From Mafia Guy to New York Newspaper Editor

How the father of Hidden Figures director Theodore Melfi detoured to the print side

Features executive editor Stephen Galloway’s latest piece for The Hollywood Reporter is a doozy. He sat down at Cecconi’s in West Hollywood and basically turned on the tape recorder as Hidden Figures co-writer and director Theodore Melfi (pictured) recounted his crazy family background.

Dad was a mafia guy. As Melfi puts it, “he did numbers-running and collections and Mickey Mouse stuff.” But still, it went on for decades. That is, until the family realized he wasn’t in the construction business and dad was forced by mom to find a more respectable line of work. So Joe Melfi became a “starving journalist,” alongside the clan relocating from a 26-bedroom mansion in Schenectady to much humbler apartment confines in Brooklyn. From Melfi’s first-person THR piece:

My dad starts an anti-government newspaper, basically funded by the mob–they bought ads in the paper. It’s called the M.A.F.I.A. Bulletin Board. And he gets a lot of heat [from gangsters] for putting the Mafia name there. A couple of years later, he takes the word “Mafia” off the cover to make it Middle America’s News. He was the head of sales, the chief editor and the president of this little paper. And all he did was attack the government and seek justice for others.

All the mobsters bought classifieds. These were all mob businesses: Club Skyway, a social club in Brooklyn; a concrete block company, Dragone Brothers. This was the beginning of my writing career. I had my own column. I got a quarter a month for writing in the paper. I wrote about sports, everything.

After 13 years, in a manner befitting a mafia guy, Melfi’s run as a newspaper man came to a sudden and geographically abrupt end. Along the way, he also ran at one point for Governor of New York. Several readers are suggesting the Melfi family saga should be made into a movie or TV series. Hard to argue with that.

On-set photo courtesy: The Weinstein Company