Sarandon searches for grandma on TV roots show
The Oscar winner reveals her mother's mother "just disappeared" and she wanted to use the show's resources and experts to find out more about her - so she could share her findings with her family.
The actress' gran went missing when her mother Lenora was only two - and the family owned just one laminated press cutting photo of the woman, Anita Rigali.
The Dead Man Walking star admits she was nervous when she first embarked on the ancestry investigation because "she (Rigali) was presented as somebody who abandoned her children, so part of me was fearful for my mom... I think it's understandably an emotionally-charged search for her."
Sarandon started her investigation by visiting her mother in Virginia. Lenora revealed her mum was "a showgirl" in New York, who she thought had died. Mother and daughter met briefly at the 1939 World's Fair and then lost contact.
The actress teamed up with New York genealogist Megan Smolenyak to begin her research. The ancestry expert found her grandmother's birth certificate and learned her great-grandfather, Mansueto Rigali, was an Italian statue maker.
The couple arrived in Manhattan, New York from Tuscany, Italy, which prompted Sarandon to pick up the trail of her ancestors in Europe.
She says, "I'm always happy to be in Italy. The first time I came to Italy I felt inexplicably at home - now I know why; my gene pool was crying out."
In Italy, she discovered her great-grandfather was born in Coreglia in July, 1855 and she visited the church where Mansueto and 10 generations of the Rigali family were baptised - dating back to 1640.
In the hillside village, she also learned that her great-grandfather left Italy for the U.S. because life was tough for sculptors and he hoped to find work and fortune in America in 1888. Unfortunately his trip was one dogged by tragedy. Sarandon visited the unmarked grave of Mansueto and eight members of the Rigali family in New York.
Sarandon then returned to her search for her late grandmother, who she discovered was pregnant when she wed at 13, deserted her husband and daughter and wed a Jewish salesman, called Ben Kahn - without getting divorced.
Research then led the actress to the house where her grandmother lived out her years. One neighbour knew Anita and revealed her gran had helped a young Frank Sinatra land his big break when she was a young dancer.
Anita spent the last 35 years of her life living with Dom Fiorentino and took his name. That link led Sarandon to her grandmother's nieces, who showed off family photos and sketches, which featured the family likeness.
She says, "I'm grateful to have solved the mystery of Anita."
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