Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Sannella scores with life story in first publishing effort

Memo to Mommy and those worried about me and my new career as a book broker: I’m fine, getting enough to eat and working with some pretty wild characters.

One such ne’er-do-well is Roy Sannella, the 80-year-old author of “My Nine Lives,” an autobiography that’s about as exciting as tap-dancing atop a moving car.

Sannella, who has never written before, has a natural raconteur’s sense of timing as he relates a seemingly unending string of stories about his life and loves.

Born in Revere, Mass., Sannella had the sort of life evocative of the movies “Zelig,” or “Forrest Gump,” films in which the eponymous characters always seemed to have a bit part in epochal events.

Early in his story, Sannella describes the Great Hurricane of 1938. He nearly died when a tree fell on the car in which he and a doctor relative were riding.

But that’s just the second of many brushes with death he recounts.

The book is also filled with insights into the entertainment field and the part of the military only servicemen know; the action at the PX and Officers Club.

What makes Sannella’s work more than just the usual hoary, boring story of another old guy is his natural sense of humor.

Here’s how he describes the visit of Sannella pere to the ancestral homeland of Southern Italy:

“When we arrived my father walked up to the old church, when an old priest walked out. They stared at each other…then they embraced with tears in their eyes…All of a sudden, they started laughing like crazy. When I asked what was so funny, dad told me that when they were young boys, they used to relieve themselves at the sidewall of the church… I’m going to stay here for a week while your mother goes to Sicily’ Dad said. “Come pick me up next Sunday.

…I wanted to leave my phone number.

‘I don’t need it,’ he said.

…The following Sunday I returned to pick up dad. When I arrived he was furious and swearing like I had never heard before.

‘I sent you a telegram Monday morning,’ he said. ‘Why didn’t you come to pick me up?’

…When he calmed down, he began to tell me that the first night the bed was lumpy, and the cow under the house not only kept him awake but smelled terrible. The worst part was that he forgot there was no bathroom. He had to go outside to the outhouse, and the toilet paper was like sandpaper. Five days after we got home the telegram arrived…”

Pardon the scatological nature of the passage above, but its earthy humor is representative of the book’s tone. Sanella writes the way people talk, in an easy manner that makes the 220-page book a quick and hearty read. This is a book for the movie-goer, the newspaper reader, or the average Joe or Jane who follows the doings of the stars and the shakers.

Sanella hung out with Frank Sinatra, Harry Guardino, Tommy Sands and other greater and lesser luminaries. He stared down the ruler of Morocco and hung out with deposed King Farouk.

And, along the way, he had some of the most gorgeous girlfriends that a young man could fancy. Sanella, ever the gentleman, kisses but doesn’t tell all. However, upon reading the book, one must wonder how he had time to breathe, to say nothing of eating, while making his many conquests.

Perhaps his brushes with death made Sannella more eager to embrace life. Or to be a little more prosaic, maybe he was just a wild guy. Either way, his book seems to careen from one adventure to another carried along by Sannella's down-home cadence and sense of wonder.

Here’s how he drummed up business for his Hollywood restaurant:

“My club was two doors down from the Egyptian Theater, where the movie Ben Hur was playing; a chariot was in front of the theater. When the movie was over and people were coming out, the band would play When the Saints Come Marching In, walk off the stage, go out the back door, walk around and come in the front door with about fifty people following them in, clapping their hands to the music. It was awesome.”

That sales gimmick was one of the many clever ploys dreamed up by Sannella to make a buck and advance his cause. Through pure luck he stumbled into a job managing servicemen’s stores-- post exchanges-- and parlayed that into a reputation as a fixer who could get anything for anyone at anytime.

He produced whole armies for Hollywood directors, a few color TVs for an admiral looking for a good deal, and the latest news of mayhem for a Hollywood gangster hiding out in Capri.

Through it all, the same good humor that suffuses the book is evident in his dealing with others, probably accounting for the many friends he accumulated during his four score years of living. For more information on the book, go to on the Web.

“My Nine Lives” ends right here at home, with Roy in peril following Hurricane Charley. His experience will strike a chord with many, particularly the frail and elderly who had special reason to fear for their safety in the days following the great storm.

In the book, Sannella attributes his survival to guardian angels. That may be, but one gets the impression Sannella’s own pluck contributed to the escapes from scrapes he describes so well in his memoir.

James M. Abraham, an independent book columnist, can be reached at

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