110:23:18

Susan manages to track down the last remaining Rigali living in the area.

0:23:310:23:35

Gilberto Rigali shares the same great-great-great-grandfather, Michele Rigali.

0:23:370:23:43

-Ciao.

-Ciao, hello!

-Hello, are you Gilberto?

-Yes.

0:23:460:23:50

-Hi.

-Nice to meet you.

-Nice to meet you. Hi!

0:23:500:23:53

-How are you. This is Donny.

-Hi, Donny.

0:23:530:23:56

Um...yeah, I think we're related.

0:23:560:23:59

-Yes... It's amazing!

-THEY LAUGH

0:23:590:24:02

-It's nice.

-So your last name is Rigali?

-Yes.

0:24:020:24:06

I'm the only Rigali in this place.

0:24:060:24:09

-My father - Mariano Rigali.

-Si.

-And my grandfather Giovanni Rigali.

0:24:090:24:15

-Very surprised. Very.

-Me too.

-Me too?

-Yeah.

0:24:210:24:25

Mama mia.

0:24:250:24:27

-The film Dead Man Walking with Sean Penn.

-Oh, yes.

-Thelma & Louise - beautiful film. L'Olio Di Lorenzo.

0:24:330:24:40

-Ah!

-Much beautiful films. Vecchio. Old... Old film.

-Si.

0:24:400:24:45

Ma, you, uguale....

0:24:450:24:49

-Si, yes.

-Grazie.

0:24:490:24:51

That was lovely.

0:25:010:25:02

I found a distant cousin, Gilberto Rigali, just by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin

0:25:020:25:10

because he's the only one left.

0:25:100:25:13

Because they're all travellers, all over the place.

0:25:130:25:16

For me, I've always felt very connected to Italy and I love it.

0:25:160:25:21

It just confirms that that makes sense.

0:25:210:25:23

I like coming from a family of people that were artists.

0:25:270:25:30

They left with such hopes and, you know, they found such hardship,

0:25:340:25:38

when they got to this land of opportunity.

0:25:380:25:42

I mean, it's great that they managed to find

0:25:420:25:44

a way to survive, but it cost them so much.

0:25:440:25:47

Mansueto lived until he was 72 years old.

0:25:470:25:52

His whole life in New York was overshadowed by tragedy.

0:25:520:25:55

I want to pay my respects at the family plot

0:25:590:26:03

where he's buried with his wife and young children.

0:26:030:26:08

OK, I guess this is where it would be.

0:26:210:26:23

There's one, two, three, four, five,

0:26:290:26:33

six, seven, eight, nine people,

0:26:330:26:36

and they're all somewhere here -

0:26:360:26:38

my family, but there's no marker.

0:26:380:26:41

That's really sad.

0:26:410:26:42

Anita's not here, so we still don't know what happened to Anita.

0:26:420:26:46

But this is a, you know, a family that suffered a lot...

0:26:460:26:50

All these kids that died, and nobody even has a marker.

0:26:500:26:54

I mean, it's almost like a...

0:26:540:26:57

Potter's field kind of thing,

0:26:580:26:59

where they don't even have markers. It's so sad.

0:26:590:27:02

I should get them a marker.

0:27:020:27:06

Poor Anita.

0:27:080:27:10

You know, kind of like my mom, was used to having people leave her.

0:27:100:27:14

Don't know what happened to her, But I hope we find out.

0:27:140:27:17

If the rumours are true and she was attracted to show business,

0:27:220:27:26

maybe I did inherit something from her.

0:27:260:27:29

So I'm going to meet Burton Peretti, an expert on New York nightclubs.

0:27:290:27:32

The only picture that isn't distorted

0:27:320:27:34

is this one of my grandma that was taken apparently at the Copa,

0:27:340:27:38

And I've heard that she was a dancer there. The Copacabana.

0:27:380:27:41

I don't know if that's true. Can you help me?

0:27:410:27:44

Well, given her age, birth date,

0:27:440:27:47

she was probably active in nightclubs in the 1920s,

0:27:470:27:50

possibly in speakeasies.

0:27:500:27:51

It's the highpoint of the nightclub craze in Manhattan.

0:27:510:27:57

There were dozens of high-priced dazzling places

0:27:570:28:01

charging lots of money, making lots of money,

0:28:010:28:03

and, of course, selling illegal liquor.

0:28:030:28:06

And it really becomes a magnet for young women who want to do well.

0:28:060:28:09

The dancing, the singing, took place right in between the tables.

0:28:090:28:13

It was like the early lap dancing?

0:28:130:28:15

Absolutely. They would sit in people's laps.

0:28:150:28:19

-They would pop cherries into male customers' mouths...

-Hmm...

0:28:190:28:22

Join them in dancing, put funny hats on them.

0:28:220:28:26

It was very participatory.

0:28:260:28:27

-This photo, we think, was taken at the Copacabana.

-Mm-hm.

0:28:270:28:32

So what happened there?

0:28:320:28:33

Well, that was one of the most popular nightclubs in Manhattan.

0:28:330:28:38

Entertainers like Frank Sinatra

0:28:380:28:40

were mainstays of the Copacabana beginning of the 1940s.

0:28:400:28:43

My mom's obsessed with Frank Sinatra. It'd be so great if her mother dated Frank Sinatra.

0:28:430:28:47

We have very little documentation of your grandmother in the nightclubs.

0:28:470:28:52

However, we were able to find one document

0:28:520:28:55

-relating to her in this time period.

-Oh, wow!

0:28:550:28:58

So what time period are we talking?

0:28:580:29:01

This is from October 1932.

0:29:010:29:03

-And it is a marriage licence.

-SHE GASPS

0:29:030:29:05

So...oh, yes!

0:29:050:29:08

Anita Rigali, she was 25, and she got married to Ben Kahn.

0:29:080:29:12

And he was a salesman.

0:29:120:29:15

She was a homemaker apparently.

0:29:160:29:18

Of course.

0:29:180:29:19

Which would be a change for her.

0:29:190:29:21

Wow! Well, that's interesting.

0:29:210:29:23

One of the reasons that we couldn't find her

0:29:230:29:25

was because we didn't know if she'd gotten remarried or if she had a social security number.

0:29:250:29:30

The number of previous marriages - none?!

0:29:300:29:34

Hmm.

0:29:340:29:38

Well, that's interesting.

0:29:380:29:40

Oh, God, nothing seems to add up with this woman.

0:29:400:29:43

The interesting issue is, of course, was she still married to your grandfather?

0:29:430:29:48

-When she got married.

-Yes.

0:29:480:29:50

-Oh!

-We were not able to find a record of a divorce.

0:29:500:29:54

So it's really an open question.

0:29:540:29:57

I would just point out that bigamy was against the law,

0:29:570:30:01

and it could be punishable by some years in prison.

0:30:010:30:04

-What year is this?

-'32.

0:30:040:30:07

Oh. So she WAS still married.

0:30:070:30:10

Because supposedly my grandfather didn't divorce her until after...

0:30:100:30:14

until after this meeting at the World's Fair, which was '39.

0:30:140:30:19

-Oh.

-So...

0:30:190:30:22

Who knows?

0:30:220:30:23

-Probably she, in her mind, she was divorced.

-Right.

0:30:230:30:28

Well, in many ways, your grandmother was ahead of the curve.

0:30:280:30:31

I believe it indicates here that he's Jewish.

0:30:310:30:33

And she was Roman Catholic.

0:30:330:30:35

Even in the show business world, the mixed marriage was a bit risky to do.

0:30:350:30:40

That was a mixed marriage definitely in those days.

0:30:400:30:42

-Yeah. Mixed marriage.

-Yeah.

0:30:420:30:44

And I think, as we look at her life overall, she was taking risks,

0:30:440:30:48

-Seemed to be very capable and to...

-Rather unorthodox?

-Yeah.

0:30:480:30:53

I like that.

0:30:530:30:56

Well, that was interesting. So she married, not divorced,

0:30:560:31:01

but married again, and to Ben Kahn.

0:31:010:31:04

So now we could find out what happened to her as Anita Kahn.

0:31:040:31:09

Susan's son Miles has joined her at the New York Library's Milstein division of history and genealogy.

0:31:120:31:18

-City directories?

-This way...

0:31:220:31:24

She hopes the city directories will tell her where Anita went to live with her new husband, Ben Kahn.

0:31:240:31:30

OK, so we're looking for

0:31:330:31:34

-Mr and Mrs Benjamin Kahn or Ben Kahn.

-So, K.

0:31:340:31:40

K-A-H-N. They got married in '32.

0:31:400:31:45

Thank God you have good eyesight. Look at this print. It's crazy.

0:31:450:31:48

-Here we go. Benjamin.

-J...K...A...

0:31:480:31:52

Kahn, here we go. So, Benjamin, A...

0:31:520:31:55

Benjamin, Benjamin. Oh, salesman.

0:31:550:31:59

-He said he's on 74th.

-74th.

0:31:590:32:01

-All right.

-All right, wait a minute.

0:32:010:32:04

So that's a salesman, but there's no Anita. So let's look up Anita Kahn.

0:32:040:32:09

Anita. In this directory?

0:32:090:32:11

Anita, Mrs Anita. This is Anita.

0:32:110:32:14

-You think that's it?

-Mrs Anita Kahn.

0:32:140:32:16

That would have to be her.

0:32:160:32:17

All right, so that's West 78th. Was this guy on West 78th?

0:32:170:32:21

I'm going blind, this is the smallest print...

0:32:210:32:24

So if that's them, that would mean that a year after they got married,

0:32:260:32:30

-they were already separated and she's on 78th street but being called Mrs and he's...

-Yeah.

0:32:300:32:36

Also on the Upper West Side but not together.

0:32:360:32:40

OK, so, now that we're blinded by the small print and these directories run out, the next thing is,

0:32:400:32:47

I need you to help me look on the...

0:32:470:32:50

-On the internets?

-Yes.

-The system of tubes?

0:32:500:32:53

The one solid piece of information that I have about Anita

0:32:530:32:56

is her birth date, March 9, 1907.

0:32:560:32:59

That might be enough for us to track down

0:32:590:33:01

a death record for Anita.

0:33:010:33:04

Anita Kahn, K-A-H-N.

0:33:040:33:07

-And...

-Birth year?

0:33:100:33:13

1907.

0:33:130:33:14

1907 is the 18th of July, so that doesn't match up.

0:33:170:33:21

So she's ALIVE! A hundred and something years old!

0:33:210:33:27

-Oh, sorry, it's a library!

-Yeah, come on, shush!

0:33:270:33:31

So what else... Um, we can look under Rigali.

0:33:310:33:35

Maybe she went back to her...

0:33:350:33:37

If we just do it without a last name, I think it'll be fine.

0:33:370:33:40

-We'll find something else.

-OK.

0:33:400:33:42

Well, we're looking for March 9, 1907.

0:33:420:33:45

-Do you have that?

-March 9, 1907.

0:33:450:33:49

-Waah! You'll make me throw up, stop going so fast.

-I'm going back up.

0:33:510:33:56

-It's OK.

-Anita Fiorentino.

-Uh-huh.

0:33:560:34:00

-But there's more.

-When did she die?

0:34:000:34:05

-1984.

-Oh, my gosh.

0:34:050:34:09

-It says Garnerville, Rockland, New York.

-Does it say anything else about...?

-About her? No.

0:34:090:34:14

-Do you know where Rockland is?

-Rockland county is, you know, about an hour or so out of New York.

0:34:140:34:20

OK, you have to do your homework now! HE LAUGHS

0:34:230:34:26

I'm really excited because we're going to Rockland County and that way

0:34:260:34:31

maybe I'll be able to tell if Anita Fiorentino is our Anita.

0:34:310:34:35

If my grandmother was only an hour away from me for most of my life, I'll be shocked.

0:34:390:34:44

Susan's come to the New City Library at Rockland.

0:34:440:34:48

She needs to confirm that Anita Fiorentino is definitely her grandmother.

0:34:480:34:53

So she's looking through the obituary records.

0:34:530:34:56

Stop, stop, stop!

0:34:560:34:57

No, no, stop!

0:34:570:34:59

Oh...

0:34:590:35:01

Oops.

0:35:050:35:06

"Anita Fiorentino died Monday at her home

0:35:100:35:13

"at 9 Captain Shankey Drive in Garnerville.

0:35:130:35:17

"She was 71. She had lived in Garnerville for the past 35 years.

0:35:170:35:25

"She was a daughter of..."

0:35:250:35:28

Yes! "Mansueto and Angelina Rigali, who are both deceased." Yes! That's her.

0:35:280:35:33

"Mrs Fiorentino is survived by her husband, "Dominic, of the home address."

0:35:330:35:38

"Services and internment are to be private and at the family's convenience."

0:35:380:35:42

So I guess she didn't have any other children.

0:35:420:35:45

Well, she stayed with him for 35 years.

0:35:450:35:47

That's pretty good, pretty stable.

0:35:470:35:50

She was "born in Manhattan on March 9, 1913."

0:35:500:35:53

But she was actually born 1907.

0:35:530:35:58

So she's taken... She's discounting her early years

0:35:580:36:04

where all her secrets are, Anita.

0:36:040:36:06

Wow.

0:36:060:36:08

I'm in my grandmother's old neighbourhood.

0:36:120:36:15

This is the house where she lived.

0:36:150:36:18

No-one in.

0:36:250:36:26

I'll canvass the neighbourhood and see if there's a neighbour who might remember Anita.

0:36:270:36:31

This neighbour wasn't comfortable talking on camera,

0:36:310:36:34

but she did know Anita very well

0:36:340:36:36

and shared lots of information.

0:36:360:36:39

She said they were very shocked when she passed away

0:36:390:36:41

because they didn't think she was sick at all.

0:36:410:36:44

So she must have been pretty spry. She had a garden out the back.

0:36:440:36:47

She had a dog named Spunky.

0:36:470:36:49

She had talked about being a dancer. Had done something else in clubs, but she's not quite sure what.

0:36:490:36:55

And she mentioned Frank Sinatra a lot.

0:36:550:36:57

She said that Frank came up very often in conversations.

0:36:570:37:00

That Anita had said that she got him his start.

0:37:000:37:03

She said that repeatedly.

0:37:030:37:05

I love that it was Frank Sinatra because my mom was obsessed with Frank Sinatra,

0:37:050:37:09

and I met Frank Sinatra when I was doing Atlantic City.

0:37:090:37:12

Burt Lancaster introduced him to me,

0:37:120:37:14

and he was a little flirtatious.

0:37:140:37:16

So maybe I had some Anita vibe that he responded to.

0:37:160:37:19

I don't know.

0:37:190:37:21

Thanks for that information.

0:37:210:37:23

I'm really excited because Anita's husband Dom

0:37:230:37:25

has some nieces that live somewhere in the neighbourhood,

0:37:250:37:28

and I think they know quite a bit.

0:37:280:37:31

We still have nothing except that distorted, freaky picture at the World's Fair.

0:37:310:37:36

We don't really know what she looked like,

0:37:360:37:38

one distorted photo and one laminated, wrinkled photo,

0:37:380:37:42

and that's it, so I'm really hoping

0:37:420:37:44

that they have some photos for us.

0:37:440:37:46

Anita's been such a mystery.

0:37:460:37:49

If anyone can shed some light as to who she was,

0:37:490:37:51

I'm hoping it's her nieces.

0:37:510:37:55

We're about to meet for the first time.

0:37:550:37:58

This should be surprising for all of us.

0:37:580:38:03

Hi.

0:38:050:38:06

-BOTH: Hi!

-Hi, I understand...

0:38:060:38:08

Oh, my God.

0:38:080:38:11

Hi. Thanks for talking to me.

0:38:110:38:13

Oh, it's our pleasure.

0:38:130:38:16

-If you can tell me anything.

-We can.

0:38:160:38:18

Oh, yes! SHE SQUEALS

0:38:180:38:20

You had no idea that she had had any children?

0:38:250:38:28

None.

0:38:280:38:29

But she...they had no kids together?

0:38:290:38:31

They had no kids together. No.

0:38:310:38:32

My grandfather moved in next-door, and he was 19.

0:38:320:38:36

And she got pregnant at 12.

0:38:360:38:38

Oh, my God.

0:38:380:38:40

And then the second time, like, a year later.

0:38:400:38:42

And she got married at, you know, six months pregnant.

0:38:420:38:45

And then we lost track of her. I don't even know what happened to her.

0:38:450:38:49

Our uncle Dom, we had heard, met her in the city.

0:38:490:38:52

He was in the coast guard

0:38:520:38:55

and, I guess, off on leave and met her probably,

0:38:550:38:58

we heard, at one of the clubs in the city.

0:38:580:39:01

So they stayed together for a long time.

0:39:010:39:03

They must have been pretty happy.

0:39:030:39:04

Oh, yeah. It was a good marriage.

0:39:040:39:07

Did she talk to you about Frank Sinatra?

0:39:070:39:09

I remember vague conversations with her when I was really little

0:39:090:39:14

of her telling me about something and going, "I used to..."

0:39:140:39:18

And that's all I remember.

0:39:180:39:21

Her hands were always going.

0:39:210:39:23

-So she was very vibrant and Italian and very...

-Very!

0:39:230:39:27

She was a bigger personality out of the two. Uncle Dom was quiet.

0:39:270:39:32

In fact, she knocked my tooth out when I was a little girl.

0:39:320:39:34

I was sitting next to her and she was talking...

0:39:340:39:38

And my teeth were loose and she...did one of her things and

0:39:380:39:41

the tooth was hanging and someone had to pull it out.

0:39:410:39:45

-She must've loved having you guys around.

-Yeah.

0:39:450:39:49

I can see the smile on her face.

0:39:490:39:53

-Do you have pictures?

-Yeah.

0:39:530:39:56

Oh! We've been so hoping we would see pictures.

0:39:560:39:58

Well, here you go. This is me, actually. She's holding me in that picture.

0:39:580:40:02

Oh, wow.

0:40:020:40:03

Ah! Anita.

0:40:060:40:09

This is uncle Donny.

0:40:100:40:12

Oh. Whoa, handsome.

0:40:120:40:14

He was very, very handsome.

0:40:140:40:16

Um, he looked a lot like Tony Curtis. Really.

0:40:160:40:18

And... Oh, wow.

0:40:190:40:22

This is a sketch of her.

0:40:220:40:24

GASPS: Now, see, that looks like my family.

0:40:240:40:28

Oh, my God. That's totally...

0:40:280:40:29

That could be you.

0:40:290:40:31

-That's so weird.

-It could. That's what I mean.

0:40:310:40:34

-Oh! Oh, my God.

-Pretty scary.

0:40:340:40:36

I think I played that part in...

0:40:360:40:39

Front page, I think. Look, look...

0:40:390:40:42

-That is so strange.

-It is.

0:40:470:40:49

Oh, my gosh. I guess she was early twenties...before she got married.

0:40:490:40:55

She could've been younger or...

0:40:550:40:59

-I think she probably looked always younger than she was.

-Mm-hm.

0:40:590:41:02

-By the way she...

-She certainly did when she got older.

0:41:020:41:06

-Except when she was 12! She obviously looked older!

-Yeah.

0:41:060:41:11

-I don't remember her ever looking old.

-Yeah?

0:41:110:41:13

Thank you, guys, so much.

0:41:130:41:16

-It's been a pleasure.

-How weird, huh? To find out all this stuff...

0:41:160:41:20

It's strange. It makes me sad that we got to know her and you didn't.

0:41:200:41:26

-Sounds like she had a very nice last 35 years.

-She did, I think.

0:41:260:41:31

On one hand, I wish I had been able to tell Anita

0:41:310:41:36

that, you know, my mom's OK,

0:41:360:41:38

and that she has, you know, a million grandchildren.

0:41:380:41:42

Although maybe it was better for her that we didn't find her,

0:41:420:41:45

maybe that would've been just way too much upset for her.

0:41:450:41:47

But somehow I kind of wish that

0:41:470:41:49

she'd known that she was watching her granddaughter, if she ever went to a film.

0:41:490:41:54

I love the fact that Anita who had this tough life and who everyone's been vilifying forever and a day,

0:41:580:42:04

ended up with this handsome guy and this nice little house with her Spunky dog,

0:42:040:42:10

and her garden and she seems to have been fun-loving

0:42:100:42:14

and everybody liked her and she had a much more...

0:42:140:42:18

kind of, safe existence than the way she started.

0:42:180:42:22

With all of this having to grow up so quickly, the poverty and sickness and loss.

0:42:220:42:28

Just being abandoned, abandoned. 35 years is pretty good with one person.

0:42:280:42:34

And we don't even know if they were married, which I rest my case!

0:42:340:42:39

But I think that's fabulous that she found this guy and it sounds like got a club,

0:42:390:42:44

and they depict her as somebody that was gesturing a lot and full of life and he was the quiet one.

0:42:440:42:52

Maybe she finally figured it out. And I'm really happy for her.

0:42:520:42:56

Susan Sarandon was always intrigued by her enigmatic grandmother, Anita Rigali, who disappeared when Susan's mother Leonora was a child. Anita didn't reappear again until Leonora was a teenager and, aside from a couple of meetings, Leonora never heard from Anita again.

Susan had heard rumours that Anita was a showgirl in New York, and that she was 'a bad girl', but nothing was certain. Susan sets out to solve the mystery of Anita - where was she from and what happened to her?

In New York Susan uncovers Anita's birth certificate and pieces together her grandmother's poverty-stricken and tragic childhood. Anita's birth certificate reveals the names of Susan's great grandparents who were both from Italy. Through some clever sleuthing Susan's manages to locate the region of Italy where the Rigali family hail from, where she uncovers a rich history of Rigali ancestors.

Back in New York Susan uncovers a death certificate, which provides the missing link to tracking down the fate of Anita.


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