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Prince Pasta 'Anthony!' Commercial Turns 50, Continues To Resonate


In 1969, a TV commercial for spaghetti started airing in the eastern United States. It began like this.


MARY FIUMARA: (As character) Anthony. Anthony.


That is Mary Fiumara leaning out of a window in Boston's Little Italy, calling to her TV son Anthony. Jamie Bologna from WBUR reports that 50 years later, the ad still resonates.


UNIDENTIFIED VOICE ACTOR: Anthony Martignetti lives in Boston in the Italian North End.

JAMIE BOLOGNA, BYLINE: That scrappy kid who ran through the streets of the North End in that 1969 ad - today he's all grown up, a court officer in his 60s who gets back to the old neighborhood once in a while, where he's still a local legend.

ANTHONY MARTIGNETTI: I remember getting letters. People say they named their kids after me, Anthony. And that's an honor.

BOLOGNA: The ad, produced by what was once Boston's Prince Pasta Company, made Anthony a household name in New England.


BOLOGNA: This is Jim Botticelli, author of "Dirty Old Boston."

BOTTICELLI: The minute you say Anthony, especially if you say it in that tone of - Anthony - they know exactly what you're talking about.

BOLOGNA: You're talking about pasta. But in 1969, spaghetti and homemade tomato sauce was not really part of the mainstream. Italian food for lots of Americans consisted of cans of Spaghetti-O's and Chef Boyardee. The commercial showed Americans the importance of family dinners for their Italian American neighbors. Here's how Paula Taylor - she runs a food and history tour of the North End - describes it.

PAULA TAYLOR: It's a little bit voyeuristic when you see Anthony Martignetti running through the streets. But then it flips to being back in the kitchen, where you see his mother making the pasta and the family gathering at the table, and it kind of shoots back and forth. It's really like a documentary in some ways.

BOLOGNA: A documentary showing Italian Americans sharing a meal. That's exactly how the commercial ends - everyone gathered at the table. Anthony arrives last.


UNIDENTIFIED VOICE ACTOR: And as every family in the North End of Boston will tell you, Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day.

JAMES PASTO: It was exciting. It was exciting to see us on TV.

BOLOGNA: This is James Pasto, co-founder of the North End Historical Society.

PASTO: Showing Italian Americans on TV, which we weren't used to seeing, it was kind of unworldly - surreal, almost - because we were on the map of America.

BOLOGNA: Tour guide Paula Taylor says people from around the country still recognize the ad.

TAYLOR: People from Texas tell me they love that commercial and that they were amazed it happened in the North End. I think in some ways, that commercial also put the North End on the map as America's Little Italy.

BOLOGNA: And now thoroughly on the map, Boston's oldest residential neighborhood has gone as mainstream as pasta itself, a tourist destination for its many Italian eateries. Today the pace, perhaps like elsewhere in the city, is decidedly different, and that makes Anthony Martignetti pine for the good old days.

MARTIGNETTI: Everybody's rushing to be someplace. Relax, you know? Sit down. Enjoy your family. They don't last forever. Times have changed. I mean, things are so expensive now. Back in those days, you paid 50, $60 a month for rent. Now you're paying three grand. Who can afford to three grand a month?

BOLOGNA: In some ways, for Anthony in the North End today, the commercial is just an old pitch for boxes of dried macaroni. But it also sells a simple, powerful idea - to take time to slow down and come together. So 50 years later, when Bostonians hear the late Mary Fiumara lean out of that second-story tenement window and call Anthony, what they hear is a call back to the kitchen table.


FIUMARA: (As character) Anthony.

BOLOGNA: For NPR News, I'm Jamie Bologna. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

James Bologna