Tom DiMenna

Tom DiMenna is an artist first and foremost, and a damn fine thespian second and thirdmost. Weaned in the smoke and tears of the cabaret by his doting singing mother, Tom naturally went on to play Quarterback for the University of Pennsylvania. But something was calling to Tom. It was Italy. So Tom went on to play pro-ball for the Italian-American League in Bologna where they served tea and cigarettes at half time; a quaint reminder of those cabaret cookies of his youth. And while the Italians smashed against each other holding the line, the wayward expat Quarterback was occasioned to daydream of velvet curtains parting before him. He decided to hang up the helmet, but hung onto the kneepads, for a career in acting.

The winds carried him to the windy city of Chicago where Tom trained at Second City before blowing off to New York. Wriggling inside the apple, Tom sweat it out on the stages of Magnet Theater, Peoples Improv, and U.C.B. And while there were no velvet curtains on the Improv stage, Tom did find his way into a velvet coffin. His natural flare for comedy, and masculine presence enhanced by the time spent in Italy, made Tom the perfect casting choice for filmmakers Zeke & Simon Hawkins to star in a series of musical satire shorts based on the most memorable death sequences from “The Godfather.” The shorts garnered Tom international acclaim. One of which, “Ode to Fredo,” picked up “Best Comedy” from the Ivy Film Festival (Brown University), and “Best Music Video” at Swansea Bay Film Festival (Wales).

Then Tom did what every actor does once they finally break into film: he skipped over the pond to study Shakespeare at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, of course. It is well known that the velvet curtains in England are far more substantial than the ones we use. And it was there that Tom really mastered the tools of the craft, which unfortunately they wouldn’t let him through customs with, and subsequently was routed to Los Angeles where he is now fast earning a reputation as being the most educated actor as far back as anyone can recall; which for LA is maybe like six months or so, give-or-take.

It is said that fate smiles upon the dedicated actor, and occasionally even hooks him up with a gig – so for Tom DiMenna the westward migration has placed him in the fortunate care of a master. He has been taken under the wing of the outrageous and acclaimed veteran writer/director & comedian Taylor Negron.

The two first met in 2009 at the prestigious Green Room in Edinburgh, Scotland after Taylor performed his show, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being Taylor Negron,” which has garnered critical praise and sold out audiences in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Tom approached Taylor as a fan, but when the seasoned star of stage and screen casually said, “Look me up if you’re ever in Los Angeles,” Tom held him to it. A few months after their chance meeting, Tom dropped by unannounced to Taylor’s Los Angeles home in a 15 passenger touring van crammed with a stinky and starving band of travelling rock musicians. While the band set to ravaging the cupboards and defiling Taylor’s laundry machine with clothing that ought to have been buried in a nuclear waste repository in Nevada, Taylor invited Tom to perform for his dinner guests scenes from a show that Tom was developing with a writing partner from NY, Hunter Nelson. The show, “Who Love’s You, Baby?” has Tom transforming into a pitch-perfect impression of that iconic symbol of unflinching 70’s masculinity: Telly Savalas. “It was brilliant writing,” says Negron, “and Tom embodies that feral posture with the precise seriousness of a fine actor.” The two went right to work tweaking the show, and Tom has overnight become an emergent star of the nightclubs, and the darling of the cabaret.

Donning a bald cap, a butterfly collared shirt tucked in, a firearm snug in it’s holster occasionally peaking out from beneath his leisure suit jacket, Tom as Telly delivers a message of hope and passionate love to a world that’s gone cock-eyed. “Impressions are like a woman’s orgasm,” says Tom, “you can’t always tell when it’ll come out right.” But Under Taylor’s direction the two have crafted “Who Loves You, Baby?” into a razor-sharp show that is at once gut-busting funny, and highly provocative intellectually. And the music? “A song isn’t a song until it’s been interpreted,” says Tom as Telly. “Singers are too busy preening themselves in the mirror, while songwriters are sitting cross-legged on pillows in Berkley farting on sitars. But an interpreter… an interpreter’s lived life, baby.”

Taylor, having grown up in what he’s termed “California Gothic” says, “Our parents used blow dryers and ate papaya pills with their chopped salads at La Scala.” He remembers spending time at Savalas’ house as a child sitting on bear skin rugs and eating steak tartare, because that’s how the Greeks do. “But time has gone by so quickly,” he muses, “we’ve lost that sense of connoisseurship. The culture forgets that we are hardwired sexually. Savalas is a defiant ethnic soldier in the face of women’s lib. A sexual outsider who is sensitive and knows that women want to be treated with great respect… and to be raped.” Then with an exaggerated flare he continues, “But isn’t there something so Mae West and sparkly about Telly?”

Alternating from the microphone to the cocktails, from the cigarettes to the lollypops, Tom DiMenna mystifies as Savalas, the TV/film star and recording artist who is most remembered for his portrayal of “Kojak” on CBS. Savalas, the Greek actor with the bald head, goofy smile, and a big hairy mole, set passions aflame back in the days when being a card-carrying sex symbol really meant something. As Savalas, Tom will have you at once convinced we’re lost, baby, with our current crop of hipster heartthrobs. But then with a certain joie de vivre, he steers you back with the grace and masculine wisdom of a musky sage. “Tuck in your shirt,” he says, “get rid of those tennis shoes. Do something as simple and sentimental as perfuming your bed sheets.” It’s lesson time kiddies, now be good for teacher.

Be sure to catch Tom DiMenna as Telly Savalas in… “Who Loves You, Baby?” at the Hollywood Fringe Fest in Los Angeles throughout the month of June at Improv Olympic Theater 6366 Hollywood Blvd.