Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Alberghetti and Her Spaghetti
My family is on a spaghetti kick this week. Some of us are loving it with garlic butter and cheese and others of us are totally into spaghetti with meat sauce. None of these dishes are especially gourmet. They are more what Alice B. Toklas termed, "nursery food," than epicurean delights.
There I was at my stove, browning meat for sauce yet again, when I thought of a television commercial from back in the 1970's, when I was a teen. This woman appears on the screen, someone I've never seen before, and she's wearing an apron. The frame shows her standing there in the kitchen, apparently getting ready to cook her brains out. She announces herself with some alliteration: "Hello, I'm Anna Maria Alberghetti and I'm here to talk to you about spaghetti sauce."
Every single time this commercial came before my television-saturated baby-boomer eyes, I was puzzled, but not too puzzled, ready to accept anything the family television wished to air on my behalf. I registered this unknown face and thought, "Who the Hell is Anna Maria Alberghetti and what do I care about her spaghetti?"
It never occurred to me to ask my mother, who would have known. But like I said, I didn't much care. Today though, when I remembered Ms. Alberghetti, I remembered the truism that GIYF (Google is your friend) and hastened to my PC to see what I could dig up. It seemed like a fun thing to do.
I was surprised that youtube doesn't carry a clip of that particular commercial, though I did find this one that shows Ms. Alberghetti advertising a different product, right at the end of this collection of dated, nostalgia-engendering commercials. So, I bombed out trying to find that particular spot that jogged my memory in the first place, but I did find lots of other material about the singer/actress.
Anna Maria Alberghetti (b. 1936) was a child prodigy born in Italy. Her father was an opera singer and concert master and her mother was a concert pianist. Anna Maria , according to Wikipedia, sang onstage in Rhodes with a 100 piece orchestra when she was six and had a debut at Carnegie Hall when she was 13. She won a Tony Award for Best Actress in Carnival in 1962. She appeared on Ed Sullivan more than 50 times. She married Claudio Guzman, a television producer and director, had a couple of daughters, and divorced.
Then she kind of faded away until she reappeared in those Good Seasons Salad Dressing commercials in the 1970's. I had remembered that the commercial was about spaghetti, but it must have been about the accompanying salad's dressing of choice. It seems this advertising campaign was geared to housewives who would have remembered Anna Maria from her glory days, because she'd all but faded from the consciousness of anyone else by the time those commercials were aired.
I still think this ad campaign was a bit misguided. It's one thing to have Joe Namath advertise pantyhose . Everyone knows Joe Namath, right??
Come to think of it, my kids have never heard of him. Hmmmm. But he was in the public conscious at the time he made that commercial, and Anna Maria had well nigh fallen off the radar by the time of that late lamented (okay, so not so lamented) Good Seasons promotion.
It's kind of hard for me to grok why they chose her, other than the obvious associations: Italian name, looks, and home-cooked Italian food. I didn't know her from Adam. I kept thinking: Saturday Night Light should spoof this.
I did find one more piece of information that kind of tickled my imagination: "The tragedy of World War II forced the Alberghettis from their homeland... "
"Hey?" I wondered. "What's up with that?"
Can you feel my brain ticking, thinking: is it possible?? Was Anna Maria Jewish??
She wasn't. But in 1992, the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) co-sponsored a two-day conference with NIAF (National Italian American Foundation) entitled, "Italians and Jews: Rescue and Aid during the Holocaust." The event was held at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Beverly Hills. Anna Maria was honored with an award and spoke of her memories from her childhood in Italy during the war.
She told the crowd that her aunt was shot by the SS and her father, who had trained many Jewish cantors, was arrested by Il Duce's Fascists. After her speech, she accepted a silver coin that commemorated the 500th anniversary of Columbus' famed voyage of 1492. According to the account I read of this event, this was the only time anyone from either the NIAF side or the ADL side made mention of this obvious connection between the two groups.
Maybe I couldn't connect Anna Maria with that spaghetti, but as it turns out, Anna Maria had no problem making the connection to me and my people. I salute you, Anna Maria Alberghetti AND your spaghetti.