From a young age, Persico seemed destined for a career in television. “I was never shy in front of a crowd,” says the native of Sorrento, Naples. Persico’s family immigrated to Canada in 1965 aboard the ship Cristoforo Colombo. At family gatherings, he would impersonate Johnny Carson. “I’d use a spoon as a mic and interview my aunts and uncles. I’d ask them about the meal preparation and how they planned everything.”
Persico won many awards at speaking contests and was often asked to host variety shows at school. He pursued his interest in broadcast media and graduated from Concordia with a major in communications and a minor in broadcast journalism. Encouraged by one of his teachers who told him that this was his calling, Persico began his professional career with an entry level position at CFCF TV’s mailroom. He recalls, “On my first day in 1985, I ran into Bill Haughland who told me he too had started in the mailroom and that I wouldn’t be there for too long.” Haughland was right.
Determined to hone his on-air skills, Persico volunteered at CFCF on a show called Reel-To-Reel. He was also sent on assignment to press junkets, interviewing celebrities on behalf of CFCF Pulse. Eventually Persico’s assiduous work paid off and he was given his own weekly three-minute feature.
“I worked really hard and paid my dues. It was an honest, hardworking ascension.” Persico not only had the chance to work with some of the most distinguished journalists, but he also received worthy advice from the former queen of daytime television herself.
He remembers “Oprah, who kept calling me ‘Mozee’ which I found funny. She told me that in order to make it in the business, I had to always be respectful and grateful.” After 25 years on the Hollywood beat, Persico’s fondest career memories include interviewing all of the great Italian filmmakers and actors – especially Sophia Loren. The legendary actress even poked fun at his Italian accent.
Being teased by Sophia Loren for his Italian accent wasn’t the only time that Persico’s heritage was under scrutiny. Persico recalls, “When I started working in television, I had to deal with a lot of stereotypes. There was a time when visible minorities (and as an Italian, I was considered one) were not represented in television. Thankfully, many executives saw talent above everything else and gave me a chance. Now the face of the media’s changed and we see a lot more diversity, which is great because it’s reflective of our society.”
Over the years, one important thing hasn’t changed to Persico. He not only considers himself a proud Italian, but he is also proud to call himself a Montrealer. In his eyes, being trilingual (French, English and Italian) is an advantage to be embraced.
“When I look back at my family history, it makes me more appreciative of the sacrifices my parents made. They gave up a great life in Italy to offer their children a future in America. It’s important to know your roots and be proud of where you come from. As a Montrealer, I feel blessed to speak so many languages. We should not have to choose if we are Anglophone, Francophone or Italian. We can be everything.”