Reality Check

Winning Personalities

The real people behind the lotto premise of ''It Could Happen to You''

It did happen to them, but not quite the way the movie depicts. Ten years after they split a $6 million New York State Lotto prize, we caught up with Robert Cunningham, 65 (now retired and living in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., with his wife, Gina), and Phyllis Penzo, 58 (still residing in Yonkers, N.Y., with her husband, Robert), the real cop and waitress who inspired It Could Happen to You, to find out what they think of their screen personas.

EW: Does the script ring true to what really happened?
Penzo: Ours is really a luck story, but the filmmakers turned it into a love story. Except for the part about us winning, it's totally fiction.

EW: So there was never anything between you two?
Cunningham: Nah. Phyl and I had been friends for about 15 years. South Pizzeria, where she worked, was a hangout for the Yonkers cops. One day, as a joke, I said, ''Let's buy a lottery ticket together in lieu of a tip.''
Penzo: We each picked three numbers. Naturally, I was thrilled when we won. But, no, I didn't marry Bob, and I would never go up in one of those balloons [as Nicolas Cage and Bridget Fonda do in the movie to celebrate]!

EW: After she wins, Fonda's character indulges in macadamia nuts and eventually buys the restaurant she worked in. What did you do?
Penzo: I hate macadamia nuts! I bought a house, I bought a car for my daughter and my husband, and I did some traveling to see our grandchildren. At one time I had considered opening a restaurant, but after 27 years as a waitress, you reach the age where you just can't do those hours anymore.

EW: Rosie Perez portrays your wife as quite a money-grubber. How did your wife really feel about sharing your winnings?
Cunningham: She said, ''Hey, she picked three of those winning numbers. She gets her half of the pot.''

EW: What do you think of the rest of the casting?
Penzo: I wish I were Bridget Fonda!

Originally posted Jul 29, 1994 Published in issue #233 Jul 29, 1994 Order article reprints
Advertisement

From Our Partners