A 2013 Special Remembrance
DOMINIC ALFRED LEONE
November 7 or 11, 1915 to September 16, 2003
By Katharine Blossom Lowrie
“A Mississippi River Card Shark”
Dominic Alfred Leone, a larger-than-life character who dressed like a high-roller and went AWOL from the Army in 1942 to marry the woman he loved, died of respiratory failure in Los Angeles on September 16, 2003. He was 87. All these many years after his passing, Dominic—or “Ace” as everyone called him—still dominates the conversation in a sprawling Italian family that occupies two coasts. Ace’s nephew, Paul Picerni, taking credit for the nickname, said his uncle always reminded him of a “Mississippi River card shark.” A slick dresser who identified with George Raft and Frank Sinatra, Ace could have passed for a Hollywood producer or the consigliere to the Gambino Family, his nephew said.
Ace and Lee on their Wedding Day
Short in stature (only 5’5”), he was huge in life and relished his Donnie Brasco image, said his oldest daughter, Nola Leone, who, along with her sister Mindy Kouirinis, cared for Ace during his last years, first in New York and later at Nola’s home in Los Angeles. Witty and full of tall tales (he once tried to convince a very young Nola that he had written the Star-Spangled Banner), Ace loved the ladies. “And they loved him,” daughter Mindy said. He also liked to leave things to the imagination: his occupation, for example. Listing himself as a “fundraiser,” Ace spent many years servicing bazaars and carnivals with his brother Mike. “Daddy had many talents and wasn’t afraid to sweat,” Nola said. “But he was always searching for that ‘get rich quick scheme.” In the meantime, he drove a cab, co-owned a bowling alley, tended bar, and did “God knows what else!”
He always insisted on cloth napkins
Enormous charm and plenty of street-savvy substituted for Ace’s higher education, Nola said. He read the newspaper every day, liked books about gangsters and horse racing (his favorite sport), and enjoyed golf and baseball. But his aristocratic tastes set him apart. Ace always insisted on cloth napkins, Nola added, drank Dewar’s White Label Scotch and, up until his heart attack in 1999, smoked Dunhill or Du Maurier cigarettes. In his tailored suits, perfectly ironed shirts, a pinky ring on his finger, he flashed expensive watches and a solid gold chain necklace that bore an Italian good luck charm in the shape of a horn.
Born to Armondo and Carmela Leone in Corona, New York on November 7 or 11, 1915, Ace was the youngest of many children. Tragically, his mother died when he was only 14 months old, and his father passed away when he was a teenager. Because all records and photos were lost in a fire, Ace remained uncertain of his exact birth date. “Rather than select one date,” Mindy laugher, “he celebrated both days!” Losing his parents at such a young age, however, gave him a lot to overcome, she said. “But he rarely talked of his childhood and never complained.” Following his father’s death, Ace lived for periods with his older sister, Lena Picerni, her husband Charles and their five children (nephew Paul among them). But he was eager to strike out on his own. Drafted into the Army at twenty-six, he soon went AWOL to marry his beautiful, raven-haired girlfriend of ten years, Michelina (Lee or Lena) Nola. Daughters Nola and Mindy arrived thereafter. But Ace always considered his young sister-in-law, Rose Nola, his “other daughter,” Nola said.
In the 1950s, Ace’s nephew Paul, an actor, tried to encourage his uncle to move to Hollywood and become an agent. “With his gift of gab and BS,” daughter Nola said, “he would have been a terrific agent.” But Ace’s wife Lee, then the matriarch and oldest of eight children, didn’t want to leave her brothers and sisters behind in the East. The move West didn’t occur until 1999, when—while visiting Nola in Los Angeles—Ace suffered a heart attack. Subsequent open-heart surgery and his daughters’ urging convinced him to relocate to California. His beloved Lee had passed away 18 years earlier.
“We may not be rich, but we sure have fun!”
Although Ace had only limited use of his left leg due to a stroke in 1990, his declining health hardly made a dent in his personality, family members said. His trips to the racetrack and off-track-betting sites dwindled, but nothing kept him from playing bocce ball once a week at his nephew’s home in Reseda. “He needed some assistance,” Paul said, “but he was a great point man and always brought our favorite Italian cookies.” Happy-go-lucky by nature, Ace could get testy at times. “We didn’t call him Crank Sinatra for nothing,” Mindy laughed. More often, she said, her father’s life could be summed up in one of his favorite expressions: “We may not be rich, but we sure have fun!”
Ace is survived by his two daughters, Nola and Mindy of New York; his son-in-law, Bill Kouirinis, and too many nieces and nephews and grand nieces and nephews to list. In 2003, family and friends on two coasts jammed memorial services honoring Ace: first at Our Lady of Grace in Encino, California on September 19, and a week later at St. Andrew Avelino Church (the same church where Ace and Lee were married) in Flushing, New York. Both services were followed by raucous gatherings at two of Ace’s favorite water holes: Barone’s (CA) and the Parkside (NY).
“Daddy always said that when his time came we should have a party and buy everyone a drink,” Nola said. “So we did.”