Buddy System

Understanding men and their friendships.

Frankie Valli and Tommy DeVito: Friends for All Four Seasons

What pushes the limits of men's friendships?

Whether some license was taken in depicting the male bond between Frankie Valli and Tommy DeVito in Jersey Boys (the musical and the Clint Eastwood-directed movie) about the life and times of The Four Seasons singing group may be beside the point.  With any representation of a relationship, the viewer always has to think if he or she would have acted the same way for a friend.  In both the show and the movie, Tommy is the free-spending gambler who ends up owing huge debts to the Mob, around "160 large."  He also "borrows" from The Four Seasons account (the band sold over 100 million records during their career), to the tune of 500,000 dollars.  In a scene that concludes with Tommy being banished from the group and to a life in Vegas where he can be watched by the people he owes, Frankie takes on the debt for him. 

This is payback for Tommy having helped Frankie off the streets of New Jersey years before. Did Tommy lose/steal the money? According to an interview with repoter Vicki Hyman, Tommy said, "I'm not proud of what I did.  I'm not ashamed of it either." So, for the purposes of discussion, let's assume Frankie did bail him out and consigned himself to years of performing in order to make good on Tommy's debt.

How do we weigh friendships to people we owe a great deal to? Can we turn our back on people that helped us but who then abuse the relationship or refuse to change? Would having a gambling addiction change the equation?

To what extent is honoring such commitments to early friendships a male/macho process? To what extent is this part of a close-knit Italian culture that helped kids in New Jersey survive in the 1940s and 1950s? Or is this just a more extreme version of relationships between old friends that get played out every day in different contexts?

Friendships were defined by men I have studied as having the components of loyalty, trust, and understanding.  Men want friends who have their back.  Frankie certainly had Tommy's back! To some extent, we are all called upon every day to do things for our friends. How do we decide to what lengths to go to help out someone who helped us out before when we were down and out?

Geoffrey Greif, Ph.D., is a Professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and author of Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships.

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