Years before Ray Liotta landed meaty roles in “Field of Dreams” and “Goodfellas,” the charismatic actor was rolling in dough at a pizzeria in Cranford, NJ.
Liotta was boyhood pals with Vincent Preziosi, Jr., whose mom, Ronnie, now 93, and dad, Vincent Sr., started Pizza House/Pizza Chef in Newark in the 1950s before relocating the business to Cranford in 1970.
Liotta worked at the pizzeria during his high summer vacations from 1971 to 1973. “We were making $3.50 an hour back then,” Preziosi Jr. recalled.
“Ray was a great worker. … He used to show before me. He was a pizzamaker. He was excellent at tossing the pie, making the circle bigger.”
With his ice blue eyes and broad smile, Liotta was a box office draw even back then.
“The pizzeria opened at at 10 a.m., but there were always five or six girls lined up outside the store about 40 minutes earlier,” Preziosi Jr. said. ” I was like, ‘Who eats pizza that early?’ It wasn’t hard to figure out. The girls were coming to see Ray.”
Preziosi Jr. considered the actor, who died Thursday at the age of 67, a dear friend who never forgot where he came from.
“Ray was an extremely loyal, generous, funny, responsible guy. I was super shocked when I heard he passed,” Preziosi Jr. told The Post from his home in Orlando, Fla.
About five years ago, Liotta sent the Preziosi family — currently co-owned by Ronnie and daughter, Gina, 59 — an autographed photo that reads, “I miss the best pizza on the East Coast!” The framed photo proudly hangs on a wall of Pizza House/Pizza Chef, which like Liotta’s work, draws rave reviews for its thin-crust and margherita pies.
The two Jersey Boys followed the same path through college, attending the University of Miami, where they were roommates for a year. They made the drive to Miami in Liotta’s circa-1969 orange Mercury.
It was at college that Liotta majored in drama — “he hated math and science” — before moving to the Big Apple, said Preziosi Jr., now a chiropractor.
In addition to Preziosi Jr., that inner circle included Gene Laguna, an insurance company owner; Jules Geltzeiler, a urologist; Freddy Silverman, a former security industry expert, and Gary Hecker, who became a Beverly Hills attorney.
Liotta would say, “We’re all Jersey Guys,” and to that, the group, when together, “dropped their share of ‘F-bombs,’” Preziosi Jr. said.