‘Rocky’ star Burt Young remembered as local hero in hometown Corona with tribute at Museum of the Moving Image

Photo via AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian

The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria will present “Corona King: A Tribute to Burt Young” to honor the Oscar-nominated actor who died earlier this month in Los Angeles at the age of 83. MoMI will screen two films featuring scene-stealing performances by Young including his first role as the avenging Gimpy in “Carnival of Blood” showing on Nov. 4, and “Convoy,” the popcorn truck-driver film directed by Sam Peckinpah, screening on Nov. 4 and 5.

Young was born and raised in Corona and rocketed to fame playing Paulie Pinnino, the curmudgeonly corner man in Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” in 1976, a role that he would continue to play in five sequels.

AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

“I’ve always been really a big fan of him as a character actor. I think he sort of came around in that kind of time for American character actors,” Museum of the Moving Image Curator of Film Eric Hynes told QNS. “I think that at the time, Hollywood and the American new wave were hungry for kind of authentic men and authentic women, but in particular, authentic male character actors. The fact that he was himself a boxer added a certain authenticity to his character. He was no one’s idea of a traditional leading man but I actually thought he was just a really fine, funny, full-of-life character on screen.”

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In addition to the “Rocky” franchise, Young was a frequent scene-stealer in other major motion pictures such as “Chinatown” with Jack Nicholson, “Once Upon a Time in America” with Robert DeNiro, and “Back to School” with Rodney Dangerfield who grew up in Kew Gardens. Young also did four films in four years with James Caan, who grew up in Sunnyside. The Museum of the Moving Image hosted the Caan Film Festival last October in tribute to the film star who died in July, 2022 at the age of 82.

Photo via AP Photo/Matt Rourke

“When we did the Caan Film Festival and I was watching all of his films, it stuck with me how often Young appeared with him and I had a thought — he’s from Corona and there was this inkling of doing a subset of Young films and I’m disappointed I didn’t follow through then,” Hynes said. 

Corona community leader Al Perna spoke to QNS about his personal connection to the actor who was born in 1940 as Gerald Tommaso DeLouise, who grew up in a two-story brick home at 108-64 38th Ave. His father sent him to William Cullen Bryant High School in Astoria to get him away from neighborhood troublemakers and after he was thrown out for disciplinary reasons his father signed him into the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of 16. Two years later, DeLouise returned to Corona where he hung with a local gang composed of mostly Italian young men who had finished their military service and looked after the neighborhood.

“He hung out with the Corona Dukes and the Junior Dukes. I’m not going to say they were a tough gang, they were just enabled young men who kept an eye on things,” Perna told QNS. “He used to cruise around Corona Heights in a 1955 Cadillac convertible. My father used to tell me stories about his boxing career.”

DeLouise learned how to box in the Marine Corps and after he returned to the neighborhood he began to box professionally, at one point going 17-1 under legendary trainer Cus D’Amato, who decades later engineered the career of heavyweight champ Mike Tyson. DeLouise lost some front teeth appearing on a card at the old Sunnyside Gardens Arena on Queens Boulevard that launched the pro careers of Gerry Conney and another actor, Tony Danza.

He gave up pro boxing in his early 20s and spent two years studying at the Actors Studio under Lee Strasberg leading to roles on stage, television and eventually films as Burt Young.

“No matter how big he got, he never forgot his roots here in Corona,” Perna said. “He was always coming back here to hang in Spaghetti Park, and eat at the Parkside; he would get noticed all the time everywhere and people just loved him. He always had this tough guy persona in all of his movies, but around here he was just this really humble, sweet-talking guy. So different from how he appeared in the movies, right? He was a real gentleman in the neighborhood. He was one of the guys, one of the boys. You know, he was our friend, and we were all so proud of him. He will be missed.”