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updated: 12/18/2012 2:58 PM

Elmhurst's Celozzi driven to Hollywood success

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  • Elmhurst native Nick Celozzi, left, and director Dimitri Logothetis accept accolades for their documentary "Momo: The Sam Giancana Story."

      Elmhurst native Nick Celozzi, left, and director Dimitri Logothetis accept accolades for their documentary "Momo: The Sam Giancana Story."

  • Sam Giancana

      Sam Giancana

  • Nick Celozzi's father insisted that he go to law school. Instead, the Elmhurst native went to Hollywood.

      Nick Celozzi's father insisted that he go to law school. Instead, the Elmhurst native went to Hollywood.

  • Actor Nick Celozzi, back in 1988 when he starred in the horror movie "Slaughterhouse Rock."

      Actor Nick Celozzi, back in 1988 when he starred in the horror movie "Slaughterhouse Rock."

  • Elmhurst native Nick Celozzi, right, and director Dimitri Logothetis made the award-winning documentary "Momo: The Sam Giancana Story."

      Elmhurst native Nick Celozzi, right, and director Dimitri Logothetis made the award-winning documentary "Momo: The Sam Giancana Story."

  • Video: SLAUGHTERHOUSE ROCK trailer

  • Video: MOMO trailer

 

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.

"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!"?

That's him.

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."

How?

"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 dgire@dailyherald.com or jsotonoff@dailyherald.com.

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