“Anthony!” a vendor in the Haymarket yells at Anthony Martignetti, because that’s what everyone yells at Anthony Martignetti. “That ain’t you in the new commercial. They got a fake guy. It’s terrible. Terrible.”
Martignetti extends his hand and pulls the old friend from the North End in for a kiss on the cheek. “How you been, good?”
“I’m good, Anthony,” he says as he pats Anthony on the belly. “How come they didn’t put you in the new commercial?”
Martignetti throws up his hands, which move as much as his mouth when he speaks. “I ask myself the same question,” he says.
And for the last few weeks, so has seemingly everyone he’s run into. Right after they yell “Anthony!”
In the summer of 1969, when he was 12 years old, Martignetti was discovered on a North End street by producers who cast him to star in the iconic “Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti day” TV ad.
In the spot, an actress playing his mother yells “Anthony! Anthony!” from a window on Powers Court, and he runs home through the streets for dinner as a narrator tells viewers, “Anthony Martignetti lives in Boston, in the Italian North End.” The commercial aired for 13 years in the Northeast, from the summer of Woodstock and the moon landing all the way to the Reagan era, exposing and defining the North End to the outside world. It made Martignetti, who had moved from Italy with his family just a few years prior, into a local icon and made “Anthony!” a name that had to be yelled.
But lately, the commercial everyone keeps asking Martignetti about is a new one, a remake for Prince’s 100th anniversary where a new little “Anthony” runs home. When he opens the door, he’s a grown man. Played by an actor.
“I’m disappointed. Everyone keeps calling me and saying ‘It’s a fake, it’s a fraud,’” the original Anthony Martignetti said recently as he led his 9-year-old son on the “Anthony! Anthony!” tour of the North End. Martignetti lives in West Roxbury now, where he works as a court officer at Dedham District Court, as well as part-time at a local BJs, and his son lives with his mother in New Jersey.
“It was a good commercial, but it could have been a great one. If you make a sequel, you always get the original cast.”
But what bothers him most about the remake is that they didn’t cast his son to play the young Anthony.
“They loved him at the audition and they didn’t give it to him,” he said, and added that while he was taking his son through the audition process — something he learned about through a co-worker whose daughter acts in commercials — they never mentioned they were casting for an adult Anthony. He learned that when a man opened the door at the end of the commercial, a man who was not him.
“Who is this guy? The guy doesn’t even look Italian, and, no offense, but I’m not that heavy.”
David Heimbecker, the senior director of marketing at New World Pasta, a Pennsylvania company that owns the Prince brand and manufactures the product in St. Louis, said they’ve heard a lot of people question why they didn’t use the original Anthony. “What we’re tying to do is talk about that character and the spirit of the North End and not tie it to the actor. Then the actor becomes bigger than the character they were meant to portray,” he said, noting that the “Anthony Martignetti” character has been portrayed by a few different kids since 1969, including a reboot in the 90s. “It was simply based on reenacting the character, not trying to play off some history of the actors themselves.”
Martignetti says he doesn’t want to sound bitter, but being asked why he’s not in the new commercial has become as common as hearing people yell his name.
“Why couldn’t they have got the real Anthony? He’s available,” said a man who dashed out of a convenience store yelling “Anthony” as Martignetti walked by.
“They went out of their way to make it look like the original, why not just use the original?” Martignetti replied. “I would have done it for free. An old Italian tradition passed down to a new generation. Can you imagine me calling my son out the window? This isn’t the 70s anymore. I’m a single parent. There’s so much they could have done with it.”
As the tour ends, Martignetti and his son run up Powers Court, as he did 44 years ago. At the end of the slim alleyway, which still looks a lot like it did in 1969, a group of kids are playing under the window where Mary Fiumara, another local cast in the commercial, yelled Anthony’s name. Martignetti is glad to see the kids; he’s been complaining the whole tour that there aren’t any children in the modern North End. “They put trees in parks. Parks are supposed to be kids and balls.”
But when Martignetti speaks to their parents, he learns something he hadn’t even noticed about the new commercial: They didn’t use the original window on Powers Court.
“It should have been the original building and the original Anthony,” said Elizabeth Vitello who lives in the house now, and gets a chuckle when she yells “Juliana!” and “Talia!” from that iconic window.
They explain to Martignetti that the window the actress calls from is on Sheafe Street, and Martignetti gets very worked up. That’s the street he grew up on, and he extends the tour to march back through the North End and a few more shouts of “Anthony” to see the new window.
“They’re trying to get you upset,” his son says as they walk up Sheef Street, which makes big Anthony laugh and repeat the line a few times.
They find the new window, and Martignetti can’t believe his eyes. It’s right next door to the house where he grew up. As he stood on the street, the 56-year-old Martignetti began turning in place, pointing to all the windows and all the names that were yelled from them when he was a boy a long time ago.
And then he stops on his old window, and shows his son the one on the top floor, the one where his own mother used to yell “Anthony!” when it was time for spaghetti.Billy Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, this story incorrectly spelled the name of Mary Fiumara and Sheafe Street.