LindAnn Lo Schiavo
June 1991, Tea Leoni was still known publicly by her birth name, Elizabeth Tea
Pantaleoni, when The New York Times announced her wedding to TV producer Neil
Joseph Tardio, Jr. in
Since then, this Italian American actress has trimmed her name and lengthened
her professional resume. Reborn as Tea Leoni, she became best known as
photojournalist Nora Wilde in a sit-com "The Naked Truth" [broadcast
on ABC in 1995, on NBC 1996-98]; as the wife of actor David ("The X Files")
Duchovny, whom she married in 1997; and as a versatile performer who has
co-starred in favorites such as "Flirting with Disaster" (1996),
"Deep Impact" (1998), "The Family Man" with Nicholas Cage
(2000), "Jurassic Park III" (2001), Woody Allen's "Hollywood
Ending" (2002), "Spanglish" (2004), among others.
Upcoming, Tea Leoni will be seen in the film "People I Know,"
starring with Al Pacino and Kim Basinger, as well as a remake of the 1977
classic "Fun with Dick and Jane," starring with Jim Carrey.
L' IDEA caught up with the leggy 39-year-old blonde on a sunny Sunday
afternoon amid a limousine log-jam at the Regency Hotel on
. That evening, Tea Leoni would
premiere of David Duchovny's
directorial debut "House of D," in which she plays Mrs. Warshaw, the
widowed mother of 13-year-old Tommy Warshaw [actor Anton Yelchin].
Before Tea glammed up for the red carpet, we discussed a topic that's been
behind the scenes: her European ancestry.
Since the Pantaleoni family tree is distinguished, here's a question.
Has it occurred to the media that Tea's surname is Italian? Perhaps NOT.
For example, when William Booth profiled the actress for The Washington Post [
Thursday December 16, 2004
], he sidestepped all those Vesuvian
vowels to position her as a white Anglo-Saxon. Booth wrote: "To the
world, Leoni is a sexy, blond, blue-eyed uber-WASP, with mile-long legs, an
actress known sometimes as much for her beauty as her work." Or
maybe Booth confused Leoni with "Portia de Rossi," the stage name of
Australian actress Amanda Lee Rogers.
Time to unveil some of those vowel-bearing relatives whose reputations deserve
Guido Pantaleoni [great grandfather of Tea Leoni]
Guido Pantaleoni [born 1859], the great grandfather of Tea Leoni, was born in
in 1859. During the 19th
century, when George Westinghouse was busy developing a new concept - -
alternating-current - - he traveled around the boot seeking brilliant
scientific minds. In 1882 Westinghouse had formed a close friendship
with Doctor Diomede Pantaleoni [1810-1885], an eminent Italian physician and
political figure who was born in Macerata. Diomede's son Guido
Pantaleoni had just graduated from the
. Through this acquaintance,
Westinghouse became aware of a process, invented by an Italian, for making
artificial marble from gypsum, and he arranged with Guido Pantaleoni and
Albert Schmid, a young Swiss engineer, to come to
for the purpose of manufacturing this
product. Although the process was never of commercial utility,
Westinghouse placed Pantaleoni in charge of certain activities of the Union
Switch & Signal Company.
In May 1885, Guido Pantaleoni was called back to
by the death of his father.
During this time of mourning, he visited his old professor Galileo Ferraris at
, which led to his meeting Lucian
Gaulard, who had installed between Lanzo and Circe an alternating-current
system of distribution, patented by himself and John Dixon Gibbs. This
meeting had great consequences.
A year earlier, in 1884, Gaulard and Gibbs (his financial backer) had
installed an electrical plant at
to send lighting current to
. For this installation, the
Italian Government had given Gaulard and Gibbs a gold medal and a prize of
Pantaleoni was so impressed by what he witnessed at
that he cabled an account to George
Westinghouse, who promptly requested Pantaleoni to secure an option on the
American rights of Gaulard and Gibbs. Pantaleoni did secure an
option from Gibbs, and hand delivered it when he returned to the States later
in 1885. Westinghouse accepted the option. As soon as the Gaulard
and Gibbs apparatus arrived at
, Westinghouse began studying it. The
essential conceptions were formed and pretty well developed within three weeks:
December 1 - 20, 1885
March 8, 1886
, a corporation known as the
Westinghouse Electric Company had been chartered and organized by its four
founding fathers. George Westinghouse was made President, H. H.
Westinghouse, Vice President, A. T. Rowan, Secretary, and Guido Pantaleoni
became General Manager.
By 1920, Guido Pantaleoni, age 61, was living in Saint Louis, Missouri with
his American wife Ellen Colladay, age 46, their two teenagers Guido, Jr., 19,
and Raoul, 16, and two servants. Both of his sons were educated at
Maffeo Pantaleoni [younger brother of Guido]
Guido Pantaleoni had a younger brother, Senator Maffeo Pantaleoni [1857-1924],
an economist, who was born in Frascati, 20km from
. He was finance minister in
Gabriele D'Annunzio's government at
(1919), one of the first senators
named by Benito Mussolini, and a delegate (1923) to the
League of Nations
. In Pure Economics (1889, tr.
1898, repr. 1957), Pantaleoni made a distinguished contribution to the theory
of marginal utility. He also did notable work in statistics and finance.
Guido Pantaleoni, Jr. [grandfather of Tea Leoni]
Guido Pantaleoni, Jr., the grandfather of Tea Leoni, graduated from Harvard in
1921, joined a
law firm, married Lucy Hewitt on
June 17, 1923
, and moved to an elegant row house on
. Well-educated Guido knew how
to select a bride. Blue-blooded Lucy was descended from two New York
Mayors and also claimed kinship with Peter Cooper, philanthropist and founder
of Cooper Union, and other notables. Guido and Lucy had three children:
Guido, Nina, and Hewitt. Sadly, his wife suffered from aplastic anemia and
died at the age of 36 in August 1934.
October 26, 1935
, Guido married his second wife
Helenka Adamowska, age 34. The Polish beauty, a niece of the famous
musician Ignace Jan Paderewski, had been an actress of stage and film before
she devoted herself to charitable causes and fundraising on behalf of
children's theatre groups. In addition to raising her three
step-children, Helenka gave birth to two sons: Michael and Anthony [Tea's
father]. Soon they moved into a 20-room apartment on
East 72nd Street
The war redecorated this charmed life, adding darker tones. Lt. Colonel
Guido Pantaleoni, who had been sent to
by the Army, was reported missing on
December 21, 1943
. By August 1945, he was
declared dead. Later that year, in November, it was revealed that Lt.
Colonel Guido Pantaleoni had been killed in action in
while on duty with the Army, attached
to the Office of Strategic Services.
A tireless do-gooder, Mrs.
Guido Pantaleoni channeled her grief into good works on behalf of children.
She founded the US Fund for UNICEF in 1947. Mrs. Guido Pantaleoni never
remarried. She divided her energy between the demands of UNICEF and her
other organizations as well as supervising the Ivy League education of her
brood. Nina graduated from
and Guido, Hewitt, Michael, and
Anthony graduated from Harvard.
Tea had always been very close to her grandmother and life stood still when
she died in 1987 at age 86. "I idolized her," she admits,
adding that it was a profound level of grief and mourning for her. This
experience prepared her for the role of Mrs. Warshaw, the widowed single
mother in "House of D."
have often remarked on Tea's strong sassy language and liberal usage of
4-letter words, perhaps her way of downplaying her patrician background.
But during our interview, the actress turned misty and nostalgic instead as
she fondly explained how much admiration she's had for her very accomplished
Italian relatives, her Polish grandmother, and her Ivy League educated husband.
Working with David was exciting and nerve-wracking, she confides. "What
if the critics would say, 'He hired his wife -- then she screwed up his movie'!"