The newest member of the Veteran Boxers Association, Ring 8, in New York City, is Frank Albanese, a hard-punching heavyweight from the 1940s who is now an actor.
Although his pro boxing career consisted of 10 fights, all of which he says he won by knockout, he is better known as Uncle Pat Blundetto, the role he played on four episodes of “The Sopranos” television show between 2004 and 2007.
His character was the owner of a country farm who was suffering from dementia. He couldn’t remember where the bodies were buried when the characters played by James Gandolfini and Steve Buscemi came to dig them up because a condominium complex was going to be built on the property.
Over the years, the 76-year-old Albanese, who looks fit enough to still go a few rounds, has also appeared in uncredited roles in two of the three “Godfather” movies, as well as credited roles in “Dead Presidents” and “Goodfellas.”
As much as Albanese loves acting, he says he was “devastated” that he had to give up boxing at the age of 19 after it was discovered that he had scar tissue on his brain during a routine examination.
Although he sparred on many occasions with such greats as Rocky Marciano, Archie Moore and Roland LaStarza, the thick-necked, wide-shouldered Albanese, whose hands are as big as frying pans, believes the head injury was incurred in any one of the numerous bar brawls or street fights he engaged in while growing up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
“I loved boxing,” he said. “It killed me to have to give it up. There was so much camaraderie. I loved going to the gym and training. I liked the training as much as fighting.”
Although Albanese is not listed on boxrec.com, Henry Wallitsch, the President of Ring 8 and a popular New York pro during that era, said Albanese was a “killer” in the gym and extremely formidable in actual fights.
Wallitsch remembered clearly that it was well known in boxing circles that Albanese had never been defeated in four amateur or 10 pro bouts. Moreover, he had won every one of them by knockout.
Albanese, who was extremely close friends with middleweight champion Rocky Graziano, remembers his sparring sessions with Marciano, Moore and LaStarza, all of whom he has the utmost respect for.
“Rocky never got tired, he was unbelievable,” said Albanese. “He never got arm weary or leg weary. He had tremendous stamina. You couldn’t wear him out or outlast him. It was like he was inhuman.”
He described LaStarza as being “a brilliant boxer with a tremendous right hand.” He also said he was very clever and fleet-footed, which made it hard to hit him solidly.
But the all-around best, he says, was the masterful Moore. “He was such a complete fighter,” said Albanese. “Once in a while I’d get lucky and graze him with a left hook or a jab, but I could never touch him with a right hand. I couldn’t get anywhere with him. He was the best I ever boxed with, probably the best anybody ever boxed with.”
After Albanese was forced to give up fighting, Graziano, who was a mainstream sports celebrity, helped him break into show business. While he got sporadic stage and screen work over the years, he was also employed as a longshoreman, truck driver and cab driver.
He has carved out a little niche for himself as a member of the fictional GAG, which stands for Gangsters Actors Guild, a parody of the legitimate SAG, which stands for the Screen Actors Guild.
Besides the aforementioned movie roles, Albanese also played mob chieftain Paul Castellano in a 1989 episode of the television show “America’s Most Wanted.”
Castellano was rubbed out several years earlier in front of Sparks Steak House in Manhattan. His death ushered in a new era of organized crime in New York.
Albanese seemed overjoyed to be at Ring 8. “All of my old friends from Stillman’s Gym are here,” he explained.
He said that as disappointing as his boxing career was, he was happy to have fought during what he considers the golden age of boxing.
Having been trained by the esteemed Whitey Bimstein, he was very fortunate to have had the best in the business in his corner. He feels the same about his film career, and considers himself blessed to have worked with actors as talented and generous as those on “The Sopranos,” as well with such elite directors as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Martin Ritt, the latter of whom directed him in “The Brotherhood,” a 1968 mob film with Kirk Douglas and Alex Cord.
Even at his advanced age, Albanese is still pounding the pavement looking for work. He auditions for parts several days a week, and says he is happy to apply the same commitment to his new craft that he had given to boxing.
On the day he was hired for “The Sopranos,” he had just dropped off a photo and resume at casting agent Georgianne Walken’s office. One look at his craggy face, and he was auditioned on the spot.
When asked whether boxing or acting has been more satisfying to him, he was a bit circumspect before answering.
“That’s a tough,” he said. “Each one is very challenging, and you are all alone in front of a crowd.
“But,” he added, “I think I liked boxing better.”
Other Ring 8 notes:
Tickets to the public are available for the organization’s annual holiday party, which will be held at Leonard’s of Great Neck on Long Island on Sunday, December 16th. The cocktail hour begins at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $125 for non-members and can be purchased by sending a check to Ring 8, 2-03 Borden Avenue, Long Island City, NY 11101.
In support of our fighting troops overseas, Ring 8 recently sent a box of hats and plaques to military personnel in Iraq. The soldiers wrote back and stated that they engaged in wrestling matches, with the winners receiving the coveted trophies.
Ring 8 was thrilled to forward “Uncrowned Champion” belts to Alvaro “Yaqui” Lopez and Armando Muniz, two extremely popular 1970s era fighters who were in attendance at the World Boxing Hall of Fame annual awards dinner in California on October 13. Lopez was actually inducted into the HOF on that date.
The organization also sent a Mass card and basket of fruit to the family of the late champion Fritzie Zivic, whose son recently passed away.
During a spirited discussion about the use of steroids by boxers, former middleweight champion Vito Antuofermo was adamant about his feelings on the matter. “I don’t care what anyone says,” he angrily proclaimed. “It’s like going into the ring with a gun.”
Adding to the festivities at the October meeting was the fact that it was held two days before President Henry Wallitsch’s 72nd birthday on October 18th. All of the members in attendance sang him a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” before presenting him with a delicious cake.
Looking decades younger, Wallitsch leaned down, bobbed, weaved and threw some awfully good-looking punches before blowing out the candles with no effort whatsoever. You’d never know from looking at him that he is a septuagenarian.