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The Old Country
For actor Joe Mantegna, a parcel of land in Oklahoma is a link to his family’s past.
By Kristi Eaton
Published September/October 2015
The photo has hung in Joe Mantegna’s office for twenty years. It’s a shot of his father’s boyhood home in Krebs and a reminder of his ties to Oklahoma.
Mantegna stars on the hit show Criminal Minds and voices mob boss Fat Tony on The Simpsons. He has been to Oklahoma only once in his life—as a young boy taking part in a family road trip between Chicago and California—but the state, he says, has had a big effect on him.
“It was all my dad would talk about,” he says.
Mantegna’s family ties to the state start with his grandfather, Salvatore Mantegna, who immigrated around 1905 to Krebs from Calascibetta, a town in Sicily. Like thousands of Italian immigrants, Salvatore heard about the coal mines in the area and came over in hopes of owning farmland. He set aside a hundred dollars every year for five years and was able to purchase a farm nearby. Joe Mantegna’s father, Joe Mantegna Sr., grew up there. When Salvatore died, his family moved to Chicago but held on to the land. As a child, Salvatore’s son passed stories of his rural upbringing to his own son: his affinity for Hank Williams, picking eggs out of the hen house, and owning farm dogs.
“He would wax nostalgic about the farm,” the younger Mantegna says of his father. “Growing up in Chicago, it’s like, ‘Wow, this is my dad’s life.’”
Joe Mantegna Sr. died in 1971. At the funeral, the actor was once again reminded of his father’s ties to Oklahoma when two men he didn’t know walked up and introduced themselves as boyhood friends from Krebs.
“It was like a Marlboro commercial,” Mantegna says. “I see these guys with jeans, sheepskin vests, and cowboy hats.”
Mantegna is planning a return trip to Krebs—this time with a film crew. As host of the Outdoor Channel’s MidwayUSA’s Gun Stories, he tells unique stories about the history of firearms. He’s been to Germany, Italy, and all over the U.S. Now, he wants to focus on something more personal: the fifty-acre farm he still owns with his family. He hopes to weave it into an episode of Gun Stories.
“It’s very meaningful for me,” he says, “this little town that has been so huge in my psyche.”
Get There: Criminal Minds airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. CST on CBS. MidwayUSA’s Gun Stories airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. CST on the Outdoor Channel.