Det. Sonny Grosso’s new Memoir, Harlem to Hollywood, features Maternal Memories that Resonate with Us All

Det. Sonny Grosso’s new Memoir, Harlem to Hollywood, features Maternal Memories that Resonate with Us All

Det. Sonny Grosso’s new Memoir, Harlem to Hollywood, features Maternal Memories that Resonate with Us All

What lengths will we go to please our own Mothers, eh?

Famous French Connection detective Sonny Grosso once did some soft-shoeing to make his mother happy. It hilariously didn’t pan out but he learned from it. And, he went on to make the biggest drug bust in NYPD history, a case that was turned into a best-selling book, and then adapted into a 5-time Oscar-winning movie.

With the recent Mother’s Day in North America, I have compiled some memorable anecdotes about this famous detective-turned-movie producer from the new memoir, Harlem to Hollywood My Real-to-Reel Life by The French Connection Detective Sonny Grosso, which was written by yours truly and which is now available on Amazon, worldwide.

Chapter 1 — Italian Harlem....the Very Best of Times (excerpt)

Fuggedaboudit! Who wouldn’t have wanted to have lived there, back then? Well, Sonny Grosso did and his stories reveal an intimate snapshot of another time in place, growing up in wonderfully loud, colorful and very real Italian Harlem:

“Each block in my Italian Harlem neighborhood had the smells of rich, thick Sunday sauce and the music of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Tony Bennett along with Mario Lanza, and Jimmy Roselli singing ‘Mala Femmina’ — every Italian guy’s anthem back then and a song they used on The Sopranos. You went to churches like Mt. Carmel, St. Anns or Holy Rosary. Everybody knew somebody. And everybody respected everybody. But you conveniently forgot everybody’s name if you got questioned by the law...if you ever knew their real names anyhow. And each block had a social club and, you guessed it, a wiseguy. There was also a restaurant called Rao’s, which was rumored to be a hangout for those very same ‘neighborhood’ guys. Just around the corner from where we lived, our Ma always used to tell us not to look into the establishment. Of course, you know what we did when we ran by it—we peeked in!

“Growing up in Harlem, you may not have had a lot but you never wanted those good times to end. We remembered our mothers shopping on First Avenue, bringing back all the fresh foods to make those great sauces that only Italian mothers can make. And also all the gossip that only the neighborhood people knew—about who’s getting divorced, who’s sleeping with whom, who went to jail.”


Grosso’s mother, Lillian, had met his father on the Asbury Park boardwalk in Jersey, and it was love at first sight like in that old Drifters’ song — “Oh, under the boardwalk, down by the sea, yeah/On a blanket with my baby is where I'll be...” Those words and tune was the theme song for their lives together. Grosso continues:

“He told her he'd come back the next summer to propose, and he did. Ma never had eyes for anyone else, ever. My father Benny was my hero, a real man’s man, tough as nails but fair. Think John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, and Steve McQueen from the movies. He’d come home from work with his big trailer truck that he used to make deliveries with. Sometimes he’d have these big vats of butter and we’d come down with macaroni pots, jump in the truck and help ourselves to scoops of butter with big spoons to take back home to mom. Yeah, you could say that butter fell off the truck!”

Grosso remembers another story about his beloved mother, Lillian: “One time, my mother wanted me to demonstrate something for my father. You got to understand when I was about ten growing up, you took piano or accordion lessons or tap dancing from two ladies who had lost their husbands and this would help them get through the tough times. We supported others in our neighborhood. But, I didn’t want to play the piano or the accordion so I was left with tap dancing. I had some lessons and my father is sitting at home reading his paper, my mother comes over and says, ‘Sonny wants to show you something.’ So he puts his newspaper down and my mother winks at me, suggesting that this was going to turn out real good. Then she proudly says, ‘Show him, Sonny.’

“So, I start, but my stunned father asks, ‘What the hell is he doing?’ My mom says, ‘He’s tap dancing.’ So, my father puts the paper back up: ‘Let him do it in the bathroom.’ My mother is still winking and still trying to encourage me. She says, ‘Don’t worry, he’ll get used to it.’ So we’re walking down the hall towards the bathroom and from behind the paper he shouts, ‘And close the door!’ I was going to kill myself! But my mother puts me in the bathroom and she’s going, ‘Shhhhh, don’t worry, he’ll understand, he’ll really love it. Just go on and practice.’ And she closes the door. I’m in this small little bathroom with tiles on the floor and I’ve got my taps on, staring at myself in the mirror, and I start dancing.

“Finally, I think, ‘Am I nuts? This is the stupidest thing I ever did in my life!’ So, I walk out and ma says, ‘What’s the matter?’ I say, ‘Ma, it’s over!’ She asks, ‘What do you mean?’ I took a stand: ‘I ain’t going to do this no more.’ I never wanted to do it to begin with. Maybe I should’ve taken the accordion lessons! Later on, I found out my father told my mom that when he first saw me shaking my arms and legs, he thought I had Saint Vitus’ Dance — an affliction that involved involuntary jerking motions, kind of like epilepsy, although nobody really knew what the hell it was. So, my father sees me shaking and I probably looked a little spasmodic.

“Hey, I wanted to play for the Yankees, and be like Joe DiMaggio. I didn’t want to be no tap dancer. My mother tried her best and had spent some money but I said, ‘Ma, I’ll clean the roof, I’ll do errands, I’ll walk the dog, clean up after him but I ain’t tap dancing no more!’ And I remembered what my wise grandfather used to say: ‘Just because you put tap shoes on an elephant don’t mean it can dance!’”

To all our Mothers, Past and Present, we owe you our lives and our abiding Love.





As a reminder, click on the highlighted links for The French Connection movie trailer, that amazing “car chase,” and an eye-opening Documentary. Also, check out Harlem to Hollywood My Real-to-Reel Life by The French Connection Detective Sonny Grosso on Amazon, in the United States, Canada, and UK.

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  • Laura Anderson

    Brilliant read, mate! Sonny Grosso's tales take us back to a time and place filled with rich culture and vibrant characters. Can't help but chuckle imagining him tap dancing in the bathroom!

  • Jenny Reilly

    Sonny Grosso's memoir paints a vivid picture of Italian Harlem, complete with the aroma of Sunday sauce and the sounds of classic crooners. His anecdotes about his mother's determination are both heartwarming and hilarious.

  • Owen Smith

    Absolutely loved the insight into Sonny's childhood, especially his tap dancing escapade! It's a testament to the unwavering support and love of mothers everywhere.

  • William Jenkins

    The colorful descriptions of Italian Harlem brought back memories of family gatherings and neighborhood secrets. Sonny's mother, Lillian, sounds like a force to be reckoned with!

  • Victor P

    From Italian Harlem to the silver screen, Sonny's story is one for the ages. Cheers to mothers everywhere for their unwavering support and love!

  • Matt Cadwell


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Ashley Jude Collie

Entertainment Expert

Ashley is an award-winning journalist/author/blogger who has written for Playboy, Toronto Star, Movie Entertainment, Sports Illustrated, Maclean's and others. He's interviewed various "leaders" in their fields, including: Oscar winners (Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Lawrence, Alicia Vikander, Jane Fonda, Mira Sorvino, Geena Davis, Anthony Hopkins); Grammy winners (Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Ice Cube, Pete Townshend); MVPs in sports (Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Wayne Gretzky, Kobe Bryant); and, business leaders (Amazon's Jeff Bezos). He has an upcoming novel, REJEX, coming out on Pulp Hero Press. And he has written several episodic TV shows, appeared on CNN, and blogged for Mademan, Medium, GritDaily and HuffPost.

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