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Arts & Entertainment

Bensonhurst actor to channel the past in new documentary

Bensonhurst-born actor William DeMeo is going “Back in the Day” in a new way.

The Bishop Ford graduate is hoping to debut his first-ever documentary, “Cruisin’ 86th Street,” shortly after the premiere of his most recent feature film, “Back in the Day” (the gritty tale of a half Italian-half Puerto Rican teen with a passion for boxing growing up on the streets of Bensonhurst that stars himself, Alec Baldwin, Danny Glover and Shannon Doherty, among others), slated for theaters early next year.

“Cruisin’ 86th Street”—a project that has already seen the backing of WCBS DJ Joe Causi, and fellow actors like Joseph D’Onofrio and “Sopranos” star Steve Schirripa—hones in on Bensonhurst’s own 86th Street, and the makeshift social club that came with it, in the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s.

That thoroughfare—dubbed by DeMeo “the hottest strip in America”—is one he, his friends and even strangers hold dear.

“For years, that was the place to be; it was an identity of Brooklyn,” explained DeMeo, the documentary’s host and co-producer. “It was literally car after car; a spot where you could go and see hundreds, thousands of people – all of them just hanging out, having a good time, pulling up a lawn chair and showing off their cars. It was a big party right on 86th Street.”
In just one night, DeMeo said, the project’s Facebook page reached more than 60,000 people—without an ounce of press behind it.

“I’m trying to give people a sense of the feeling that they had back then,” DeMeo said, stressing that while he, himself caught the tail end of the phenomenon, countless others have made it clear that they remember it well. “When I started to go out and shoot it – and once we posted it to Facebook – I couldn’t believe the kind of attention it was getting. So many people are so happy that we’re doing this.

“I couldn’t believe all the people that were talking about it,” he went on, noting that big names like Schirripa and local residents alike have already been interviewed for the doc—still in the production stage—at local places like L&B Spumoni Gardens, John’s Deli, the Vegas Diner and more. “I went into it knowing it would mean a lot to people, but I never thought it would mean this much.”

Despite the momentum, DeMeo said, he and his co-producer Robert D’Aleo aren’t quite done yet.

“The goal now is to get an interview with John Travolta,” DeMeo said, stressing that the neighborhood’s cameo in the 1977 smash “Saturday Night Fever” really pushed 86th Street over the top. “You had ‘Saturday Night Fever,’ you had the Beastie Boys, you had all of these things stirring around Brooklyn. People would come from everywhere just to hang out there.”
At the end of the day, though, he and his friends are just having some good fun.

“I’ve always been so pro-Brooklyn and I’m just having a lot of fun making it,” DeMeo said. “I’m really, really excited about it.”

Anyone with photos or video from the “Cruisin’ 86th Street”-era is urged to share them on the documentary’s Facebook page for a chance to see them in the final edit. For more information, or to view the trailer, visit http://on.fb.me/1PAF26C.

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