In 2019, I decided to post a series of interviews with members of both the genealogical and old Hollywood communities, hoping to find common ground between the two and learn more about some people whose online presence I truly enjoy. Welcome to the Hollywood/GenesCrossover Interview series! For the original post in this series and to see the complete list of interviewees, click here.
I don’t remember the circumstances of how I came across Allen’s blog recently, but I do remember being fascinated by it. Here was a man who wrote about music, family history, and etc. interchangeably in English and Italian, thumbnail photos of his many published works popping up here and there on the page intriguingly, like little pieces of candy waiting to be unwrapped. How could I not be fascinated?! Allen himself has an old Hollywood connection I find most intriguing and I’m so happy to have been able to interview him for this series and find out more!
Name: Allen E. Rizzi
Tell us a little about yourself (anything goes!):
I am a writer with over 55 years professional experience including non-fiction, biography, music, poetry and corporate analytic writing. I sold my first poetry at the age of 13. I have additional expertise as a professional photographer (35 years), historical researcher and genealogist (28 years). Specialties include historical non-fiction, nostalgia, public profiles, biographies, genealogy and documentary written in English, Italian, and German. I am also a recognized songwriter and lyricist with over 200 songs to my credit (1974 to present).
I went to school in Southern California and graduated from Cal State, Northridge with a BA, MA and English Teaching Credential.
Like everyone in my family, I have been a life-long fly fisherman and conservationist. In the mid 1960s, I was also a professional surfer. Currently I am retired although I work more hours a week now than I ever did back in the day. I was brought up to achieve and I am often jokingly referred to as a Renaissance Man because I have a diverse background, huge thirst for knowledge and try to learn something new every day. As a result I speak many languages including English, German, Italian, Latin, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Nones, Sudtirolerisch, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Greek and Siksika -Blackfoot with varying degrees of fluency.
I grew up in Southern California and later lived in Oregon for many years. In 2002 I moved to Italy and now currently reside in both Italy and North Carolina. I have been married for nearly 40 years to my soul mate and partner in adventure and exploration.
What made you become interested in family history? Was there a particular moment, person, thing that first sparked your interest?
When I was a kid, there were always so many unanswered questions about our family and a lot of misinformation as well. Two things sparked my interest in genealogy:
1) False family tradition that we were descended from Lord Byron,
2) Wanting desperately to trace and fully understand my father’s career as an actor and his ancestry.
Genealogically speaking, what takes up most of your free time at the moment?
Being that I have completed a huge amount of my personal family history (going back 1,900 plus years), I spend most of my free time writing blog entries (48 months in advance) and doing paid genealogy and translation projects for others. I also give free genealogy and songwriting classes locally. In Italy I also painstakingly restore old marble grave stones.
What was/is your biggest brick wall and how did you bust it down/how are you working on busting it down?
I have really only one brick wall. My great-grandfather’s brother, Stefano Rizzi (born 1851) has proved to be a challenge. I am confident that he stayed in Germany after working there while his brother returned to Austria (now Italy). I have located possible descendants with the same surname in a small German village near to where both brothers worked and I am currently trying to verify their ancestry. Time will tell.
What is your favorite website(s) related to family history research and genealogy? Why would you recommend it and what makes it special?
I strongly believe that genealogy websites should be free of charge, Therefore, I have never used Ancestry.com. I do use the LDS Family History site, the Ellis Island site as well as Nati In Trentino (Italian language) and several other German and Italian sites. I especially like sites that feature old newspaper articles and I use them regularly. However, it is well to remember that all websites are only as good as the person who did the record transcription or wrote the article. There is a plethora of erroneous information out there on the internet.
What advice would you give genies just starting out?
Document – Document – Document everything you do! Get a reliable software program and annotate everything (especially photos) with places, dates, etc. All important photographs should be digitized and back-ups should be made of all work. Remember that someday in the future, somebody else is apt to be reading your research and they will need total documentation to even begin to understand what you have done. Lastly, use family lore as a starting point but prove or disprove every bit of it.
What is your favorite classic film(s) and why?
I have a personal movie collection of over 400 titles so that’s a tough question. The Wizard of Oz, It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Ten Commandmentscertainly rank toward the top. They are my favorites because all three emphasize values that most people identify with very strongly. I also consider them ground breaking for their time in terms of cinematography and special effects.
Which film star are you most often compared to or you think you look the most like? Does anyone else in your family (parents/grandparents) have a Hollywood lookalike?
Apparently years ago I was a dead ringer for Peter Weller of RoboCop. I don’t see the resemblance at all but back in the early 1990s I was stopped several times in airports to sign autographs. It actually got annoying trying to explain to fans that I was just a poor schlep from Oregon. Once I even had to pull out my drivers licence and show it to a group of kids who felt I was just Peter Weller being rude.
Who is your favorite classic film star(s) and why?
I love Jimmy Stewart because of his ability to ab-lib and play both serious and funny parts. And obviously I have to go with Gene Rizzi. Why? He was my father.
Have you ever come across a connection to Hollywood (new or old) in any of your family history research? How so?
My father Gene Rizzi was a supporting actor in many films during the 1930s and 1940s. He was not a big star but he appeared in some big movies that included The Outlaw, To Be or Not To Be, Junior G-Men, The Green Hornet, and Crash Dive. My father left the movie business after being drafted into World War II and serving in China with the Flying Tigers. He was reluctant to speak of his years in Hollywood or his time as a stage actor with the Ben Bard Players and The Pasadena Playhouse. That is a big reason I got into genealogy. I should also mention that my father’s first wife was actress Eve McVeagh.
You can find my father’s IMDB page here: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0729843/
What is your favorite TV show or film that relates to family, family history, and/or genealogy and why?
Flat out, I have to say A River Runs Through It. Again, it is genealogy and Hollywood that are entwined. In the opening minutes of this film, several old still photos are used. The photo showing a man with a rifle in his hand overlooking a lake is my mother’s father, Lee Allen.. My mother had donated this along with other photos to the museum in Anaconda, Montana and it was used in the movie. The film in itself is one of the best ever made in my opinion, Robert Redford took a short story that is a bit dry and appeals mostly to experienced fly fishermen and turned it into a masterpiece that can be loved by a wider audience. I have drawn from this film personally and written a short story titled, “The Blackest of Canyons.” Redford’s movie, the book of the same title by Norman Maclean and my own book all share a common theme: Fly Fishing, Family and Fidelity.
Where can we find you online?
I am easily found on the internet:
Weekly Blog https://rizziallen.wordpress.com/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/allen_rizzi
Personal Website – http://www.allenrizzi.weebly.com
If you are a member of the online old Hollywood and/or genealogy community and would like to be interviewed for this series, please reply in the comments or message me on Twitter @hollywoodgenes.