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Street to Be Renamed for Musician Who Inspired Hitchcock's 'The Wrong Man'

By Katie Honan | September 18, 2014 8:54am
Street to Be Renamed for Musician Who Inspired Hitchcock's 'The Wrong Man'
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ELMHURST — The man who inspired the Alfred Hitchcock suspense film "The Wrong Man" will have a street co-named for him in the neighborhood that served as the backdrop for the classic 1956 flick.

Manny Balestrero, an Elmhurst father, husband and musician who was cast into the spotlight after he was falsely accused of a robbery in 1953, will be honored with Manny "The Wrong Man" Balestrero Way at 73rd Street and 41st Avenue.

According to Balestrero's youngest son Greg, the renaming on Saturday, Sept. 27 is a great honor, and will serve to further exonerate him from the decades-old crime.

Balestrero lived with his wife and two children on 73rd Street in the 1950s and played the bull fiddle at the famed Stork Club in Manhattan, according to his son.

He was arrested on Jan. 14, 1953 for a robbery of the Prudential Insurance Company office on 74th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, which he had visited to borrow money from his wife's insurance policy, according to a Life Magazine article.

The teller thought she recognized him as a man who had robbed them twice before, and two other witnesses identified him.

But the police and the witnesses had the wrong man.

Balestrero, who was played in the film by Henry Fonda, was later exonerated when the real robber, Charles Daniell, was arrested during an attempted robbery of an Astoria deli. 

At the precinct Daniell reportedly told officers "name any stickup in Jackson Heights, and I did it."

The renaming was proposed by Councilman Danny Dromm, who said he wanted to highlight some of Elmhurst's history while also bringing attention to the plight of those wrongfully convicted.

"It's kind of a way to make up for the pain and suffering they went through," he said.

Greg Balestrero, now 67 and working as a consultant and author after years as an engineer, was only 5 when his father was falsely arrested, but said he has vivid memories of the time.

“The event was horribly destabilizing for the whole family, for a lot of reasons," he said.

His father was taken from the front of his home by police officers then brought to stores in Jackson Heights where robberies had happened to see if shopkeepers recognized him, Greg said.

His family wasn’t notified so his mother, grandparents, aunts and uncles — who all lived in the same house on 73rd Street — feared the worst.

What followed were three tumultuous years, Greg said.

The family moved around as his father awaited trial, and he and his brother were pulled in and out of school while neighborhood kids believed Balestrero was guilty.

In 1955, after the acquittal, the family moved to Miami, Florida, where Manny had spent winters playing with Latin jazz bands.

It was another shock for Greg, who said he “had to go to a geography book to find out where Miami was.”

“I was terrified, I figured Florida was on another planet,” he joked.

During the filming of "The Wrong Man," Fonda and Vera Miles, who played his mom, Rose, visited the family in Miami, Greg said. But he didn't see the movie until he was in his 20s, and said it was an "odd" and "awkward" experience.

His dad, who died in 1998, loved the film and later, after moving to a nursing home in North Carolina, made sure everyone saw it, Greg said.

His mother carried the biggest burden, he said, and never saw the film.

“She suffered a great bit,” he said, and she lived in various mental hospitals even after the trial.

“For my dad, it was a piece of exoneration,” Greg said. “For my mom it was just a reminder.”

Both he and his brother will be in Elmhurst on Sept. 27 for the renaming, and he said his father “would have loved it — he would have been very happy to see that happen.”