Friday, May 18, 2012

World's Greatest Voff

I get a kick out of anyone or anybody has made it their point to denounce or question NBC’s decision to make Howard Stern a judge on “America’s Got Talent.” I say I get a kick out of them, but really I’d like to kick the crap out of them. Mainly because anyone who knows Stern on a professional or personal level is unequivocally certain that there has been no better judge of people – on any level – than Stern has been over the last quarter century or so. I say this because I have been fortunate enough to have sat across from him as a regular guest on his radio show some 100 times or so. And on those days I was in studio as a guest or filling in for Jackie Martling or merely phoning in, I was privy to the true genius of who Howard Stern is and always has been – even in the early days at WNBC (as irony would have it) – when some know-nothing suits were frightened by his unmatched acumen at being a true original. It’s hard for me to write anything short of an out-and-out blow job here only because I was there often enough to see how he works up close. In those early mornings – as far back at 1992, when he first had me on – I got to peek behind the curtain. Basically, what I saw – and what I would tell people who cared to listen – is that the Howard on- air is not the same guy once the mic is turned off. Howard off-air is a kind and caring person who always did whatever he could to help out his inner circle of friends. He doesn’t live to throw baloney at stripper’s butts. That’s just his schtick, folks. Say what you will about his reign as King of All Media. Whether it rang way true or too blue is beside the point. What’s most important – and what wonderfully translates to his success on AGT – is his ability to spot talent and individuality. If not for his foresight, you have to ask the question would the world of radio and TV have ever known the likes of Robin Quivers, Fred Norris, BaBa Booey, Stuttering John, Jackie Martling, Artie Lange or his under-the-radar writer, Benji? What about Hank the Angry Dwarf, High-Pitched Eric, prank caller Captain Janks, Big Black or the outspoken KKK member Daniel Carver? Who can forget (though I try) Elephant Boy, Nicole Bass, Yucko the Clown, Beetlejuice or Gary the Retard? It doesn’t just end at his Wack Pack either. Way back in his fledgling TV days on Channel 9, he was smart enough to give birth to Lesbian Dial-a-Date, Homeless Jeopardy and HowieWood Squares just to name a few. People who saw these bits some 20 years ago are still laughing. And people like myself, who still checks in with Howard from time to time, are quietly reminded why we stay close to the man who helped us all make a name for ourselves on his dime. An hour before his AGT premiered you’d think he’d have better things to do than to respond to my e-mail. But he took the time to do so, and in the process remind me why (his words, not mine) I will always be a “five-star general of gossip.” Pretty cool for a guy who’s about to debut to an audience of, oh, 10 or 15 million people. Many of who will always be clueless detractors. So bring on the dance troops, magicians, jugglers and general dreamers who might be worthy of their 15 minutes or $15 million. Howard will have no problem judging who belongs to be there.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Old Angelina

All this talk about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie finally getting hitched after six kids and seven years got me to thinking about the days when I kinda, sorta ran in a similar circle with the wild Angie. The kind of Angie the Rolling Stones would’ve written a ball-aching song for. Not the globe-trotting, humanitarian, vegan who home-schools her multi-ethnic children in France. The woman who has more black children than Janet, LaToya and Michael Jackson combined. I’m partial to the chick who dabbled in heroin, who wore the vial of blood around her neck. The chick who kissed her brother on the mouth. Anyhow, here I go dropping names again. I’ll pick them up as we go along. You just listen.
There was a night back in the late 1990’s, back in my gossip-column heyday, when my buddy’s cute, British girlfriend was on the prowl looking to take home a random hot girl for a possible three-way. So, while my buddy and I waited and got loaded at the bar at Moomba, his chick was off on her gracious and thoughtful errand. But after an hour there was no sign of her and she wasn’t answering her phone, so my buddy and I split back to his apartment. Round 4 A.M. in walks his girl with her hair all askew, her clothes a bit messy, her thigh-high stockings ripped and one of her legs running with blood.
“What the Hell happened to you,” we demanded. “Who did this? We’ll kill the guy!”
Upon closer review, once we wiped the blood away, her leg suffered cuts from a pocket knife that revealed the initials “A.J.”
What the what?
“You’re not going to believe this,” my buddy’s chick said. “I almost had Angelina Jolie come over. She was all over me in the car.”
Remember, these were the days when Angie made no bones about jumping a girl’s bones from time to time. So the story held weight.
I just wanted to know if the initials she carved into the Brit’s leg meant she wanted me, the only A.J. I knew. “No, ass,” she said. “Angie carved HER initials in my leg. Not yours!” Oh. Hey, a guy can dream.
Fast forward a few years, I’m living in Hollywood and I made a new friend in Billy Bob Thornton. We had just drank a few at the Sunset Marquis where Billy Bob was telling me about another A List actress who made him have sex with her in his “SlingBlade” voice. Suddenly he tells me how he’s been seeing Angelina on the hush-hush and she asked him if he wanted to get hitched. He was uncertain what to do, being a four-time divorcee. I literally took the drink from his hand, downed it myself and told him to go get her right now and do it. “I guess you’re right,” he said. “I am right,” I demanded. “Do it for us guys who can’t marry her. It’s your fuckin’ duty, hombre.”
A few days later they eloped. Still waiting to hear from Billy Bob about that honeymoon. But at least he got the Angie who was off her wheels enough to give a guy the ride of his life. Poor Brad only got the mini-van version of that once great sports car.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Saving All My Blow For You

There is no rulebook on how to love an addict. There is no fundamentally sound way – forget what Dr. Phil or Dr. Drew says – on how to adequately handle a person who’d rather curl up to their drugs than cuddle up to some hugs. If you’ve ever been around someone like that, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then you’re one of the small army of folks who is still holding out hope that Whitney Houston might have somehow met her end through natural causes. I don’t take away any happiness when I say that you’re all sadly mistaken.
I’m no different than most of you when I admit that Whitney was somewhat of a Goddess when she burst on the scene. The fact that she hailed from Newark, or “Down Neck” as my Jersey friends proudly call it, meant (in a weird way) that any of us who lived nearby could possibly make the big time one day. When a girl with a golden voice like that lives only 40 or so miles from you, you start to think anything is possible. And then, when Eddie Murphy (Roosevelt, Long Island) and Jerry Seinfeld (Massapequa) and Rosie O’Donnell (Commack) do the same, I can tell you it changed my life. And suddenly I wasn’t wiping away the “stars” in my eyes, I was trying to use them as navigation.
The first time I saw Whitney in person, the whole persona of her being this gilded child blew away with the wind. It was a summer night in the late 80’s, when I was a cub reporter for Newsday, and was trying to sneak into Eddie Murphy’s giant house party in his Jersey dwelling he called “Bubble Hill.” There was no way I was getting in, but just being on his driveway was enough. But when I saw a crazy, black woman climbing on his wrought iron gate, screaming and cussing to get inside, I was taken aback. It was Whitney and she was acting crazy. This was the first time I knew Whitney had a “ghetto” side. The same personality that bonded so perfectly with her former bad boy husband Bobby Brown.
When Whitney and Bobby’s reality show hit the airwaves, people started to understand that the couple’s connection had more to do with just love and caring. It was obvious to anyone who knows anything about the drug culture that they were sharing a dependence for more than each other. And, if you had any kind of heart, you winced for their daughter Bobbi Kristina.
The last time I saw Whitney was some 25 years later, when I was – let’s just say – in my own relationship with certain kinds of drugs. I was in an after-hours house in a terrible section of Los Angeles’ Crenshaw Boulevard. A very far cry from Bubble Hill. It was there I watched Whitney indulge in alcohol and various different narcotics. She left the house in disarray. Two days later I turned on a morning show, featuring Whitney as a guest. When one of the hosts told her how “amazing” she looked and what she attributes it to, Whitney looked straight in the camera and said, “clean living, baby.” To this, the whole studio applauded. I was on my couch and almost spit out my coffee.
I was in no place to stop to judge her. But you all are certainly allowed to judge the friends she’s ran with for all these years and question why no one has ever stepped in. And this is where I am, unfortunately, somewhat certified to tell you that no amount of warnings from friends would’ve helped her. A drug addict quits when they want to quit. It wasn’t time for Whitney to quit. But all these powerful friends of hers – many of whom you saw at The Grammys who cried and prayed for her – better jump to their senses and do all they can to stop Bobbi Kristina from the same fate. All those friends of Whitney’s, who open their mouths wide and sing beautiful words, might want to do the same thing with meaningful ultimatums. They don’t have to be on key. Just on point.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A FLOP, A TURN and a RIVER of SHIT

I ask forgiveness for those of you who know not where our little poker show aired. Though it wasn't too hard to find for the real poker fan out there - and in my day I've met hundreds of them.
See, I was co-host with the very professional Gabe Kaplan on a show that posted No. 1 ratings for five straight seasons on GSN - the station that usually feeds you repeats of Lingo, antique
Jeopardy episodes and the new, omni-sexual "Newlywed Game."
Last week, I had a conference call with a couple suits at GSN about the possibility of dropping me for a chick to work with Gabe Kaplan. (Sound sexy to you yet?)
I flat out told the guys who will remain nameless - oh screw it, it was Bary Nugent and David Shiff - that if you have the best pizza in town for 5 seasons, why try and add licorice as a new topping? I also told them I was the guy who always did my own publicity for the show because GSN had NEVER set up not even as much as a radio interview for me. So I scour internet poker sites and make myself available and - whattya know! - instant publicity.
What gives me agita- and I'll be sure to tell this to Barry Nugent (who wants to have a lunch with me for other opportunities at GSN for me) is that I spoke to both Schiff and Nugent and I asked them if they were fathers. They jubilantly said they were. So surely they would know the hardships of losing a top-rated gig while raising little children in the process. (Oh and did I mention that I have a son who is a Freshman in college?) So armed with my track record on giving GSN 5 seasons of a No. 1 rated show,I decided to hit them in the spot where it's supposed to make a father go mush.
I said...."Let's talk man-to-man and father-to-father." To their credit, they said, "Absolutely."
I unashamedly told those two guys that if I dont get my gig back....."you're basically putting a man and his family on the street. Is that what you want on your concience?"
I offered to take a pay cut for Chrissakes, Shit....the economy is in the tank, so I'm willing to take less to do the same job. But I just want to put it out there y'all. This is the kind of stuff that goes on in Hollywood. You sometimes bust your balls for a network for a number of years and then the day comes when your balls are suddenly on the chopping block. And a group of execs you've never quite met during your tenure are standing above you sharpening the butcher knife.
I will have my lunch with Nugent - and I promise I wont slash him with a broken bottle of Pellegrino. He and I go way back to my E! days, and honestly, he's a good guy with a good heart.
But I would just be plugging up the flow of the Sicilian blood that boils within me, if he didn't end up on the receiving end of a my take on things. I know he knows that. What I'm gonna say, I haven't yet practiced in the mirror. But it'll be Oscar-worthy when I'm through.
So no more High Stakes Poker for me. No more calling flops, turns and rivers - and trying for the life of me to understand what a "Double gutter, belly buster" means.
I will miss the most difficult part of my job, and that was being the gracious straight man for the legendary comedic timing of Gabe Kaplan - just another guy who grew up within miles of where I did in Brooklyn. And I will miss the generosity and patience of the show's producer and unglamorous gluestick of Mori Eskandani. I'm gonna throw in the behind-the-scenes professionalism of producers Phil Smith and the show's birth mother Kevin Belinkoff. Sometimes it took all those guys to make the repartee between me and Gabe to sound real and unrehearsed. And to me, those moments were what made the show stand out from the other poker shows around the dial. I hope you like the female they toss in front of you. And I hope the conversation between she and Gabe works smoothly. I don't think I'll watch the show too often, but I wish it well. I've met too many people attached to the show across the past five seasons to want any one of them to drive home feeling the show has lost some of it's pop and spontaneity.
The female they toss in front of you is sure to be pretty, prepared and a pro. But I know she won't be able to throw "Godfather" references around like Gabe and I did.
If the GSN execs responsible for my firing were ever in on the joke, surely one of them would've said or written to my manager..."Tell A.J. we always liked him. But it was strictly business."
That 'goodbye' I would've understood. And cherished.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Go, Army!

Outside of California's Hollywood elite, no one knew who the fuck Army Archerd was. Let's be real. They might've recognized the name or maybe even remarkably recalled that he spent 100 years as the last journalist all superstars spoke to on their last stop before entering the Academy Awards ceremony. But, in terms of what every state outside of California grew to learn about the inner workings of Hollywood, no one had a clue who he was or what he stood for. You only knew him if you were fortunate enough to be employed in a business that the make-believe magazine Variety covered.
I had the pleasure to know and work with Army on a TV show for a few years over at the E! Channel's "Gossip Show," the much more in-depth and on-the-money celebrity news show that ran a good eight years before TMZ hit the airwaves. Now, don't get me wrong: I love me some "TMZ," I just dont think a paparazzi chasing down celebrities on Roxbury Ave. after a colonoscopy always makes for cunning television.
But I digress.
What I really should say is what a great man and stand-up journalist Army was. How Hollywood's A-list gave him scoops because they knew they would be safe with him. And that they knew they were dropping their stories - sometimes back-stabbing tales - into the hands of the gatekeeper of Hollywood's bygone era. And he would always keep their names a thousand miles away from the story. Happens all the time in the business. Don't think Army was any different.
There is no doubt that Army counted some of the industry's greats as his very personal friends. And there is no doubt that he most likely turned up his nose at the rise of all the glossy tabloids and that multi-haired frig-face Perez Hilton. I can actually imagine Army's hatred at the side of the business, only because I found myself at the bad end of the Almighty's anger and confusion.
When the execs at E! moved me from the ranks of the "Gossip Show" and gave me a shot at hosting "Mysteries & Scandals," I confidentially found out that Army was furious and wanted me fired from my position so that he could take over. He even threatened that he would quit doing remotes for the "Gossip Show" if I continued on as host of "Mysteries & Scandals." The way he saw it, it was he who should be the guy in the $2,000 suits, in the dark alleys of Hollywood, shooting straight about the sordid lives and deaths of most of the movie stars he had covered over the years.
I remember watching my "M&S" producer fielding a call from an incensed Archerd - calling from his Variety office in the same building. He couldn't accept that a guy like me would be able to carry the episode on Judy Garland's death.
"I should be hosting that show, damnit," Army said. "I knew all these people you're covering. What does that kid Benza know?"
I know that I hosted 172 episodes without Army's help to great success. And, as you read all the slurpy accolades upon his death, know that he wasn't all sugar and spice and everything nice.
He was a reporter. And, at one point or another, all reporters act like cocksuckers.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Love On The Rox

My 5-year-old daughter, Roxy, starts Kindergarten in less than a week.
For she, it is the start of a wondrous, fun-filled journey where anxiety and adventure battle for space along with the shiny red apple in her new back-to-school backpack. It is three hours a day of independence - and a mere three blocks from our home - where her count of friends will grow to a small army and our chats on the walk home will have her beautiful face flush with a newfound, tiny taste of fun, freedom and snippets of time she otherwise would have spent with her father. It's the beginning of everything for my girl. So why am I crying in the shower every morning or bubbling up with emotion inside the privacy of my car whenever I'm off on an errand?
My wife, like most moms (especially those with a younger child still at home at the moment and our oldest son commuting to college from home) is over the moon at this. She couldn't get the paperwork done quicker or arrange the physical exams faster to get her off and into a classroom of children her own age. But for me, I can't help but see it as the first step in the slow process of losing somewhat of a grip on my girl. Daughters leave. Sons stay. That's the way I've always seen things from where I sit.
My wife can't get over this drama unfoldig in my head. "She needs friends. She can't just always play with her cousins or stay at home and play with you."
Why not? I've grown to like the unpredictibility of "Sponge Bob, Square Pants," or the laid-back plot lines of "Max & Ruby." Not to mention the tireless adventures of Dora and Diego. Our discussions over the cultural complications on "Ni Hao Kai- Lan" have been epic. And my bold observance that "Yo Gabba-Gabba" is nothing more than a recycled "Zoom" have led discussions well into the night. Plus she finally knows all the names of the New York Yankees.
Does it sound yet to you that I need a life?
You'all might be right. But Roxy's daddy is not a regular 9-to-5er. I've been lucky enough that when I do land a TV job, I go off and work for four days or so and then am able to spend the next 30 days or so at home until the next taping. That means I have been around for every football game and track meet that her big brother has ever had. And I've been fortunate to never miss a new tooth, a scary fall, a high fever, a new word or those God-given moments when your 18-month-old son decides to squeeze his sister tight and plant a kiss on her lips without any proding from me or my wife. It is those gorgeous moments of parenting that you have to see to believe. And once they are gone, you sit back and can't believe you were lucky enough to see them.
Having that time home alone with then is something you can't negotiate in a boardroom at the office or across a Hollywood conference room table as wide as an airplane wing.
"It's just three hours a day," my wife laughs. "She's not going off to Iraq."
I know, I know. But this is my little, best friend we're talking about here. And the hours of 11:37 AM to 2:20 PM will move slow for me. As if the hands on the kitchen clock have come down with Arthritis.
The wife and kid are off buying school clothes now and the little one is asleep. We'll all be with her on that first walk to school next week and every other walk she entitles me to as she grows older and more independent.
My wife laughs. My daughter can't wait. And a proud father cries.
Daughters leave. They go away to school. They date boys and come home with broken hearts until the day she meets the right man and they marry. And then she will adopt his opinions, and maybe even silence her daddy from time to time. She might not even remember that I ever told her that "Yo Gabba-Gabba" is "Zoom" and, in this world, everything old is new again.
Last night she held my cheeks in her hands and said, "Daddy, don't worry. I will only be at school for a little while and then you and Mommy will pick me up and you and I can play. Okay?"
"Okay, doll," I told her.
"Are you crying" she asked me.
"No," I told her. "It's Daddy's allergies."
Then she squeezed me tight and left me alone on my bed, as she and her mommy talked about the new dress she wants to buy for her first day at school.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

YOU ARE THERE!

Boy you couldn't beat that lifelong newsman Walter Cronkite to deliver you the truth when it counted most, right? And you especially knew the standards in which he carried out his private life had to be as morally upstanding and above anyone's ideals. I mean, we're talking Cronkite here. Television's "Mr. America," and the most stoic, stand-up and honest man who, among other things, managed to get the battling forces of Israel and Palestine to finally speak softly. The man who cried with us when he learned of President Kennedy's assassination. The man who always promised us that what he was reporting was nothing short of the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
What can I tell you: I was infatuated with Cronkite when I was in grade school. And he's absolutely one of the reasons why I decided to study journalism in college and hope to be anything at all like the truth-sayer Cronkite was for all America.
I remember the day NASA landed men on the moon and my mother called me in from the schoolyard - where me and 15 other boys were playing "kill the guy with the ball."
"They're walking on the moon," my mother yelled across the street. "Get your ass inside."
I remember the way Cronkite handled that magic moment. And, honestly, it were moments like that - with his proud, stucatto voice announcing it all - that made me want to be the kind of guy who, when I grew up, was able to supply people with news they wouldn't ordinarily be privy to.
I graduated high school and college with Cronkite's voice playing as a constant narration of what seemed like every important moment in my life. (I honestly feel badly for youngsters who seek a career in broadcast journalism now and no doubt have a hard time emulating anyone as professional as Cronkite.)
But when Cronkite stepped down and told America a qualified fella named Dan Rather would be taking over for him, I didn't give it much thought. I was in college and trying to find my way into a journalism career. Luckily...I was able to avoid tracking down stories for neaningless stories in East Asswipe, Alabama...and I stalked enough NYC newspaper editors to land my first job as a gossip columnist for NY Newsday and the several glory years I enjoyed as a columnist at the Daily News.
By that time, I thought like who the Hell I thought I was. You follow? I'm saying I started to feel I was bigger than the columns I was writing. And no one could tell me otherwise. And I think this simple - but complex - paradox happens to almost everyone who starts to sail behind the wake of his own popularity.
All of this brings me to a night in the 1990's - when I was at the top of my game. A buddy and I were finished visiting Jack Nicholson at The Carlyle Hotel one late night, when we stumbled to the elevator and hit the down button.
How the fuck do you think I felt when the elevator arrived and opened and featured Mr. Cronkite holding an ice bucket with a champagne bottle packed inside it while two stunning females - dressed in clingy dresses and stilettos heels - guided "Mr. America" off to his room?
Now...these could've been his neices. What do I know? I only know the expression he shot me was one of embarrassment.
Next story about a trustworthy newsman.
Several years later and I found myself friends with Cronkite's replacement, Dan Rather. Dan and I got to be friendly mainly because his assistant was an ex-flame of mine. Anyhow...one night Dan and his assistant decide to meet me for drinks at the W Hotel in Westwood. As soon as we got there, Dan took me aside and said, "This place is packed with pussy!." No matter how prepared you think you might be...you never expect the voice of the nation's 6 O'Clock News to speak that way.
After three drinks at the W, we moved over to a Sunset Strip club formerly known as Barfly, where Dan kept telling the bartenders that he wanted "Three fingers Wild Turkey in a rock's glass, with a water back. But, barkeep, that's three fingers vertical. Not horizontal."
After four hours of hitting the town, we all ended up sleeping at a Century City Hotel. We got in at 3 A.M. At 6 A.M. my phone rang with a very clear-headed Rather asking me if I wanted to fly to Alaska in a couple hours to go fly fishing."
I remember I went to his room to politely turn him down, but spotted a pair of female panties in his opened suitcase. "Oh...somebody slipped me these when I had no idea," was his answer.
My final example of how little you know about the men who give you the world news has to do with my sitting down with a Fox News bigshot (I'll keep him nameless for his sake)who had the duty of interviewing me about my memoirs which I wrote in 2001. Everything was as above-board as you can imagine, until with about 10 seconds to air the powerful host asked me...."Tell me...who's the most famous woman you fucked?"
I sat there stunned for a few seconds until I realized he really was salivating for an answer. I lied and blurted out, "Mariah Carey."
"Was she good," the big-time anchor asked with three seconds to spare before air.
"Oh yeah. Tremendous," I said.
"Fuckin' fantastic," he said, as his producer counted backward from 3 to 2 to 1.
Just goes to show you: There are two sides to every story you ever hear. And there are two sides to the men you trust to give those stories.