Screen gems: Marino Amoruso has stories to tell

In the Bohemia office of his company, MyMar Films, writer-director Marino Amoruso discusses the celebrities he has worked with throughout his filmmaking career. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (April 5, 2013)

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Marino Amoruso remembers in detail the first ballgame his father took him to a half-century ago. He was only 6, the Mets were the new team in town, and his father even made sure Marino was decked out in a Mets shirt with a big 14 on the back, the number of the boy's favorite player, Gil Hodges.

"My father knew the usher, and he got us a spot right by the railing by the Mets dugout," recalls Amoruso, now 56, of Oakdale. "Gil sees me and comes over. He says to me 'No. 14 must be Gil Hodges.' He spent about 10 minutes with me, signed my yearbook and told me what a good guy I was. I didn't say a word to him. I was too nervous. My father kept answering for me," Amoruso says. "Finally, he said 'I have to go now' then said to me: 'Keep practicing. Listen to your parents.' When he started to walk away, I suddenly realized I had fantasized about this moment and had said nothing. So I just screamed out, 'Gil, you're my favorite player,' and he turned around and said, 'And you're my favorite fan.' At that moment, all was right in the world. I don't think I've had that moment since."

The face-to-face with Hodges fueled a lifelong love affair with baseball for writer-filmmaker Amoruso, who poured that passion into a 2000 documentary called "Gil Hodges: The Quiet Man." The film was based on Amoruso's 1991 biography of the same name.

The Hodges bio has been updated, expanded and was reissued on Amazon this week. Amoruso hopes the fresh interviews and insider stories in the newer version, will finally help secure Hodges, who died in 1972, a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame next year.

The retooled biography is only the latest project in Amoruso's three-decade career. He has made more than 30 documentaries, ranging from films about entertainers (Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley), pop-culture icons (Rocky and Bullwinkle) and sports legends (Yogi Berra, Rocky Marciano). Along the way, he also earned four Emmy nominations and a Western Heritage Award for his 1988 documentary "Legends of the American West." His documentary "Jackie Robinson: My Story" won an award at the 2010 Long Island International Film Expo.

Key to Amoruso's success has been to make films and write about what he knows. It's no wonder that a big part of his work has centered on his Italian heritage, both in his film work (the 1999 documentary "Our Contribution: Italians in America") and his books (his 2011 memoir "Being Italian" and his novels "Across 7th Street" and "The Sixth Family"). Born in Brooklyn, he moved to Smithtown when he was 10. His European grandparents regularly spoke Italian; Sunday dinners were a time to celebrate family and heritage. (Cooking is another of Amoruso's loves.) Also key to his upbringing were his father's love of baseball and classic movies, and Amoruso embraced both.

"I was weaned on James Cagney and John Wayne," he says, remembering childhood days watching movies on TV. "I don't care whatever film class you take, experience helps, but if you want to make movies, all you have to do is watch John Ford films or Orson Welles films. That's a classroom on how you do these things."

He studied film at Emerson College in Boston, where he shot movies and wrote scripts. After school, he got his big break working for the then-fledgling cable channel American Movie Classics (AMC), where he often made short features on stars such as Carole Lombard and Joan Fontaine that were shown between films. He credits his boss, producer Norm Blumenthal, for mentoring him during those formative years at AMC. "It was five of us with Norm, our fearless leader, and it was fun getting a network off the ground," Amoruso says. "Norm would say, 'Could you do a half-hour on John Wayne?' and I'd say, 'No problem' and go off in the editing room. It was a really good place to learn."

Blumenthal, a former producer of the TV show "Concentration," remembers it took Amoruso some time to really develop a strong work ethic. "He didn't know how good he really was," recalls Blumenthal, 87, of West Hempstead. "It might have been that he was not mature and he was still fooling around with life, as opposed to getting really serious. I knew he had the talent, and he finally did come around."

One of his favorite projects at AMC was a three-minute short he made called "A Word From Jimmy Stewart." "I took all his stuttering from different films and put it together for three minutes to 'Chopsticks,' " says Amoruso. "Finally, at the end, Jimmy Stewart looks at the camera and goes 'Holy mackerel.' "

The day after the short aired, he was surprised to get a call from Stewart, asking if Amoruso could send him a copy to show at parties. He also gave Amoruso his home number and said to call if he ever needed anything.

Amoruso took him up on that offer after leaving AMC. He contacted Stewart for an interview while making one of his first documentaries, "John Ford's America" (1989) which chronicled the director's career, making such classics as "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," "The Searchers" and "Stagecoach."

The success of that film led to the PBS documentary "Of Moose and Men: The Rocky and Bullwinkle Story," one of Amoruso's favorite projects. "I got 198 episodes and watched every one, which is why I'm emotionally unstable," Amoruso jokes. "William Conrad [the series' narrator] came to the studio in slippers and sweatpants, and he nailed everything in one take. And then we were sitting in [voice actress] June Foray's house. You hear this voice coming out of this woman, and it was disconcerting. I keep thinking, 'Oh my God, that's Rocky, that's Natasha, that's Nell from 'Dudley Do-right.' It was a blast."

Over the next 10 years, Amoruso made dozens more documentaries, including his favorite, "G.I. Joe: The Ernie Pyle Story" (1998), about the famous World War II correspondent. When he signed onto Match.com a few years later, Ernie Pyle was the name he used on his profile. It caught the attention of Myra Weinstein, whom he married six years ago. Myra was working as a substance abuse counselor when they met, but she saw the potential of a business with Marino in which they could sell and distribute not only his films and books, but also license the thousands of hours of interviews on film he has conducted, with everyone from Mickey Mantle to Gerald Ford. In 2007, they created MyMar Entertainment (mymarentertainment.com), which owns and markets all of Amoruso's creative properties.

"We're like a perfect 'act two' in every aspect of our lives," says Myra. "It's our second marriage, and our second career. We had a totally new start, and we did it when we were over 50."

Amoruso is the creative guy, Myra handles the marketing, and the third member of the team is Myra's son, Dan Weinstein, 28, who's the production manager. "I'm the square thinker," says Dan, who studied film, radio and TV production at Suffolk County Community College. "I design DVD covers, replication, whatever needs to be done. I do everything in the middle," including getting the cast, crew and cameras.

The latest project they're hoping to sell is a TV pilot they've made called "Pray for Us Sinners," a sort of Catholic school version of "The Wonder Years," a popular series that ran from 1988 to 1993.

"It's based on my experience in Catholic school," says Amoruso, "only you see everything as a kid would see it. We show purgatory like a gigantic doctor's waiting room with figures from history waiting there."

And like all of Amoruso's projects, it fits in with his filmmaking and storytelling style, which is to keep it simple. "If the story is good," he says, "then let the people or the material in the film tell the story."

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