This blog is for die hard Sopranos fans only. People interested in Paulie Walnuts and his real father Russ.
It is about David Chase – the absolute legend who created The Sopranos – and his feature debut Not Fade Away, and a subtle reference it contains to The Sopranos.
I figured this nugget of knowledge would be online somewhere, but lo and behold, I couldn’t find it anywhere… So it appears that I have the honour of being the first to report it. Here it goes:
In the 69th episode of The Sopranos ‘The Fleshy Part of the Thigh’(*1) Paulie’s aunt Dottie – a nun – tells him she’s not who he thinks she is: “Paulie, during the war I was still a novitiate. I was helping out at the U.S.O.(*2) and there was this soldier – Russ. And he was so lonely… I got pregnant. I had a baby. Paulie, it was you. You’re my son.”
It turns out that the woman who raised Paulie – Nucci – was really his aunt. He gets pretty sore when he hears this news and he cuts Nucci off. Until the resurrected and positively spirited Tony reminds him of everything she did for him, like getting his ass out of the can time and again when Paulie was a kid. So Paulie decides to continue paying for her Green Grove retirement community by blackmailing the poor sucker Jason Barone(*3).
Five years after the final season of The Sopranos aired, tv veteran David Chase made his directorial debut with Not Fade Away, a movie about a band that tried to make it, but never did, in the sixties. It’s a little indie movie with a terrific soundtrack which Stevie Van Zandt (who plays Silvio Dante in The Sopranos and was a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band) helped to arrange. Yes, you can expect The Beatles, The Stones, Bo Diddley, Bob Dylan, The Moody Blues and many more. The film is not great, nothing like The Sopranos in terms of superb acting and writing, but it’s very watchable.
The reference to Russ occurs when main character Douglas has dinner with his father (Chase regular James Gandolfini). They talk about why he never got drafted (he was producing goods useful for the war effort). Then he mentioned some friends who did go into the army. “Tom with the one leg missing. Iwo Jima. And our buddy Russ. He never left that island.”
The battle of Iwo Jima was in 1945, so he would have had to make the nun Dottie pregnant before that. It all ties up very nicely. So Paulie, if you’re reading this: your dad died at Iwo Jima. Sorry my friend. Luckily you turned out very well anyway.
*1 – In this excellent episode Tony discusses the implications of quantum mechanics in the hospital where he is recovering from a gunshot wound. While watching a boxing match with a gangster rapper and rocket scientist, the scientist John Schwinn (Hal Holbrook) tells him: “It’s actually an illusion those two boxers are separate entities. Their being separate entities is simply the way we choose to perceive them. It’s physics. Schrodinger’s equation. The boxers, you, me – we’re all part of the same quantum field. Think of the two boxers as ocean waves or currents of air – two tornadoes say. They appear to be two things right, two seperate things? But they’re not. Tornadoes are just the wind stirred up in different directions. The fact is: Nothing is separate – everything’s connected. The shapes we see exist only in our own consciousness.”
At the end of the episode, the makers pull a neat editing trick by making it appear as Tony and Paulie are in the same space while we know they’re at entirely different locations. There’s a reason why this is still my Nr. 1 show.
*2 – The United Service Organization (U.S.O.) was established in order to provide social clubs on America’s military bases during the Second World War. Located in Central New Jersey, Camp Kilmer is a former United States Army camp that was activated in June 1942 as a staging area and part of an installation of the New York Port of Embarkation. The Hostesses of Camp Kilmer were given an unofficial title, the ‘Kilmer Sweethearts’. These hostesses provided a wide range of services including serving food, dancing with the soldiers, and probably other services as well like the one aunt Dottie provided for Russ. They also visited sick and wounded soldiers in America’s hospitals. The U.S.O. also organized shows for Allied servicemen both at home and abroad. Many big stars of the era volunteered to participate in these shows.
*3 – For four grand a month! I don’t know what salary this guy makes, but I would have to steal every month to be able to pay him. Luckily there is no mob here.