Born: February 16, 1974
Oakland, California, USA
Born: January 29, 1927
Birthplace: Pensacola, Florida, USA
Death: April 6, 2013, Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA (heart disease)
Born: October 20, 1958
Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA
Born: July 30, 1930
Birthplace: Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, USA
Death: January 4, 2013, Teaneck, New Jersey, USA
Born: June 25, 1975
Redwood City, California, USA
Born: June 25, 1932
Death: February 17, 1999, New Jersey, USA
Like in the film, the true story unfolded mainly in 1962. Tony Lip, an Italian-American bouncer from the Bronx who was employed at New York City's Copacabana nightclub, accepted a job driving the renowned African-American musician Don Shirley through the Deep South.
Yes. White theater producer Sol Hurok told a twenty-something Shirley that he should not pursue a career in classical music, reasoning that American audiences would not want to see a "colored" pianist on the concert stage. Instead, Hurok recommended that Shirley focus on a career in pop music and jazz.
Though he did perform as a soloist with symphonies in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and elsewhere, Shirley ended up taking Hurok's advice. He blended classical music with jazz and other types of pop music to create his own genre. As a result, most of his performances were at nightclubs instead of concert halls. He hated the nightclubs because he felt that the audiences didn't respect his music enough. He also felt that jazz pianists demeaned themselves in the way they carried themselves on stage. They "smoke while they're playing, and they'll put the glass of whisky on the piano, and then they'll get mad when they're not respected like Arthur Rubinstein", Shirley said in a 1982 New York Times interview. "You don't see Arthur Rubinstein smoking and putting a glass on the piano. ... The black experience through music, with a sense of dignity, that's all I have ever tried to do," Shirley told The New York Times.
He was by no means the only black artist to be denied the opportunity to become a concert pianist. Nina Simone, for example, had similar aspirations to become a classical concert pianist but was denied the opportunity. Despite the color barrier keeping Don Shirley from shining as a classical pianist on the concert stage, his pop-oriented music was a technical marvel. He weaved into Tin Pan Alley songs bits of classical études, bringing it all together for a one-of-a-kind trio of cello, bass and piano. Listen to his songs "I Can't Get Started", "Blue Moon", or "Lullaby of Birdland", which is featured in the movie, and witness his talent for yourself.
Yes. As depicted in the Green Book movie, Don Shirley lived in one of the elegant artists' units above Carnegie Hall for more than 50 years. At times, he probably felt like he was trapped in a castle's tower, wishing he could be in the concert hall below performing in the many symphonies held there. He did get to play on Carnegie Hall's stage. Shirley performed in concerts there with his trio once a year. In 1955, he played piano on the Carnegie stage for the debut of Duke Ellington's "New World a-Comin'". -The New York Times
The title of the movie comes from The Negro Motorist Green Book, more commonly referred to as "The Green Book", which was a segregation-era guidebook for African-American motorists that alerted them to which restaurants, garages and hotels offered service to blacks. Travelers would also encounter "sundown towns," which prohibited blacks from being outside after nightfall. Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) and Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) encounter one such town in the movie.
The green-covered guidebooks were published by a man named Victor H. Green and were available at gas stations, selling as many as 15,000 copies per year. The first Green Book was published in 1936 and continued to be published annually for the next 30 years. On the cover of some was the reminder, "Carry your Green Book with you, you may need it." The movie portrays Tony Lip and Don Shirley using a Green Book as they travel through the South, which is true to real life. -Refinery29
Yes. Don Shirley's southern tour depicted in Green Book had been booked by Columbia Artists, his management company. He indeed found himself playing at whites-only theaters and parlor rooms. Safety was a concern, as only six years prior in 1956 Nat King Cole had been assaulted on stage while performing for an all-white audience in Birmingham, Alabama (The Guardian). This is recounted in the film. It was certain that Shirley would face discrimination and possible violence. For this reason, Tony Lip, who had been working as a bouncer in New York City, also provided security as well, when necessary.
Yes, this was confirmed while researching the Green Book true story. Before his days working at the Copacabana nightclub and his job driving pianist Don Shirley, Tony Lip had served in the United States Army. He had been stationed in postwar Germany in the early 1950s. He is pictured below in uniform.
Yes. According to his son Nick Vallelonga, Viggo Mortensen's character eating 26 hot dogs in one sitting indeed happened in real life. -TIME
Yes. Relatives of Don Shirley have come out against the film, calling it a "symphony of lies," with one of their main claims being that Don Shirley and Tony Lip were never friends. However, that accusation has since been disproved after audio clips of Don Shirley were posted in a Deadline article that featured him stating that he was friends with Tony Lip. To learn exactly what he said, watch our video titled Don Shirley Audio Clips Disprove Green Book Controversy. In other clips, Shirley verifies that other parts of the film indeed happened in real life.
Yes. Lip became enraged at the officer for calling him a derogatory name for Italians. Lip did punch the officer and they ended up in jail, but it happened a year later, in the fall of 1963. The incident took place during a separate road trip that occurred after the Christmas break that the movie ends with. Shirley did get in touch with then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who helped get them out of jail. In real life, Shirley was indeed friends with Robert Kennedy, and he made the call just days before Kennedy's brother, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated. It's not shown in the movie, but Shirley took time out from his tour to attend JFK's funeral. -Don Shirley 'Lost Bohemia' Interview
Yes. Like in the Green Book movie, Tony Lip's larger-than-life personality contrasted the much more reserved virtuoso Don Shirley, who spoke with an upper-class enunciation and refused to pick up food with his hands. In the film, we see Lip persuade Shirley to try fried chicken. Shirley daintily touches the piece of chicken, not sure of the proper way to hold it.
Yes. In fact, to get the story correct while writing the screenplay, Tony Lip's son, Nick Vallelonga, used the letters that his father had written to his mother. It's true that at times the letters were co-authored by Don Shirley.
In the 1980s, Vallelonga had started preparing to tell the story of his father's friendship with Shirley. It was then that he began recording interviews with his father about his experiences on the road with Shirley.
Yes. Don Shirley was married at one point but split from his wife in a divorce. "Jean and I got divorced," said Shirley during an interview for the documentary Lost Bohemia. "It had nothing to do with love. It had nothing to do with lust. It had to do with the fact that here I had the opportunity to have a career. And God knows that's just something I'd always wanted—trained for it all my life. ... I didn't have the constitution to do a husband act as well as a concert pianist act, 'cause I was dead set on being what I had been trained all my life to be." Though he never came out, it is believed that Don Shirley was gay.
Like in the movie, a state trooper called Tony Lip and he came down to the YMCA. However, the real Tony Lip didn't mention that he found Don Shirley handcuffed naked to the shower with another man beside him. Instead, he said that when he arrived, Shirley told him that he had hit on three guys, but he didn't offer any more details. The two state troopers did want to arrest Shirley, but according to Lip, he bribed them. "I said, 'Before we go through anything, maybe we can straighten it out,'" Lip told the troopers. "'I want ya to get yourselves a couple a suits.' I got $200 and I gave them that." He said that they were hesitant but accepted the offer and let Shirley go. It's true that Shirley was upset that Lip had bribed the two state troopers. -Tony Lip Audio Interview
"[Don Shirley] never came out that he was gay. It was never spoken of," says Nick Vallelonga, Tony Lip's son. Vallelonga says that the YMCA story depicted in the movie is the only one about Shirley's sexuality that he ever heard. -TIME
Yes. The film implies that Shirley's genius was a heavy burden that caused him to shut others out, which is why his friendship with Tony Lip was so special. This is all in line with the Green Book true story. Like in the film, he dealt with his loneliness and possible depression by drinking heavily, downing almost an entire bottle of scotch each day of the tour. -TIME
The film's implication that he was also estranged from his family has been challenged by some of Shirley's relatives. His younger brother Maurice says that in 1962 when the movie takes place, Shirley "had three living brothers with whom he was always in contact." A nephew, Edwin, recalled spending several days on tour with Shirley in 1964 (Shadow and Act). It's certainly possible that the movie embellished Shirley's estrangement from his family to some degree. However, actor Viggo Mortensen called the family's accusations "unjustified, uncorroborated and basically unfair," stating that "there is evidence that there was not the connection that [the family members] claimed there was with him, and perhaps there’s some resentment" (IndieWire).
Some of the relatives' other claims, including that Don Shirley and Tony Lip were never friends, have been disproved by audio tapes of Shirley himself stating otherwise. In addition, other accusations made by family members have been countered by people who knew Dr. Shirley well. -IndieWire
Yes. The events in the Green Book movie happened about a decade before Tony Lip started working as an actor. He made his film debut with a small part in the 1972 movie The Godfather, after meeting director Francis Ford Coppola while working at the Copacabana Nightclub in New York City. He had parts in approximately 21 other films over the years, including Dog Day Afternoon, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and Donnie Brasco. He is perhaps most recognizable from his role as Carmine Lupertazzi in the HBO TV series The Sopranos.
Watch video of Dr. Don Shirley performing and listen to a discussion about the audio tapes of Shirley that disprove much of the controversy surrounding the movie. Also, check out our very first ever YouTube episode, which analyzes the facts and the fiction in Green Book.