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Boardwalk Empire’s Massapequa Connection

Executive producer of hit show grew up in Massapequa

Imagine spending your workdays surrounded by infamous gangsters who are always plotting, conniving and killing in order to expand their wealth, their power and their empire. Tim Van Patten does, and he enjoys every minute of it. Van Patten is the executive producer and director of the hit HBO series Boardwalk Empire. In addition to his work on Boardwalk Empire, Van Patten has directed episodes of Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, Touched by an Angel, and many other TV series. He is also remembered for having starred in The White Shadow, during which he got to work with legendary director Bruce Paltrow, who gave him his first break as a director.

“I feel like Peter Pan,” he says about his success in show business. “I’ve never grown tired of it.”

While many around the world are familiar with his work, Massapequans can be especially proud as Van Patten grew up in the South Shore community. He went to Birch Lane and Ames. He wrestled for Massapequa High School and was coached by Massapequa legend Al Bevilacqua. In fact, he says that when he filmed The White Shadow, he would wear a Massapequa wrestling T-shirt as part of his basketball costume. 

Right after graduation with the Class of ’77, Van Patten headed to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of a career in show business and soon landed the role on the TV series. He has since returned to the East Coast, and although he lives in New York City, he still has a strong attachment to Massapequa, where he grew up. Van Patten says he still has friends in Massapequa whom he visits. When his busy schedule allows him to be in the area, he often catches up with those friends at Tobay Beach or, like many Massapequans, finds his way to All-American Hamburger.

“I’m still very connected to Massapequa,” he says.

Van Patten compares his childhood in Massapequa to that of Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer. He says that when he grew up, Massapequa was not yet fully developed, and some of the streets were not paved, which in some ways made it even more fun. He fondly recalls surfing, spending time on the bay, and the many friendships he developed.

“There was always a ton of kids on the block,” he recalls. “I always look back fondly on those days. My kids grew up in New York City and I’ve always regretted that they didn’t have that.”

Van Patten is not the first Massapequa graduate to find huge success in show business. Jerry Seinfeld and Alec Baldwin are just two Massapequa graduates who have made their mark on big stages. So, does Van Patten think that his childhood in Massapequa had an influence on his success?

“As a kid, I knew every inch of those neighborhoods. It was great for your imagination,” says the director whose imagination has helped to bring real life gangsters Al Capone, Arnold Rothstein and “Lucky” Luciano as well as the fictional character of Nucky Thompson, the main character in the series. He adds that the coaching of Bevilacqua instilled discipline.

When asked what his favorite spot is in Massapequa he replied that it is Tobay Beach. So those of you who spend a warm summer afternoon there might find yourself next to a famous director. However, Van Patten has found that you don’t necessarily have to travel to Tobay Beach to meet a Massapequan.

“You bump into people from Massapequa all over the world,” he says. He even commented that he’s spoken to folks in Los Angeles who know of the south shore community.

As for his future, he says that he is not one to rest on his laurels, and that he strives to keep moving forward. Although he has acted and directed, he says that he prefers directing and plans to stay in that area as it allows him to be much more involved in the process. Van Patten compares being a director to a baseball catcher who is involved in every play of the game as opposed to acting, which he compares to being a right fielder.

Van Patten was fortunate to achieve his goals and attain the level of success in his chosen field. It all started in Massapequa, and he offers words of encouragement to Massapequans who are doing the same.

“Chase your dreams,” he says. “There are many ways to your destination.”