In The Bastard of Beverly Hills, I tell a crazy story about the time my mother was married to restaurateur Tony Roma, and though it’s true to the best of my recollection, people shouldn’t get the wrong impression about him. Tony was a fine man. He was driven, charismatic, funny, and, like me, a bit of a romantic. You can read more about exactly what happened between us in the book, but the bottom line is that the chef didn’t deserve the hell I put him through during the short period he was married to my mother, Eleanor. I just wanted my father back in the house so badly that I was willing to do anything to get Tony out. And my shenanigans ultimately worked.
But the year she married him was a wild one. They were introduced by the writer Harold Robbins at the Playboy mansion while my parents were divorced. Hugh Hefner actually hired Tony to open the first Playboy Bunny club in Chicago in 1961. Anyway, Tony was smitten with my mother, but as time proved, he wasn’t prepared to be a stepfather. It was his heyday, and he’d recently opened his location in Beverly Hills. Nowadays, Tony Roma’s is more like an Olive Garden, but back then, in the early 1980s, it was one of the classiest places to eat.
Tony was beloved, really, and had wonderful friends. He introduced Mom to Joan Collins, who would be her close friend for years, and a slew of other celebrities like Red Buttons, Buddy Hackett, and Jerry Vale, with whom I’m pictured in this posting.
One thing I didn’t include in the book was a sad but funny incident that occurred after Tony passed away. This was back before cell phones when there were still answering machines.
My mother had a tendency to sleep late. And on the day that Tony’s obituary (below) came out in the LA Times, we received message after message from folks who had been calling the house to express condolences…. thinking it was Mom that had died – because she was pictured in the obituary photo with her ex-husband. Her friend had apparently seen the photo, became confused, and started a game of telephone. By noon we had dozens of sobbing messages on our answering machine from friends and loved ones. We laughed and laughed, but I think Tony would have gotten a kick out of it, too. He had a great sense of humor. Rest in peace, Tony.
RAFAEL MOSCATEL is the author of the best-selling business book series Tomorrow’s Jobs Today and director of The Little Girl with the Big Voice, a critically acclaimed documentary. His third book, The Bastard of Beverly Hills, a memoir about hope, forgiveness, and redemption, will be published in 2023.