Last Five Minutes of Fame



Abe Gurko

Chapter 1

It was 1973; I was short, fat, and four-eyed with no immediate hopes of having a life worth living. By this point in my teens—-bittersweet sixteen to be exact—-the only thing I aspired to be was someone else. Preferably someone famous. By no means was I a candidate for becoming a jet setter, and no foreseeable signs of hobnobbing with the lanky Mick Jagger, the groovy Penelope Tree or the beautiful, haunted Marianne Faithfull. Nope. Not from the barely upper-middle-class upbringing I was experiencing far from that madding crowd.

Sadly, my fate had me nestled atop the Palisades in a perfectly manicured suburban hamlet, just north of the George Washington Bridge, a mere hop, skip and light-year away from the fierce pulsating beat of Manhattan. So close yet so far. Somehow the modest, red brick, split-level affair I called home didn’t quite have the same joie de vivre as the homes in the south of France that Mick and Bianca were always photographed in looking chic, stoned and tragically hip. Our house was heavier on vivre and lighter on joie.

My mother, a diminutive, fiery, delusional woman, was hell-bent on creating the illusion of royalty…and a minuscule representation it was. Having survived the concentration camps in World War II, she was determined to live in an environment that reeked of opulence if it was the last thing she did, with whatever limited resources we had. In a way, it was thumbing her nose at the Germans. Picture this: a French provincial living room with grass green shag carpeting, a mint green velvet Josephine couch, and red crushed velvet Louis XVI conversation chairs. Accessorize that with lamps that were life-sized statues of naked women adorned with many teardrop crystals, and a Grecian pillar topped with the bust of Venus de Milo, just kind of sitting there. Wait. The mint green flocked wallpapered walls were offset by a slew of art in gold leaf frames, which highlighted my mother’s prized collection of Morris Katz toilet paper art originals. And what tacky living room is complete without dramatic window treatments? Ours were exact replicas of the green curtains from Tara, yes, that Tara, the ones Scarlet O’Hara had Mammy stitch up into the dress to scam Rhett Butler. My mother loved Gone with the Wind and even named my oldest sister Vivian.

So close yet so far :(

So close yet so far :(

Our house was a kaleidoscope of colors; each room had a color palette that would upset the color blind. Our kitchen was aquamarine, my sister Rita’s room was canary yellow and Kelly green, my room orange and chocolate brown, the master bedroom featured hot pink walls and azure blue carpeting, burgundy and pink drapes, pink crystal chandeliers flanked the bed that had a hot pink and white abstract print fabric covered headboard that touched the ceiling. This might explain a lot of who I am.

My mother’s tendency for theatrics rubbed off on me. Since childhood, I’ve been obsessed with movies and movie stars. The black and white melodramas, MGM musicals, screwball comedies, classic horror films, I consumed them while stuffing my face with Dolly Madison ice cream and countless Caravelle bars. All the movie stars were beautiful. Katherine Hepburn, Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Robert Taylor, Veronica Lake, Clark Gable, and Vivien Leigh all had a physical, as well as a celestial, radiance that was daunting. I would lie in bed, covers pulled up to my second chin, surrounded by empty candy wrappers, watching The Late Movie as well as The Late, Late Movie, enamored with the unattainable Hollywood dream machine; all the while worrying that there would never be a place in the sun for someone like me in that glorious, celluloid world. No, people like me watched from the sidelines as the parade passed by. It seemed like the closest thing to a brass ring that I would ever grab was an Entenmanns’s chocolate doughnut.

But a miracle occurred in the early 1970s. Suddenly that which seemed hopeless and completely out of reach beamed on the horizon. A ray of hope. My ray of hope. The miracle was when Woody Allen’s films became part of the American film vernacular. I would run to the Baronet-Coronet Theater in New York City across from Bloomingdales where his films always played. I did so in awe that one did not need to look like Paul Newman in order to achieve fame. Not like Paul, not like Robert Redford or Clint Eastwood, for that matter. You didn’t have to look like the Marlboro man anymore in order to get ahead in show business. Not with people like Woody Allen and Dustin Hoffman crowding the movie business. Ugly was the new black. And Woody was ugly enough to make me feel gorgeous. But I will never forgive Woody Allen. No, not for what he did to Mia Farrow by taking Soon Yi, her adopted daughter, as his lover and then, wife. That transgression was much easier for me to excuse as compared to what Woody Allen did to me, personally, being a resident from the state of New Jersey.

Woody Allen ruined my life until he ruined his own.

Woody Allen ruined my life until he ruined his own.

Let me explain. Woody Allen’s classics like Sleeper, Play It Again Sam and Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex were brilliant, however, these films contained condescending (and yes, perhaps humorous) references to my home state. These scathing digs made audiences howl with laughter, and at the same time, he ingrained into pop culture the notion that people from “Joisey” were at a disadvantage. Sitting there in the dark sold-out audience, I would slink down deep into the burgundy polyester uncomfortable seat, covering my head with the large tub of extra buttered popcorn as though a flashing neon arrow identified me as the lone lowly resident from that sad little state. Sitting there, seething, I vowed to get my revenge on Woody Allen one day. Because of him, I wished I’d never heard of New Jersey, let alone being a resident. He put me in an awkward predicament if I ever was to achieve greatness along the lines of Bette Davis, Spencer Tracy or Mahatma Gandhi. There was no way any of those people hailed from you-know-where–I dared not utter the words aloud. How was I ever going to become a member of the fabulii? And once they discovered where I was from, was my membership to the fabulii at risk of being canceled? This was my conundrum. Somehow, someway, I was determined to wiggle my five foot by five-foot frame into the pop culture vernacular and once there…happily crush Mr. Allen like a bug.

What bothered me most was that Woody was just like me—a short, unattractive Jewish man with gargantuan insecurities, though his were seemingly even greater than mine. And to make matters worse, he was from Brooklyn. Just so you know, in the ’70s, before the renaissance that Brooklyn is enjoying, the boroughs other than Manhattan were nowhere you wanted to be caught dead hailing from. It was considered totally down-market. The term “bridge and tunnel” was a derogatory slam and no one considered Jersey to be in that category. I didn’t surely. Yes, you needed to get there by tunnel or bridge, but whatever. Those B & T’s were from Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and occasionally Staten Island; though I don’t think that borough really exists. Seriously, have you ever slept with anyone from Staten Island? Staten Island is like Montana in that way. We see it on the map, but no one’s ever really been there. But I digress.

Monika Lewinsky & Kim Kardashian perfected the Art of Sucking.

Monica Lewinsky & Kim Kardashian perfected the Art of Sucking.

At least in Jersey we have trees; that’s why they call it the Garden State for Christ’s sake. Granted there were countless pig farms in Secaucus and oil refineries in Newark that stunk to high heavens. But that’s neither here nor there. I had a new agenda, which was to somehow achieve fame and greatness if it was the last thing I did. These Allenesque New Jersey attacks (which I started to take personally) gave me the incentive to get on the other side of midnight. I was going to prove Woody Allen wrong and make the best of my bad situation. Andy Warhol’s 1968 quote “in the future everyone was going to be famous for fifteen minutes” sounded like a perfectly democratic idea that I aspired to fulfill. But how? And for what? To what lengths did one have to go in order to achieve that goal? It wasn’t until years later that by simply sucking on someone’s cock (Monica Lewinsky and Kim Kardashian) that the distance one had to go to achieve fame was not that far at all. The only distance they had to go…was down. However, prior to the Monica incident, achieving fame was something that you actually had to work hard on, as opposed to simply working a hard-on. You had to have talent, be it for acting, writing, sports acumen. Something. Figuring that part out became an obsession.

Perhaps I could start by concocting an interesting personal history, a false persona that would make that worm Woody Allen squirm. I’d be born in Gstaad, where Dame Elizabeth Taylor had one of her many vacation homes, perhaps schooled in France at the Sorbonne like Sabrina. Nah, too fattening. The Dalton School, that’s better. And I could have lived just around the corner in a well-appointed townhouse in Carnegie Hill, (the world’s most prestigious zip code 10028) next door to Marissa and Berrie Berenson. I could even claim that I was the original Gossip Girl. Someone who summered in lovely, remote, Northeast coastal villages, not unlike where Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue frolicked in all their blondeness in the movie A Summer Place. You know you’re fabulously wealthy when you can use the word summer as a verb to describe your summer. Oh, and yes, I would definitely be blonde. Surely, I could not admit where I actually spent my summers, since you can’t really say, “I summered in the Catskill Mountains”. Why? It’s called the Borscht Belt, the ultimate Jewish ghetto like the shtettles* of Eastern Europe recreated in the United States. Ghetto by choice, but still very ghetto…and I don’t mean in a Missy Elliot kind of way.

*Shtettle = Hometown in Yiddish










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