Puttin’ on the Ritz

Poster for Putin on the Ritz with Fred  Astaire

Okay, so it was the mid-1970s and I was acting in a play in Indianapolis which is in mid-Indiana. Always looking to pick up some spare change, I auditioned for a commercial slated for local TV. Make that slated for “late-night TV.” Make that “low-budget TV.” Very low budget. The ad was for a local tuxedo rental joint. Let’s call it PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ. All tuxedo rental joints in America are called PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ, or TOP HAT. It’s the law. 

I got the gig coz I was a size 38 regular so any tux off the rack would fit me. And, funnily enough, the ad called for me to wear 38 different tuxedos while reciting the same spiel 38 times and using identical vocal inflections and identical hand gestures.

“Hey, come on down to PUTTIN‘ ON THE RITZ and we’ll put a ritzy tuxedo on you!”

Then thanks to “state of the art” circa-1975 video editing, it appeared that all 38 tuxes changed on my body as if by magic. (Stanley Kubrick eat your heart out!) 

1970s pink tuxedo
Right color, wrong fabric.

Now, mind you, this was the mid-1970s aka the decade style forgot. (Do you remember that unfortunate 1940s fashion revival, or the dreadful Liza Minnelli in Cabaret look? Or, how ‘bout those “street urchin, shoe shine boy” get-ups? What the fuck were people thinking?)  So, true to the fashion zeitgeist, all 38 tuxes were made of crushed velvet. (It gets worse.) Crushed velvet in lime green, shocking pink, powder blue, canary yellow and zebra stripes. (Wait, there’s more.) The cut of the jacket, ruffled shirt and massive bow tie suggested a Mississippi River boat gambler. Sort of Yancey Derringer on a bad day. 

1970s yellow tuxedo jacket
The cut is close but where’s the crushed velvet?
1970s plaid tuxedo jacket
Again, close but no cigar. No crushed velvet either!

The owner of the shop was nervously watching the shoot and the clock. But, I was a fast line-learner and more importantly a fast clothes-changer so he took a liking to me. While adjusting a vomit green jacket on my person, he confided in reverent, hushed tones, “Jackie Boy, this is our most popular cut. We call it the Tony Orlando.”    

album cover for The Best of Tony Orlando & Dawn
From Fred Astaire to Tony Orlando. And, you tell me, over and over and over again, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

Being seen on TV, even just late-night, local TV, made me a local celebrity. All the decrepit old ladies living in the decrepit old apartment building we actors called home treated me like I was a movie star and argued over whether I was more handsome in blushing peach or midnight purple. 

And, the married couples who made up most of our audiences were also ritzy dressers. They favored the matching he/she leisure suits that were then all the rage; matching leisure suits in lime green, shocking pink, powder blue, canary yellow, blushing peach, midnight purple and (yes) zebra stripes. Anytime I had to look directly at the audience, I put on welder’s goggles!

Vintage 1970s ad for leisure suits
The leisure suits came in crushed velvet, too.
Available at J.C. Penney and Sears.

Ahhh, the 1970s in America! Ya had to be there!

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Columbus Confidential

The world's first Wendy's restaurant. (Columbus, Ohio)
Sorry, New York, Paris and London but Columbus got it first!

Columbus. The capital city of Ohio. Home to me while I perform at the spanking new theater in town. And, home to the world’s first Wendy’s restaurant. For the record, I am second-to-none in my admiration for and appreciation of Wendy’s hamburgers. But, I have to bite my lip to keep from laughing when my “Host Family” drives me to the original Wendy’s as if they are Romans taking me to The Pantheon. They enthuse at me, using an “I know you’re not gonna believe this but” tone of voice that this very building, the very first Wendy’s, was opened in 1969! 

Throughout my time in Columbus,three ancient Black women shadow me. Wherever I go, they are there.

Are they unemployed Witches seeking a production of Macbeth?

The three witches in Macbeth
The Weird Sisters of Columbus, Ohio

The three are identical in size, shape and age. And, they dress identically – cloth coats, hats with veils, orthopedic shoes and black handbags. They seem teleported from an undefined time “back there” somewhere – not quite the 1920s or ’30s but rather from “no time” and “all time.” But, definitely a more righteous time. I assume they are Jehovah’s Witnesses making the rounds. But, no. They carry no religious tracts of any kind or creed. I somehow understand that I may not speak to them. And, they never speak to me but only stare in mute judgment. Compassionate but disapproving. 

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: The smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn.
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The West Palm Beach Story

Vintage postcard of West Palm Beach
As if…

1988. West Palm Beach, Florida – a hateful shithole where the theater has imprisoned me and the rest of the cast in a retirement home hi-rise that overlooks the Greyhound Bus station. We are in sub-tropical Florida but our rooms have no air-conditioning. So, to avoid heat prostration, we are forced to keep our windows open and eat bus-exhaust 24/7. Meanwhile, our fellow residents sit staring into space while drooling prune juice down their T-shirts that proclaim “Sexy Grandma” and “Over What Hill?” 

"Sexy Grandma" t-shirt
Minus the prune juice stains

West Palm. Did I mention it’s a hateful shithole populated by hateful rednecks, hateful New York Jews and hateful Haitian junkies? Did I mention the hateful Haitian junkies have AIDS? I’m warned before embarking on a drive across the Everglades not to stop in Belle Glade – the Haitian capital of Florida and the AIDS and felony capital of America.

West Palm Beach is, not to put too fine a point on it, a hateful shithole. And, a hateful shithole drowning in a drug-fueled crime wave. Make that crime tsunami. Muggings and burglaries do abound. So, to protect its vulnerable residents, the retirement home hi-rise hires Rottweiler’s to patrol its halls after 10 PM. One Rottweiler per floor. 

Snarling Rottweiler
Our friendly Security Guard
Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: The smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
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Oklahoma City Looks Oh So Pretty!

Vintage postcard of Oklahoma City
The scene of the attempted seduction

The specialty of the house in Oklahoma’s City’s best diner is brains-and-eggs. (The diner’s original owner had bashed his wife’s brains out with a hammer. Brains-and-eggs had been on the menu prior to the uxoricide in question and there they remained.) But, it seems that only Oklahoma City’s minuscule hipster-community is alive to the irony of this situation – “Hey, let’s get stoned and go for brains-and-eggs.” And, that’s exactly the line I use on Miss Oklahoma. She’d been in the Miss America pageant and we are acting together and she is gorgeous and I want to fuck her. It’s a guy thing. 

Now, here’s my plan. We’ll feast on brains-and-eggs then I’ll feast on her.

Simple. A guy thing. 

A hot, steaming platter of brains and eggs
And, they taste worse than they look!

Miss Oklahoma and I slide into one of the diner’s red Naugahyde booths and order platters of the house special. As we wait, we watch oil wildcatters and cow wranglers chow down at the counter. They are having a hard time keeping their dangling lariats out of their brains-and-eggs. This is when Miss Oklahoma tells me about her husband’s wiener. It is small. Teeny-weeny small. Shame. He is a Tom Selleck look-a-like and a successful doctor. But, a doctor who is playing “hide the teeny-weeny wiener” with his tramp of a nurse. Things are going swimmingly, think I. It’s always a good sign when a woman has a big appetite and her husband has a teeny-weeny wiener. 

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: The smiling face of Steeplechase Park at Coney Island, Brooklyn.
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Nympho at the Wheel

Paperback cover of Nympho Librarian by Les Tucker
She drove a mean stick, too!

It’s the Bicentennial Summer of 1976 and I’m touring Indiana schools in a children’s play. But, this is a kid’s play that adults enjoy because we manage to secrete more double-entendre smut into it than would seem humanly possible. The kids are too busy laughing to catch the jokes that sail over their heads. One outraged teacher threatens to report us to the Indiana Board of Secreted Smut but the rest shake their heads in amused admiration.

“How the hell did you do that?” they giggle. 

“Do what?” we deadpan.

We traverse the highways and byways of the Hoosier State in a dilapidated VW bus driven by our tour manager – a nymphomaniac from the producer’s office in Indianapolis. We don’t know she is a nympho back in Indy. There she is a prim, hair-in-bun, librarian type. But, once Indianapolis disappears in her rear-view mirror, Sweet Bleeding Christ this chick turns savage. She porks her way through the stage-crew and when that fails to slake her libidinous thirst she darn near porks her way across the state – bell hops, soda jerks, grease monkeys, school principals, school janitors, school crossing guards, the Taco Bell Employee of the Month – if it’s in pants, she porks it. The woman is insatiable. One night we have to call the Kokomo fire department to hose her off a motel balcony from which she is dangling naked. Once rescued, she porks the fireman. She is nothing if not resolute. She is nothing if not nuts. We ship her back to Indianapolis packed in ice.  

Paperback cover of The Nymphomaniac by Jeffrey Williams
Pity the poor actors she tormented.
Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: The smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
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