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August 18, 2021

Rare Snaps of Robert De Niro as a Kid as You’ve Never Seen Before

Robert De Niro, like so many of the characters he’s played, has been a fascinating figure through his career. A two-time Oscar winner, De Niro first made his mark in the 1970s, as an actor of astonishing devotion to the craft. He has since gone on to become a legendary figure, someone who represents the high watermark of American acting.

Robert Anthony De Niro Jr. was born in the Manhattan borough of New York City on August 17, 1943, the only child of painters Virginia Admiral and Robert De Niro Sr. His father was of Irish and Italian descent, while his mother had Dutch, English, French, and German ancestry. His parents, who had met at the painting classes of Hans Hofmann in Provincetown, Massachusetts, separated when he was two years old after his father announced that he was gay. He was raised by his mother in the Greenwich Village and Little Italy neighborhoods of Manhattan. His father lived nearby, and remained close with De Niro during his childhood.

Robert De Niro with his parents in the 1940s.

A bright and energetic child, De Niro was incredibly fond of attending movies with his father when they spent time together. He was especially taken with films starring Swedish actress Greta Garbo. De Niro’s mother worked part-time as a typist and copyeditor for Maria Picator’s Dramatic Workshop, and as part of her compensation, De Niro was allowed to take children's acting classes for free.

At the age of 10, De Niro made his stage debut as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. Soon after, he was accepted at New York’s prestigious High School of Music and Art, an institution specializing in visual and performance arts. However, feeling overwhelmed and unprepared for the intense and competitive atmosphere, he dropped out to attend public school after only a few days.

Not long after beginning courses at P.S. 41 in Greenwich Village, De Niro proved to be uninterested in school altogether and, as a teenager, joined a rather tame Italian street gang that gave him the nickname “Bobby Milk,” in reference to his pale complexion. While De Niro was by all accounts only a very modest troublemaker, the gang provided him with experience to skillfully portray Italian mobsters as an actor.

Robert De Niro’s parents.


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