For ‘Boardwalk Empire’ actor Anthony Laciura, Atlantic City has become a very special place thanks to the granddaughter of the man he portrays on the HBO show.
ATLANTIC CITY — It’s Labor Day weekend 2011 in Atlantic City and Anthony Laciura is dressed in a crisp white suit, a tan Panama hat and is sitting on a plush black leather sofa on the second floor of The Ritz on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City.
It’s not the first, second or even third time the 60-year-old Louisiana-born actor has spent time in Atlantic City over the past few years — mainly for pleasure, not (show) business.
Laciura and his wife, Joel, have not only become attached to the seaside resort, but also to the neighboring isle of Brigantine, where the couple has stayed for holiday weekends over the summer.
It started a few years ago when Laciura was researching his role as the fictional Eddie Kessler on the award-winning HBO drama series Boardwalk Empire. Laciura’s character is (the fictional) Nucky Thompson’s right-hand man, driver, butler and — as season one revelaed — bodyguard.
Thompson, based on the real-life Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, did indeed have such a loyal assistant and his name was Louis Kessel, a life-long Atlantic City resident whose granddaughter currently resides in Brigantine.
“Lou Kessel was a taxi driver and would pick Nucky up from Babette’s [Supper Club] and other places,” Laciura says, pulling at the brim of his chapeau. “He would find out wherever Nucky was, pick him up as the evening was coming to an end, and he took care of him, got him to his hotel — here, at The Ritz — and made sure that he got to bed safely. And he did this for a period of time and Nucky finally said, ‘Listen, I want to hire you. You can be my right-hand man.’ So, at which point Lou, aka Eddie, became his bodyguard, his chauffeur, his barber, whatever he needed.”
Laciura also learned that “Nucky would get up around 4:30 in the afternoon and Lou — Eddie — would make sure that he had his dozen eggs, pound of bacon, coffee and toast — that’s what he had every ‘morning.’
“Then he dressed him and they both went out dressed to the nines and stood in front of The Ritz and when the kid came up he’d give them dollars, and he’s shake hands and help people. Then after a certain period of time spent on the Boardwalk every day he and [Lou] would get into one of the rolling chairs, [roll] down the Boardwalk, and, yet again, greet people, remind them of how lucky they were to be in Atlantic City and then they would go to Babette’s or out to dinner and stay out till sunrise — or later — and start the thing over the next day.”
Luckily for Laciura, Jamie Satz — Kessel’s granddaughter — had read about the show that HBO was making and saw that it was going to center around Nucky [Johnson] and wondered if there would be any mention of her grandfather.
Satz went online and found that Laciura had been cast as Eddie Kessler, the part based on her grandfather.
“She went ahead and called [HBO] and introduced herself to [show crteator] Terry [Winter] and asked if it would be possible to meet [me],” says Laciura. “So Terry, naturally, came to me on set and said, ‘The granddaughter of your character’ — and I said, ‘When can I meet her?’
“Because you never know, this is an actor’s dream! Somebody who’s still alive [who] can give you some insight about the character you’re portraying, especially when you know he was a real person.
“So I did my research as much as I could do online and then other places to find out who Lou Kessel was and then I met Jamie and, later, her sister and two brothers.”
Eventually, Satz helped Laciura get in touch with her extended family in California. “[They] knew Lou [even] closer!” gasps Laciura. “[We’re talking] cousins!”
Jamie Satz and the rest of the late Lou Kessel’s family would give Laciura a wealth of information for him to apply to his role. Further, the family became close with Laciura (“I’m now called ‘Pops,’” he says with a genuine smile) even giving the actor Lou Kessel’s gold watch (and throwing him a surprise 60th birthday party in Brigantine following the Labor Day weekend interview).
“And so now you’ll see in the first episode of the second season there’s a close-up of a watch that I show to Nucky to tell him that it’s time to go [and] that is Lou Kessel’s watch,” says Laciura. “And that’s the watch that I use on the show. It’s kind of nice that the watch is featured as well.”
Laciura says he has more than enjoyed the time he’s spent with Satz and her family in Brigantine, as well as on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, over the past few years. When asked about his favorite thing in Atlantic City he quickly replies with a laugh, “Jamie’s house.”
“As a matter of fact, I did an interview for a New Orleans magazine,” says Laciura, “and they asked those general questions like, ‘What is your favorite vacation spot?’ And I said, ‘Brigantine.’
“The feeling is so incredible,” he adds, “that we are part of the family. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s like we were always [connected], it’s just we hadn’t met.”
Before becoming Eddie Kessler, Laciura had spent 27 years in the Metropolitan Opera of New York as a singer known for his Chaplin-esque presence and his captivating roles. For 20 years before that he was a freelancing operatic singer; he currently teaches opera to students in Jersey City.
As there have been some erroneous reports of filmmaker (and director of the pilot and executive producer on the series) Martin Scorsese hand-picking Laciura for the role of Kessler, although the two had met briefly years before work on Boardwalk Empire had started, Laciura sets the record straight.
“I met Marty about eight years before [being cast as Eddie Kessler] because he came to an opera we were doing at The Met called Metropolis Case and he was a guest of the then general director.
“And he came back to the party and I was in awe naturally. I mean you’re talking about a Sicilian man here! I mean, he’s one of the greatest directors of the world! And that was wonderful; it was a thrill. Then eight, nine years later, all of a sudden I get a call to read for the part of [the Chicago mobster] “Big” Jim Colosimo.
So when my then-manager explained what I looked like, they said, ‘Well, he’s not really Big Jim. However, your description describes a character we’re having a hard time trying to cast. Would he mind reading? Does he have a German accent?’ And my manager said, ‘Well, he can have any accent you want!’”
The famed seaside resort that is portrayed in HBO's hit drama series Boardwalk Empire celebrated the show's second season premiere on Sunday, Sept. 25, in a number of ways over the weekend.
“[Empire’s] helped remind people of what a colorful history we’ve had as a city, and helped bring these things back into focus for some people. And I think the fact that the series is very well regarded only helps.”
Seashore history is slippery — some accounts place Capone and his fellow delegates at the President, and Nucky’s digs on the Ritz’s eighth floor — but by any measure, the 1920s roared extra loud in Atlantic City.
In the second part of "Nucky Johnson," the distinguished panel of Atlantic City historians go deeper into the life of the real man behind HBO's Nucky Thompson: Enoch "Nucky" Johnson.
Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, treasurer of Atlantic County, ruled the rackets and the Republican Party in Atlantic City. Former cabbie Louie Kessel ordered his master’s life. Home base was the posh Ritz Carlton Hotel at Iowa Avenue and the Boardwalk (near today’s Tropicana).
“At this point I was asked what part of Germany I’m from, and I told them [in perfect English] ‘I’m from the south Bronx.’”
After retiring as a professional opera singer, Anthony Laciura figured he’d channel his energies into helping budding operatic stars hone their craft ... Then came a call from the office of the director of the planned HBO series 'Boardwalk Empire'
In real life, Nucky Johnson, Atlantic City’s Boardwalk emperor during the 1920s, did eventually marry a former showgirl and actress, a local woman named Flossie Osbeck. But that didn’t happen until one day before Johnson began serving a four-year prison term for tax fraud in 1941. There’s little historical evidence to support the fact that Lucy is patterned after Osbeck.
Dog & Pony Show
Marvelous Ms. Madigan
Dog Day Afternoon in OC
Blizzard Comes Full Circle