H’w’d Italian lessons

NIAF honors Marshall, Cage

Happy days were here again Thursday as Ron Howard saluted his old capo, Garry Marshall, and Jack Valenti and Giovanni Ribisi honored Nicolas Cage at the National Italian-American Federation kudofest at the BevHilton.

“Garry likes to offer advice about showbiz and life,” Howard said. “He once advised: ‘If you’re pitching a comedy show to network executives, and it’s not going well, just start throwing a lot of curse words around.’ Training like that is what really prepared me for my serious work as a director on ‘Apollo 13’ and ‘A Beautiful Mind.’ ”

Talking about his early training, Marshall (whose real last name is Masciarelli) had the audience in stitches.

“My father never told my sisters and I that we were Italian. He made up a story that we came over on the Mayflower. We would go over my grandparents’ house and they would be playing opera, growing tomatoes, speaking Italian; and my father would just tell us that they were educated people.”

When his turn came, Cage said, “After Tommy Lasorda (who was also honored) and Garry Marshall cracked jokes, my grandmother says I have to be funny. I told her that I’m not feeling funny tonight and she said that’s why they saved me for last.”

Plenty of paisans and non-paisans alike turned out for the charity dinner, which raised funds for the NIAF scholarship and education programs. Among them were Dom DeLuise, Joe Mantegna, Richard Crenna, Antonio Sabato Jr.; French Stewart and Jack Klugman. Penny Marshall sent her regrets via a full-page ad, saying she had a dentist’s appointment.