The 67-year-old Brooklyn native — who first won over TV audiences during his five-year run in the late 70s and early 80s as Tony Banta on the hit sitcom Taxi — has continued to shine on screen and on stage.
And if that isn’t enough, Danza’s coauthored a cookbook/memoir Don’t Fill Up on the Antipasto (Scribner) coauthored with his son, Marc. Featuring family, fun, lots of food — and 7-year-old grandson Nicholas — the book is chock-full of recipes and real-life stories from Tony’s Italian-American family dinners. There’s even a recipe named for his grandson; “Pasta Nicky” is a tricky way for the boy eat his peas and carrots.
Danza stopped singing and stirring the marinara long enough to dish on fatherhood, grandchildren, and how to make a great meal with a toddler.
Grandparents.com: Your son, Marc, announced you were going to be a grandfather on your talk show. The Tony Danza Show, in 2005. You were surprised, but so was your audience, considering you were in your mid 50s. Were you ready to be a grandfather?
Tony Danza: Oh, Marc and his wife had been married a long time and, you know, I didn’t want to push or put any pressure on them. You know, I figured they’d get around to it and it’s their life, and then you don’t say anything because what if they were trying and having a problem? So I stayed out of it. But I was ready and thrilled. And now “Nicky Macaroni” — he’s such a joy.
GP: You were a young father and now a young grandfather. Did the former prepare you for the latter?
TD: I think being a young father was tougher on Marc than on me. We had to grow up together. And I have two daughters, one who just turned 28 and the other is 23. I’m proud of my girls and my son and my grandson.
GP: How is it different raising a son in the 70s from taking care of a grandson today?
TD: There are a lot more challenges for parents now. But it all goes back to showing them how to be a good person. Keep them close to you. And make dinner together.
GP: You and your son cowrote Don’t Fill Up on the Antipasto, with your grandson, Nicholas, featured prominently throughout. Was it important for you to include him?
TD: What’s great about having a kid at 19, which is when Marc was born, is that he got to know his grandmother and great-grandmother, who were vital and around. It’s vital to be involved with your kids and your grandkids. Granted, my family was a lot bigger when Marc was growing up, but that’s okay. It’s all about being with family.
GP: Your book is all about family — what did your grandfathers mean to you? What kind of grandfather do you hope to be with Nicholas?
TD: My grandfather on my mother’s side was a bounty hunter in Sicily. Crazy guy, he was. A big man, not tall, but husky. He was the patriarch, but he was so fun and smart and would give me quarters. I want to be the guy who takes my grandson fishing and the guy he wants to go fishing with. I won’t tell them, I’ll show them. I want to be a good example.
GP: You wanted to be a boxer, but now you’re an actor and entertainer. Would you want Nicholas to follow in either career path?
TD: The only thing I would say is he has to finish school, be a college graduate. After that I would support anything.
GP: How has your relationship changed with your son since he became a father and you became a grandfather?
TD: I have even more respect for him. The way he conducts himself with his kid makes me so proud. And I was proud of him before Nicky was born. I love them together. Just the other day they were playing Steamroller on the bed. Nicky was jumping over Marc as he rolled around. It was fabulous. I’m so fortunate to live close.
GP: What are yours and Nicholas’s favorite foods to eat together? Does he help at all with the cooking?
TD: For pizza, we crush the tomatoes and squeeze them and make faces. Then I give Nicky a piece of his own dough and he can make it any way he wants. It’s important to spend time with the kids. Food doesn’t have to be perfect. When I was growing up, I remember my father yelling at me not to be afraid to add the salt and pepper. I say that to my son and my grandson. Don’t be afraid. Of cooking. Of anything.