Luigi Basco came to America from Italy, and promised his mother that he would write every week to tell her of his adventures. These letters are the basis of the wonderful radio show, Life With Luigi.
The action takes place in the immigrant community of post war Chicago. The show is peppered with over done accents and caricatures of the different immigrant groups. But, like the ethnic send ups from Fred Allen‘s Allen’s Alley and The Goldbergs, they are done with affection and respect rather than ridicule.
Like many situation comedies, Life with Luigi is driven by it’s characters. Luigi himself, played by stage and screen star J. Carrol Naish is a hopeful and hard working young man who is often lost in the fast culture of America. (Naish himself was of Irish decent, and through his career played Native Americans, Latinos, Italian and Middle Eastern characters, but never Irish.) Luigi has a deep love for both his adopted country and the native land he has left behind. He attends night school to qualify for American citizenship, and is taught by the lovely Miss Spaulding, played by Mary Shipp, whose patience and affection for her students is more than admirable. Luigi’s classmates all put there own spin on the American experience, especially Schultz, played by Hans Conried, who manages to steal most of the scenes he is in.
Another scene stealer is radio veteran and future Fred Flintstone, Alan Reed as Luigi’s patron, Pasquale. Pasquale has “made it” in America, running a spaghetti restaurant. There is only one thing Pasquale needs to be truly happy; he needs to find a husband (preferably Luigi) for his sweet but overweight and not very bright daughter, Rosa, played by Jody Gilbert. Every episode features Pasquale hatching what is best described as a “Fred Flintstone-esque” plot to bring Luigi closer to Rosa, and Rosa gives us the cutest shy giggle whenever she enters a room that Luigi is in.
Life With Luigi was created by producer Cy Howard, who was also responsible for radio’s My Friend Irma. Luigi made the transition to television featuring many of the radio players, including Naish and Reed, but the series didn’t last.
Life With Luigi has also been called an Italian counterpart to The Goldbergs, which was a chronicle of Jewish immigrant experience in New York City. Both of these shows would likely have trouble on the modern, politically correct climate of the modern networks. But it should also be noted that in both programs, the racial stereo typing was done more with affection than a mocking tone.
J. Carroll Naish is honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6145 Hollywood Blvd.