Cathy Moriarty: The Bronx Knockout

Cathy Moriarty was perfectly cast as the doe-eyed wife whose cheekbones were no defence against Jake LaMotta’s temper. Originally published in Issue 53 of The Rake, David Smiedt writes that Raging Bull, the 1980 classic, made Moriarty an overnight success, but Hollywood has not been kind to her since.

Moriarty played Vikkie LaMotta opposite Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, 1980.

We open on a wide interior shot of the Hoops nightclub in the Bronx on a Saturday night in 1978. Perhaps the smash hit of the day, Le Freak, is playing. The camera pans to a young actor with a big future and swagger to match at the bar. His name is Joe Pesci, and he is about to be distracted from his Jack Daniel’s by a photograph pinned to the bar. Flash backwards a few weeks to backstage at the same venue, where a 17-year-old blonde Bronx native is shivering in a bathing suit but determined to take out first prize in a beauty contest — a pair of black high heels with an ankle strap. She wins more than footwear. Or to put it in her words: “So this Italian guy comes up and asks if he can take my picture, and I say, ‘Sure, go ahead’, ’cause he’s gonna take it anyway. And whadd’ya know, this same guy calls me three weeks later, says his name is Joe Pesci and asks if I’d like to test for a part in this movie about a boxer named Jake LaMotta.”

The film, of course, was Scorsese’s 1980 monochromatic masterpiece Raging Bull, and Moriarty played LaMotta’s neophyte wife, Vikki, opposite Robert De Niro. As for the pedigree of her colleagues, Moriarty says bluntly: “I had never heard of them. I figured if they thought they were better than me, I’d just get mad and leave.” And after De Niro bruised her face in 12 takes of a fight scene, Cathy says: “I got him good later. I dug my nails into his back and pounded him. That wiped the smile off his face.”


David Smiedt


July 2021


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