Chronicling Paramount Studios' history


Michael Christaldi loves landing opportunities to advance the future of cinema but not at the expense of its voluminous past. Accustomed to contributing as an actor, the 48-year-old figure has become a scribe, too, teaming with two colleagues to devise “Early Paramount Studios,” a well-received book documenting its titular California entity’s first three decades.

“I had been hoping that my mom would buy a copy,” the native of the 2900 block of South Sydenham Street and South Jersey inhabitant said of initial expectations for the 127-page homage. “That’s not been the case, as people are drawn to nostalgia and are enjoying its contents.”

The Marconi product united with historians E.J. Stephens and Marc Wanamaker to issue the work through Arcadia Publishing in July. They had conceived it in March 2012, garnering a contract one month later, with Stephens and Christaldi handling the researching and writing and Wanamaker compiling the accompanying images. Selling out on within three weeks, their brainchild has entered its third printing, leading the overseers to ponder a Hollywood staple, a sequel.

“Putting it together gave me deeper appreciation for the generators of such a powerful legacy,” Christaldi, who participated in a 650-copy August signing at Paramount’s Hollywood headquarters, said of addressing their efforts from 1912 through ’39. “I’m thrilled others are likewise enthused.”

With such cherished movies as “The Godfather,” “Sunset Boulevard” and “Titanic” to its name, the company has captivated legions of patrons, with Christaldi an immense admirer of its annals. In documenting its initial movers and shakers, he came to revere founder Adolph Zukor so much, he is penning a piece on him for the magazine Classic Images.

“He’s a key personality and an often overlooked one,” Christaldi said of the Hungarian pioneer, who established Famous Players Film Co., Paramount’s original appellation, in ’12. “He and his peers are responsible for so many of the memories that people make in theaters.”

With aims to account for four more decades in the next examination, the fervent fan derives joy from being a chronicler of his screen predecessors’ feats, knowing he owes his passion for performing primarily to their enthusiasm for elevating entertainment’s energy and scope. Though he has yet to work on a Paramount project, he has not stopped envisioning the day he gains his chance.

“Every time I’m there, I think I should just handcuff myself to the place,” Christaldi said. “It’s that renowned, inspirational and timeless.”

The Garden State resident commenced his infatuation with show business as a boy, aspiring to sample the scenery and pageantry of New York City. Receiving his education at F. Amedee Bregy, 1700 Bigler St., and St. Richard School, now St. Pio Regional Catholic School, 1826 Pollock St., before his family’s move to Bellmawr, N.J., Christaldi gradually went from obsessed observer to budding performer, with nods in Wildwood-based church performances helping to define him as a reliable presence.

“I was a real stickler for details,” he said of his boyhood roles. “I hadn’t known but that was my initiation into method acting. No matter what I did, though, I wanted to feel I was giving my all.”

Following graduation from South Jersey’s Triton Regional High School, Christaldi, having earned kudos from peers and overseers, enrolled in classes at the Walnut Street Theatre. The Old City location did not prove a perfect match for the thespian, who decided to let go of his dream upon marrying, settling into other professions, including a stint as a showroom manager for Caesars Atlantic City.

“It’s strange, though, how we come back to what had driven us before,” Christaldi, whose marriage produced daughter Angela, an aspiring actress matriculating at Saint Joseph’s University, said. “I feel what you want to pursue is born in you, so I’m going after what was meant for me.”

Traveling to California two decades ago, he encountered Paramount and knew it would somehow factor into his maturation. Another visit to the Golden State years later intensified his tutelage, as interactions with comedians Tom Dreesen and Johnny Dark, for whom he has written material, and actor Steve Landesberg led him to receive instruction at New York City’s Herbert Berghof Studio. Relishing his opportunities, he reignited his ability to convey diverse emotions to educate, entertain and move viewers.

“I enjoy being able to tackle different sorts of works, and whether comedic or dramatic, I’m really confident in doing a great job,” Christaldi said.

The teeming-with-tenacity individual has made many film, television, theater and commercial appearances, including turns for “The Late Show with David Letterman,” the Discovery Channel-situated “Mobster Confessions,” “The Stepford Wives” and “The Sopranos,” with voice-over work also bulking up his resumé. Having forged friendships with luminaries such as fellow South Philly native son Frankie Avalon, Clint Eastwood, Jerry Lewis, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, he cherishes the camaraderie that believing in his talent has spawned.

“I feel very fortunate to have been among so many gifted people because they’re role models on so many levels, including the realization you got to believe in yourself all the time, no matter the circumstances,” Christaldi said.

The ever-confident actor will head to Los Angeles this week to prepare for his role with peer Murray Langston, The Unknown Comic, in “Seventh Story Man,” a play addressing the need to replace hopeless feelings with vivid hopes for change. The work will also take him to Hawaii, but no matter the destination, Christaldi will not desert his destiny.

“Showbiz is my life,” he said. “I just have to continue to be faithful to it.” 


Contact Managing Editor Joseph Myers at or ext. 124.