The Mysteries of a Mystery Woman

"Get real!" may be the mantra of network TV these days, but one series is proving that reality can be seemingly as fractiously fictive as any flight of fantasy dreamed up by a programming exec.

"My Antonio" may as well be "Mamma Mia!" as the mystery woman behind star Antonio Sabato Jr.'s VH1 10-episode reality series, premiering Aug. 16 — in which the hunk hits on that one woman he wants to share his life with (or at least until the end of the series ) — is not a contestant but a constant figure in his life: his mom.

And while Yvonne Sabato advises him on whom to pick for a mate, her own history picks up where fiction left off: Raised under Communist Czechoslovakian rule, it wasn't until years later, as a grown woman, that Yvonne Sabato understood the sabotage of facts she had lived with. Sabato's subterfuge was thinking she was Catholic when actually she was Jewish.

"It came very late in my life," says the international actress of acquiring the facts of life — the real reality series in which she discovered her Judaic heritage.

"There were hints along the way, but I was never sure. And certainly, it was taboo to talk about it."

Taboo, too, was professing truth only to be trampled by the Communists. Her family, at one time considered among the nation's elite, was forced to endure the circus of communism quite literally — forced to perform as circus performers on tour after their wealth wilted under the new regime.

Humiliated amid inhumane treatment, Yvonne long wondered why her family was demeaned and dismissed so dangerously. It was only later that she came to understand that the communists crushed them especially cruelly because the Sabatos were actually Jewish.

"My mother's family, I learned later, had been killed at Auschwitz, and my family felt it best that I not know the real story."

Confirmation came not at a bimah years later, but after Yvonne fled to Italy, by that time wed to prominent actor Antonio Sabato of "Grand Prix" film fame. After she and her husband, joined by her mother, moved to the United States in 1985, "I had gotten in touch with the Red Cross and through them found out about my grandparents" at Auschwitz.

"I had not grown up with uncles or cousins and now, years later, I knew why."

Suddenly Jewish: "I was in my 40s when I discovered it," says the stylishly beautiful woman now in her 60s.

"And while I don't practice [Judaism] — I am not religious — I feel an attachment to it, an understanding now of who I am. I feel very good about it.

"And I do consider myself Jewish."

As does her star of a son, whose own soap opera segue was as major player Jagger Cates in TV's "General Hospital," before being on his model behavior landed him a Calvin Klein ad campaign and additional career paths.

Deadly Choice
Some choices are harder than others; while Antonio Jr.'s is to pick through the motley mix of beauties surrounding him in a semi-attired state on "My Antonio," his grandmother had more difficult options.

While living in Italy, Yvonne's mother felt compelled to confront her past and left for a return trip to Czechoslovakia. Within days of her arrival, she was found dead, a bullet through her brain.

"I had tried to stop her from going, but she said as she got older, she must face the past and that, besides, in 1971, things were changing there."

Not enough. The official line? "They said that she had killed herself," a nonsensical explanation, says her daughter of the woman "whom everyone knew as a strong person."

Yvonne's memories remain strong and sufficient to sustain her — all of a mother who hid facts so she could uncover a semblance of life amid a communist regime.

Hide no more: "I have never talked about this," says Yvonne of the exclusive she is offering now to "Showcase."

What shows up now throughout her life is an "appreciation for freedom; people just don't really realize how important that is."

It was and is for her and her children, including her other child, Simmone. "When we were allowed to, I returned to Czechoslovakia, and took them to see the camp of Terezin; I wanted them to be exposed to their heritage, to introduce them to what had happened."

The former actress is now formally introduced to audiences anew in "My Antonio."

"Being before the camera again feels so natural."

What is also natural is her evolution as a Jewish mother. After all is said and done, what does she want for her son, her Antonio, from this VH1 reality series? "I want him to find the wife of his dreams — and the best daughter-in-law in the world for me!"



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