The controversy over the so-called "Mafia puppets" being used in a series of commercials for an area car dealership is being called ridiculous by the man who helped create the ad campaign.
That campaign, which features puppets who are supposed to be Italian-American gangsters who stoop to intimidating customers to either buy cars or fix them at the dealership, is slated to end in the coming weeks.
A young boy also appears with the puppets.
The series of spots, which have appeared on television and on billboards throughout Hernando and Pasco counties, has come under attack by some local Italian-Americans and also attracted the ire of national anti-defamation groups.
"I am all Italian, which makes this whole incident all that much more ridiculous," wrote Ray Proya, one of the owners of Ryno Productions Inc. and one of the copywriters.
In an email, Proya also took exception to comments made to Hernando Today by Hollywood actor, producer and writer Jon Freda. Freda said in a letter to Village Toyota of Crystal River — one of at least 12 car dealers in seven states using the "Mafia-puppet" ad campaign — that the spots were demeaning and perpetuated a negative stereotype.
"This kind of attitude, when left unchecked, leads one to think, what next? Depiction of Jewish greedy merchants, blackface minstrel shows, Indian giver natives?" Freda wrote. "While there may be some humor in stereotypes, it is offset by the negative consequences which they inspire, such as prejudice, and aggressive behavior towards perceived minorities," he said.
But Proya said this same Freda had no problem playing the role of mob boss "Joey Knuckles" in a 2010 movie called "Heart of Vengeance."
The storyline synopsis of that movie tells how Tara Manzini is a widowed housewife of an undercover cop, Frank Manzini.
"As the ruthless mob leader, Joey Knuckles, and his enforcers closes in on Tara and her secret lesbian lover, Stacey, the two find out that there is no victim in the game of vengeance," the story synopsis from the Internet Movie Database reads.
Freda's comments seem out of place, according to Proya.
"This same guy wants us to remove puppet commercials with a 10-year-old kid?" Proya asked.
Vince Vanni, owner of a local public relations and consulting business, said he learned recently that the ad campaign is nearing the end of its run, and he is glad.
It was that campaign that Vanni said motivated him to join the local Order of the Sons of Italy in America, Lodge 2502 in Spring Hill.