Tony Mann: A family faces MS with Heart and Soul
Tony Mann was a well-known New York nightclub singer in the 1950s, performing with entertainers such as Sam Cooke, and on the Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin and Joe Franklin television shows. “I wanted to be like my father when I was little—well-dressed, polished. He would leave the house in a tuxedo,” his son Anthony says. “Sometimes I went to the nightclubs with him. I’d wear a sharp suit and go onstage, and he’d let me sing a couple of bars.” At left, below, Tony Mann performing.
“He was on the verge of hitting it big, but he didn’t,” Anthony continues. “He was torn between being a father and achieving his dream. He had three kids, a sick wife and he himself was sick.” Tony’s MS first appeared when he was 28 or 29, then came roaring back full-blown 25 years later. Tony, now 81, has had problems with his eyesight, memory, fatigue and spasms. He lives in Brooklyn, where he gets around with the help of a walker.
Recently, Anthony made Heart and Soul, a 23-minute film homage to his dad that he calls a family labor of love. It was directed by his brother-in-law, Vincent Biscione,and features many family members, including Anthony’s wife, daughter, brothers Thomas and Joseph. “I made the movie because I miss my mother,” Anthony says, “and I yearn for the days when Dad was singing and healthy.” Anthony, 49, inherited his father’s performing gene, becoming an actor who’s been on NYPD Blues and Rescue Me, among many other TV shows and films. To the right, a still from the film, with Anthony playing the part of his father.
He says his dad loved Heart and Soul, which has been shown in several festivals and garnered best actor nominations for Anthony. “But he also found it hard to watch because it stirred up so many emotions. When he saw it the first time, he cried—and I had only seen him cry once in his life, when Mom was diagnosed with cancer.”
Anthony was a regular attendee and occasional performer at the the Bay Ridge Center, a multi-service program sponsored by the Lutheran Church. "They all loved him before," says Anthony, "but after seeing the film, they've asked him to perform every Tuesday."
“If he was well, he’d be performing in Vegas or Atlantic City," Anthony added. "He looks good for 81. He doesn’t look in the mirror. He still sees himself as a young man.”
For info on seeing or buying Heart and Soul, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.