By James Maher
Name: John Cannatella (and Paesano)
Location: 1st Avenue, Between 3rd and 4th
Time: 2:45 pm on Monday, Oct. 22
I’m an actor. I’m still acting. It’s steady work. I do comedy, drama, and I write and I make movies. 'The Third Testament' was one movie I’ve been in; 'When God Left His Shoes' is another, with John Leguizamo, but I’ve done mostly stage acting. I make my own movies too. I’ve acted all around this neighborhood.
I moved to the West Village way back in the 1960s to study acting and I lived there for awhile. Then I moved to the East Village when I got married and raised two children here. My daughter was born in 1976 and my son in 1981, so I’ve pretty much lived in the same apartment for 36 years — on 4th Street and 2nd Avenue.
Most of my favorite places are gone now. One was called La Focacceria on First Avenue, which was my favorite. It had genuine home cooked Sicilian food. The owner was there for ages and he had a really wide reputation — people would come from all over.
One time, I was with an improv group, headed by Jeremy Stevens, who is now a producer – he produced 'Coach' and 'Everybody Loves Raymond.' We were all pretty good. And one day he brings a couple of friends in, a man and a woman, and asks us if it’s okay if they join us for our show. We said sure. At the time I had been running dry. I wasn’t very happy; I was kind of forcing it. I was young and feeling a lot of self-pity. The venue was a restaurant called Hilly’s on 9th street and 6th Avenue. So I did a thing during the first half of the show and then I saw the man get up and he was funny and then the woman got up and she was funny.
Then there was an intermission. I went up to the balcony, where nobody was, and I sat there and I sulked. They started the second half of the show and everyone goes on and the man and the woman are still funny. Everybody leaves and I hear the director calling for me. I’m pouting. Jeremy comes up to the balcony and he sees me and he says, “What are you doing sitting here alone?” And I say, “Jeremy, get rid of me, I stink.” He says, “No you don’t, you’re still funny, you’re just going through a bit of a dry spot.” And I said, “I really stink. Those two kids you pulled off the street; they’re funnier than I am!” And he says, “You idiot! That’s Stiller and Meara — Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara!”
He tells me that everyone’s going to Trudy Heller's, the bar on the corner, but I was too embarrassed. And so he leaves and five minutes later I walk out and standing in front, leaning on a car, is Jerry Stiller. And he goes “John, yes? I really liked what you did and I was looking forward to seeing more of you. C’mon, come with us.” He put his arm around with me and guided me to Trudy Heller's. What a beautiful guy!
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.