The Company She Keeps

By Georgia Durante

Georgia Durante

Model, Mafia Wife, Mother, and Stunt Driver—has packed a lifetime of lessons into forty-eight years. This is the true story of one of Hollywood’s most successful female commercial stunt drivers. A woman who can dominate a two-ton vehicle at high speeds, but off road has careened from one emotional head-on collision to another. The story, told from a woman's point of view, chronicles the life of a battered woman as she struggles to break the abusive cycle while engineering her escape from the Mafia underworld.

The story begins with Georgia surviving a triple-roll crash of a vintage Dino Ferrari during the filming of a commercial. While somersaulting at high speed toward a forty-foot drop-off into the ocean, Georgia does not see her life pass before her—only her professional instincts roar into focus. With time to reflect, she begins to discover that she has built an entire professional persona, not in conjunction with her life as a woman, not in support of it, but in contradiction to it. High-speed avoidance of the “bad guys” isn’t just what she does in front of the camera—it’s what she’s done all her life. The journey continues in search of the woman at the center.

The narrative goes back in time, revealing the origin of an extraordinary tangle of neurosis and buried trauma. This is the story of an all-American girl—from childhood to motherhood. A good Catholic girl who always went to confession, though there was never anything to confess. Her gift of beauty was really her curse: through it she learned much too early the harsh realities of the savagery of men and life. Her national modeling career started at the age of twelve. By the time she was seventeen she was considered the most photographed girl in the country. Georgia was the “Kodak Girl.” Her life-size image stood in store front windows in 80,000 camera stores and drug stores all over the world. It was a high time for a young girl, but the bliss was cut short when she lost her virginity in a brutal rape by her brother-in-law, DICK. The magnetic smile of the poster girl had vanished as she struggled for her self-esteem.

Georgia’s youth was spent modeling, golfing, and drag racing on weekends at speedways in Rochester, New York. Rochester was a tough town. Organized crime controlled the city and all the influential people in it. Georgia was no exception. She was Rochester’s “favorite daughter.” Rochester was “proud of her” and those who controlled the city invoked their control over her—masked through a veil of protection.

Over the years, Georgia's childhood friend, SAMMY G had risen in rank to the upper echelon of the Mafia. When he learns about Georgia’s rape he is furious. He plots to have Dick murdered. Georgia’s innocence, naiveté, and all those confessionless times in the confessional drive her to plead for Dick’s life. Her persistence prevents the murder from taking place. At the young age of seventeen, she holds a man's life in her hands. It’s a power she resists and moves to New York City to pursue her modeling career. She gets a job in an after-hour club in Manhattan to finance her career, where she meets and falls in love with FRANKIE, the owner of the club. Not unlike her Upstate friends, Frankie has a shady past. It is also there that she witnesses her first mob shooting. Although Georgia has lived on the edges of this world since she was 12 years old, she receives her formal underworld education in New York City. Through a series of events Georgia meets Carlo Gambino and begins working as a courier for the Boss of Bosses. As the trust began to develop and her driving stills became evident, her duties became more dangerous. Soon she was driving the getaway cars for the mob. A combination of stupidity that comes with youth, a low self esteem, due to the rape and an adventurous spirit eclipsed her reality. She was getting deeply entrenched in underworld activities.

Not wanting Georgia to be involved in the darker side of life, Frankie, loving her deeply, unselfishly sends her back to Rochester to marry her high school sweetheart, TOM and live a safe, happy, normal life—which she reluctantly does. She marries, has a daughter, TONI, and is divorced, all before she turns twenty years old. The night she leaves Tom, she meets the prince of darkness, JOE LAMENDOLA, who eventually becomes her second husband. Joe is tall, dark and handsome, but the dark is much darker than she had bargained for. Life with Frankie would’ve been like living in Disneyland compared to what lay ahead. Once she entered the darkness it would take years to escape.

After Georgia witnesses Joe and two other men brutally beat a man to death or near death (she still is unsure if the man lived) in the parking lot of their night club, she herself is beaten to insure silence. When she rebels against his lifestyle, Joe virtually turns her into a prisoner, restricting her movement, time with her family and totally cut her off from her friends. He beats her down mentally and makes her believe she is worthless. When she occasionally gets the courage to stand up to him, his violent behavior becomes more overt. He plays Russian Roulette with a loaded gun at her head. He hangs her from a two story building by her ankles until she promised to obey him. Her loving and spirited personality is reduced to a frightened, insecure existence as she slides deeper and deeper into submission. Somehow though, her alter ego becomes stronger, dealing with her pain and helping her to survive. She schemes and plans as to how she and her daughter will get out—alive.
Joe forces Georgia to attend the funeral of a low life mobster she detests, JIMMY MASSARO. He was one of the guys she had seen, along with Joe, beat the man in the parking lot to death. While at the funeral she sat in silence, observing the chilling exchange of eye contact and she discovers who murdered Jimmy Massaro. She knew it was her old friend Sammy G who ordered the hit, but she didn't know until then who the trigger man had been. She wondered how it all tied together, but she knew better than to ask questions.
Georgia's ex-sister-in-law, BILLY calls and asks for her help. She fears her husband is going to kill her. Georgia tries the best she can to help, despite Joe's disapproving watchful eye, but she is unable to give Billy the support she cried out for. The result—death. Her husband, BABE kills her, their four young children and then turns the gun on himself. As Georgia stands in the cemetery surrounded by six caskets, she is struck with the reality of how close she is to dying the same kind of violent death. She continues living fearfully under Joe's rule.

When her long time friend, Sammy G, sees bruises on Georgia's body, he arranges for Joe to be taught a lesson. Joe is beaten near death in Georgia's presence. After returning from the hospital, Joe eases up on the frequent beatings—but as his bruises begin to fade, so does his memory. Terrified, Georgia leaves Joe with the help of family members, but she quickly learns there is no place she can seek safety. He pursues her in Las Vegas and takes her out to the desert to murder her. She jumps from his moving car and hysterical, hops into a woman’s car waiting at a light. After a harrowing chase, Georgia spots a police car. Bloodied and disheveled, she runs to the policeman, pleading for help. Joe, who had tried unsuccessfully to run Georgia’s new found hero off the road, is close behind. Looking like he just stepped off the cover of GQ magazine—calm, cool, and collected, he takes the cop aside and explains that Georgia is under psychiatric care. The cop believes him and tells Georgia to take her problems and go home. Knowing that home is not the direction she'd be going, she does what she has to do to save herself—she viciously attacks the cop. Georgia’s reaction angers the cop enough to not only arrest her, but Joe too. After spending a horrific night in jail she is released. Not wanting another confrontation with Joe in foreign territory, she jumps bail and flees back to Rochester. Joe follows. Defeated, with nowhere to hide, Georgia, unwillingly resumes her role as obedient wife.

BILL MAHONEY, took office as the new chief of detectives in Rochester. He decides he is going to make a name for himself and rid the flower city of organized crime. He wasn't expecting his big break when he picked up a small time booster for stolen property. The thief trades some needed information for his freedom and Mahoney is on his way to stardom—and the blood begins to flow. A mob war breaks out. The lights are dimming for the wise guys as Mahoney turns up the heat. Joe sees it coming and leaves for San Diego. Georgia refuses to go, hoping this will be her escape for herself and her daughter.
But shortly after Joe’s sudden departure, Georgia is picked up by detectives and taken to police headquarters for questioning. They take her into Chief Mahoney’s office and leave her all alone in the room with a known murderer, AL DeCANZIO—obviously, now turned informant. Al is one of the men who beat Joe near death. Though he was ordered to do it by Sammy G, Al was the kind of guy who lived to kill. He’d been in prison for almost a year—waiting to go on trial for murder. Realizing the danger Al represented, Georgia swiftly leaves for San Diego seeking refuge with Joe. While they live in hiding, anyone who knows anything in Upstate New York is being murdered.

In San Diego, Joe's abuse toward Georgia becomes excessive. She isn't allowed to communicate with anyone and has nowhere to turn. Georgia and Toni are miserable. They desperately miss home and family—as they continuously walk on eggshells around Joe. The smallest of things anger him, and he vents his anger on them. They spend many nights on the beach, shivering in the cold, waiting for Joe’s temper to calm down before they dare go home. Georgia’s love for her daughter enables her to finally break the vicious cycle. She finds the courage, and impulsively escapes with seven year old, Toni. “Home is not an option.” They head for L.A. with a full tank of gas and seven dollars. Scared and alone, she meets a man by the name of STEVE who offers to help her.
Steve turns out to be an obsessive stalker who also attempts to kill Georgia when she rejects him. He kidnaps Toni and corners Georgia in her apartment brandishing a shotgun. They struggle, the gun goes off and Georgia manages to get away. After she insistently tries to seek help from the police to no avail, she finally resorts to getting help from the West Coast mob. A hit man is sent. Georgia, still a soft touch, only allows him to beat Steve badly enough for him to land in the hospital for an extended stay. But when Steve calls from the hospital still professing his love, she realizes she’s made a mistake. She should've let him die. She then calls her old love, Frankie, in New York—who flies out to finish the job. In the meantime, Steve is released from the hospital and runs to the FBI.
Steve tells the FBI that Georgia has information about the mob, but is afraid. However, if the FBI gives her enough money and a new identity—so the two of them can live safely in Europe, she would be willing to talk. Unbeknownst to Steve, the FBI has been building a case against Joe for nearly a year. They couldn't believe the break. They pick Georgia up and when she refuses to talk—they are livid. They had been conned. The investigation now blown, they threaten Georgia they will leak her name to the other side if she doesn’t cooperate. Since she is already in hiding—she can't be swayed. With the FBI in the picture, Frankie is forced to return to New York.
Now Georgia is totally on her own, fearing the mob, the FBI and an unpredictable maniac. She lives in constant fear, never knowing which direction the attack will come from. The FBI continues to tail her for months, which actually saves her, their obvious presence keeping her safe from Steve and Joe—both of whom are determined not to let her go. The FBI, angry and embarrassed, turn their focus on getting revenge on Steve. They ask for Georgia's help to set him up, which she gladly does.
Her agent sends her on a modeling audition, unknowingly arranged by Steve—a set up. The FBI loses Georgia in traffic. When she arrives at her destination, the passenger side door swings open and Steve is in the car with a gun to her head. She manages to knock the gun from his hand and break away from his grip, narrowly escaping into the building. Furious with the FBI—with all their sophisticated surveillance devices, and still losing her, she begins to think she is hopelessly alone in her fight to stay alive. Eventually they get Steve, with Georgia's help, and he is tried and sentenced to five years in prison.
One down...

NELSON, the FBI agent who over the months of secretly working with Georgia, falls in love with her. He sincerely wants to protect her—but he also wants information. Georgia keeps her distance. Nelson calls her shortly after Steve’s arrest, informing her that her old friend, Sammy G has been murdered—blown up in his car. This marks the end of an era for Georgia. It is the closure she needed to begin transforming her life. The cornerstone of her underworld past had fallen. The long night is over, and the sun is beginning to rise...
Or was it?
Georgia meets RICHARD, a wealthy businessman. After a year he becomes her third husband. Some mobsters from her past show up at the wedding and try to shake her down for money, saying she owed them. Joe comes back in the picture again, demanding that she launder money for him—now that she is conveniently married to a millionaire. She resists, but ultimately agrees, fearing Joe will destroy her new world if she refuses. She wants desperately for everyone to leave her alone and to be happy. Joe is content as long as she continues to supply him with money every month.

Georgia becomes pregnant with her second child, DUSTIN. She finally has the Ozzie and Harriet life she’s always dreamed of. Nine days after giving birth she catches Richard cheating and discovers his addiction to cocaine. Georgia is saddened and disillusioned, believing now that she’s watched too much television as a kid. She is thirty years old and comes to the realization her looks aren’t going to hold out forever. She knows that she has only herself to rely on and proceeds to embark on a new career where her income doesn’t depend on her face—the stunt driving business. She has always felt in control behind the wheel, and the time has come to take control of her own destiny. She leaves Richard with what she came into the marriage with—nothing. But is determined to make it on her own—with no help from a man.

Georgia’s ex-husbands provide a dark, menacing background while Georgia struggles to find her own voice. Discovery of her personal strength moves the plot forward as she survives the threat of death in both her personal and professional life. Georgia begins to understand that SHE is a powerful force. She vows to provide her children with the lifestyle they had become accustomed to. She shuts down emotionally and concentrates on becoming successful in business. She meets an investment banker, DENNIS, who changes her course. Dennis is the best thing that happens to Georgia in her plagued life. She allows herself to believe in a story book ending once again—then tragically, he is killed in a plane crash.

Georgia learns her daughter is on drugs while she is still under the strain of coping with Dennis's death. She finds a rehab program for Toni in Montana—with a $40,000.00 price tag. She’d invested every cent she had in a stock with which Dennis was personally involved. The news of his death forces the stock to fall, leaving her with no alternative than to sell her house, or try to find a buyer for her jewelry. While in a meeting with Toni's therapist, her house is burglarized and all her uninsured jewelry is stolen. Fortunately, she's hired to shoot a series of Cadillac commercials and makes enough money for the down payment.
Within a weeks time Georgia experiences three traumatic events that would crumble the strongest of women—but it doesn’t end there...
Georgia finds out that Toni’s stepfather, Joe, has been molesting her on weekend visits with him. She threatens him with jail time if he doesn’t fly to Montana to be confronted by Toni in a group therapy session. Joe has no choice, and accompanies Georgia and a therapist from the school to Montana. Huddled by a campfire in the open wilderness, the group puts Joe on the “hot-seat.” Georgia watches with great satisfaction as Toni, her peers, and the therapist verbally tear him to shreds. She too releases the venom she’s kept under control until this moment. Joe’s pride had always been important to him, and he never took criticism very well. His ego is shattered beyond repair. He flees to New York, becomes a recluse, and eventually kills himself.

After five years of driving in car commercials, Georgia starts her own company—a driving team tailored for the automobile commercial world, “Performance Two Inc.” She is driven to make enough money to keep her daughter in the rehab program, which requires a two year commitment. She hires and trains a team of sixteen precision/stunt drivers and succeeds in making her mark in a male dominated business. She does even better than she anticipates and expands her 2800 sq. ft. home to 4800 sq. ft.. The road hadn’t been easy. It had taken a long time to establish and prove herself. But she was relentless in her efforts to succeed. Her biggest difficulty was convincing directors to look past her face. They just couldn’t imagine how a woman who appears on magazine covers could possibly fly cars through the air. She could.

The transformation, resulting from life’s lessons, is evident now. We see Georgia flying in Lear jets to distant locations with famous stars, doubling for them in car commercials and movies. Georgia’s beauty and skill opens the doors to the rich and famous in Beverly Hills. Her warm smile and inviting personality draw people toward her like an invisible magnet. She now has people clinging to her for her strength and her infectious energy. That smile, the same smile of her youth—the one that opened the door to trouble when she was unaware of its power—is now working in her favor. Georgia has taken control of the wheel and is focused on driving her life in forward gear. In comparison to her past, running in Hollywood’s fast lane is like a slow waltz for Georgia. No one knows of her past, and would think it a lie if told. She had dug herself out from the trenches of the underworld and climbed to the top of the mountain where the light is shining bright—in spite of all the obstacles she’d encountered. Determination and courage fuel her existence.

In the passage of 25 years in time, Toni married, bringing Georgia's life full circle. Toni's father, Tom, comes to the wedding to give his daughter away. Georgia hasn’t seen Tom in twenty years. Frankie flies in from New York—surprising them. Tom and Frankie, old rivals, meet for the first time. Georgia reflects on the journey the wheels of life had taken her, and wonders where the time has gone. Looking into the mirror, she studies her smile. The smile that had brought so much pain and joy. The fine lines around her eyes reflect an intelligence—enhanced by time. Only she really knows, behind her dazzling smile—she has never been happy or free.
In the end, she writes a letter to her dead husband Joe, forgiving him—in order to release the prisoner within and begin living her life—at last. The last paragraph of the book brings us back to the first chapter where the Ferrari crashes. Her lights should have been put out for good—it should’ve been a wrap. But instead, the lights went on—and her life was just beginning. Full speed ahead...