Method Acting teachers are seen as gurus and they embrace this mantle: “I am the great Father Figure, Witch-Doctor, Shrink, the Font of All Wisdom, the Repository of All Knowledge, the Giver of Pleasure and Pain.” No surprise their schools become personality cults. No surprise these cults are especially attractive to young women who have little self-esteem and big “Daddy” issues. The Guru demands that the student emotes at all times. The student is not having a successful scene if the student is not having a nervous breakdown – even if the scene is from Mary Poppins. Simply put – “If you ain’t crying, you ain’t acting.”
One Guru held his entire class captive for two days because one student had not prepared a scene. Two days. No food. No phone calls. No talking. Limited toilet breaks. Very limited. Meanwhile, across town, a revered female Guru sent her students out to pick up strangers in bars and have sex with them – in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. And, people fought to get into these classes.
In the 1980s, after a young actress accused her acting teacher of raping her, the dam burst. Former students from as far back as the 1950s reported similar attacks by Professor Pervowitz. He had been an acclaimed teacher and a predatory sadist for decades. He had run weekly ads in The Village Voice. Taught major stars. And, you had to hand it to Pervowitz, he had a psychologically brilliant M.O. He would tell the actor or actress in his sights that they were a genius. But, to prevent jealousy, their “genius” had to remain secret from the other students. Pervowitz was willing to give the budding genius private coaching… ssshhh… to open you up… ssshhh… you are a genius but you are emotionally blocked. I know how to unblock you… ssshhh… now take your clothes off, kneel at my feet and masturbate while repeating – I am your bitch-slut-cunt.”
And, they did it. Many geniuses did it. Male and female did it they – for decades.
Acting has always attracted the delightful but also the dim, the desperate and the deranged. ‘Twas ever thus. My parents were delightful, stage-struck, Italian kids from Brooklyn when they met in a Manhattan acting school in the 1930s. It was a time when the New York theater was crawling with Russian émigrés all of whom claimed to have been former members of Constantine Stanislavski’s renowned Moscow Art Theater. Stanislavski invented “Method Acting” and every one of the Russo-invaders claimed to have been his mentor – “And, I told Constantine he vas wrong about the emotive mimetic.” Manhattan sheltered more of these borscht bullshitters than the number of baby-boom bullshitters who claim to have seen Jimi at Woodstock.
And, every Boris and Svetlana ran an École de Théâtre in a drafty loft on Delancey Street or a Temple of the Dramatic Arts ensconced in a dank basement on Bleecker. One teacher would dampen the wooden floor of her studio with a garden hose then turn up the heat, thereby creating a steam-room. Her students disrobed and lay down on the floor to do esoteric Siberian breathing exercises. “It is imperative to open and breathe through all the orifices of the body at once.”
Racy stuff for then and total bullshit for always.
I have Obsessive Compulsive Memory Disorder. I can’t escape the past. I don’t want to escape the past. I am drawn to it. I want to live in it. I do live in it. An edge of cobblestone peeking through the pavement, an ancient painted sign flaking on the side of a building, a patch of wallpaper revealed by the swing of the wrecker’s ball propels me back to the New York of Boss Tweed, Babe Ruth or the Mad Bomber. I can stare into snowy Green-Wood Cemetery at night meditating on the tombstones and conjure a horse-drawn Currier and Ives sleigh with harness bells jangling. I see the horses’ frozen breath flaring from their nostrils; hear their hooves striking the frozen Brooklyn earth. It is 1845 and I am there.
Tony Unbatz, the top punk on my block, is known to be, as his Italian nickname implies, crazy – “batz.” He’ll do anything on a dare and more without one. He’s a skinny kid with a nose bigger than he is. He weighs at most a hundred and ten pounds soaking wet and since he’s drenched in beer that’s what he weighs tonight. Tony dresses like Marlon Brando in The Wild One – motorcycle jacket, boots and garrison belt. And, like all the Juvenile Delinquents in 1950s America, he apes Brando’s schtick – “Don’t bug me coz I’m a sullen, sensitive, tough-but-tender, misunderstood punk-poet.” The juvenile delinquents of Brooklyn even try to mimic Brando’s Southern accent from The Wild One. When Beatlemania hits Brooklyn, the punk-poets of that era attempt a Liverpool accent, “Toydy toyd and toyd meets the Moysey.” Brooklyn rock bands have to pretend to be English to get gigs and so they name themselves – The Churchills, The Cuppa Tease and The Chamber Pots.
I’m pitching pennies against a wall of the corner grocery store just like I see the big boys do. It’s a form of urban horseshoes. I have no idea what the rules are and have only one penny to pitch but I try my best to look tough and cool. I am six. The big boys are sixteen and hanging out on the corner as they always do on summer nights.
They gather under the streetlight and serenade the block with “Earth Angel” and other doo-wop dirges. This is Brooklyn’s answer to the bel canto street singing of Naples. Figures. Most of these punks are second-generation Napolitano. Rico has a sweet tenor voice so he sings lead. And, despite his polio leg-braces, he plays stickball with the gang. They brag about how far he can hit a ball – “I’m tellin’ ya Rico hit da ball three sewers.”
My friends and I are too young to witness the serious nighttime “rumbles” between the local gangs – The Bishops, The Undertakers, The South Brooklyn Boys and The Testors. (They sniff Testorsbrand airplane glue to get high.) But, the following morning, we scavenge their battle scenes in search of bloody souvenirs – chains, bats, pipes, teeth, spent shells even a loaded zip gun. Its barrel is a car aerial attached to a plank with a sliding bolt and rubber bands as primitive trigger-mechanism. We fire it in a basement where it explodes nearly blinding us all. We decide to leave the heavy artillery to the big boys.
We are a blue-collar Scout troop without a full uniform between us – more Bowery Boys than Baden Powell. We don’t buy our gear at the official Boy Scout store which is strictly for fagateers but at the Army surplus stores on Canal Street. Who cares if our canteens leak and our hatchets shatter? They are what General Patton’s soldiers used and that’s all that matters.
Only once is our tough-guy veneer pierced. It is when we encounter a disfigured boy who pitches his tent right next to ours at a Boy Scout Jamboree. The merit badge sash he wears across his torso contains more badges than our troop has won in its entire history. He is also an Eagle Scout and a member of the Order of The Arrow. This is like being a Green Beret and a Navy Seal. He is tall and well built. But, atop his perfectly formed body sits the most deformed head and face I have ever seen. His skull is squashed, elongated and lopsided. His features are randomly stuck onto the front of it like the plastic ears, mouth and nose of a Mr. Potato Head – a Mr. Potato Head who has been dropped from a great height. He has one misshapen ear on top of his skull and another down near his chin so that his glasses hang on his face in a vertical rather than horizontal line. His eyes, nose, and mouth are not much more than holes. Imagine the face of Charles Laughton in The Hunchback of Notre Dame drawn by Picasso then put through a wood chipper.
“Catholics also believe that the Blessed Virgin appears to mere mortals in various times, places and languages. The most famous Marian apparitions, not counting her many miraculous appearances on moldy pizza, dried toast and wet cardboard, are –
Our Lady of Lourdes (France)
Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexico)
Our Lady of Fatima (Portugal)
Our Lady of Bayside (Queens)
“Like the Little Green Men who pilot flying saucers, Mary appears only to illiterate, poverty-stricken, scrofula-ridden peasants who sleep with their livestock. Hence, her appearance in Queens. There is a theory that the BVM is, in fact, the occupant of a UFO misinterpreted by Catholic shepherds in the only way that makes sense to them – ‘Hey, Esteban, look, up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s the Virgin Mary.’
The Curse of Frankenstein jump started my interest in all things English, especially English knockers. Puerto Rican girls were sexy but I expected them to be since they wore hot socks and had hair on their cha-chas from birth. English girls were sexy coz they weren’t supposed to be but especially coz they talked good. The fact that a woman could speak like the Queen and fuck like a spic drove me and my friends crazy.
Our obsession reached fever pitch with the Christine Keeler scandal in 1963. We were still sitting on the stoop but were now sitting atop fully descended testicles. We loitered there at night waiting for the next day’s tabloids to be delivered to Rocco’s Candy Store. We smelled the headlines coming over the Brooklyn Bridge then raced each other down the block to get our hands on the photos of Christine and her sidekick Mandy Rice-Davies. These two young women – English women, actually DID IT and didn’t think it was matter for Confession. We punched each other black and blue in debates about which of the pair was sexier. Most of us chose Mandy coz she was a blonde. No lie – no movie or documentary ever came close to capturing the level of interest the Profumo affair held for the pubescent boys of Brooklyn.
In 1957, the year I made my First Communion, the Devil popped up on my shoulder at the movies as I watched the English “monstha pitchah” The Curse of Frankenstein. He jabbed me and whispered, “Pssstt. Hey, kid, check out da bazooms on dat babe sittin’ next ta ya!” I turned my head and saw a teenage honey “making out” with her pimply boyfriend. He was rounding Second Base and heading for Third. She was squirming around inside a tight, low-cut blouse. She had long black hair all the way down her back. None on top of her head. Just all the way down her back. (Sorry – Brooklyn joke. I couldn’t resist.) Her lush black ringlets cascaded to her shoulders. She had gold hoop earrings and insolent, red lips. She might easily have been Puerto Rican. And, damn, I’d left the mozzarella at home! This torrid teen may have been spoken for but thanks to her heaving-honeydews and the heaving-Hammer-honeydews on the screen, I was one randy seven-year-old packing a pocket-rocket.