"The Sal Piro of New Jersey"
Right about now, most of you are asking yourselves, "Who the hell is Tony Yanetelli? I never heard of him." That is, of course, unless you are an old old timer in the Rocky Horror scene. You see, Tony died around 1990, sixteen years ago.
Why in the world would I do a fan profile about someone that died so long ago, someone that almost nobody in the scene would remember? The answer, my friends, is easy: because Tony deserves it. Tony Yanetelli is one of the many unsung heroes of the Rocky Horror scene. The man busted his ass for eleven years promoting Rocky Horror in New Jersey, brought his cast from theater to theater, doing the show for five years here, three years there, a few years at yet another place, bringing young people into the cast and giving them a haven from a rather uncaring outside world (Tony was one of those of us who saw RHPS as a refuge from bullies who liked to beat up on the "fags", "weirdo's" or those otherwise socially different), doing live shows at clubs and cabarets and a lot more.
And this was all before the Internet was really widespread, and most of the people that performed with Tony have been out of Rocky Horror for many years... and thus, all his work and dedication went unnoticed in the modern RHPS scene. And that's why I wanted to take a second to feature Tony. Without people like him, and all the other old old timers, both known and unknown, we may not have the RHPS scene that we have today.
But, enough of my ramblings, let's get into the life and times of Tony Yanetelli, sometimes back then also called "The Sal Piro of New Jersey"...
Tony Yanetelli first saw Rocky Horror in New York City in 1979. He was a 21 year old openly gay man from Jersey, and that was at a time when gay men got bashed while walking down the street. Tony was slight of build but he had balls like a boxer. If some guy gave him a nasty gay comment while walking down the street, Tony wasted no time in replying.
"Oh, please, I'm more man than you will ever be and more woman than you will ever get".
The jerk would then almost always say, "Suck my dick, faggot!"
...and the lightning quick response was, "I prefer steak and potatoes, not pork and beans".
This would cause the friends of the jerk to laugh at him, and also shut the jerk up at the same time (please note, such jerks always travel in packs, they never speak up when they are alone). Anyway, from what you read above, you can tell that Tony was a natural Frank-N-Furter. He fell in love with Rocky Horror right away, and decided to start his own cast in New Jersey.
He started in two locations: he started a cast at the Edison Drive indoor/outdoor theater. This was the very last active drive-in theater in New Jersey, and had two large indoor theaters, which had Rocky Horror for many years, and he also started his own cast in Somerville, New Jersey.
Both were a total success. This was at a time when RHPS was enjoying its heyday, and there was no lack of performers or audience. The shows played to sold-out and near sold-out crowds for quite some time. Somerville was the only Rocky Horror show in Central New Jersey, and the Edison theater was the only one in its area. People came form all over to attend both shows.
At the same time, Tony was bringing his cast around to gay clubs, cabarets, parades of all kinds, to malls in costume to hand out fliers, went on local TV shows and radio and promoted Rocky Horror as much as possible, often at a lot of personal expense. If a cast member didn't have a costume part, Tony would buy it got him or her or make it. If a cast member had no money for gas to get to the show, Tony would did out his wallet. Tony did anything to make sure his cast was presentable and full, including putting up with a lot of egos and a lot of bullshit. But the results were well worth it. The cast flourished.
Sadly, the Somerville theater was shut down when a new highway was being built in the area, and the cast had to move to the Edison theater full time. A few years later, the Edison theater was closed because it's just not financially feasible to run a drive-in anymore. The cast had to look for another home.
They performed on occasion at the Allentown theater and at the 8th Street Playhouse, and soon found another home at the Westfield Quad in Westfield, New Jersey. The show did well there and Tony became the theater manager. The cast was still performing at clubs, marching in Halloween and gay pride parades, and attending shows in other theaters. Many of the cast changed over the years, but many of them also stayed with Tony and his cast all that time, from theater to theater, no matter how far or close.
That was the kind of dedication that Tony inspired in his cast. The love of Rocky Horror that he exhibited was passed onto them, and that's what made them so good. They loved what they were doing, each and every week.
In 1989 Tony was diagnosed with the AIDS virus. He stopped performing in late 1989 and stopped his involvement in the RHPS scene in early 1990 to attend to his final business here on this mortal plane of existence. Tony passed away in late 1990.
Tony was a mirror image of his time, and of Rocky Horror itself: flamboyant, exuberant, out-of-the-closet, in-your-face, glittery, gay, open-minded, shocking (for its time), and most of all, FUN.
Tony brought a lot of people into the RHPS scene, perhaps hundreds. He worked hard for what he loved and made a lot of fun times and great memories possible for a hell of a lot of people.
Tony Yanetelli, Rest In Peace.