As It happens

No respect? Artist defends Rodney Dangerfield mural after comedian's widow threatens to destroy it

The woman who painted a mural in tribute to Rodney Dangerfield in New York City says she will rework it after the comedian's widow complained to the press the painting was disrespectful.
Francesca Tosca Robicci poses with the mural she painted of Rodney Dangerfield in the Queens borough or New York City. (Francesca Tosca Robicci)

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Comedian Rodney Dangerfield's catchphrase was "I don't get no respect," and now his widow says a mural painted in his honour proves it. 

But Italian artist Francesca Tosca Robicci says she only meant to honour the late actor with her painting in his childhood neighbourhood of Kew Gardens in New York City's Queens borough. 

In my opinion, art is not a picture. I was not working on Photoshop. I was painting a wall.- Francesca Tosca Robicci. artist 

"It was a big pleasure and I have to say honour, first of all, to have the chance to study and learn more about him and have the great opportunity to pay him this particular homage," Robicci told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

She offered her services for free to 501 See Streets, a non-profit community revitalization organization. 

"It was just volunteer work for me and I actually paid for the material I used, but I thought it would be a great gift, if I can say, so for the city that I love, which is New York, which was giving me a big opportunity and a big challenge for my art, as well as a kind of exposure."

But the comedian's widow Joan Dangerfield, who kicked in $1,000 to 501 to fund the project, told the New York Post on Wednesday she wants the mural painted over because it doesn't do justice to the photograph she provided Robicci for reference.

In a letter to Robicci and 501, her lawyer called it  "an entirely unacceptable image" and a "less-than-flattering portrayal of Rodney, who deserves nothing but the highest respect."


Robicci says there's been a "misunderstanding" about the nature of the mural.

"I'm afraid that probably she was expecting something that was actually the exact correspondence to the portrait in the picture," she said. 

"In my opinion, art is not a picture. I was not working on Photoshop. I was painting a wall ... and, of course, I have to fill my work with my sensitiveness and my skills and my interpretation."

Rodney Dangerfield is pictured here with his wife Joan. The widow has expressed displeasure with a mural painted in her late husband's honour. ( Robert Mora/Getty Images)

She says people in the neighbourhood appeared to enjoy her work, often stopping by to ask questions or pay compliments as she was painting, sometimes shouting out the comedian's catchphrase.

"Everybody was really, really supporting me and welcoming the mural and the idea that we celebrated the man in the neighbourhood he was grown up," she said.

In fact, several residents told the New York Post they would be sad to see the mural go. 

Dangerfield told the Post she didn't want to "embarrass the artist" but was upset Robicci returned to Italy after painting the mural, leaving her unable to make the requested changes.

"As soon as I saw the image … I laid out the revisions that I thought would help improve it," she said.

Robicci told As It Happens she is dealing with some family issues at the moment, but that she has been in touch with Dangerfield and will return to New York City as soon as she's able to to try to rework the painting to everyone's satisfaction.


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