Robert Moresco interview from 1988 New York Times

Robert Moresco interview from 1988 New York Times

Irish
Irish

October 20th, 2008, 4:31 pm #1

Reality of Hell's Kitchen Is Playwright's Material

By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Published: January 9, 1988

LEAD: Robert Moresco sits in Jimmy Armstrong's, one of those old Irish saloons on the West Side of Manhattan, and talks about a play he has written, and the reality on which it might or might not be based.

Robert Moresco sits in Jimmy Armstrong's, one of those old Irish saloons on the West Side of Manhattan, and talks about a play he has written, and the reality on which it might or might not be based.

The play, ''Half Deserted Streets,'' is about a group of teen-agers involved with a small, violent organized-crime group on the West Side. It tells the terrible truth about the death of one youth's best friend.

It is not a true story, Mr. Moresco, known as Bobby to his friends, insists. But there is truth in it. Death of a Friend ''It's a play about breaking away,'' said Mr. Moresco, who was able to do exactly that.

Mr. Moresco fled to Los Angeles in 1976 after a friend was shot in the head after a fight in a bar in Hell's Kitchen - that section of the West Side bounded by 42d and 59th Streets, Eighth Avenue and the Hudson River that is now called Clinton.

Mr. Moresco, a bartender when he left New York, returned in 1983 a budding actor, with a handful of movies and after a couple of appearances on ''Miami Vice.'' He moved back to the old neighborhood, a few blocks from where he grew up and where his mother still lives.

His brother, Thomas, never broke away. Thomas joined the local gang, became a drug addict and was murdered at age 29 in 1982.

Mr. Moresco will not discuss Thomas or how he died. He will only say the Off Off Broadway play, which opens Friday at the Actor's Outlet Theater at 120 West 28th Street, is dedicated to his brother. 'Bunch of Guys Growing Up'

The fledgling playwright was adamant that his brother was not a Westie, taking the position that the Westies have never existed except in New Yorkers' imaginations.

Sure, Mr. Moresco knows about the trial now going on in Federal District Court in Manhattan where 10 people who the authorities call Westies are being tried for racketeering, extortion and killing people and chopping their bodies into little pieces.

Mr. Moresco said he grew up with those guys. ''Say hello to all of them for me,'' he told an acquaintance planning to visit the courtroom.

But Mr. Moresco said he laughs at the word ''organization,'' and totally dismisses the phrase ''Irish Mafia.'' ''There was never such a thing as an organized Westie group,'' he said.

What there was, he said, was ''just a bunch of guys growing up who were dealing with things they didn't know how to deal with.'' In the end, ''they got caught up in their own web,'' he said. 'He Has to Lie'

Mr. Moresco seems to doubt that the men will be convicted. Much of the prosecution's case rests on the testimony of Mickey Featherstone, who is said by the police to be a longtime Westie who has agreed to testify for the Federal Government.

''Mickey has always lied,'' Mr. Moresco said. ''And he's in a pickle now where he has to lie.''

Mr. Moresco's own life is deeply enmeshed in that of the Hell's Kitchen where he grew up in an apartment at 10th Avenue and 51st Street with his father, who worked as a longshoreman, his mother, who worked as a switchboard operator, and five siblings.

There was never much money, but ''I didn't know what it was like to want something,'' Mr. Moresco said. Indeed, his memories of the 1960's are idyllic.

Then came the 70's. Construction jobs, long the mainstay of the West Side, dropped dramatically. Drugs came. It was not long before Mr. Moresco, by then a high school dropout, knew 20 people who had been killed on the increasingly mean streets of the old Hell's Kitchen. 'Take Me to Hollywood'

The last straw came when his best friend, Dennis, was shot and killed in 1976 at age 27. ''I was in Los Angeles three days later,'' Mr. Moresco said.

All he had was $300 and the knowledge he had gained from a couple of years of acting lessons - the bright idea of someone in a bar he was tending.

''Take me to Hollywood,'' Mr. Moresco told a taxicab driver at the Los Angeles airport. ''Good luck, kid,'' the driver said as he dropped him off at a rather seedy motel.

''Me and 100 hookers,'' Mr. Moresco remembered with a smile. ''And I didn't know a soul in Los Angeles.''

But the American dream for once ran its promised course. Jobs as a security guard, tending bar, construction. Bit acting parts, then bigger ones. Learning the rudiments of theater, writing a screenplay or two. Play in Black and White

But Hell's Kitchen was never far away during Mr. Moresco's years on the West Coast. For one thing, he said he learned that a smile from a New York longshoreman and one from a flashy Hollywood producer do not necessarily mean the same thing. For another, he could not forget his friend Dennis.

So for the last decade, Mr. Moresco has wrestled with his memories of home in the play he has finally finished. As much as he insists the play is fictional, it is impossible not to note the name of the character who never appears because he is dead. It is Dennis.

And Mr. Moresco has come home. At first, the gentrification of Hell's Kitchen troubled him. ''This was no longer my neighborhood,'' he remembers feeling. Now, he and his wife, Barbara, who also grew up in the neighborhood, live with their two daughters in an apartment overlooking the Hudson River.

They like the ferns in the nicer restaurants. The clamoring cranes, they say, mean jobs. All in all, the Clinton neighborhood is fine by them.

Yet the old Hell's Kitchen persists in Mr. Moresco's play, a minimalist vision that the director, Richard Compton, calls a play in black and white. 'Throwbacks to Another Era'

In one scene, it is about 7:15 P.M., just 15 minutes before four teen-agers are plotting to steal some computers. Frankie is on the roof where he has been spending a lot of time since Dennis died of a drug overdose. Bug, his friend, is begging Frankie to reverse his decision not to help out with the robbery.

''What do you think, you're better than we are?'' Bug asks, throwing ever more desperate arguments at his friend. ''You become a cop on Monday, and then come look me up next week. I guess that's what's next, huh?''

The issues are loyalty, right and wrong, alienation. The issues, on a fundamental level, are the same in Room 506 of the Federal Court House for the Southern District of New York.

In that courtroom recently, Marcelle Featherstone, known to her friends as Sissy, was defending her husband. She is 31 years old, the mother of four, and fiercely loyal to Mickey Featherstone. ''I love my husband,'' she said.

The 10 defendants, who presumably feel differently, watched her intently. ''These guys are like throwbacks to another era,'' whispered Tom English, a writer for The Irish Voice newspaper who has seen most of the trial.

Correction: January 11, 1988, Monday, Late City Final Edition


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Joined: April 15th, 2005, 9:58 am

October 22nd, 2008, 1:15 pm #2

Robert Moresco?? Isn't this guy's real name Cummiskey? Isn't he Eddie 'The Butcher' Cummiskey's brother? He helped create The Black Donnellys!
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Anonymous
Anonymous

October 22nd, 2008, 3:42 pm #3

Black Donnellys and Crash guy, but not Cummiskey's brother
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Joined: April 15th, 2005, 9:58 am

October 23rd, 2008, 12:06 pm #4

I've heard that Robert Moresco is not his real name and that he changed it becuse he is the brother of an Irish guy murdered in Hells Kitchen. He wanted to lose the stigma attatched to their surname. I heard that surname was Cummiskey.
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Anonymous
Anonymous

October 23rd, 2008, 12:46 pm #5

No Moresco is his real name. His murdered brother was Tommy who was killed in 1983. He is three quarters Irish, one quarter Italian. I think he has three or four brothers or sisters. Dad was a longshoreman.
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Anonymous
Anonymous

October 23rd, 2008, 6:19 pm #6

Sorry it might seem like I am pointing out the obvious. I just read the article and most of the stuff I wrote is in there, so my apologies. Wasn't trying to just repeat what the article said.
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Irish
Irish

October 24th, 2008, 12:14 am #7

Reality of Hell's Kitchen Is Playwright's Material

By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Published: January 9, 1988

LEAD: Robert Moresco sits in Jimmy Armstrong's, one of those old Irish saloons on the West Side of Manhattan, and talks about a play he has written, and the reality on which it might or might not be based.

Robert Moresco sits in Jimmy Armstrong's, one of those old Irish saloons on the West Side of Manhattan, and talks about a play he has written, and the reality on which it might or might not be based.

The play, ''Half Deserted Streets,'' is about a group of teen-agers involved with a small, violent organized-crime group on the West Side. It tells the terrible truth about the death of one youth's best friend.

It is not a true story, Mr. Moresco, known as Bobby to his friends, insists. But there is truth in it. Death of a Friend ''It's a play about breaking away,'' said Mr. Moresco, who was able to do exactly that.

Mr. Moresco fled to Los Angeles in 1976 after a friend was shot in the head after a fight in a bar in Hell's Kitchen - that section of the West Side bounded by 42d and 59th Streets, Eighth Avenue and the Hudson River that is now called Clinton.

Mr. Moresco, a bartender when he left New York, returned in 1983 a budding actor, with a handful of movies and after a couple of appearances on ''Miami Vice.'' He moved back to the old neighborhood, a few blocks from where he grew up and where his mother still lives.

His brother, Thomas, never broke away. Thomas joined the local gang, became a drug addict and was murdered at age 29 in 1982.

Mr. Moresco will not discuss Thomas or how he died. He will only say the Off Off Broadway play, which opens Friday at the Actor's Outlet Theater at 120 West 28th Street, is dedicated to his brother. 'Bunch of Guys Growing Up'

The fledgling playwright was adamant that his brother was not a Westie, taking the position that the Westies have never existed except in New Yorkers' imaginations.

Sure, Mr. Moresco knows about the trial now going on in Federal District Court in Manhattan where 10 people who the authorities call Westies are being tried for racketeering, extortion and killing people and chopping their bodies into little pieces.

Mr. Moresco said he grew up with those guys. ''Say hello to all of them for me,'' he told an acquaintance planning to visit the courtroom.

But Mr. Moresco said he laughs at the word ''organization,'' and totally dismisses the phrase ''Irish Mafia.'' ''There was never such a thing as an organized Westie group,'' he said.

What there was, he said, was ''just a bunch of guys growing up who were dealing with things they didn't know how to deal with.'' In the end, ''they got caught up in their own web,'' he said. 'He Has to Lie'

Mr. Moresco seems to doubt that the men will be convicted. Much of the prosecution's case rests on the testimony of Mickey Featherstone, who is said by the police to be a longtime Westie who has agreed to testify for the Federal Government.

''Mickey has always lied,'' Mr. Moresco said. ''And he's in a pickle now where he has to lie.''

Mr. Moresco's own life is deeply enmeshed in that of the Hell's Kitchen where he grew up in an apartment at 10th Avenue and 51st Street with his father, who worked as a longshoreman, his mother, who worked as a switchboard operator, and five siblings.

There was never much money, but ''I didn't know what it was like to want something,'' Mr. Moresco said. Indeed, his memories of the 1960's are idyllic.

Then came the 70's. Construction jobs, long the mainstay of the West Side, dropped dramatically. Drugs came. It was not long before Mr. Moresco, by then a high school dropout, knew 20 people who had been killed on the increasingly mean streets of the old Hell's Kitchen. 'Take Me to Hollywood'

The last straw came when his best friend, Dennis, was shot and killed in 1976 at age 27. ''I was in Los Angeles three days later,'' Mr. Moresco said.

All he had was $300 and the knowledge he had gained from a couple of years of acting lessons - the bright idea of someone in a bar he was tending.

''Take me to Hollywood,'' Mr. Moresco told a taxicab driver at the Los Angeles airport. ''Good luck, kid,'' the driver said as he dropped him off at a rather seedy motel.

''Me and 100 hookers,'' Mr. Moresco remembered with a smile. ''And I didn't know a soul in Los Angeles.''

But the American dream for once ran its promised course. Jobs as a security guard, tending bar, construction. Bit acting parts, then bigger ones. Learning the rudiments of theater, writing a screenplay or two. Play in Black and White

But Hell's Kitchen was never far away during Mr. Moresco's years on the West Coast. For one thing, he said he learned that a smile from a New York longshoreman and one from a flashy Hollywood producer do not necessarily mean the same thing. For another, he could not forget his friend Dennis.

So for the last decade, Mr. Moresco has wrestled with his memories of home in the play he has finally finished. As much as he insists the play is fictional, it is impossible not to note the name of the character who never appears because he is dead. It is Dennis.

And Mr. Moresco has come home. At first, the gentrification of Hell's Kitchen troubled him. ''This was no longer my neighborhood,'' he remembers feeling. Now, he and his wife, Barbara, who also grew up in the neighborhood, live with their two daughters in an apartment overlooking the Hudson River.

They like the ferns in the nicer restaurants. The clamoring cranes, they say, mean jobs. All in all, the Clinton neighborhood is fine by them.

Yet the old Hell's Kitchen persists in Mr. Moresco's play, a minimalist vision that the director, Richard Compton, calls a play in black and white. 'Throwbacks to Another Era'

In one scene, it is about 7:15 P.M., just 15 minutes before four teen-agers are plotting to steal some computers. Frankie is on the roof where he has been spending a lot of time since Dennis died of a drug overdose. Bug, his friend, is begging Frankie to reverse his decision not to help out with the robbery.

''What do you think, you're better than we are?'' Bug asks, throwing ever more desperate arguments at his friend. ''You become a cop on Monday, and then come look me up next week. I guess that's what's next, huh?''

The issues are loyalty, right and wrong, alienation. The issues, on a fundamental level, are the same in Room 506 of the Federal Court House for the Southern District of New York.

In that courtroom recently, Marcelle Featherstone, known to her friends as Sissy, was defending her husband. She is 31 years old, the mother of four, and fiercely loyal to Mickey Featherstone. ''I love my husband,'' she said.

The 10 defendants, who presumably feel differently, watched her intently. ''These guys are like throwbacks to another era,'' whispered Tom English, a writer for The Irish Voice newspaper who has seen most of the trial.

Correction: January 11, 1988, Monday, Late City Final Edition

NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: CLINTON; Last Call for Matthew Scudder's Favorite Saloon

By DENNY LEE
Published: October 6, 2002

Everybody was there, except maybe Matthew Scudder, the hard-drinking ex-cop who gave the place its literary cachet.

In 15 best-selling crime novels by Lawrence Block, a raconteur of gritty New York, Jimmy Armstrong's Saloon at West 57th Street and 10th Avenue was both office and living room for the detective. It was the place where murders were mulled, treacherous lady friends forgotten and sorrows drowned.

''The crowd was a mixed bag,'' Scudder expounded in the 1986 thriller ''When the Sacred Ginmill Closes.''

''I mostly mixed my bourbon with coffee, moving to straight booze toward the end of an evening. I could read a paper there, and have a hamburger or a full meal, and as much or as little conversation as I was in the mood for.''

The place was no larger than a railroad apartment, but was just as inviting. The real Jimmy, who resembled Santa Claus in both spirit and appearance, died of a heart attack in April at age 60.

His nephew, Bobby Armstrong, a newspaper worker from the West Coast, inherited the business, but had neither the heart nor the money to keep the place afloat. Nine days ago it was last call at Armstrong's.

It was a sad day for what had become a favorite haunt for local writers and musicians, as Scudder would have been the first to note.

Old friends gathered one last time and toasted Jimmy's memory, on the house. Loyal patrons held back tears as they lapped up free tequila and walked off with souvenir salt shakers. There were no hard feelings, just happy thoughts. The bartenders were a puddle.

Scudder, who shunned the bottle many novels ago, might have raised a glass.

''Christ, I lived there,'' he recalled in ''When the Sacred Ginmill Closes.'' ''I had my room to sleep in and I had other bars and restaurants to go to, but for a few years there, Jimmy Armstrong's was home to me.'' DENNY LEE


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