Go camminare (walking) through the city’s traditional Italian quarter and learn history from a guy who used to be babysat by Eugene O’Neill – and, yeah, it’s free
By Joe Eskenazi
“One of the girls … she was a little heavy.”
Alessandro Baccari’s voice trails off and he shrugs his shoulders. He’s a 79-year-old Italian American gentleman of the old school who still wears a navy blue, pinstriped wool suit with a matching red tie and handkerchief within the comfort of his own home, so the next sentence visually pains him.
“Well, she was more than heavy.”
It was 1939 and an adolescent Baccari was doing a soft-shoe number and belting out the tune “Pony Boy” at the World’s Fair on Treasure Island. And, right when he’d reached his cane-twirling crescendo, the “more than heavy” chorus girl lost her balance and fell on the girl next to her who, in turn, toppled onto the next girl, triggering a human domino effect and leaving Baccari standing amidst a sea of writhing, human detritus.
In the awkward silence that followed, a loud voice (from someone’s mom, no doubt) emerged from the audience: “Continue!” So, knee-deep in recumbent chorus girls, he finished his number:
Don't say no. Here we go off across the plains.
Marry me, carry me right away with you.
Giddy up, giddy up, giddy up, whoa! My Pony Boy.
Baccari throws back his head and laughs. Stories – he’s got a million of ‘em. But what else could you expect from a San Francisco native son of North Beach who grew up in the Depression, was an altar boy for Joe DiMaggio’s first wedding and used to be fobbed off for the day on family friends like Eugene O’Neill, Benny Bufano and Paul Robeson?
He’ll host a pair of free events this week; a 7:30 p.m. lecture on Jan. 8 at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco (3200 California St.) and a 10 a.m. (“sharp!”) walking tour on Jan. 12 starting at the North Beach Museum, 1435 Stockton at Columbus.
There was a time that Baccari could have led a tour of North Beach blindfolded. Not that you shouldn’t …