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The Ultimate Caan

Despite a tumultuous career and personal life, actor James Caan stays true to his ideals—and his friends.
Betsy Model
From the Print Edition:
Tyson vs. King, Jan/Feb 04

(continued from page 5)

If people on the street confusing Caan with the character of Sonny leaves him unfazed, the confusion about his connection to Sonny-like organized crime figures -- or to those deemed "wiseguys" -- seems to alternately amuse and infuriate him.

Caan's been known to refer to some of his old friends in New York as "not exactly bakers." He's admitted in print to having had a friendly relationship with reputed gangster Meyer Lansky following the making of The Godfather, and he attended the racketeering trial of friend Andrew Russo in 1986. In 1993, he attended the drug-trafficking trial of Ronald Lorenzo, who's linked to the Bonanno crime family, and in 1999, he appeared in videotapes shown at another trial of Russo, a trial that convicted Russo of jury tampering and obstruction of justice in the racketeering trial and conviction of his own son, Joseph. To Caan, all this simply falls under the category of "loyalty" and "friendship."

"Look, some of them [the media] -- they'd say 'you're connected.' I'm not connected to anything! I abhor crime. I hate crime. I work with the police…I train the police [in martial arts] in Culver City [California].

"Now," Caan continues, "one of my dearest friends is Andrew Russo. He's the most loyal guy I've ever met, he's my friend to this day thirty years later. I've never known Andrew to commit…any kind of violent crime. But if he's a so-called boss or this and that…I know he's not a carpenter, OK? I know probably he's involved in maybe the same thing the city does, which is, you know, bid for jobs, whether it's the garbage business or construction business. I'm sure that he's involved in that. I would never be that naïve to think that there isn't, you know, some white-collar stuff going on, but I personally do not know of one violent thing that this guy's done.

"He's a true valued friend, [and when] his son was in trouble, I offered to help with his legal matters. God forbid I ever needed something. I'm not saying 'needed something' like getting someone beat up, but if I needed help…."

Caan wants to be very clear on one subject. "I'm a loyal, really loyal, guy. Loyalty is the key. I don't say that with a sense of boastfulness. I've got a couple of friends from back east -- one of my best friends is a guy from Mulberry Street [in Manhattan] who owns a pizzeria and went away for a while for a small, minor thing."

As reticent as Caan is on some subjects, once he's rolling -- sometimes in a quick-to-surface anger -- the words and stories just flow, sometimes, it seems, to his later chagrin.

"I don't go out of my way to hurt other people's feelings. I have opinions and I try to keep them to myself. I try, but sometimes I find it necessary to spout them. I don't have an edit button!"

Ironically, despite his reputed association with mobsters, Caan has twice been the recipient of the "Italian of the Year" award from an Italian-American businessmen's association in New York. Of course, Caan's not Italian. He's just a nice, middle-class German Jewish boy who happens to be from a little neighborhood in Sunnyside.

Say grazie, Sonny.

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