By Nick Diulio | October 5, 2015 | People
Philadelphia’s most familiar fathers and sons get candid about the ties that bind.
On Jesse Rendell, left: Shirt, Theory ($295). Ventresca, 145 W. State St., Doylestown, 215-348- 3139. Jazzmaster regulator auto watch, Hamilton ($1,275). Govberg Jewelers, 1521 Walnut St., 215-546-6505. Pants, Canali ($245). Bloomingdale’s, King of Prussia Mall, 610-337- 6300. On Ed Rendell, right: All clothing and accessories, Rendell’s own
Despite being one of Philadelphia’s most celebrated mayors—and then one of the state’s most celebrated governors—Ed Rendell knew his son Jesse wasn’t destined for a life in politics. And there was nothing wrong with that.
“It’s sometimes assumed that the son of a mayor or governor might want to follow in his father’s footsteps. And I have no doubt Jesse would have been a very natural and successful politician, because he’s bright and personable and very well spoken,” says Rendell. “But he never wanted that, and we never pushed for it.”
Nonetheless, Jesse has been spending a lot of time with his father these days. In addition to working as director of business development for his tech startup Scavify—an app that lets people participate in interactive scavenger hunts using their smartphones—Jesse, an entertainment lawyer by trade, runs his own sports and entertainment marketing company, Rendell Management and Consulting, where he represents various media personalities, including his father.
“Our relationship feels like more of a partnership than ever before. And we see each other almost every day since our offices are just five feet apart,” says Jesse, who helps the former governor manage various media appearances, negotiates consulting agreements for corporate events, and supervises his social media presence. He even looks over his weekly sports column in the Daily News.
“I remove all the hokey stuff,” laughs Jesse. “So when he writes something like, ‘Oh heck!’ I’m like, ‘That’s gotta go.’”
“When I reflect on my writing,” says the former governor, “I always realize that he’s cut exactly what needed to be cut, which I think is a great example of how our relationship has evolved into a real partnership. He gives me great advice on my business, and I try to help him with contacts he may not already have.”
This isn’t necessarily the life Jesse imagined for himself. While his father was climbing Philadelphia’s political ladder, Jesse was more interested in competitive surfing and touring the world with his pop-punk band Don’t Look Down. But after three years of ceaseless performing, Jesse decided it was time to return to his hometown, where he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania before going on to Temple University’s Beasley School of Law. Still, being the son of Ed Rendell came with its share of challenges, however slight.
“Sure, every time we’d be out, people were always coming up to him and saying hello. And when I was younger, I may have felt some pressure,” says Jesse. “But I eventually grew out of that and I realized that it’s actually a really wonderful thing that he’s connected with so many people.”
On Spike Eskin, right: Sweater, Michael Kors ($145). Bloomingdale’s, King of Prussia Mall, 610-337-6300. Jeans, Brooks Brothers ($168). 1513 Walnut St., 215-564-4100. Globemaster co-axial master chronometer watch, Omega ($7,700). King of Prussia Mall, 610-337-0296. Shoes, Johnston & Murphy ($145). Cherry Hill Mall, 856-665-6947. On Howard Eskin, left: All clothing and accessories provided by Ventresca. 145 W. State St., Doylestown, 215-348-3139
Growing up as the son of the polarizing, self-styled “king” of Philadelphia sports media, Spike Eskin says people often assume he was bred to one day take a spot on his father’s perch. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“When I left for the University of Southern California, I wanted nothing to do with what my dad did,” says Spike. “Eventually I got into music radio, but I also got a bunch of tattoos and piercings and was like, ‘Yeah! I’m different than my dad, man!’ Now, here I am, right back where it began.”
Not that the differences between the elder and younger Eskin aren’t distinct. For one thing, Spike decided early in his career that he didn’t want to be an on-air personality but would rather operate behind the scenes, which he now does as program director for Sportsradio 94WIP. What’s more, there’s an intriguing juxtaposition between Spike’s affable personality and the caustic on-air persona his father perfected over the course of more than three decades. But when the two of them are together, it’s clear that each has influenced the other in ways both obvious and subtle.
“To have my son be in the same business as me was not my choice, so anything he got from me had to have been through osmosis,” says Howard, a sports anchor for Fox 29 and a regular on-air contributor at WIP. “Everything he’s accomplished, he’s accomplished on his own.”
Spike admits that growing up Eskin was “as polarizing as you’d imagine. It’s weird having your friends’ dads know who your father is and in some cases kind of hate him,” laughs Spike. “But the older I get, the more I realize how lucky I was to have him as a dad.”
For Howard’s part, it wasn’t always obvious that Spike might find it challenging to be his son. “He said to me one day, ‘I don’t want people to know who I am when I’m walking down the street.’ And a bell went off in my head, and I realized that whenever I took him somewhere it was never just us,” says Howard.
As for the seeming dichotomy of their personalities—well, that’s a bit of an illusion, and it’s clear that Spike inherited a great deal of his affability from his father. Says Howard, “Yes, I’m opinionated and people think they know me because they’ve seen me on the air, but I also firmly believe that being nice to people in your life is so much easier and better than not being nice.”
Despite his success, Spike doesn’t harbor any illusions that he will ever fully emerge from the shadow of his father—but that’s a source of pride, not frustration. “For as much as I’ve accomplished, he will always be more successful at this,” says Spike. “Even to this day, he still owns this town in many ways. I’ve really had to earn this. I think I still am.”
On James Holloway, left: Sweater, Louis Vuitton ($910). King of Prussia Mall, 610-992-0392. Jeans, Ermenegildo Zegna ($375). King of Prussia Mall, 610-233-0051. On James Deleon, right: Shirt, Bonobos ($98). Nordstrom, King of Prussia Mall, 610-265-6111. 43mm stainless-steel classic automatic watch, David Yurman ($3,400). Bernie Robbins Jewelers, 507 New Road, Somers Point, NJ, 609-927-4848
Earlier this year, James Holloway got a phone call from his father, Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge James DeLeon, who said he had recently written two plays and wanted his son to read them. “But I did not want to read the plays,” says Holloway. “I’m thinking, How great can they be? So I kept putting it off.”
Holloway was a seasoned New York City theater actor and had been living with his new wife in Los Angeles for about a year, trying to make a name for himself in film and television. He knew his father had written some plays in the mid-1970s while studying at the American Film Institute and simultaneously preparing to take the bar exam. But they had been more or less hobby projects. Holloway had no reason to expect greatness this time around. Finally, a friend told him he needed to suck it up. “He’s your dad,” the friend said. “If he needs you to help him, you help him.” So Holloway read the plays… and he was blown away.
“I thought, My gosh, my dad is really talented,” recalls Holloway, who began his training with Freedom Theater in Philly and has appeared in numerous stage, television, and film productions, including the final season of The Newsroom and Grey’s Anatomy. “I called my dad right away and said, ‘I’m all in. I’m inspired.’”
Holloway—who uses his mother’s maiden name as an actor—went on to produce one of the plays for the DC Black Theatre Festival this past June. (His father was the executive producer.) It was a one-woman production that explored the life of Michelle Obama and some of the racism she encountered during her years at Princeton University. After all was said and done, The Michelle Play won an award at the festival for best solo performance.
It may seem an unlikely pairing—the artistic son working alongside the celebrated municipal judge who presides over homicide, rape, and domestic violence cases. But Holloway and DeLeon don’t find it strange at all.
“I’ve always drawn a lot from the way my father can command a room,” says Holloway. “And seeing him in the courtroom helped with my perception of the world. A lot of people get stuck just seeing one side of things, but as a judge he needs to be open to both arguments, both perspectives. That rubbed off on me.”
Working so closely with his son, DeLeon says he fully embraced the next level of fatherhood. “Yes, he’s your son,” he explains, “but you have to approach him like a grown individual. You may be able to suggest something, but if that suggestion doesn’t carry the weight you think it should, then you need to give him the respect of making his own choices. It’s been great watching James do that in his life.”
On Justin Pizzi, right: Jacket, Coach ($795). 1703 Walnut St., 215-564- 4558. Sweater, Brooks Brothers ($80). 1513 Walnut St., 215-564-4100. Jeans, Rag & Bone ($210). Nordstrom, King of Prussia Mall, 610-265-6111. Shoes, Ermenegildo Zegna ($695). King of Prussia Mall, 610-233-0051. 43.5mm automatic chronograph watch, David Yurman ($3,400). King of Prussia Mall, 610-265-6370. On Charlie Pizzi, left: All clothing, Pizzi’s own
Looking back, it seems somewhat inevitable that Justin Pizzi—vice president of sales and marketing for Saxbys Coffee—would follow in his father Charles’s footsteps.
Before he began his tenure as CEO of Tasty Baking Company in 2002, Charlie was president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. His is a long list of professional accomplishments, and the elder Pizzi, who currently serves as a corporate director on company boards, thinks it may have played a role in his son’s vision of success.
“Justin is extremely goal-oriented. He has this remarkable ability to put up a vision for himself and then execute against that vision,” says Charlie. “He’s done that since he was very young. He wanted to be a TV reporter, so he set out to make it happen. And then he decided to go back to school while still working. It all comes down to really excellent discipline.”
But there’s more to Justin’s success than the logistical execution of life goals, something in the nuanced way he observed his father while growing up. In fact, even though Justin holds an MBA from Drexel University, he likes to say that his business education really began when he was much younger and riding shotgun with his dad.
“I like to think of that as my first true MBA,” says Justin, who joined Saxbys in January after shifting gears from his two-time Emmy Award–winning gig as a TV reporter for NBC 10. “I picked up so much just listening to him talk to colleagues on his car phone—not only how to conduct business but how to treat everyone with respect, whether it’s a CEO or someone doing janitorial services. Everyone has something to offer, and I learned that from him early on.”
There’s also an intriguing and coincidental symmetry to the careers both Pizzis have carved out for themselves.
“It’s so interesting that both of our careers ended up in consumables, with him as the CEO of Tastykake and me at Saxbys,” says Justin, who is the youngest of four boys. “I don’t think either of us would have predicted as much, but it kind of makes sense, because food is so much a part of this city’s culture and part of the hospitality our family experiences when we’re together, whether it’s summer weekends in Ocean City or Sunday dinners.”
“The two of us have a diversity of opinions but a deep respect for those opinions,” says Charlie. “And we also enjoy a lot of the same things together, whether it’s Eagles football or even just the city of Philadelphia in general. We both have a great passion for this place.”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SHANE MCCAULEY. Grooming by Laura Devlin/Giovanni & Pileggi. Shot on location at The Barnes Foundation, which holds one of the finest collections of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Early- Modern paintings in the world. In addition to 181 works by Renoir, 69 by Cézanne, 59 by Matisse, 46 by Picasso, and seven by Van Gogh, the Barnes features Old Master paintings, African sculpture, Native American textiles, jewelry and pottery, antiquities, decorative arts, and more. The best way to experience the collection is through a docent-led tour, including customized private tours, family tours, and Premier Tours on Tuesdays when the Foundation is closed to the public. 2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., 215-278-7200