Thanks for the Memories!

As we approach July 31st, the day that we close the doors to our restaurant, customers are having the need to not only come in and have one last meal but also share their stories. One customer, that I will refer to as Mr. Bill, gazed at our wall of paintings depicting different cities in Italy. He had a wonderful smile on his face as he reminisced about visiting Italy with his Dad as a 16 year old. Recounting his dad’s WW2 time in Italy his eyes teared. Mr. Bill’s dad was a colonel in the 15th Air Force in Italy. The US Air Force was there to support the invasion of Italy for the strategic bombing of Germany. The air force took priority over the troops on the ground using much of the limited transportation in Italy. As Mr. Bill unraveled his Dad’s travels through Italy he explained to me about the battle of Huskey.(JULY 1943 Operation Husky – the Invasion of Sicily was the start of the Allies assault on German occupied Europe. Churchill described Sicily and Italy as the soft underbelly of Europe but there were many hard fought battles there before the job was done.)

As Mr. Bill spoke of his fond memories it brought to mind some of my own stories that my Dad would tell his children. My Dad was just a young boy growing up through World War 2. Living in Italy during that time was not a good experience as the German’s took over the country. Monte di Procida where my dad grew up is a town on top of a mountain overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Evidently it was a great spot that served as the German’s look out. One day my dad came upon an unmanned machine gun set up overlooking the bay. Of course what would a curious young boy do! He decided to try out the guns when all of a sudden the Germans came running! It amazed me that he survived this experience as well as the ugly war.

But the story that was told with the most frequency was the one about the American soldiers that altered my dad’s life forever. By the end of the war jobs and food in Italy were scarce. There was poverty, destruction and schools were not in session for 3 years. After the Americans pushed the Germans out of Italy, my dad and a few of the townspeople would take the bus to the American Naval Base to look for work. My Dad was a mere 12 years old. Even though he was so young, the American soldiers knowing the devastation in the nearby towns and the plight of the Italians, gladly took him in and gave him odd jobs for food and money. My dad beaming with pride would bring home money and food for his family. The generosity of the Americans made a lasting impression on my dad. So much so that he came to the United States in 1954 to start a new life.

And that brings me back to Mr. Bill. When Mr. Bill was 16 years old his Dad the 15th Air Force Colonel brought his family to visit Italy. They started from northern Italy and made their way down to Sicily. When they reached the Amalfi Coastline they were in awe of one of the most beautiful coastlines in all of Europe. The Amalfi Coast (Costiera Amalfitana is a stretch of coastline on the southern coast of the Sorrentine Peninsula in the Province of Salerno in Southern Italy. The Amalfi Coast is a popular tourist destination for the region and Italy as a whole, attracting thousands of tourists annually.) It was lunch time so the family stopped in the town of Positano on the Amalfi Coast. In fact there’s a short story written by John Steinbeck called “Positano”. If you would like to read about the Italians in Positano it’s a vivid depiction that captures Steinbeck’s experience there!
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They reached Positano 2 o’clock in the afternoon. As you can imagine they were all quite hungry. As his Dad knocked at the door of a trattoria, he didn’t realize that the trattoria was closed and they were having a siesta. His dad not knowing much Italian was happy that the owner spoke English. The trattoria owner understood quite well that Mr. Bill’s dad was bringing his family to all the sites in Italy that he saw when he was an American Colonel in World War 2. Well Mr. Bill’s dad didn’t need to speak any further. The owner quickly yelled out to his wife and family that a great feast was to be made. And with a flourish as everyone gathered around cooking, setting the table, and filling the jugs with wine a big feast was prepared for the Colonel and his family. And with loving eyes Mr. Bill exclaimed with a catch in his voice that when his dad reached into his pocket to pay. The host said, “ No! It is our honor and privilege to provide you and your family a meal.”

I wouldn’t have understood this gesture if it wasn’t for the stories my dad told me. The trattoria owner was just trying to give back to the Americans for the kindness that was shown. I am sure he had his own special story from WW2 and he wanted to reciprocate.

As I watched Mr. Bill walk out the door of Coppola’s Restaurant for the last time I came to the conclusion that our service to the community hasn’t been just about the food. It’s been a reminder of family and good times. Jim and I at Coppola’s are proud that we were able to hang on to that aura of family and thankfulness that my dad passed on to us. Not only were we able to provide our customers with the same great food experiences that my Dad and his brothers started 50 years ago but Coppola’s also was able to provide customers a canvas for memories! In turn, our customers gave us a greater understanding and lasting memories of my parents heritage! And for that we want to say thank you for 50 wonderful years!


Synchronicity is an experience in your life when 2 or more events that have absolutely no relation to each other occur together in a “meaningful coincidence.” – Carl Jung

I want to tell you about the oddest coincidence that happened in our restaurant a few years ago. While my oldest son was attending the Naval Academy pulling an all-nighter working on a paper, he called me up at 2am. He needed a sounding board to go over the paper with me because it wasn’t flowing right. His paper was on the French Jewish Resistance during WW2.

I was a business major and clueless on history. I couldn’t help with adding factual information but I just listened while he talked himself to organizing his paper. Mind you this was occurring at 2am and although woken from my sound sleep I was more than happy to be able to help my son. I was fascinated learning all about the French Jewish Resistance in the wee hours of the morning.

I learned that France was conquered by Nazi Germany in June 1940 and was divided into two parts: the northern region, which was under direct German rule, and the southern one, where a so-called Free French regime. The persecutions of the Jews followed a similar pattern to the persecutions in other occupied countries. There was the creation of detention camps, and massive deportations of Jews to the concentration camps in Eastern Europe. Out of a community of about three hundred thousand Jews in France on the eve of the war, 76,000 including 10,000 children, were deported. Most perished in the camps. Only about 3 percent returned. It could have been even worse if it wasn’t for the French Jewish Resistance. They rescued thousands of adults and children by providing them with hiding places or forged papers, and organized convoys to Switzerland and Spain. They formed guerrilla organizations in the main cities of France and in the mountains. They maintained a network of secret agents who transferred money from Switzerland to France and supplied it for the various underground activities and needs.

Here’s where Synchronicity took place at Coppola’s. It was the very next day at work. I sat 2 people at a nice table by the window. Explaining to me in their French accents (BTW I love French accents) that they were meeting for their annual get together. As they oo la la’d sharing their story that they met for the first time during WW2 in France. The woman told me how she was part of the underground in France that ushered the Jews to safety. Every year she meets up with her friend that she helped during WW2. I was floored! What was this! I just learned about this the night before. Was this coincidence? Was this ESP! No! It’s synchronicity!

I had the most eerie feeling as I listened to their story with my mouth wide open! Had I not listened to Joe that night reiterate his paper about the French Jewish Resistance I would not have had the nicest conversation with this interesting couple. I stood captivated. If I had it my way I would have been sitting down with them listening to their conversation. But then again – I wouldn’t have understood a word since they were speaking in French. I also had to remind myself that they came to have dinner and visit with each other. I don’t think they would appreciate me acting as if I was also part of the French Resistance.

It never ceases to amaze how interesting our customers are and how interesting their lives are. What an eclectic mix of characters and how their lives intertwine with mine! What reasons are there for accepting synchronicity as an explanation for what happened at Coppola’s Restaurant? What it explains is that I was able to find meaning and significance where there is none. Having been born into the restaurant business, my whole life has evolved around it. So much so that a mere coincidence of lovingly being my son’s sounding board one early Thursday morning resulted in having a wonderful meeting with The Jewish French Resistance the very next day at Coppola’s!

What is General Patton doing at Coppola’s?

Since this picture has been hanging on a wall in Coppola’s Restaurant men’s room it has stirred up so much commotion. This is a picture of General Patton on June 6, 1944, when the Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy and invaded Europe. The Rhine River was Germany’s ancient line of defense; when American troops crossed the Rhine on March 7, 1945 at Remagen near Cologne, it was all over for the Nazis. General George S. Patton showed his contempt for the Germans by relieving himself into the river.

In the early 1990’s a loyal customer, Jim Quinn (who passed away last year) brought in the picture because he said our men’s room needed something to spice it up. As a woman I found this extremely odd but it’s a men’s room and what do I know! Suffice to say that not only has this picture become a conversation piece but it has also provoked people to steal. The picture has been stolen so many times that we keep copies so we can keep replacing it. But regardless, it has stirred up so many interesting conversations.

I only bring it up today because last night an out of town gentleman (here for the Vassar College Graduation) after returning from the men’s room needed to speak to someone about that picture. As my face was getting flushed from embarrassment I just couldn’t get the words out on what General Patton was actually doing. The customer was an older stately gentleman and I kept stumbling for words. It was at the end of the evening so I directed him to the kitchen to speak to Jim. The reason I found this typical question so unusual this time is because he wanted to tell his story about that picture. He was actually there! This white haired gentleman was one of the engineers from the 150th Engineer Combat Battalion that crossed that Rhine River many times during WW2. Well, I had to look up what exactly did an engineer do during the crossing of the Rhine River sixty six years ago. After reading about the 150th Engineer Combat Battalion, I was extremely impressed and couldn’t wait to write you all about it. i thought I would take an excerpt from the information I found so you can be equally impressed!

“It was during this week, in late March of 1945, that the U.S. Third Army under Gen. Patton, began its famous bridging and crossing operations of the Rhine. After the completion of the Battle in The Ardennes, Patton and his Army turned to the south and east attacking toward the Rhine. Without the luck of the 9th Armored Division, further to the north, who were able to capture the only intact bridge across the Rhine at Remagen, Patton’s Third Army faced the necessity of bridging the wide river with their own resources. There had been a total of 22 road and 25 railroad bridges spanning the Rhine into Germany, but with the exception of the Remagen Bridge, they had all been destroyed.

In a special order to his men, Patton stated that from late January to late March, “You have taken over 6,400 square miles of territory, seized over 3,000 cities, towns and villages including Trier, Koblenz, Bingen, Worms, Mainz, Kaiserslautern, and Ludwigshafen. You have captured over 140,000 soldiers, killed or wounded an additional 100,000 while eliminating the German 1st and 7th Armies. Using speed and audacity on the ground with support from peerless fighter-bombers in the air, you kept up a relentless round-the-clock attack on the enemy. Your assault over the Rhine at 2200 last night assures you of even greater glory to come.” (After Action Report, Third U.S. Army, page 313)

The first unit to cross was the 5th Infantry Division that used assault rafts to cross the raging Rhine at Oppenheim (west of Darmstadt and south of Mainz) in the early morning hours of March 23. The 150th Engineer Combat Battalion (EC inflated the floats for the bridge in the rear area, moved them to the river in trucks, and by daybreak had assembled them into rafts. By 1880 that evening, a class 40 M-2 treadway bridge was taking traffic. The following day, a second 1,280 foot class 24 bridge was completed in the same area. It was later upgraded to a class M-40 bridge. Without the benefit of aerial bombardment or artillery preparation, units landed quickly and established a beachhead that was seven miles wide and six miles deep in less than 24 hours. Several amphibious tanks of the 748th Tank Battalion crossed with the men of the 5th ID.

When daylight came, the Luftwaffe attacked the enclave with 154 aircraft in an attempt to dislodge the foothold on the east bank. Effective anti-aircraft fires brought down 18 of the attacking planes and destroyed 15 more.

By March 27, five divisions with supporting troops and supplies had crossed the three bridges constructed at Oppenheim. The entire 6th Armored Division crossed in lass than 17 hours. During the period of March 24-31, a total of 60,000 vehicles passed over these bridges. After consolidating on the east bank, the Third Army continued its drive to the east, capturing Darmstadt on March 25, and arriving in Frankfurt the following day.

Working as a well-coordinated unit, the Third Army relied upon trained veteran soldiers, dedicated leadership, an excellent working relationship with the XIX Tactical Air Command, a logistical train that moved all classes of supplies and personnel replacements quickly to the front.}
* See Barry W. Fowle, editor, Builders and Fighters: U.S. Army Engineers in World War II, Office of History, US Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Belvoir, VA, 1992. See especially Fowle, “The Rhine River Crossings,” pp 463-476]

I don’t know if it was coincidence or not but after we closed Jim Quinn’s son came knocking on our door and wanted to come in with along with Jim Quinn’s grandson to have a drink at the bar. When he knocked on the door I had no idea who he was but he had such a familiar face that I couldn’t turn him away. Jim came out to greet him and that’s when I realized who he was. Who knew that General Patton relieving himself at Coppola’s is still keeping Jim Quinn alive in all of our memories. If anyone knows Jim Quinn, I am sure he is smiling while he and his best friend Howard Cramer are looking down at us sitting in their armchairs sipping their Manhattans.

In honor of all WW2 vets for Memorial Day my son sent me this youtube video:

The “G” Man

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post. So many things are happening in the restaurant. All good though! We have been busy dressing up the place. I will let you know when we are all done, complete with pictures. But first, let me tell you what happened this past Sunday. It was a busy day. We had a huge party in the front dining room and our back dining room was quite full too. I received a call from one of our patrons that they were coming in at 6pm and wanted a quiet table. I was like yes of course!! Meanwhile as I was looking around me at the front dining room full of a large family with all their toddler children running around the tables screaming and laughing…I asked, “would you like to sit in the back dining room so it will be more private?” She blurted “Yes, please! We are bringing in G. Gordon Liddy!” I exclaimed with enthusiasm, “We’ll be ready!” as I looked around at the chaos. Well a couple of hours later the restaurant settled down and the ‘G’ man and his entourage enjoyed a quiet dinner.

I didn’t realize there is so much more about G. G. Liddy than just the Watergate Scandal. I was telling one of older customers Mr. Ciferri, a ninety year old, that G. Gordon Liddy came in. Mr. Ciferri started reminiscing about Liddy. I love to get the older people going. You learn so much from them!

Ciferri is from Millbrook, NY and remembers quite well when Liddy was assistant district attorney in Poughkeepsie aggressively going after Timothy Leary, in Millbrook. Liddy was married to Francis Purdy, a Poughkeepsie resident, for 53 years till her death this year. Mr. Ciferri described Liddy as bold and unafraid. One time Liddy took a blank gun and shot it in a courtroom for dramatics. Ciferri also described him as a man that took his sentence for the Watergate trial like a true man. In the Washington Post, the reporter said that G. Gordon Liddy “had maintained a calm, generally smiling exterior throughout the trial. He stood impassive, with is arms folded as deputy court clerk LeCount Patterson read the jury’s verdict, repeating six times ‘guilty’ for all eight counts against him.”

I recognized Liddy when he came in right away. Wearing his leather bomber jacket sporting his bald head wih dark eyebrows and mustache but I was surprised with his quiet demeanor. He actually came in with his long time friend Peter Maroulis. Mr. Maroulis was once his law partner and actually defended Liddy in the Watergate trial. An excerpt form the Washington Post revealed, “Before being jailed by deputy U.S. marshals, Liddy embraced his lawyer, Peter L. Maroulis, patted him on the back, and in a gesture that became his trademark in the trial, gave one final wave to the spectators and press before he was led away.” Thirty-nine years later Liddy and Maroulis have remained good friends!

After getting out of jail in 1977 Liddy became a writer and a radio talk show host. The G. Gordon Liddy Show was broadcast on 232 stations nationwide. His autobiography, Will, was published in 1982. Liddy has also appeared on several television shows including Miami Vice (1985), Password (1992) and Politically Incorrect (1997). In 2002 Liddy published When I Was a Kid, This Was a Free Country. This was followed by Fight Back: Tackling Terrorism Liddy Style (2007).

G. Gordon Liddy is always being referenced. Just the other day on the O’Reilly Factor they mentioned G. Gordon Liddy shooting a gun in the court room. This seemingly quiet 80 year old man that my husband and I have met is not to be forgotten to easily. Hahaha… maybe not so quiet! And he is the face for buying Gold in Rosland Capital ads. Isn’t it amazing that in a small “mom and pop” restaurant like ours interesting people come eat here. Since writing this blog I have come to realize that Poughkeepsie is no ordinary town and Coppola’s is no ordinary restaurant!

PS……One of our waitresses, Terry, informed me that her mom was Peter Maroulis’ secretary during the ’70s when Mr. Maroulis was busy defending G. Gordon Liddy… isn’t it so peculiar how people are so intertwined!!

“America’s Boogeyman”

It was the fall of 1992 the first time that America’s master of supernatural suspense, who set the standard for the wildly popular genre, visited Poughkeepsie. Stephen King, a renowned American author came to the Hudson Valley during the 1992 Vassar College Parents Weekend to visit his oldest son, Joe Hillstrom King. Where else would he stop for a great Italian meal but none other than The Original Coppola’s Restaurant just a few blocks away from Vassar College.

I can recall that foggy ghostly night, where the lights coming in through the restaurant windows cast eerie shadows against the stark white walls. All of a sudden I felt a chill in the air as the door opened to reveal a tall dark-haired man wearing glasses. I held back a shudder as I greeted our guest thinking he looked vaguely familiar. But it wasn’t until he sat down at a table with his wife and son that I realized it was Steven King. He was pleasant enough at first welcoming the customers’ recognition of him. But it got out of hand and a steely look came over him and everyone knew it was time to let him and his family enjoy their meal. And so Stephen King, his wife, Tabitha King and son, Joe Hillstrom King thoroughly enjoyed their meal at Coppola’s.
Joe King graduated from Vassar College in 1995 and followed in his father’s footsteps using the pen name of Joe Hill. Joe Hill wrote the widely read “Heart Shaped Box.” The younger son, Owen King also went to Vassar graduating in 1998 and followed his dad’s footsteps as a writer. But that wasn’t the last time Stephen King came to Poughkeepsie because in 2001 he gave the commencement address at Vassar College and in his speech he exclaimed, ” You invited America’s boogeyman!” On that very day at Coppola’s we all heard the echo of his laugh from a few blocks away and felt a shudder come over our bodies…..

Poughkeepsie’s “Maccy Bub” aka Bill Duke

As I write on this blog I am beginning to think that Poughkeepsie is so much more than just a silly quote from The French Connection, “You pick your toes in Poughkeepsie?” Bill Duke is an actor and director from Poughkeepsie, NY. The first time he came into Coppola’s my sons recognized him right away from the movie Predator, 1987 starring Arnold Schwazzeneagar. They both exclaimed “There’s Mac!” Mac was his character name in Predator. (But as coincidence would have it –  when he was growing up Bill Duke’s cat’s name was Maccintosh and Bill was long nicknamed by family and friends in Poughkeepsie as Maccy Bub).

Bill Duke would often come to Poughkeepsie from Los Angeles to visit his mom and bring his family and friends to eat at our restaurant. I was looking at the dates of my autographs and noticed that he came on Easter Sunday, April 3, 1994. I thought this would be a good time to write about him. Whenever he was in town visitng his mom he would make Coppola’s on Main Street one of his stops until his mom died in 1999. He was a quiet and unasuming man. Never did he make a bid deal when he came in with his group.

You can see by our autographs that he would amuse us by taking pictures and giving out his autograph. The picture you see above is with our long time bartender, Leo that has since passed away. It was taken in our bar. Bill Duke  would usually come in on weekdays during the late afternoons. Did you all know that Bill Duke went to Dutchess Community College? He continued onto Boston university and furthered his education at New York University‘s Tisch School of Arts and the AFI Conservatory. He was the first of his family to attend college and went on the be one of the most accomplished African Americans currently working in TV and cinema.

Not only is he an actor but has directed quite a few films and TV shows. He has a credit list as long as some of the great names in Hollywood – and a quite a few awards to accompany it. Quite an accomplishment for a Poughkeepsie native! And of course he always made time to stop at Coppola’s!

The Battle of the Easter Breads

I just can’t let Easter go by without writing about the Italian Easter tradition of Easter Bread. Everybody makes Easter bread in Italy, but does it turn into a competitive baking contest? In Coppola’s Restaurant and in the little town of Monte di Procida it is! During Lent not only do we fast and give up stuff (never panettone recipes!) but we start planning the art of baking panettone (Easter bread).

One year we were in Italy during Easter. At every house we visited we were shown rows and rows of pans filled with rising dough covered under blankets waiting for Holy Saturday to be baked. Now mind you the judging starts even before the bread is baked. Everyone is eagerly watching their breads rise. If it rises too fast that it will be a big flop. If it rises too slow it will be hard as a rock. At twelve years old I thought this was comical as we all peered into all these pans. We were made to look at these pans as if was the latest discovery! hahaha…

Our whole family practiced this tradition. So you can imagine the amount of Easter bread that was made. But what was even funnier is that my father, the chef made Easter bread and also my mother made her own batch. It ended up being a contest within our own household. So if that wasn’t enough my dad’s brothers and their wives also made Easter bread. And guess what? Yup! Our Italian customers and employees got into the act too!! And you can’t leave out Caffe Aurora!! So by Easter Sunday the restaurant was wall to wall Easter Bread.

Now this competition was not a formal competition but was just informal tastings. Like “Hey Joe, taste my Easter Bread how good it came out!”…. and vice versa. But with all this craziness that I experienced growing up with this informal Panettone competition I keep making loaves and loaves of it myself trying to get the perfect recipe. I always try a new recipe every year. But let me tell you a little secret if any of you have ever tried Easter bread. It is an acquired taste. It comes in a variety of ways its either really dry and flavorful or it is moist and light. Some are braided with colored eggs. Always with bits of dried fruit throughout. The Italians like to eat this bread at the end of their meal with jugs of wine. That’s the best part!

When you come to Coppola’s on Easter Sunday you will all find Easter Bread in our bread baskets. Over the years our competition has given up the challenge but we continue on. It can’t be Easter without a battle of the Easter Breads at Coppola’s. It’s tradition!

Let me share my recipe that I used this year. According to my son who just came home from college (….he ate the whole thing in 2 days) it came out awesome!!! Not sure if it was hunger or if it was really good. But I am delivering a loaf to my uncle and hopefully I will get the nod of approval!

Nick Beni’s Plate

Last night one of my Dad’s good friend and customer’s daughter and her husband came in for dinner. She started reminiscing of the days at 273 Main Street. It made me look back at such a happy time. I do remember her Dad, Dick Freeman. Every Christmas my dad would bring us all shopping to pick out gifts for my mom. It was the same routine every Christmas. We would go to Up-To-Date where Mr. Forman would greet us and Amanda Gobbi would help us pick out a fancy dress for my mom. The last stop was to visit Dick Freeman who owned J. Arnold Wood, Ltd. It was fun there. I can still remember the laughter that those 2 men shared as my dad picked out the biggest and the gaudiest piece of jewelry. My dad always loved big and shiny!

Dick Freeman was one of our earliest customers. I didn’t realize that Dick’s and dad’s friendship went back before Coppola’s. Mr. Freeman actually got to know my dad when my dad was a chef at the historical Nick Beni’s in Mount Carmel Square. My father and Mr. Freeman got to be very good friends. When my dad was contemplating opening up a restaurant Mr. Freeman said to my father, “Joe, no matter where you go I will follow you.” And so it came to be that when my dad and his brothers opened up Coppola’s Restaurant on that day November 24, 1961, Mr. Freeman was one of their first customers. Mr. Freeman”s daughter, Jane told us that whenever my dad would go on vacation (vacation was going back to his hometown of Monte di Procida) Mr. Freeman would say “tell me what day you are going to be back because I want to be there the day you return.” And my dad would always surprise him with a new specialty dish that he brought back from Italy. After my dad died Mr. Freeman presented me with a plate from Nick Beni’s restaurant to commemorate his friendship with my dad so many years ago when he first met him as a chef at Nick Beni’s! Mr. Freeman has since passed away and I bet my dad welcomed him with a Coppola feast including all the specialties he is learning from his new adventure……….

James Cagney Part 2 – Best Friend Floyd Patterson

Where else but in Dutchess County can you find a recipe with the ingredients of James Cagney, Floyd Patterson (world heavyweight boxing champion 1956-59, 1960-62) and Coppola’s Restaurant? I didn’t realize what good friends James Cagney and Floyd Patterson were. When we relocated Coppola’s Restaurant at 825 Main Street in 1979 my father so appreciative of his success that he wanted to give back to the community. That first Christmas and many years afterwards he would host parties for various children’s homes. One particular Christmas Party that comes to mind is the one for Cardinal Hayes Home. At the time James Cagney was a frequent customer and wanted to help… Not only did he gift a huge check to the children’s home he also asked his good friend Floyd Patterson to make a guest appearance at the party.

What did James Cagney and Floyd Patterson have in common that they struck up such a friendship? Well did you all know that James Cagney’s father was an amateur boxer? James Cagney Jr. followed in his dad’s footsteps. Not only was he a good street fighter he was also encouraged by his mom to take up boxing as a hobby. He went so far as to engage in amateur boxing and won the New York State lightweight title. When he was approached to become a professional boxer his disapproving mom told him “If you want to become a professional fighter, then your first fight will have to be against me.” James immediately abandoned the idea of professional boxing and the rest is history.

As he got more and more involved in films he frequently portrayed that rough street fighter image. James Cagney’s last performance at 84 years old was in the TV movie Terrible Joe Moran playing a former boxing champ. Clips from his 1932 movie Winner Takes All (a movie about boxing) were throughout the movie Terrible Joe Moran. Floyd Patterson was the gym janitor in this movie.

James Cagney’s introduction to Floyd went back to 1960 where James was hosting and reviewing the fight between Ingemar Johansson vs Floyd Patterson. This was the famous fight where Floyd regained his World Heavyweight Championship Title. James Cagney reviewed the different boxing styles of Johanssen and Patterson on the WABC radio show.

So it came to be that these 2 larger than life characters along with my dad, Joseph Coppola put on a wonderful Christmas Dinner with gifts and a memorable donation right here in Poughkeepsie, NY to benefit The Cardinal Hayes children’s home. Years later with Floyd’s many visits to Coppola’s at 825 Main Street this heavy weight champ had the chance to meet my son Josh. Josh was just 3 or 4 years old. Floyd Patterson took one look at Josh’s hands and said he has the hands of a boxer. I took James Cagney mother’s words and said “well his first fight will have to be against me first!”

Jimmy Cagney Part 1

James Cagney and his wife were loyal customers at our restaurant since the early ’70s. He was such a down to earth guy. He never conducted himself as an unapproachable celebrity. It wasn’t until we moved to this location that James Cagney and my father got very friendly. Mr. Cagney and his wife would usually come in on Sunday afternoons for quiet dinners in the back room. On more festive occasions when he had guests he would come in on a Saturday night with a group of people. Never would I have thought that in Poughkeepsie we would have such a revolving door of celebrities. But then again Poughkeepsie did get mentioned in the French Connection movie. Remember the quote “You picking your toes in Poughkeepsie?” Sheesh!

While writing this post I did some research on James Cagney. I found some peculiar similarities between Jimmy and my father. Cagney’s first job was on stage as a dancer making $55 dollars a week of which $40 of it was given to his mother. When my father and his brothers first came to America the money that they made was also sent home to their mother. In fact James Cagney bought his Stanfordville farm in 1954 the same year my father came to America. And if it could be a weirder coincidence James Cagney retired in 1961 to go back to his Stanfordville farm to raise Morgan horses the same year my father and his brothers opened up Coppola’s Restaurant.

As I have written on previous posts he brought in Martin Sheen and John Travolta to experience Coppola’s. I remember on one occasion he came with his best friend Ralph Bellamy. Ralph Bellamy was part of James Cagney’s acting friends who called themselves “The Irish Mafia.” I recognized Ralph Bellamy right away. Remember the film Trading Places with Eddie Murphy? I didn’t realize he was such a well known actor in his earlier years but seeing that movie Trading Places I recognized him right away. I did have a few words with Ralph Bellamy. He actually whispered in my ear!! I will never forget his words to me……..” Please give me the check!” Haha!!!

Liza Minelli was also a guest of James Cagney’s who also enjoyed Coppola’s Italian food. Whenever someone came into town to visit James Cagney he made sure they ate Coppola’s Italian food. I have so much more to tell you about James Cagney but I will put more in another post. Did you all know that he was friends with President Ronald Reagan and supported his campaign 1980 and 1984? President Reagan gave his eulogy when he died. Those ’80s were memorable years. We couldn’t wait for the weekends to see Jimmy Cagney and all his famous friends. March 31, 2011 was the 25th anniversary of Cagney’s death. As I gaze at our wall of celebrities I miss those years where Poughkeepsie was more than just a quote from the French Connection!