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25 Things You Might Not Know About The Sopranos

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The Sopranos made household names of James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, and the rest of New Jersey's fictional Satriale's-eating, Bing-frequenting tough guys. On June 10, 2007—10 years ago today—the show set a new standard for jaw-dropping finales with its infamous cut-to-black (more on that later). And even in today's "Golden Age of Television," it's still heralded as one of the best TV shows ever made. But not even six seasons and 86 episodes on the air—plus another seven years of critical comparisons and acclaim—could unveil all of the show's secrets.

1. THE SOPRANOS STARTED AS A MOVIE PITCH.

Before Sopranos creator David Chase developed the story of Tony Soprano and his family for television, he pitched it as a movie about a mobster who enters therapy to discuss problems he has with his mother. According to Chase, his manager Lloyd Braun made him consider TV for the first time by telling him, "I want you to know that we believe that you have inside you a great television series."

2. LIVIA SOPRANO WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE IN SEASON 1.

While Chase abandoned his movie idea, the tension between Tony and his mother, Livia, provided the central conflict for the show's first season—and that's where it was supposed to end. Chase originally intended for Tony to succeed in suffocating his mother with a pillow after she tries to have him killed in season 1. However, Nancy Marchand, who played Livia, was sick with cancer during her time on the show. She asked Chase, "David, just keep me working." He graciously obliged.

3. NANCY MARCHAND DIED BEFORE FILMING WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN HER FINAL SCENES.

Just as she wished, Chase kept Marchand working until the very end. She passed away from lung cancer and emphysema on June 18, 2000, one day before her 72nd birthday. Livia's final moments on screen were cobbled together from old footage, recordings of her usual choruses, and special effects (Marchand's head was CGI'ed onto a body double). At the time, critics panned the scene, deeming it awkward and convoluted.

4. THE SHOW'S CREATIVE TEAM BOASTS SOME POWERFUL ALUMNI.

Sopranos writers and producers included Matthew Weiner, who went on to create Mad Men, Terence Winter, the mastermind behind Boardwalk Empire, and Ilene Landress, who now serves as executive producer on Girls.

5. DAVID CHASE ONLY DIRECTED TWO EPISODES...

...the pilot and the finale. Tim Van Patten, who has directing credits on Game of Thrones, The Wire, and Boardwalk Empire, directed the most (20). Allen Coulter directed 12 episodes, including two of the series' best: "College" and "The Test Dream." Steve Buscemi directed four episodes, including the incredible "Pine Barrens." Only one episode was directed by a woman: Lorraine Senna took the helm of season 1 episode "Down Neck."

6. THE SOPRANOS SHARES 28 CAST MEMBERS WITH THE 1990 MOBSTER FLICK GOODFELLAS.

According to IMDb, six regular cast members appeared in Goodfellas (Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperioli, Tony Sirico, Vincent Pastore, Frank Vincent, and Joseph R. Gannascoli). Ten recurring Sopranos characters and 11 one-time guest stars also appeared in the 1990 film.

7. RAY LIOTTA WAS APPROACHED FOR A ROLE.

In a 2001 Today Show interview, Liotta says he was offered a part—without saying which one—but turned it down to focus on his film career. In 2003, Liotta corroborated his story for the university newspaper the GW Hatchet. "Having done Goodfellas, I mean, that's pretty much the ultimate in Mafia everyday life. And that show is pretty much structured around Tony Soprano. There was no way I was gonna shine," he said. "It just didn't seem like the right thing to do. I love him [James Gandolfini] as an actor. I think he's great. But my ego's as big as anybody's."

8. STEVEN VAN ZANDT WAS DAVID CHASE'S FIRST PICK FOR TONY.

Before he auditioned James Gandolfini, Chase wanted Steven Van Zandt, guitar player of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, to play Tony. He told Vanity Fair in 2012, "I used to listen to music a lot on headphones and look at [Springsteen's] LP, and Steven Van Zandt's face always grabbed me. He had this similarity to Al Pacino in The Godfather. Then we were casting the pilot, and my wife, Denise, and I were watching TV. Steven came on VH1, when they were inducting the Rascals into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Steven gave the speech. He was very, very funny and magnetic. I said to my wife, 'That guy has got to be in the show!'"

The producers didn't want to gamble on a first-time actor for the show's lead, so Chase offered to write a part for Van Zandt. The character Silvio Dante, who Van Zandt came to play, was in fact inspired by a short story about a retired hitman written by Van Zandt himself.

9. TONY WASN'T ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO BE SUCH A TOUGH GUY.

Chase didn't view Tony as such a ruthless character; this came straight from James Gandolfini. In a 2007 conversation with Tom Fontana (creator of Oz, Homicide: Life on the Street, and St. Elsewhere) for Written By magazine, Chase says, "Jim showed me early on how much of a prick that guy would have to be. The first day we shot, there was a scene where Christopher said he was going to sell his story to Hollywood. In the script, it said something like, 'Tony slaps him.' But when we shot it, all of a sudden Jim was out of his seat. He picked Michael Imperioli up by the neck, by the collar, had him almost off the ground and said, 'What?! Are you crazy?' And I thought, Of course, that man's a motherf***er. That guy is surviving the mob. He's really a dangerous person. He's not a fun guy."

10. LORRAINE BRACCO WAS FIRST ASKED TO PLAY CARMELA.

After portraying a similar role in Goodfellas, the Sopranos producers originally envisioned Lorraine Bracco as Tony's wife, Carmela Soprano. It was Bracco who asked to play Tony's therapist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, which she thought would be more of a challenge. Bracco later said of playing Melfi, "I was not ready for how f***ing difficult Dr. Melfi was to play. I am an explosive girl. I am loud. I am full of life and full of all kinds of bull****, and I have to sit on every emotion, every word, everything, to play this character." Bracco went on to garner four Emmy nominations and three Golden Globe nominations for her performance.

The wonderful Edie Falco, of course, was cast as Carmela.

11. DR. MELFI WAS MODELED ON DAVID CHASE'S REAL-LIFE THERAPIST.

In a 2006 interview with Rolling Stone, Chase revealed that Lorraine Kaufman, his therapist during the time he conceptualized The Sopranos, provided the inspiration for Dr. Melfi. "She had the same way of cutting through your bull****," he said. Not only did Chase tell Dr. Kaufman of her influence, Kaufman became involved in the characters' psychological development. "After three or four seasons, she wrote me a breakdown of the Soprano family," Chase said. "This is not a bible, but every once in a while we get it out. Strangely enough, these fictional characters have, in fact, behaved in the way she predicted they might, even though we might have forgotten she ever wrote it."

12. MICHAEL IMPERIOLI THOUGHT HE BLEW HIS AUDITION.

It's almost impossible to imagine The Sopranos without Michael Imperioli as Tony's nephew/cousin Christopher Moltisanti, but as Imperioli tells it, he almost didn't land the gig. "They brought me in, and I met with David. I thought he hated my audition, because David's a poker-faced guy," Imperioli told Vanity Fair in 2012. "He kept giving me notes and giving me direction, and I walked out of there, and I was like, 'I blew that one.'"

13. IN THE PILOT, DREA DE MATTEO PLAYS AN UNNAMED HOSTESS.

Chris-ta-fuh's better half almost didn't make the cut, either. Drea de Matteo was brought in to read for the role of Adriana La Cerva during the initial round of casting, but, according to de Matteo, Chase "didn't think she was Italian enough." So, in the pilot, de Matteo appears in one scene as an unnamed hostess. It wasn't until after the series was picked up that de Matteo became the Adriana we all know and love.

14. MUCH OF PAULIE'S STORYLINE CAME STRAIGHT FROM TONY SIRICO'S LIFE.

Before Tony Sirico was Paulie "Walnuts" Gaultieri, he was a criminal. Seriously. According to the Los Angeles Times, his rap sheet was longer than his acting credits: 28 arrests to 27 acting jobs. And as both Sirico and Chase tell it, the similarities between Sirico and his character didn't end there. Paulie's neat-freak tendencies and unusual living arrangements were transferred directly from Sirico's real life to the screen. "I lived with Ma for 16 years before she passed. David knew that going in. That became one of my story lines," he told Vanity Fair.

15. TONY IS ESTIMATED TO BE WORTH 5 OR 6 MILLION DOLLARS.

 

David Chase and the Sopranos producers worked with a technical consultant, New York assistant district attorney Dan Castleman, to fully understand the way the real mob made their money. According to Castleman, Tony Soprano's estimated net worth was 5 to 6 million dollars—but this number often fluctuated due to Tony's gambling habits.

16. STEVEN SCHIRRIPA WORE A FAT SUIT TO PLAY BOBBY BACCALIERI.

When Schirripa got his first script, and saw all the fat jokes Tony directed at Bobby, he thought he had been miscast—he was barely larger than Gandolfini! But a couple days before filming began, he was fitted for his fat suit, which he wore for the first few seasons. "And then I guess, in season 4, David thought I was fat enough on my own, so he let me get rid of it," Schirripa told Vanity Fair.

17. SCENES AT THE BADA-BING WERE FILMED AT A REAL NEW JERSEY STRIP CLUB.

The Sopranos was filmed on location in New Jersey and New York and on sound stages at Silvercup Studios in Queens. The Bing, however, was no studio creation. Those scenes were shot at Satin Dolls, a "gentleman's club" on State Route 17 in Lodi, New Jersey.

18. EXTERIOR SHOTS OF THE SOPRANOS' HOME WERE SHOT AT A PRIVATE RESIDENCE IN NORTH CALDWELL, N.J.

The Soprano family resides at (the fictional) 633 Stag Trail Road in (the real) North Caldwell, New Jersey.

19. THE SOPRANOS WAS SO REALISTIC, THE REAL MOB THOUGHT THERE WAS A CONNECTED GUY ON THE INSIDE.

FBI agents told The Sopranos' creative team that on Monday mornings all anyone could talk about was The Sopranos. And on the wire taps they'd collected from the weekend, that's all the real-life mobsters could talk about as well. Terence Winter told Vanity Fair, "We would hear back that real wiseguys used to think that we had somebody on the inside. They couldn't believe how accurate the show was."

20. TO SETTLE DISPUTES OVER ACTOR SALARIES, JAMES GANDOLFINI GAVE EACH ACTOR $33,333 OF HIS OWN MONEY.

After season 4, production on The Sopranos was delayed due to a pay dispute with HBO. According to Edie Falco, the cast staged a sort of "Occupy Vesuvio" sit-in that shut down the set. To help quell tensions, James Gandolfini split his bonus among all the regular cast members, giving them each $33,333.

21. DAVID CHASE WOULD SHOOT MULTIPLE VERSIONS OF THE SAME SCENE SO THAT NOT EVEN THE ACTORS WOULD KNOW HOW THINGS TURNED OUT.

Were you shocked to see Sil whack Adriana in season 5? So was Drea de Matteo. De Matteo told Vanity Fair that David Chase had the cast and crew film two different versions of the dramatic episode: one in which Adriana suspects something fishy and drives away after her final phone call with Tony, and one where—well, you know what happens.

According to de Matteo, this practice of filming multiple versions of the same scene to keep the cast and crew guessing (along with interviewers and fans) was a common occurrence.

22. THE SOPRANOS' THEME SONG IS "WOKE UP THIS MORNING" BY ALABAMA 3.

Originally, David Chase wanted to use a different song during the opening credits of each episode, but the other producers convinced him otherwise. For the theme, Chase chose a remixed version of "Woke Up This Morning" from Exile on Coldharbour Lane, the 1997 debut album by English band Alabama 3. Oblivious to the fact that his song would one day become synonymous with Jersey mobsters, Alabama 3 frontman Rob Spragg wrote the song after hearing about the 1996 murder trial of Sara Thornton, who stabbed her alcoholic husband to death after suffering years of domestic abuse at his hands.

23. DURING THE FIRST 3 SEASONS, THE WORLD TRADE CAN BE SEEN IN TONY'S REARVIEW MIRROR DURING THE OPENING CREDITS.

As Tony exits the Lincoln Tunnel on his drive from New York to his Jersey 'burb, the twin towers can be seen in his rearview mirror (in a bit of Hollywood magic, since the World Trade Center isn't actually visible from the Lincoln Tunnel's exit). This shot was removed beginning with the first episode following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

24. THE SOPRANOS WAS THE FIRST CABLE TELEVISION SERIES TO WIN THE EMMY FOR OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES.

In 2004, after being nominated for the award five times, The Sopranos won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series. It would continue to be nominated every year it was eligible, winning again for its final season in 2007. Matthew Weiner, who shared the Emmy with David Chase and the other executive producers, would go on to win the award the next four years for Mad Men, until Homeland broke his winning streak in 2012.

25. MICHAEL IMPERIOLI IS CONVINCED TONY SOPRANO DIES IN THE FINALE.

The famous cut-to-black—and impeccably truncated version of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'"—in The Sopranos finale is heralded as one of the most shocking, and controversial, cliff-hangers of all time. Does Tony get shot? Does he get arrested? Or does the whole family finish their sundaes and go home?

No one but David Chase can say for sure. But Michael Imperioli (Christopher) is firmly in the "Ohmigod, they killed Tony!" camp. "I think he's dead, is what I think," Imperioli told Vanity Fair in 2012. "David was trying to put us in the place of the last things you see before you die. You remember some little details and something catches your eye and that's it. You don't know the aftermath because you're gone." And with that, the show was gone, too.

All photos courtesy of Getty Images unless otherwise noted. 

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10 Witty Facts About The Marx Brothers
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Talented as individuals and magnificent as a team, the Marx Brothers conquered every medium from the vaudeville stage to the silver screen. Today, we’re tipping our hats (and tooting our horns) to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo—on the 50th anniversary of Groucho's passing.

1. A RUNAWAY MULE INSPIRED THEM TO TAKE A STAB AT COMEDY.

Julius, Milton, and Arthur Marx originally aspired to be professional singers. In 1907, the boys joined a group called “The Three Nightingales.” Managed by their mother, Minnie, the ensemble performed covers of popular songs in theaters all over the country. As Nightingales, the brothers enjoyed some moderate success, but they might never have found their true calling if it weren’t for an unruly equid. During a 1907 gig at the Nacogdoches Opera House in East Texas, someone interrupted the performance by barging in and shouting “Mule’s loose!” Immediately, the crowd raced out to watch the newly-liberated animal. Back inside, Julius seethed. Furious at having lost the spotlight, he skewered his audience upon their return. “The jackass is the finest flower of Tex-ass!” he shouted, among many other ad-libbed jabs. Rather than boo, the patrons roared with laughter. Word of his wit soon spread and demand for these Marx brothers grew.

2. THEY RECEIVED THEIR STAGE NAMES DURING A POKER GAME.

In May of 1914, the five Marxes were playing cards with standup comedian Art Fisher. Inspired by a popular comic strip character known as “Sherlocko the Monk,” he decided that the boys could use some new nicknames. Leonard’s was a no-brainer. Given his girl-crazy, “chick-chasing” lifestyle, Fisher dubbed him “Chicko” (later, this was shortened to “Chico”). Arthur loved playing the harp and thus became “Harpo.” An affinity for soft gumshoes earned Milton the alias “Gummo.” Finally, Julius was both cynical and often seen wearing a “grouch bag”—wherein he’d store small objects like marbles and candy—around his neck. Thus, “Groucho” was born. For the record, nobody knows how Herbert Marx came to be known as “Zeppo.”

3. GROUCHO WORE HIS TRADEMARK GREASEPAINT MUSTACHE BECAUSE HE HATED MORE REALISTIC MODELS.

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Phony, glue-on facial hair can be a pain to remove and reapply, so Groucho would simply paint a ‘stache and some exaggerated eyebrows onto his face. However, the mustache he later rocked as the host of his famous quiz show You Bet Your Life was 100 percent real.

4. HARPO WAS A SELF-TAUGHT HARPIST.

Without any formal training (or the ability to read sheet music), the second-oldest Marx brother developed a unique style that he never stopped improving upon. “Dad really loved playing the harp, and he did it constantly,” his son, Bill Marx, wrote. “Maybe the first multi-tasker ever, he even had a harp in the bathroom so he could play when he sat on the toilet!”

5. THE VERY FIRST MARX BROTHERS MOVIE WAS NEVER RELEASED.

Financed by Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and a handful of other investors, Humor Risk was filmed in 1921. Accounts differ, but most scholars agree that the silent picture—which would have served as the family’s cinematic debut—never saw completion. Despite this, an early screening of the work-in-progress was reportedly held in the Bronx. When Humor Risk failed to impress there, production halted. By Marx Brothers standards, it would’ve been an unusual flick, with Harpo playing a heroic detective opposite a villainous Groucho character.

6. GUMMO AND ZEPPO BECAME TALENT AGENTS.

World War I forced Gummo to quit the stage. Following his return, the veteran decided that performing was no longer for him and instead started a raincoat business. Zeppo—the youngest brother—then assumed Gummo’s role as the troupe’s straight-talking foil. A brilliant businessman, Zeppo eventually break away to found the talent agency Zeppo Marx Inc., which grew into Hollywood’s third-largest, representing superstars like Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and—of course—the other three Marx Brothers. Gummo, who joined the company in 1935, was charged with handling Groucho, Harpo, and Chico’s needs.

7. CHICO ONCE LAUNCHED A BIG BAND GROUP.

Chico took advantage of an extended break between Marx brothers movies to realize a lifelong dream. A few months before The Big Store hit cinemas in 1941, he co-founded the Chico Marx Orchestra: a swinging jazz band that lasted until July of 1943. Short-lived as the group was, however, it still managed to recruit some amazing talent—including singer/composer Mel Tormé, who would go on to help write the “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” in 1945.

8. THEY TESTED OUT NEW MATERIAL FOR A NIGHT AT THE OPERA IN FRONT OF LIVE AUDIENCES.

With the script still being drafted, MGM made the inspired choice to let the brothers perform key scenes in such places as Seattle, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. Once a given joke was made, the Marxes meticulously timed the ensuing laughter, which let them know exactly how much silence to leave after repeating the gag on film. According to Harpo, this had the added benefit of shortening A Night at the Opera’s production period. “We didn’t have to rehearse,” he explained. “[We just] got onto the set and let the cameras roll.”

9. GROUCHO TEMPORARILY HOSTED THE TONIGHT SHOW.

Jack Paar bid the job farewell on March 29, 1962. Months before their star’s departure, NBC offered Paar’s Tonight Show seat to Groucho, who had established himself as a razor-sharp, well-liked host during You Bet Your Life’s 14-year run. Though Marx turned the network down, he later served as a guest host for two weeks while Johnny Carson prepared to take over the gig. When Carson finally made his Tonight Show debut on October 1, it was Groucho who introduced him.

10. SPY MAGAZINE USED A MARX BROTHERS MOVIE TO PRANK U.S. CONGRESSMEN.

Duck Soup takes place in Freedonia, a fictional country over which the eccentric Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) presides. In 1993, 60 years after the movie’s release, this imaginary nation made headlines by embarrassing some real-life politicians. Staffers from Spy got in touch with around 20 freshmen in the House of Representatives, asking some variation on the question “Do you approve of what we’re doing to stop ethnic cleansing in Freedonia?” A few lawmakers took the bait. Representative Corrine Brown (D-Florida) professed to approve of America’s presence in Freedonia, saying “I think all of those situations are very, very sad, and I just think we need to take action to assist the people.” Across the aisle, Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) concurred. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s a different situation than the Middle East.”

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‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ Could Have Been a Meat Loaf Song
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Imagine a world in which Bonnie Tyler was not the star performer on the Royal Caribbean Total Eclipse Cruise. Imagine if, instead, as the moon crossed in front of the sun in the path of totality on August 21, 2017, the performer belting out the 1983 hit for cruise ship stargazers was Meat Loaf?

It could have been. Because yes, as Atlas Obscura informs us, the song was originally written for the bestselling rocker (and actor) of Bat Out of Hell fame, not the husky-voiced Welsh singer. Meat Loaf had worked on his 1977 record Bat Out of Hell with Jim Steinman, the composer and producer who would go on to work with the likes of Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand (oddly enough, he also composed Hulk Hogan’s theme song on an album released by the WWE). “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was meant for Meat Loaf’s follow-up album to Bat Out of Hell.

But Meat Loaf’s fruitful collaboration with Steinman was about to end. In the wake of his bestselling record, the artist was going through a rough patch, mentally, financially, and in terms of his singing ability. And the composer wasn’t about to stick around. As Steinman would tell CD Review magazine in 1989 (an article he has since posted on his personal website), "Basically I only stopped working with him because he lost his voice as far as I was concerned. It was his voice I was friends with really.” Harsh, Jim, harsh.

Steinman began working with Bonnie Tyler in 1982, and in 1983, she released her fifth album, Faster Than the Speed of Night, including “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” It sold 6 million copies.

Tyler and Steinman both dispute that the song was written specifically for Meat Loaf. “Meat Loaf was apparently very annoyed that Jim gave that to me,” she told The Irish Times in 2014. “But Jim said he didn’t write it for Meat Loaf, that he only finished it after meeting me.”

There isn’t a whole lot of bad blood between the two singers, though. In 1989, they released a joint compilation album: Heaven and Hell.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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