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The Man Who Played Judas

The Man Who Played Judas

Joseph Sciorra (September 26, 2010)
Photograph courtesy of Stephanie Romeo.
Stefano Romeo (1884-1942)

In Search of an Italian-American Actor.


Over the years, my good friend Stephanie Romeo has told me about her paternal grandfather, Stefano Romeo, a little known Italian-American actor. She has interviewed relatives, gathered photographs, and looked online for official documents as part of her personal investigation. In the spirit of my 2008 post, “A Digital Message in a Bottle,” I’ve written this note to help connec

t the tattered pieces of one family’s lost legacy.

Here’s what Stephanie has uncovered thus far:
Stefano was born on March 21, 1884 in Mirto (Messina province), Sicily, the eldest child of Antonio and Marianna (nee Franco) Romeo’s ten children. He emigrated at age fifteen with his father and brother Frank in either 1899 or early 1900.  When the family was reunited in New York City, they lived at 193 First Avenue, off East 12th Street, in the Lower East Side’s predominately Sicilian community (whose history has yet to be written). The father was a telegraph operator and his eldest child was listed as a “telegraph student” in the 1900 census. A decade later, the family had moved around the corner to 339 East 12th Street, a six-story walk-up between 1st and 2nd Avenues.   At age 26, Stefano was a presser in a dress factory along with his father and brothers. 
In 1913, Stefano married Concetta Villanti, who had emigrated with her family in 1911 from Patti (Messina province). The newlyweds lived at 28 Bedford Street in Greenwich Village, in her parents' apartment building. By 1920, the family bought a house at 1666 83rd Street in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, which they subsequently lost in the Great Depression. They raised nine children, including Stephanie’s father Stephen. The 58-year-old Stefano died of a heart attack on September 5, 1942 and was buried in Brooklyn’s Holy Cross Cemetery.

By 1918, Stefano is listed in documents (e.g., the 1918 and 1942 draft registrations, the 1920 census) as an actor with his own (unnamed) theatrical company. Family history has Stefano working on a radio serial program at WOV-AM and sending a film script to an unknown person or entity in Hollywood. Unfortunately, no documentation exists within the family about these ventures or much else of Romeo’s artistic output because his wife Concetta may have given Stefano’s theatrical memorabilia and opus to members of his troupe. 
What does exist is a playbill from April 4, 1941, that announces Cav. Stefanino Romeo directing the Italian Dramatic Catholic Company in a passion play at the Hunts Point Palace in the Bronx for the benefit of several unspecified Italian Catholic churches. The ten-act “sacred tragedy,” “Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ” was staged with 100 cast members dressed in period costumes. Tickets—listed at “popular prices”—were available at the respective parishes.  Romeo also staged this production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, home to a number of Italian-American theatrical performances in this time period.   Stephanie’s father, Stephen, attended numerous productions of his father’s passion plays, which featured various family members in the cast, and he remembers that his father insisted on always playing the role of the traitorous Judas.
Thanks to the research of scholars, especially Emelise Aleandri, we know much about Italian-American actors and playwrights. Recently, other researchers have expanded on this history. Giorgio Bertellini has uncovered the relationship between stage and screen in his investigation of Italian-American film culture, while Marcella Bencivenni and Jennifer Gugliemo has revealed the radical political theater operating in New York City in the first half of the twentieth century. Yet we know next to nothing about religious theater in the immigrant Italian-American community. Perhaps when that research begins the name of Stefano Romeo will surface and we’ll learn a bit more of the once vibrant Italian theatrical scene in New York and beyond.  

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About were they lived.

The address is wrong in Brooklyn. They owned and lived in a house on 70th st. the address was 1716 70th st. Between 17 & 18 th ave .

I know because we lived next to that house. My father Albert Romeo was Born in that house.