The seventies

Saw a Tonight Show late last night from the late seventies. My god look at those ties my wife said. Johnny Carson was uptight, mildly paranoid, his timing off, the monologue died in a series of unfunny Jimmy Carter jokes. It was hot today he said. How hot was it shouted an audience member. Shut up! Johnny yelled back. Ed was laughing hysterically as each flop followed the other. Carnac the Magnificent began with Johnny fluffing the trip schtick so he nearly fell and then blowing the delivery of the lines. Again, Ed laughed all the harder. Out came the first guest, Tony Curtis, is a flaming white disco outfit and so buzzed he radiated paranoia. He stood, frozen, as the audience applauded and unable to think of what to do he nearly saluted. He walked over stiffly, introduced himself to Johnny with a formal handshake, then to Ed, and sat down and gave an interview so coke freaked it was uncomfortable to watch. Johnny wasn’t much better. Tony was not exactly at the peak of his career in 1978 and was promoting The Bad News Bears Go To Japan. One got the impression he did not like children. The clip shown was Tony explaining to a five year old why people get naked when having sex. These were obviously the pre-McMartin preschool days.

Next guest was Steve Landesberg. He comes out supercharged, rubbing his nose, and delivers a rapid fire series of jokes and random ethnic accents at an adenoidal high volume shout, and looking coke dazed each time the audience laughed. Then he strutted over to his chair where he and a slightly more relaxed Johnny and Tony began a strange conversation that veered back and forth, everyone stepping on each others lines, Landesberg doing assorted foreign accents way too loud, and all having a very excited good time. Next up was Bess Armstrong, very cute and a little too chemically edgy and funny but not quite as high strung as Tony or Steve. She said she was from Baltimore. BALLIMER!!! shouts Steve. Tony makes an unannounced trip backstage. Returned very excited. All four were having a grand old time talking and joking and laughing way too loud at the wrong time. Oddly, though, even with the combination of coked out Tony Curtis and Steve Landesberg and a pretty young single actress it never got dirty. Not even a little bit. Not even after that Bad News Bear clip. Then came the very charming and witty eighty-nine year old Merie Earle. No wonder it never got dirty. Grandma was in the house. Tony, Steve and Bess froze, completely silent. Not a peep till Johnny winds up her interview (which was the only coherent part of the night) and Steve shouts out something random in a loud Puerto Rican accent. As the credits rolled, Pete Christlieb (probably, from the tone anyway) took off on a gorgeous saxophone solo.

Ya gotta love the seventies.

Tony Curtis


Tony Curtis died a couple days ago. And Tony Curtis was just so freaking cool that everybody in this town needs somehow to make a personal connection with him.  When so much coolness up and disappears from the planet all the hipsters feel an odd bit of desperation; they just have to, somehow, reach out and touch that coolness while it still lives. For coolness lasts beyond the grave, but not for long. It  fades in an eerie way, still alive, before becoming history. Once history all the coolness is gone, that kind of tactile coolness you can get high with, or drink coffee with, or fuck or fight or just run into on the way to the elevator. The real, corporeal coolness. History renders the living cool dead, stone dead…turns it over to academics and poseurs and biographers who, let’s face it, someone as cool as Tony Curtis wouldn’t be caught dead with. But to actually have a story based on something real life, where you and Tony were in the same space together, interacting or even not interacting but conceivably could have in a way that a historian never ever can…well that kind of coolness is addictive. It is the power of the story. The time that you and Tony Curtis were together. When your universe and Tony’s came together, briefly, and somehow a tiny bit of his coolness rubbed off on you. Just because.

I have one of those stories. And to be honest, a lot of people have those kind of stories. They just don’t write them down, like this:

Sometime back in the mid eighties we had a friend, Jeanne Lynn, this crazy cool chick, older than us, a red head with one of the big Southern gal personalities. Jeanne Lynn was really hip. She worked on films, knew gallery people, actors, directors, jazz musicians, artists, beatniks, hippies, and punks, she was a  fine bassist and great partier. She snagged one of Dolph Lundgren’s training jacket from wardrobe which I wore for years without ever knowing who Dolph Lundgren was. Jeanne Lynn  loved to laugh and tell crazy stories and dirty jokes and smoke weed and we were all great friends. She was the first person we knew I think that was able to exist in that world without losing any of her hip, cool edge. Anyway, she took us to a gallery opening….no, a store opening, some kind of pricey, big boutique on what had been a dull little nothing street called Melrose Place.  This was just before Melrose Place became Melrose Place, and Melrose itself was still a new concept, not yet overrun and tacky. This was that long ago. The party was packed with people, all these Beverly Hills types slumming it on Melrose Place.  There were a lot less rich people back then in the city, and fewer rich neighborhoods, so that end of town below West Hollywood (WeHo hadn’t been coined yet) was thoroughly middle of the middle class with a smattering of struggling bohos  and wanna be show biz types. I remember my wife and I and the others with us, whoever they were, were decidedly out of place at this bash, but enjoying it nonetheless. The food was great., a long long table full of food.. The open bar was even better.  Their was a fine band, too, subdued but all killer players…everyone said that guy there was Sinatra’s guitar player (which meant, I know now, that he was Ron Anthony), and the harmonica player was the guy who did the theme from Midnight Cowboy (though I doubt that now). I watched them for a long time, saying hey to the people who said hey to me, and checking out the westside babes—jeans were still very tight at the time. Yowza. I was just digging it all and polished off a drink–I was drinking greyhounds back then–and went back for another. Jeanne Lynn, stoned, pulled me close, quietly squealing with excitement. Did you see who you were standing next to?  I hadn’t. You didn’t see who you were standing next to all that time? Honestly, I hadn’t. She rolled her eyes. Obviously I’d blown it somehow. I said sorry, but I hadn’t noticed. Jesus, Brick, that was Tony Curtis! Really? Standing next to me? Aghast, she blurted out Yes! You were looking right at each other! How did you not see him? I shrugged, helplessly. Damn, Brick, he’s a real movie star! We didn’t say icon back then, but saying somebody was a real movie star meant something back then. Jeanne said she had wanted me to talk to him so that she could come up and introduce herself. Tony Curtis  had been her idol. And I was right there next to him, utterly oblivious.

I think we’d even exchanged pleasantries, me and Tony. Just a word or two. But I didn’t put the face with the legend. I was too stoned, probably, or maybe just listening to the music, or distracted by coked out westside babes. Jeanne just shook her head. My wife, laughing, said he doesn’t know anything about actors. I didn’t. Still don’t. I’ve lived in Hollywood most of my life and never see any movie stars.

Tony was gone by the time I turned around. Apparently he’d only been at the party ten or fifteen minutes. He would have been flying on blow back then. Everyone knew he’d gone all to hell. But still, he was Tony Curtis. And we could, maybe, have had a nice little chat. But I never recognized the guy. I always regretted that, I mean, Tony Cutis was so cool. Oh well.

That’s it. That is my Tony Curtis story.

It’s not much. In fact it’s not even a story at all, just a seeing but not seeing Tony Curtis story. Probably the worst Tony Curtis story ever. But he’s dead now and I wanted to tell it one last time.  I wanted to tell it while his memory still glowed, and that feeling that he’s not really dead still hung about. It takes a little while to get used to the dead thing. You can’t quite let go till the body is stone cold and buried, and even afterward he hangs about, a living memory, a marathon on Turner Classic Movies.

But yeah, Tony’s gone. I can never tell him this inane story. And he can never show me one of his goddamn paintings.


Another sigh even.

Ya know, I began this story trying to be funny. But it’s not funny at all. Maybe I left my sense of humor in my other suit.