Anthony Martignetti, who found television immortality as a 12-year-old Italian immigrant when he sprinted through Boston’s North End in an enduring television commercial for Prince spaghetti, playing a boy who is beckoned by his mother’s cry, “Anthony! Anthony!,” died on Sunday at his home in West Roxbury, Mass. He was 63.
His older brother Andy said the cause was still undetermined. He said Mr. Martignetti had been awaiting treatment for severe sleep apnea.
In 1969, Anthony and several fellow preadolescents were approached in Boston’s Little Italy by three men looking for Commercial Street. His friends replied rudely; Anthony, angelic and ingenuous, offered directions. The men were smitten.
They turned out to be scouts for an advertising agency seeking a realistic location to film a pasta commercial and credible nonprofessionals to act in it. The scouts, with his parents’ consent, signed him up.
The commercial shows the mother yelling for her son out the window of her family’s tenement apartment and Anthony, heeding her call to come home, hotfooting through the neighborhood in short pants and sneakers, scampering up the tenement stairs and, panting but smiling, arriving home for a traditional hearty dinner. An announcer then intones the indelible line, “Wednesday is Prince spaghetti day.”
The ad became a classic, broadcast for nearly 14 years in New England and then nationally. For Mr. Martignetti, it would in large part define his life. With his cherubic countenance remaining recognizable for decades, he became a keeper of the flame, preserving the authentic, wholesome image that he and Mary Fiumara, who played his mother, had created.
“I always understood that it was larger than me, that I had a responsibility to preserve what that commercial meant to people,” he told The Boston Globe last year. “I knew that if I got into trouble, little Anthony from the spaghetti commercial would be all over the paper.”
Anthony, who never spoke in the commercial, collected a flat fee of several hundred dollars, plus royalties, which amounted to some $20,000, he said.
Anthony James Martignetti was born on July 7, 1957, in Candida, Italy, to Raffaele and Carmela (D’Alelio) Martignetti. His father later worked for a Boston cemetery, and his mother was a seamstress.
After attending St. Mary of the Annunciation High School in Cambridge, Mass., Anthony worked for the Polaroid camera company and in machine shops, stores and supermarkets until, more than a decade ago, he became an associate court officer for the Massachusetts Trial Court in Dedham, where he screened visitors.
In addition to his brother Andy, he is survived by his wife, Ruth (Ubri) Martignetti; a son, Anthony Jr., from his first marriage, which ended in divorce; another brother, Angelo; a sister, Michelle Knorring; and his parents.
The “Wednesday” commercial was conceived by the Jerome O’Leary advertising agency of Boston originally for a macaroni industry association, with the aim of broadening pasta’s appeal beyond those who still preferred theirs homemade and beyond Italian-American consumers.
When the association rejected the slogan, it was embraced by another client, Prince, a Boston-based company whose chief executive, Joseph Pellegrino, had been a Brooklyn shoeshine boy.
When the men from the ad agency went to Anthony’s home to explain the particulars to his parents, who spoke little English at the time, his brother Andy volunteered to be the interpreter, a job that conferred some literary license.
“I tried to beat him out of it,” Andy Martignetti said in a phone interview. “I said I can eat a lot more spaghetti than Anthony. But he was just such a cute little bugger.”
Mrs. Fiumara, who spoke only two words in the 1969 ad — hollering Anthony’s name twice — returned to her day job as homemaker after the filming. She died in 2016 at 88.
Anthony had known Mrs. Fiumara as a neighbor.
“She was like my second mother,” he told The New York Times after her death. “She was always looking out for me, and anytime I would see her on the streets, she said, ‘How you doing, Anthony, can I buy you an ice cream?’ — even before the commercial.”
After the commercial, more often than not, Anthony would buy his friends ice cream and other treats because his fame and small fortune had made him more generous, his brother Andy said.
“It changed him,” he said, “in the sense only that he was able to have more fun growing up.”
Ruth Martignetti, whom Anthony married several years ago, was from the Dominican Republic and had never seen the Prince commercial when it was airing.
“When we first started dating, I’d see strangers freak out and hug him, and I’d say, ‘Why do you let them do that? They don’t know you,’” she told The Globe. “But Anthony would always say, ‘They’ve known me for a long time.’”