Some of the best Hollywood movies are about making movies in Hollywood; Get Shorty and The Player are two that immediately come to mind. The one I'm working on, however, is true crime of the seediest South Florida kind. My film -- no, call it a movie event -- is sure to make me a millionaire if those boneheads in Los Angeles will only listen.
The project isn't exactly heartwarming, but it is a family picture. It's full of families, in fact: the Tarantinos of Tinsel Town, the murderous New York Bonannos, and Broward's own boiler-room kings, the Rubbos. A quick plot summary:
The film, tentatively titled Pulp Nonfiction, begins with a sleazy but irrepressible huckster harboring big dreams of making a blockbuster film. Yes it's a cliché, but there's a twist: The schemer is none other than Tony Tarantino, father of the famous director of Reservoir Dogs and that other Pulp movie. Tony trades on his son's fame and name while trying to drum up a little dough ($90 million is all) for a movie project but sometimes neglects to mention that he abandoned Quentin before birth and has never even met his prodigious son.
Tony winds up rubbing shoulders with the Rubbo (pronounced rube-oh) family in Fort Lauderdale. The Rubbos are led by matriarch "Big Angie," who lords over various shady businesses run by sons Joseph, Nicholas, and Pasquale and her bookend daughter, "Little Angie." But the feds are on their trail. FBI agents discover that the Rubbos -- who drive big, shiny Cadillacs and Mercedes -- run telemarketing scams in Broward and Palm Beach counties that ripped off investors of nearly $12 million. The FBI, as it delves into the strange and violent world of the Rubbos, also learns that the family's scams are connected to the Mafia.
The Rubbos might be unrepentant crooks, but they aren't really about crime. They just want what Tony wants: to be movie stars and moguls. With their crack boiler-room skills, the family opens a film production company and tries to drum up cash for Papa Tarantino's pipe dream.
In a suspenseful climax, the Rubbos' dreams are crushed when federal prosecutors raid their offices and indict all but Little Angie on charges of racketeering, money laundering, and fraud. As part of the same investigation, the feds charge several Mafiosi, including a reputed Bonanno consigliere, Anthony "The Little Guy" Graziano, with murder and other crimes. To add to the family's humiliation, the Securities and Exchange Commission shuts down the film company and files civil charges against the Rubbos for misrepresenting Tarantino's project to potential investors.
The Rubbos are left waiting for trial -- and plotting their revenge on Tony, who they say betrayed them when he cooperated with the SEC. Tarantino Sr., meanwhile, drives off into the sunset, toward California, where his dreams of stardom live on.
Are you listening, Danny DeVito? Call me, you brilliant little son of a bitch. I haven't finished the script (give me a couple of weeks), so I'll lay out the entire story in the next few columns. Like all good pulp, this will be serialized. The whole sensational story starts with the conception of the 1990s' most influential film director, Quentin Tarantino.
The writer of Natural Born Killers was born on March 27, 1963 in Knoxville, Tennessee, the son of a 16-year-old half-Native American girl named Connie and her 21-year-old boyfriend, Tony Tarantino, who was raised in Brooklyn and Los Angeles. Tony said in a revealing 1998 newspaper interview with Southern California's Antelope Valley Press that it was basically a shotgun wedding: Connie's father found out Tony was, uh, conjugating with his little girl and gave him the option of either marrying her or facing statutory rape charges. Tony decided to tie the knot. Then one day, not knowing she was pregnant, Tony went looking for a job and kept driving. He didn't stop until he was back in Los Angeles.
Two years later, Connie took her toddler to L.A. and married a concert musician named Curt Zastoupil. Tony said in the AV Press interview that Connie found him and showed him a picture of little Quentin. But he never saw his son, who according to press reports was a highly intelligent, utter misfit. He watched adult movies like Deliverance as a child and once bashed his pet puppy's head on a brick wall in a failed attempt to show affection.
While Quentin was formulating his strange genius, the elder Tarantino, with Italian good looks and a requisite pompadour, was trying to make it big on his small talents. He told one newspaper that Hollywood blackballed him after he assaulted an agent who "propositioned" him one night. On his Website, www.tonytarantino.com, Tony writes that he sang folk songs for spare change outside coffeehouses. He boasts of earning a kung fu black belt, becoming proficient in Western quick draw, and playing guitar in "supper clubs and night-clubs up and down the Sunset strip."
But two decades of striving didn't pay off. He finally gave up on stardom, became a pilot, and eventually returned to filmdom -- as a welder and mechanic on production sets. When Quentin hit his zenith with Pulp Fiction in 1994, the absentee father suddenly got his 15 minutes. And he decided to try to stretch them out for the rest of his life.
Tarantino used his suddenly famous name in Hollywood to pitch himself as an accomplished showman. The opening line on his Website reads, "Tony's talents span from 1950's television to present day film acclaim." It's an interesting boast, considering that there is no evidence he did television in the 1950s and that his movie career, if you could call it that, has been relegated to bit parts in largely unknown, small-budget movies.
He also claims on the Website that he recently hosted a television show. That's true, but it was an amateurish cable-access production that he paid to air and that failed miserably. He also informs us that he recently wrote his seventh country song, titled "Sweet Southern Girl." Way to go, Tony.
Next to his Web boasts is a picture of smiling Tony over a quote that reads, "My dad was a great story teller. His stories have always inspired me. Had he written them down, I'm sure he would have had a best seller."
There is no attribution, but the natural assumption is that those words come from his famous son, who is pictured on the Website. That, of course, is an impossibility, since the two have never seen each other. The only words from Quentin about his biological father I could find in press archives are in the vein of, "I've never met my father" and "I have no desire to meet my father."
My bet is that the quote is Tony's own, about his father, Dominic, Quentin's granddaddy, who allegedly appeared in 1930s Tom Mix westerns.
"I have an agenda," Tony told the AV Press. "And I've been out there pushing it hard.... I want to establish myself in Hollywood as a good, viable actor. I want to become known for who I am, not just because of who my son is."
Tony's agenda remains unfulfilled, but he did get a break when he bumped into Sal Pacino -- Al's father -- at a meeting of a social club called the Grandsons of Italy in North Hollywood, California. Tony was soon inducted into the Silver Foxes, a promotional club for the parents of stars that recently did an exercise video with Stephanie Powers. Tony has the distinction of being the only member of the club who is estranged from his star offspring. It also includes the mothers of Magic Johnson, Cindy Crawford, Patrick Swayze, and self-help guru Tony Robbins.
In the summer of 2000, Tony finished a screenplay called New Horizons, your basic action/adventure/crime/romance/cloning picture, which he wrote with Tom Cruise and Catherine Zeta-Jones in mind. Other stars were supposedly involved, including Sal Pacino's son, but I'll get to that later.
Tony, who is now 61 years old but looks much younger, didn't respond to my interview requests, but he did speak with New Times about the project last June. Of the superstar Cruise, Tony said charitably that he felt the "kid deserves an Academy Award. I'm going to write the vehicle that gets him one." He told us that preproduction was beginning and locations were being scouted in South Florida, though he was still working on financing.
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Ah, the money. The eternal sticking point. The great Hollywood Catch-22: To get the money, you need the stars, and to get the stars, you need the money. Tony, a man who has trouble following through on anything he begins, had neither. But he really wanted the cash, and in the grand Tinsel Town tradition, he wasn't above the white lie to get it.
Enter the Rubbos, who met with Tarantino last summer. The New Horizons impresario boasted that he was close friends with several big-name Hollywood actors and promised that he would introduce the Rubbos to Quentin, claims Joseph Rubbo. "Tarantino said, 'Get me as much money as you can,'" recalls the 38-year-old Rubbo, now awaiting trial. "He was looking for money in any direction he could get it in. That's when I should have smartened up."
He says he didn't for one simple reason: "I was starstruck."
Editor's note: Next week, we meet the Rubbos and their alleged Mafia friends.