Elmhurst's Celozzi driven to Hollywood success
Nick Celozzi had a dream that his son, Nick Celozzi II, would go to law school.
But no. Young Celozzi wanted to go to Hollywood and become a movie star.
What? No Chevy?
We've been dying to ask the Car Question, since the Celozzi name has been linked with Chevrolet for so long, they're practically interchangeable: What kind of car does Nick Celozzi II drive?
Stone silence. Then, Celozzi said, "I gotta be honest here, right?"
Yes, we said, being honest is good.
"I drive a Toyota Prius," Celozzi confessed. "I gotta tell ya, I love it! It's a 2010 lease. I've had the BMWs. But why would I want to keep putting $6 in the tank to drive 18 miles? It doesn't make sense. My wife convinced me to try the Prius. I love it! I love it! I filled the tank up two weeks ago Sunday, OK? The studio is 20 miles away, and I don't want to fill up my car every day."
"My parents were not supportive," young Celozzi said, "Not at all. They thought I was nuts! My dad was adamant about law school. A very fine line was drawn in sand about what he wanted me to do and what I wanted to do."
So, what happened?
"I said I appreciated his opinion, but I was going to do it. Go to L.A."
And young Celozzi did just that.
Right about now, you might be thinking the name "Nick Celozzi" sure sounds familiar, and you could be wondering: Is this the same Celozzi who built Celozzi-Ettleson Chevrolet, a hugely successful dealership in Elmhurst?
The same Celozzi who flashed a wad of cash on TV commercials and uttered the catchy catchphrase "Where you always save more money!"?
Young Celozzi is his son, now an established filmmaker. He produces, acts, directs, writes and does whatever he needs to do to get movies and TV shows up and running.
Celozzi was born in Chicago, but moved to Elmhurst as a kid so that Dad could be closer to his business out in the suburbs, back then known as "the boonies."
"I don't even think that part of Elmhurst was annexed yet," he said. "I'm not joking! There were still horses walking around the area there. That's where the commercial slogan came from: 'Hard to find, tough to beat!'"
Celozzi graduated from Fenwick High School in Oak Park, then earned a theater degree (not law — sorry Dad!) with an English minor from Marquette University in Milwaukee. He and wife Krista have two children, Juliette, 11, and Nicholas, 9.
We first ran into young Celozzi in 1988 when he went on a promotional tour for his horror movie "Slaughterhouse Rock," about a teenager who faces the source of his nightmares by visiting the abandoned prison at Alcatraz.
"Wow! That's been like 20 movies ago. I was just a kid. A teenager," he said.
A lot has changed since then, but not Celozzi's work ethic.
"So much of this business is about 'what did you do last night?'" he said. "You gotta do your homework and get at least a 'B' on it. You gotta keep working. You have to stay young in mind. You have to evolve. You need to keep your passion going."
Right now, his passion is for a documentary he made about his infamous great uncle, mob boss Sam Giancana.
Celozzi's movie, "Momo: The Sam Giancana Story," received the Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary at the Los Angeles Bel-Air Film Festival in October, and Best Documentary at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival earlier this month. Celozzi hopes to theatrically launch "Momo" in Chicago in February. It previously played at the Gene Siskel Film Center.
"Being the grandson of Sam Giancana's sister was like having a backstage pass," Celozzi said. "I wanted to tell the story, do it well, put it out there, and tell both sides. I'm proud of how it came out. I feel pretty good."
Celozzi may have started out to be an actor, but as he gained experience, he leaned toward the production end of the business, writing, producing and problem-solving.
"It's probably the most creative, fulfilling job you can have," he said. "It keeps you moving all the time. I like acting, but my forte is definitely producing."
We had to ask: In L.A., is it easy to spot someone from Chicago?
"Yeah, they're not hiding in a trailer," he said. "They're out there saying hello. They're looking for something to do. They want to help. I'm serious here! They're so out there, you know?"
So, how do people in L.A. view Chicagoans?
"As more loyal. More hardworking. More willing to pay their dues. More appreciative. It's true! I've produced and cast films. I can tell when someone comes in to read for a role if they're from the Midwest."
"They're more willing to work hard. They believe in putting time into a craft. I see a lot of people who don't want to pay their dues. They want to be famous real quick. I don't sense that with Chicagoans."
And what about Nick Celozzi I? Did he ever recognize that his son made the right decision to skip law school and go to Hollywood?
"He does now."
— Dann Gire
• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are interested in suburbanites working in showbiz. If you know of someone who would make a great column, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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