The other day in the New York Post, the columnist Andrea Peyser was complaining about the ease with which Chelsea Clinton got a prime tv journalism job, and inferring that she secured it because she’s the daughter of Bill and Hilary. I could only shake my head. What else is new? Who doesn’t use connections if they have them? Is it such a crime?
It made me think back to the one time in my life when I had a connection to high places, and I didn’t take enough advantage of it. Although I had a modest middle-class upbringing on the north side of Chicago, through his work my father met somebody who had a father-in-law who worked as an executive at NBC. Between my sophomore and junior years in college–the summer of 1971–this connection of my father’s enabled me to get a part-time job as an NBC page at Rockefeller Center.
The guy's office was up at the top...I remember the carpeting made everything so quiet...
It was exciting to live in New York on my own, in a cheap room at the YMHA (Young Men’s Hebrew Assocation) on bustling Lexington Avenue and 92nd Street. On the gig, I did various usher types of duties, and sat behind a desk and directed tourists here and there in Rockefeller Center; but the best part of the job was working backstage at the Tonight Show when Johnny Carson hosted, and when Joey Bishop filled in during Carson’s vacation.
Johnny Carson, king of late night tv for many years
Joey Bishop filled in for Carson the summer I worked at NBC.
I sat at a little desk and greeted the celebrity guests for the show and directed them to the green room or the dressing rooms, I can’t remember which now.
I got to meet a lot of famous people and although I didn’t really get to talk to them much, it was fun to see them up close. The late actor Victor Buono, I remember, had a beautiful blonde hanging on his arm; he’d been on the show to recite his funny little poems about weight and food. He was obviously an extremely charming guy.
He was not just heavy, but very tall as I recall.
The singer and impressionist Marilyn Michaels was quite friendly too, I remember. The legendary film director Frank Capra was cranky; he’d brought some kind of a script along with him, and he misplaced it. I remember how the famous mentalist The Amazing Kreskin looked pretty old to me before he got his makeup on, even though I see Wikipedia says he was born in 1935, which would have made him only 36 in the summer of 1971. In any case, he looked more youthful with stage makeup, and this was a good lesson in the rejuvenating and transforming power of makeup, an insight which held me in good stead when years later I commissioned and directed photo shoots for adult magazines.
Marilyn Michaels; I can't remember what she said, but she struck me as funny and down-to-earth.
I was never a great Capra fan, although I'd seen a few of his films on tv in the 60s.
The Amazing Kreskin--a rather striking album cover.
Muhammad Ali was there, and I don’t need to tell you how people were tripping over themselves when he was around. Another charming guy, and one of the female pages looked like she’d fallen in love with him instantly when he asked her some trivial question.
I seem to remember Ali wearing a tuxedo that night he was on the show.
Claudia Cardinale, the Italian movie goddess, was on the program too, and her dress was so low-cut the cameras kept a tight closeup on her face. Unfortunately, I was downstairs at the information booth on the main floor when she appeared (sometimes we rotated our duties, as I recall), but when she came out of the elevator downstairs in the lobby after the taping, resplendent in her low-cut black dress and high heels, with a great tan and those flashing eyes and bright smile, I got to see her energy and beauty full-length. I said then, and I still say…WOW.
Claudia Cardinale set a kind of standard for vivacious beauty in my mind...
In the early 80s, well into my porn career, I got involved with a girl who looked a lot like Claudia above when she smiled–but unfortunately she also frowned a lot. I let that relationship get the better of my psyche. Maybe I’ll talk more about her another time when I discuss my memories of the porn trade…or maybe not. Painful recollections. She wasn’t in the porn biz herself, but she loathed my participation in it, and I just didn’t know how to tell her to go fuck herself until I got in too deep…
Back to 1971 and The Tonight Show. I was working backstage when Bob Hope was waiting to go on. It was just the two of us in the silent corridor. He was alternately pacing slowly and standing still, all by himself only a few feet from where I sat at the tiny reception desk which jutted out from the wall. I admired him, especially from the 40s movie Monsieur Beaucaire (which I later found out Woody Allen really liked too) but I was so nervous I couldn’t think of anything to say to Hope. He didn’t look much like he wanted to talk, either, but I wish I’d said something. Anything. Because who knows, right? When you reach out to people, your life can move in different directions. Or maybe not.
I always found Bob Hope's delivery extremely funny. Still cracks me up, just reading his old quotes and imagining him saying them.
But the most amazing person I met backstage was Julie Newmar. I was writing in a log book or something, and when I looked up, there she was, this beautiful Amazon. She asked me where her dressing room was, but I was so flummoxed by her gorgeousness I stammered and couldn’t remember where she was supposed to go.
Humorously, she leaned over me with an effect similar to that of the following photograph, and said, “You really don’t know where I’m supposed to go?”
I think just meeting Julie Newmar in 1971 for sixty seconds gave me Post Traumatic Boner Syndrome! But it's a pleasurable affliction! 😉
I remember she seemed very busty, very sexy, and also very sweet. I recovered my equilibrium and directed her, and off she went. I was sorry I couldn’t watch her during the show, because her appearance was apparently a sensational one. But I had to remain on the job. Still, I had my moment with her!
Years later, I took my memory and spun it into a fantasy for a porn story about a young guy who’s working as an usher at a celebrity talk show, and meets a famous busty actress. She invites him to her hotel room and he thinks they’re going to make love, but instead she has him shave her vagina so she’s nice and smooth for her actual lover, an actor in sword-and-sandal movies. At least, that’s my recollection of what I wrote. It was entitled “I’ll Never Stop Shaving Her,” alluding to the character’s never letting go of that precious memory.
But back to reality…
I’ve seen Julie Newmar in subsequent years at comic book and pop culture memorabilia shows and shared this memory of meeting her at The Tonight Show, and she always laughs and says something funny in reply. I wish I could remember what, but she still intimidates me with her presence–in a good way, but in a way that clouds my mind!
The other sexy thing that happened that summer, besides my going to a hooker for the first time–that’s a story for another post, too–was that I met a tourist who resembled Ann-Margret. Same kind of complexion, long red flowing hair. We started talking when she came up to the NBC information booth to ask for directions. I laid on a little of budding Irv O. Neil charm, such as it was, and got her to agree to have dinner with me. Afterward, we sat in Bryant Park near the New York Public Library watching the sun set over the Hudson River. She was a little more voluptuous than Ann-Margret, and unfortunately she didn’t want to do much more than a little kissing later back at her hotel room, but it was nice to spend an evening with someone who looked like Ann-Margret. I know that sounds incredibly shallow of me, but I was only 19 and a reasonable facsimile of someone as hot as Ann-Margret almost felt like getting a sample of the real thing.
Pauline Kael once said Ann-Margret acted with the "inside of her mouth." I read that in one of Kael's reviews, and still consider it one of the best little snippets of unintentional pornography I've ever come across. Or maybe it wasn't unintentional?
In retrospect, I wish I’d figured out a way to stay at that NBC page job instead of going back to college in the fall. I might have gotten more out of that situation than I did out of school. The job was supposed to wind up at the end of the summer, but who knows? If I’d managed to hang on in some way, I might have ended up writing for something like Saturday Night Live in its 70s glory days. It’s not outside the realm of possibility. I’m a pretty funny writer when I want to be–my erotica is loaded with funny little moments between the heavy breathing and orgasms.
I’ve been thinking about this “what if” ever since I read about critic James Wolcott’s experience, related in his recent memoir Lucking Out, about when he moved to New York around the same time I did. He had an opportunity to do something with his writing and he seized it without going back to college. I guess that’s what I feel I should have done with my “in” at NBC. But alas, I was too conventional for such a move, and back to school I went.
In my late 20s, New York, 46th Street. Photo thanks to my good pal Lou Meyers!