“Mangiapane – that means ‘eat bread’ in Italian. My family were bakers in Corona, Queens,” says Lenny Mangiapane.
The legendary welterweight boxer and actor is a knockout in The Sopranos (natch), Law and Order, Witness to the Mob, theater, and dare we go on?
“Punch line,” anyone?
Currently, he’s Vice President for the Ring 5 Association for retired professional boxers, and will be honored at a lunch on December 8 at Russo’s on the Bay in Howard Beach, on the anniversary of his famous Madison Square Garden fight in 1964.
“That boxing match brought people in and saved boxing for the era. They’re honoring me and Bobby Bartels. John Gotti lives a few blocks away,” Lenny non-sequitored.
Then there’s all the dedicated work he’s done for Fight Aid and all the boxers-to-be he’s mentored. A New York-style champ, Lenny even has his own bread. What other bread, wry or rye says, “Leonard’s, the bread with a wallop?”
I know nil about boxing and too much about bread.
My boxing 411 is a medley of the Paul Simon song and an evening I covered for my New York Post column, years ago:
It was a night of a big fight and I had places to go. Peaceful places, or so I thought.
First, I was off to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts Benefit. I remember that Christopher Reeve was there. When I left, I heard that a fight had broken out, celebrities included.
When I was sound asleep, the phone rang. My friend Patrick was on the line.
“One of the Kennedy’s got into a fight with someone seated behind him.”
Maybe it was at Radio City where they were watching the fights, but no maybes about it; I remember who he got in a fight with. Peace out, “let’s not go there.”
The next morning, I filed the story of the two fights.
My editor called me.
“Where’d you get the story of the Kennedy fight?”
I mumbled something about not revealing sources.
“Page Six has it too, and they said that they had it first.”
It was more Page Six than society, so “uncle” to that.
Lenny Mangiapane and I have never broken bread together. Toby Beavers, of the infamous Surf Club Beavers, called me and suggested that I do a story on Lenny. They were friends. Night club friends.
“Lenny was at the Surf Club the night I was with Bernadette Peters (and her psychiatrist) when Gotti Jr. started a fight. Lenny ended it. Bernie fled… Toby kept drinking,” says Toby in a third person-meets-narrator account.
Here’s the world of Mangiapane according to Toby:
“It seems he’s involved in numerous boxing charities around NYC.
He was in critical care in 1965 after a fight.
Lenny’s a man of few words but damn funny.
Lenny was one of the best fighters in world in the 1960s.
He’s tough as nails and has plenty of great stories similar to Raging Bull and about knocking out ‘tough’ guys and mobsters.
Then, there were his Kennedy Airport swag days… hijacking trucks.
Gallo Family Mob Leader Aniello Dellacroce put a hit on him.
He shot up the Ravenite Social Club with Joey Cinque.”
Not the usual introduction that I get from Toby. It’s usually about someone who would make a good Town & Country cover, and always wears black.
No yawn at this story.
I call Lenny and introduce myself as Toby’s friend.
Enter Lenny Mangiapane:
“I was like Toby’s body guard there. Toby’s a sweetheart. I’m old school; I’m not with the computers. I’m a leader with kids, always at the gym, teaching people every day. I take care of my wife, Kathleen. We have a bullterrier, ‘Bella la Goat Cheese.’ When I was a kid we went to a boxing gym in Flushing Meadows. It was originally the World’s Fair. I started boxing when I was a kid. I was on the park department teams at 12 years old; I won the 112-lb. Jr. Championship. I love my hood: Crazy New York action 24/7. The scenery changes every day from my building. I see people from Baruch College, the School of Visual Arts, and the Methadone Clinic. Years ago, a friend was upset with me. Tells me a woman wants to kill his mother. So I went with him. He lives on the 6th floor. Some guys come out with a knife; I hit him and he shoots me and leaves me for dead. A cop takes me to the hospital and a priest reads me my last rites.”
“I’m my own person. I do things from my heart and soul.”
Lenny loves his wife Kathleen, big time.
“I was a macho man. Now, I’m a pussy cat. I respect females so much more. Since my wife’s been sick, I’m the one who’s vacuuming, work that I’ve never done.
Before, when I was a fighter, I was a party guy I hung out with major loser guys.”
I speak to Kathleen; she is all light and sing-song. She is typing out the web address for New York Natives. “He can’t do stuff like this. You see, he’s an actor and boxer,” she giggles.
Just your average New York knockout couple, on an average New York day.
Featured image courtesy of Lenny Mangiapane