January 22, 2015
In 1951, my husband Marv was sitting next to a girl at a Hollywood High School assembly. He stretched out his arm around the back of her chair. Suddenly from out of the blue, Frank Mazzola hit him in the nose and broke it. Marv’s arm had backed the chair of his brother’s girlfriend.
That night Marv told his father what had happened, and his father phoned Frank Mazzola’s house. The father came to the phone (a stunt man in the movies, it was learned later) and listened to the story, then said, “In another minute I’m coming over to your house to break your nose.”
Fifty years passed. Marv and I were attending a reunion at Hollywood High School and Marv spotted the brother of Frank Mazzola. I stood up and walked over to him and said, “Your brother broke my husband’s nose.” The brother looked up at me and said, “My brother broke a lot of people’s noses. I stay away from him. The only person who can control him is his wife because she would leave him otherwise.”
Today in the L. A. Times Obituaries, I read of the death of Frank Mazzola. I read that he had been the “hot-tempered leader of a street gang called the Athenians... and admitted that much of his life was dominated by the Athenians. By his own account, Mazzola was involved in violence, from shoving matches on Hollywood Boulevard to stabbings in San Bernardino. He told an interviewer that he once smashed an opponent hard enough to send him flying through a shattered second story window.”
When he tried to muscle his way onto the set of “Rebel Without a Cause,” the casting director saw trouble and threw him out. But Mazzola came back, managed to sneak up to the director’ office, and impressed him on editing film. Mazzola had seen James Dean on the set of “East of Eden” but didn’t know him. “My first impression was that Jimmy was like a wild animal out of a cage.” Mazzola, who had a small part in the film, said years later, “He was telling people to back away and to not look at him.”
Mazzola took Dean to meet the Athenians. They sparred in a boxing ring. They hung out. Mazzola told him a little about fighting, reminding him to wrap his jacket around his forearm during the knife fight scene – a maneuver Mazzola said he had developed through necessity.
Dean, who terrified Mazzola with his crazy driving on the tortuous road through Laurel Canyon, died in a car crash on Sept. 30, 1955, in Central California.
The cause of Mazzola’s death was not disclosed. He had Alzheimer’s disease and disappeared from his West Hollywood home for four days in June.
(Note: In my free monthly newsletter, I will include this article and a photo of him. He even looks like a bad guy.)