Have had a very rough few days, being a hypochondriac and all.
For about a month I’ve been suffering left-side headaches, coupled with some recent nausea (just a little; no vomiting). Last night, for the first time in forever, I couldn’t sleep. Head hurt but, mostly, my thoughts were running crazy. I have a brain tumor. I’m going to die. My kids won’t remember their father. They’ll have to visit me in the hospital to say goodbye. Over and over and over—thoughts, thoughts, thoughts. I tried thinking positively; tried using imagery—a lake, a basketball court, my childhood street. Nothing worked. Death, death, demise, demise. Finally I got up, walked downstairs and, around 3:50 am, turned on the TV and watched some Real Sports on HBO. Went back to bed a half hour later … probably got three hours of sleep.
This is not how I want to be, or who I want to be. Even if I do have a tumor … even if I am dying—I don’t want to cower; don’t want to waste my days under the covers, wishing away my inevitable demise. I’ve gone through this drill so many times, and it sickens me. Even worse, it sickens my family. Stress. Annoyance. Whatever.
Anyhow, this is why I have a blog—to vent.
The thing that kills me is this—I’m blessed. Beyond blessed. Amazing family, so much love, living the life I dreamed of; doing the job I absolutely cherish. And yet, this one thing—this one seemingly inescapable thing—haunts me. It’s not death … it’s the hypthetical looming of death. Which, ironically, will cease when I die.
I know I’m a liberal New York Jew, but I just can’t get enough of the latest Rick Perry advertisement. Here, take a look …
It’s not that it’s dreadful—which it is. It’s just, well, so ludicrous. I mean, the premise itself … comparing and contrasting gays in the military with our religious rights being taken away by the Kenyan in the Oval Office. I know this spot aired in Iowa, but in 2011 nothing “just” airs in Iowa. Perry’s campaign is dead, but if he somehow rises again, the Democrats should use this thing over and over. Truth is, most Americans believe gays should serve openly, and most Americans also believe in the divide between church and state.
So when I started the Quaz way long ago, I thought it a good opportunity to interview people who’d normally escape my radar. Sure, I’d throw in some sports figures here and there, but the ultimate goal was to converse with the unique … the different … the extreme.
Enter: Jenny DeMilo.
I’ve been a journalist for 17 years, but never before have I interviewed a professional escort. DeMilo, however, is more than that. She’s also a photographer, a writer (actually, a really, really good one), a Dominatrix and a woman who lacks the much-needed ability to urinate on a person’s head (hey, nobody’s perfect). In other words, she’s the ideal Quaz candidate.
Jenny DeMilo, message board hooker, welcome to the Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN:OK, Jenny, so this is a new one for the Quaz, where the Q&As usually concern sports, music and politics. You’re an escort and professional Dominatrix based out of Washington, D.C. You identify yourself as “a fetish enthusiast” who “can converse on most topics, from the silly to the esoteric. I can make you laugh, I can make you think or I can make you wish you were never born. The choice is yours.” You also write that, “I don’t have a heart of gold but my vagina is lined with diamonds!” So, uh, hmm … to start with—what exactly is your job? Like, what do you do? Where do you do it? And, well, why?
JENNY DEMILO: I’m a sex worker, which is a general term for someone who is in the sex business using his or her physical and emotional labor to turn a buck. Strippers, porn stars, escorts, Dommes, cam girls and phone sex operators fall under the umbrella of sex workers. Specifically I’m a GFE escort and a professional Dominatrix with a niche in erotic femdom hypnosis. I produce my own fetish content with a heavy emphasis on erotic hypnosis recordings that I sell on the tubes both on sites owned by others as well as recently opening my own site where I run the show. I recently relocated to the Washington, D.C. area and I’m still getting my feet wet here, I was working out of Los Angeles. I toured nationally visiting many cities as an escort, yup we go on tour just like rock stars (only no groupies or roadies) and I worked in L.A. out of a commercial dungeon and will do the same here in D.C. for my Domme work. I produce my fetish content out of my house. As to the why? I started my career as a professional dominatrix because I’ve always been fascinated with the fetish world; from there I slid into escorting. When that began to get a little stale for me I went back to Pro Domme work and starting making fetish content which opened up a whole new revenue stream for me, which I’m really enjoying. It’s got to be interesting and fun or I get bored and move on to something else. Oh, and for the money, lets not forget the real reason people get into the sex business … it’s all about the money.
J.P.:I took a run earlier this evening, and I was thinking about this Q&A. Specifically, I was thinking about how I’d feel were my daughter, who’s only 8, to one day become an escort and professional Dominatrix. And, to be honest, I’d be devastated. I’d wonder what I did wrong; how I led her down such a path, etc. I mean this as no disrespect, and I admit there’s much I don’t know. So tell me why I’m wrong to have such feelings—if, indeed, I am wrong?
J.D.: I wouldn’t call you wrong. My family isn’t thrilled with what I do. Admittedly, they don’t really know about the escorting though I believe they suspect. However it’s usually because people don’t know what the escort/sex business is really like. They only know what they see on Lifetime TV movies and what the media likes to represent about sex workers, which is usually inaccurate and sensationalistic. The real profession isn’t like what you see on TV at all. Many sex worker activists are working hard to try to humanize sex workers and sex work itself so that people see us as real humans with regular lives, who do a job. That we’re not all trafficked, drugged-out, streetwalkers with pimps dictating our lives being forced into sex work. That it’s a legitimate career, a needed service, and that we do it by choice not force. Of course escorts have to shoulder some of the blame for misconceptions because we market ourselves as lingerie clad, insatiable, sex kittens always looking for the next pay-for-play roll in the hay, with a healthy portion of we do it because we love sex so much because were nymphos! Plus, we’re professional liars. We create fantasy for a living and to break the fourth wall is rare. Doing so could cut into your money and the bottom line is money. Money is what really makes our panties wet. The reality is escorts are some of the savviest businesswomen I know. They run business as sole propitiators, have distinct business models and work harder then most of the lawyers, doctors and Harvard MBAs that pay me to do it. If you knew the realities of sex work you might not have the same thoughts if one day your daughter came to you and said she was working in the business. But, then again, the stigma of women using their sexuality for anything, let alone to make a living is so strong … maybe you would still feel like you somehow failed.
J.P.:What’s your background? Where are you from and what led you down this career path? How’d you end up doing what you do?
J.D.: Born and raised in Southern California, I’ve lived there all my life until recently moving to Washington. I’m an ex-art director who worked in client side corporate advertising. I went to an expensive, well-respected art school and I have an advanced degree. My specific niche took a big hit years back and I was downsized and that’s when I started flirting with working as a Pro Domme. I dabbled but mainly because I was interested in the fetish world personally. I needed a fast job and answered an ad for what I thought was a phone sex job—“Girls with good voices get paid cash.” It turned out it was answering phones for an escort agency. I was hired on the spot, did that for a while and that’s where I learned what escorting was all about. I eventually branched out, saw a couple of clients, found my comfort level, decided it was something I could do and created “Jenny DeMilo.” I used all my skills from advertising and marketing to create the brand. I found it amusing how the skills I learned in art school, working in advertising, attending client meetings where I had to dazzle CEOs with bullshit, have served me so well as an escort. They translate better then I think anyone could imagine. Over the last couple years I’ve transitioned back into professional domination, this time taking it more seriously and started creating fetish content for sale which is a whole new world for me where I use all my advertising/art skills. Copywriting, creating graphics, marketing, advertising, branding. I enjoy learning how to conquer new things.
J.P.:It strikes me that, sexually speaking, men are much more pathetic and needy than women. In other words, it seems as if we want/need sex a helluva lot more, and will—at times—do anything to secure it. Hence, why there are so few (if any) male hookers walking the street; why strip clubs are 99 percent catered toward men. Do you agree? And why do you think it’s so—or not so?
J.D.: Women don’t pay for sex—they go to the bar and lower their standards. Men however do pay for sex and sexual attention. The simple answer is they are wired differently than women. I see this result and thank god as it’s served me well in making a living. Most men at some point have paid for some kind of sex, lap dances where the goal is for the stripper to get you off while you sit in a char as she grinds all over you, from phone sex operators who will be who ever you want and feed into what ever your fantasy is as long as you are paying by the minute, to actually going out and seeking sex from an escort where you pay for the good, good loving. Men want it, women have it and some of us will sell it. The end. There are male hookers, by the way. Lots. But they service men.
J.P.:Although the pictures aren’t clear, and your face is always obscured in one way or another, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibilities, that one day your career bites you in the ass, no? For example—you decide you want to become, oh, a curator of an art museum, and the boss finds your old website … What I’m asking is, do you worry about the impact this can have on you, long run?
J.D.: I do worry. I do have another career and always have done regular work while doing sex work. I’m a freelance writer, photographer and I still do art work (among other things). However these are the choices I have made and I’m willing to live with them and the consequences of my choices. I highly doubt I will ever need a security clearance but you never know—stranger things have happened. I wanted to do some volunteer work for my congressmen when I was living in L.A. and I love politics in general and often want to get involved but I have to be very careful about that kind of thing. If I’m ever in a position to be outed by media or some zealot it could damage someone’s career just by being associated with me even if my secret life was a secret to them. So it is something I think about and I need to be thoughtful and careful. That being said, I’m at the point where I’m much more open about my life and my choices and I care less and less what people think. I am who I am and if I can deal with it, others will have to as well.
J.P.:I’m fascinated in your career as an escort. It seems like a confusing field—do men expect sex as part of the package? Are they told up front it’s not part of the package? Are you really just getting paid to look pretty and attend an event? And how do you make sure you’re safe and sound and not roaming the streets of Washington with some psycho killer? Oh, and how much do you charge?
J.D.: Men pay me for sex. OK, my website says “time and companionship only”—but that’s a disclaimer because prostitution is illegal. My Domme work is more legal though a lot of that depends on local laws. With Domme work there is no exchange of sex for money, though many Dommes will offer strap-on as a service, which is prostitution. Creating my fetish content is legal and I have no worries about that unless someone decides to go after me for violating obscenity laws which has happened to some people but odds are low as my content is pretty much NC17 and I don’t live in Florida. Safety is always an issue and for in-person meetings I do what’s called “screening.” I basically know who my clients are … that’s the best line of defense. If a client can’t tell me who they are and I can’t verify that information, I cant see them. Simple as that. Also, there’s an amazing network of women in the business who share safety information on dangerous clients and people to avoid. Sadly we are often looked upon as disposable people by law enforcement and as a result we can and are targeted by crazy ass-clowns who think that we have no legal recourse. There are groups like SWOP-LA (Sex Workers Outreach Project—Los Angeles) and others working to change that but it’s an uphill battle.
Rates, they are on my website but the crib notes are $600 an hour.
J.P.:How has the Internet impacted the phone sex/escort business?
J.D.: The Internet has made finding an escort so much easier, it’s moved prostitution from outdoors on the streets or having to know a madam. To indoors at your finger tips. It’s given women the opportunity to be independent businesswomen and have control over their own work and business.
J.P.:What’s the greatest moment of your career? The lowest?
J.D.: In general I don’t have great moments or low ones. Days when I count the cash and it’s staggering makes me happy or everything runs according to plan and my clients were all nice, interesting, respectful men, those are good days. I’ve had a couple of low moments, being assaulted on an outcall early on before I learned really how to stay safe, that was pretty low. I called the cops; you don’t get to do that to me. Many women wouldn’t have, though, which is a terrible shame. Being assaulted should never be accepted as a job requirement. But that’s only happened once and I learned a great deal from it and it didn’t scar me—not like my very first job working at the pizza place where my 50-year-old boss fired me because I wouldn’t fuck him in the freezer. I carry that trauma with me today. All women deal with sexual politics on the job at one point or another. Sad but true.
J.P.:Your AREA OF INTEREST LIST is riveting. You’re OK with ball busting, nipple torture, spitting and human furniture, but not getting pissed on or boxing. I understand the whole piss thing—but, being serious, how do you draw the line?
J.D.: First off, I’d do the pissing! I don’t pee on people because I’m pee shy. I might pee in a cup and pour it over someone’s head but peeing on someone? I just can’t make it happen. I don’t box because I suck at it and I’d get hurt. Too much physical contact for me. I came up with a list of things I’ll do and not do because I’ve checked It out to see how it feels … then I decide if it’s something I can offer or not. Basically, I test drive something. With BDSM or fetish work you also have to have a certain skill level or someone can get hurt. I wont offer something unless I’m sure it’s something I have skill at. The goal might be to cause pain but you never want to cause harm.
J.P.:Are you in an actual relationship? And, if so, how does your partner feel about your work? Do you aspire to one day marry and have kids and live in a nice suburban house by a park? And would you tell your husband and kids about this segment of your life? That’d strike me as an awkward conversation.
J.D.: Yes, I am in a relationship and yes my partner knows all about my sex work. He’s known since I first met him. I will marry him (we have plans) and we recently moved into together hence my move to Washington D.C. You might find it amusing to know I live in a suburban house right by a park! No Lie! Telling him was easy. When I met him I had no idea that we’d end up in love and living together and I would tell people right off the bat maybe to scare them off, I’m not sure. He didn’t scare. Many sex workers are in relationships—in fact most I associate with are. It does take an enlightened man to be involved with a sex worker and honesty is key. The more honest you can be the better for the relationship.
Kids—not for me. I have a dog. That’s hard enough.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JENNY DEMILO
• The best bit of sexual advice you could offer someone: Do what you like and don’t be shy. The key to good sex is enthusiasm. So if you like it you will be better at it. Most men are just happy you want to be there. So be there and be happy to be there. That will go a long, long way.
• The Mets just traded Angel Pagan to San Francisco. Thoughts?: I’ll be honest and admit I had to Google that one. What I know about baseball beyond the basics is, I like to eat hotdogs and drink beer in the sun and it’s fun to sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game in lacy panties in your living room and make a video out of it.
• Three biggest turnoffs: Loud talkers, rude fucks and know-it-all ass hats (Can ya feel the theme?).
• My wife fell for the ol’ mix tape on Date Two. Are you a general supporter of music as a relationship binder?: Music matters! I cinched the deal with my boyfriend because I enticed him with my Billy Zoom story over dinner on our first date. It’s one of the things that binds us for sure. How all new music sucks and back in our day there was real music. Oh, and get off my lawn!
• Have you ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash. If so, what do you recall: I haven’t had a near flight experience but I have had a seizure disorder since I was 11 and I get weird flashes of my life on occasion because my mind plays tricks on me once and a while. Usually it feels like a dream state and I’ll get a flash of the face of a friend no longer with me and then I miss them.
• Celine Dion, Eminem, Tom Brokaw, Joe Biden, P Diddy, Martina Navratilova, Eli Manning. Please rank: Hard list umm … Joe Biden, Martina Navratilova, Eminem, Tom Brokaw, Eli Manning, P Diddy and of course Celine is on the bottom. Even though I’d probably go see her over the top Vegas show if I could find some sucker to go with me.
• Tell us a joke, please: “So a guy walks into a doctor’s office wearing a duck and says can you help me because I have a duck on my head”
• You Tweet a lot of photos of your dog. Explain: My dog is love made out of fur. He’s my constant companion and we both have epilepsy so were bonded. I have a theory about sex workers and their dogs. We have strong attachments to them because we give a lot of ourselves to others and with dogs they love and adore us with out expectations. I also tweet pictures of my boobs but only when I want new followers!
• Your Amazon wish list includes a $2,325 electric guitar. A. How long have you been playing? B. Will someone REALLY buy that for you?: That’s not just a guitar—that’s Gretsch Sparkle Jet, first introduced in 1954! I play badly and have played badly for years. The porn stars get more wish list gifts, but you never know. It could happen. A girl can dream.
Earlier today my hometown newspaper, The Mahopac News, released an article about my upcoming appearance at the Mahopac Public Library. Here’s the link. I was truly flattered—the author did a wonderful job, etc … etc.
Anyone who knows me well knows I have mixed feelings toward Mahopac. I have long resented the close-mindedness I was exposed to—the racism, the anti-Semitism, the general distrust of the outside world. There are a million examples swirling through my mind. One I recall vividly comes from a picnic at my father’s office building. A man we casually knew bemoaned all the “city” people coming to Mahopac. Later on my mother (disgustedly) explained to me that “city” was code for “black.” She wanted me to understand both the thought process, and why it was so terribly wrong.
That said, Mahopac was, in many respects, a wonderful place to grow. The games of night tag in Gary Miller’s back yard. Riding our bikes up Kings Ridge, past Dave Fleming’s house, watching him shoot hoops in his driveway. The walks to Rodak’s for sodas and M&Ms. A general easiness with living; an uncomplicated, peaceful way of life, where the days seemed long and youth—precious youth—spanned forever. Truth be told, while I hate elements of Mahopac, I love Mahopac. I love what it brought me; what it showed me; mostly what it handed me: A blissful childhood.
As the article noted, whenever I visit my parents (who live in the neighboring town) I drive the two miles out of the way to pass my old house. It looks different now—fresh paint, flower beds, new lights. But it’ll always be the place I was raised.
I first watched these two videos yesterday, and laughed and laughed. I was actually sitting at a computer on the campus of Manhattanville College, where I teach journalism. A student saw the book burning and said, “Doesn’t that hurt a little?”
I said No, but—to be honest—it sorta did. Admittedly, the neck-deprived goofball doing the burning made the video much easier to take. Hell, if a dog pisses on the carpet, could the dog really help himself? But it’s still my book … my name … my product.
Think I’m gonna try and line one of these dudes up for a Quaz. Stay tuned.
We live in a strange world, and an even stranger country. Though we love when people succeed, we devote an equal—if not greater—passion to failure. Sure, it’s fun when Tom Cruise stars in Rainman, but it’s even better when he bombs in Knight and Day. Why? Well, I suppose because setbacks help reduce the elite to our level. From afar, we take our sports superstars and cinematic and musical icons as untouchable beacons of light. When they fall short … when they trip, well, they’re back with us. On the ground. Dirty. We dig that. It’s not cool, but we do.
John Herzfeld knows whereof I speak. In 1983, he had the opportunity to direct Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in Two of a Kind—their first partnership since Grease. The film, as you probably know, bombed, and along with the two stars, Herzfeld took much of the heat. Was it solely his fault? Hardly. Just like a magazine, a book, a concert, a CD—films are collaborative efforts. But, to a certain degree, John was attached at the hip to Two of a Kind. It would, inevitably, be his legacy.
Only, it wasn’t. In the ensuing three decades, John has done some absolutely fantastic work, including 2 Days in the Valley, HBO’s Don King: Only in America and the unforgettable TV film, The Ryan White Story. He is an Emmy winner, a former member (well, for an episode) of the Dukes of Hazard cast and the husband of Rebekah Chaney, the actress/director.
Here, John talks Two of a Kind, Ryan White, Don King, Rex Grossman, Sly Stallone and fighting through the kidney stone from hell in the name of cinematic purpose.
John Herzfeld, Quaz away …
JEFF PEARLMAN:Back in 1999, I wrote a story for Sports Illustrated about John Rocker. The piece included a bunch of Rocker’s racist world viewpoints, and sorta blew up. Some 12 years later, I’m still remember, first and foremost, as “the Rocker guy”—and I’m sick of it. You’ve had a wonderful career in TV and movies, yet it’s hard to find an article about your career that doesn’t mention Two of a Kind, your 1983 feature film directorial debut (starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John) that, well, flopped. This obviously happens to a lot of people—folks seem to focus on the setbacks more than the successes. But have you come to terms with it? Does it irk you? And (I’m asking this as someone who honestly liked Two of a Kind,), do you consider it a better piece of work than people give credit for?
JOHN HERZFELD: Have I come to terms with it? You have to. Does it irk me? Yes, because—as I’m sure I’m not the first filmmaker to say it—the final product was very different from the movie I made. My version was much darker and all the heaven scenes were re-shot. In my version God had become fed up with the world and had decided to flood it again. Between the Holocaust, Vietnam War, Elvis dying and other disappointments he decided to end civilization. Only until the angels convinced him to show that man was still inherently good—did he decide to give civilization a second chance. Which, by the way, was the name of the movie—Second Chance. Until it was re-titled.
God was also in the eye of the beholder. When Charles Durning looked at him he was white, when Beartrice Straight looked at him—God was a woman, when Scatman Crothers looked at him he was black and when Castulo Guerra looked at him he was Spanish. In the end the studio felt that this could anger some religious groups and this subplot was expunged. But the original voice of God was done by Orson Welles. What a thrill it was to work with him.
Bottom line, though it put me in movie jail, it’s all part of the journey. I made great friends on that movie—Scatman and I were close until the day he passed away.
J.P.:You grew up in West Orange, N.J. … the son of Henry Herzfeld, a World War II veteran and appliance company owner. So how did this happen? Literally, what was your path from kid to Hollywood?
J.H.: I was an extremely lucky kid. In the second grade I realized I wanted to be in the movie business and I never wavered (except for a brief time from 13-to-14 when I wanted to become a gangster). Throughout all my years at school I had but one goal—to make it in the movies. On weekends I would see eight movies. Back then they had double features and I would see two Friday night, a Saturday matinee, two more Saturday night and two more Sunday. Sometimes I’d cut school in West Orange, take the bus down Newark, see two movies, jump back on the bus, go home—and my mother would never know I didn’t go to school. Movies were my film school.
Here’s how I made my transition: The day after I graduated high school I got on a plane and flew to Los Angeles. I hitchhiked up to the Sunset Strip because that was supposed to be where it was at. When I got out of the car it was like a sign from heaven. A movie was filming. There was a line of extras outside the Whiskey a Go-Go. I hid my little suitcase in the back of the building, went around front and snuck into the line of extras. In the scene they were shooting an actor was chasing a girl out of Whiskey a Go-Go, stopped her and started apologizing. I wormed my way to the front of the line to be right behind the scene. The AD asked me, “Hey kid, do you smoke?” I answered quickly “Me? Of course. I’m a chain smoker.” He said, “You watch him argue with her, light your cigarette, be amused by it and react. Can you do that?” “Absolutely” I said. When he walked away the extra standing next to me enviously said, “You’re not with us. You sneaked in.” This was my big break. I threatened him, “If you bust me, I’ll kill ya!” They did the scene several times and I smoked a few cigarettes and watched. After it was over the AD asked for my voucher cause he was gonna upgrade me to special business. I told him I snuck in. He said “Please don’t tell anybody, just leave.” I asked what was the name of the movie. He said, I thought, High School Graduation. I asked who the star was. He said “Dirt something.” At the end of the summer I went home and told everybody I was in a movie about high school starring Dirt something. The movie came out and there I was on the big screen. The movie was called The Graduate.
J.P.:In a 1996 interview with the MetroWest Jewish News, you said that, after World War II (and, specifically, your father’s part in liberating Dachau”), your dad became a “real fatalist.” What did you mean by that? And how did that impact your life and your world view?
J.H.: Man, you do your homework. My father saw a lot of action in World War II. He actually stayed on after the war for almost two years. And was made the military governor of Bavaria and was in charge of de-Nazifying that section of Germany.
During a firefight in Germany, on their way to Dachau, my father and the Captain of his platoon dove into a foxhole taking cover from enemy fire. A sniper shot my father in the helmet, the bullet ricochet off and killed the captain. He then took charge of the platoon. That moment made him a fatalist.
J.P.:Years ago you visited Auschwitz and called the experience “the most profound day of my entire life.” How so? And, specifically, how did that impact your approach to 2 Days in the Valley?
J.H.: Anyone who has taken a tour of Auschwitz or any of the other camps will tell you that it was a profoundly horrifying experience. It shakes you to the very core of your being. I had never really believed in the, quote-unquote, devil. But when I left there I believed Hitler was the devil. Those camps were the pinnacle of evil.
J.P.:You became known in the 1980s for directing two ABC Afterschool Specials—which were, without question, staples of my youth. In particular, you’re responsible for the 1980 film Stoned, which stars Scott Baio as a kid who became involved in marijuana. You were later given the “Scott Newman Drug Abuse Prevention Award” for the film. I’m wondering a few things: A. Did you enjoy doing the Afterschool programs? B. Marijuana use is sort of a joke in many circles—as in, “Uh, it’s just pot.” Were you a strident anti-marijuana advocate, or was a gig a gig?
J.H.: I had written a love story called Voices which MGM made with Michael Ontkean and Amy Irvin. It was about a singer who falls in love with a deaf girl. A producer named Linda Gottlieb (of Dirty Dancing fame) made me an offer: If you write an after school special, I’ll get you approved to direct it. Which is what I wanted to do—direct. I came up for the idea for Stoned not because I was a “strident anti-marijuana advocate”—remember I’m a child of the sixties—but because I thought it was a good morality tale. I never anticipated it would have the legs it did. It was actually shown, not only after school, but on Sunday night as an one hour dramatic special. And I ended up winning an Emmy for my first directing job. We were nominated for five Emmy’s and I will be forever grateful to Linda Gottlieb who gave me my shot.
J.P.:In 1989 you directedThe Ryan White Story, one of the most profound television movies of the last couple of decades. I sometimes get the feeling that doing a movie isn’t especially impactful or moving. You come in, do your work, film things out of sequence, take lunch breaks, etc. I’m guessing this experience was somewhat different, considering the topic and all. Am I wrong?
J.H.: Making The Ryan White Story was, without a doubt, the most profound filmmaking experience I have ever had in my life. Not just because it was the first movie to deal with AIDS, but because of the personal experience of making this movie. One of which I have never shared.
You must understand the circumstances. Ryan White was 17 and dying of AIDS. When I flew to Kokomo, Indiana to meet with Ryan a script had already been written which he was very unhappy with. This wasn’t just a movie, but this would become his legacy and he looked me in the eye and said “John, I probably won’t be alive when this movie is shown on TV So I really wanna make it right …” I re-wrote the script and went down to North Carolina to film it. The day before I got on the plane, I was driving down Santa Monica Boulevard and got an excruciating pain in my stomach. I was driven to the emergency room and was told I had a kidney stone. But it wasn’t going to pass easily … I told the doctor I was getting on a plane the next day to go to North Carolina to film a movie. He said, “No you’re not.” Bottom line: I couldn’t tell the network because they would have replaced me… I hid the fact that I was slowly passing a kidney stone while we filmed. After takes, I’d walk behind a house and sweat it out in private. The only way I was able to do this was because I was looking at a 17-year-old young man who was looking in the face of death and never blinked. I’d survive a kidney stone, he wouldn’t. Ryan was the most courageous person, kid or adult, I have ever personally met. But most importantly, actually all importantly—Ryan White was proud of the film. He was buried with the clapboard on his chest.
J.P.:Don King: Only in Americawas absolutely fantastic, and scored you an Emmy. I’m curious if you ever heard from Don King, or Don King’s people, or if he ever sent Mike Tyson to try and kill you?
J.H.: The answer is yes. Right after I signed on to do the movie I got a call in my office. My assistant said it was Don King. I picked up the phone. The voice boomed, “John Herzfeld, I heard you were a man of integrity, but obviously you have none!”
“Who is this?” I asked, believing it was a friend playing a joke.
The booming voice continued, “This script is a piece of shit. How would you like it if somebody wrote a movie about you, but never interviewed you? This is HBO’s revenge on me for taking Tyson to Showtime.”
I went to see Don in Vegas. He said, “How much are they paying you? I’ll pay you twice as much to do the real Don King story.” I asked him what parts of the script were untrue. He said the manslaughter charge, which he did time for, was bullshit and he did not bribe Ali. I went on a quest to talk to every person alive, who would speak to me, who was portrayed in that script. It started with me meeting Muhammad Ali in the kitchen of Caesar’s Palace where he was having dinner with Kris Kristofferson. By a stroke of luck, Muhammad Ali’s daughter had loved 2 Days In The Valley and told her Dad to invite me to sit down. I asked Muhammad Ali about the bribe and he didn’t answer me directly but said if I wanted to know about his life—“Ask my good friend, Gene Kilroy.” Gene opened the door to the world of boxing and I spoke to just about everyone portrayed in that movie. Annotating every conversation on tape. The scene where Jeremiah Shabazz delivers $50,000 to Ali in the hospital room was based on my conversation with Jeremiah Shabazz. I spoke to him the day before he died in a Philadelphia hospital room. As for the scene where Don is arrested for stomping a man to death, I tracked down the arresting officer who was now the mayor of Brentwood, Ill. I flew him out and he played himself in the movie. It didn’t matter that he was 20-some years older because he set the scene and set the eyewitness account. I did that with every scene I could … put a lot of the real people in the roles so the truth would be told.
HBO is a great place to make movies not by accident. They even let me put in the line where Don turns to the camera and says “This movie is bullshit, it’s HBO’s revenge on me for taking Tyson to Showtime.” After we won the Emmy and other awards, Ving told me that Don called him to tell him how much he enjoyed his performance. Ving was brilliant.
J.P.:Greatest moment in your work? Lowest moment?
J.H.: Winning the DGA award for Don King: Only In America was definitely a high point. Holding my award and standing next to James Cameron for Titanic was pretty cool.
Lowest moment? I think I’ve answered that.
J.P.:It seems as if your world/work is one of much surface bullshit. Everyone loves your work … everyone thinks you’ll be just perfect for this part—then they ignore you or, behind your back, shit all over your stuff. Am I right? And how have you survived so long in such an environment?
J.H.: I don’t think the entertainment business is anymore cutthroat than any other. It’s just more public. Your successes and failures are exhibited on a broad canvas.
My father was in the maintenance business, floor waxing and window washing. He had a company down in Newark. He had a shot at the big time … Made a bid on a project that would have changed his life. But the Mafia threatened him—a couple of goons visited me at school—and my father never got that shot. The movie business ain’t nothing compared to the real world. ’ve been in this business a long time—and it’s a phenomenal business. You don’t need a diploma to make it, you don’t need to know somebody … all you need is talent and a break. And I have always believed that talent is like a bubble under water. It will rise to the surface and eventually pop. I am very lucky to be working in Hollywood and every day I’m on the set I’m grateful.
J.P.:In 2009 you directedInferno: The Making Of The Expendablesfor your pal, Sylvester Stallone. It’s one thing to have, oh, The Making of The Godfather or The Making of Forrest Gump. But, uh … The Expendables?
J.H.: First of all, have you seen it, Jeff? (Writer’s note: No, but now I will) I think it really shows Sly’s struggle to mount this movie. It’s a real backstage look at him fighting for his comeback. Originally it was gonna be a documentary about Sly … I’ve know him since I’m 18 and there is about another 60 or 70 hours of film. At one point we discussed making it a series. I documented the entire process from his first meeting with Mickey Rourke (who wanted to recite an Edgar Allen Poe poem in Expendables) to all the actors who came and went during casting, the myriad of script revisions, the plethora of problems that plagued the production in Brazil and New Orleans and the multitude of injuries Stallone suffered during production. The original doc was also filled with Sly reminiscing about his other movies from Rambo, when Kirk Douglas was in it to the ones that went straight to video. Because of my long and complicated relationship with Sly—when you know somebody that long and have grown up together, through thick and thin—there’s a lot of compelling insights one can provide. If he is up for it, I’d love one day to release a director’s cut. I know people have heard this before, but Sly is much more than meets the eye. He’s razor sharp, extremely funny, and I know this may sound bizarre, but the man I know is actually scholarly. Did you know his favorite movie is The Lion In Winter? He can recite the dialogue from beginning to end.
• Mitt Romney approaches you with $5 million and the opportunity to direct, Mitt: American Legend. Do you take it?: He’s not a legend yet.
• Have you ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, please tell …: Yes. In a hellacious storm descending into Berlin, on my way to punch out a piece of the Berlin wall as it was falling.
I am a hypochondriac who, every few months, finds a new reason to think he’s dying.
I’ve found a new reason.
Left side, sorta dull, but have had them every day for several weeks. The problem with being a hypochondriac with a long history is you know you’re a hypochondriac with a long history. So you become mental, either ignoring the pain because, hey, you’re a hypo or paying excessive attention to the pain because, hey, you’re a hypo. I go through the following thought process:
“It’s a tumor.”
“It’s not a tumor, you’re a hypo.”
“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you. It’s a tumor.”
“Uhg, remember the time you swore you had a tumor?”
“Well, what ever happened?”
“That was different.”
“Well, this time it’s real.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Yes, it is.”
“It’s not a tumor. It’s headaches. Lots of people have them. You’re stressed. You don’t sleep enough. You …”
Well, I’ve got one last Chicago event left—Wednesday evening alongside the great Rick Telander. Here are the details:
Jeff Pearlman will discuss his book, “Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton,” at 7:30 p.m. at KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation, 1100 E. Hyde Park Boulevard. The event is free and open to the public.
Back when I was a kid, I was a militant Jew. Really, I was—especially come December.
I grew up in a town, Mahopac, N.Y., where, oh, 90 percent of the residents were Catholic, and Christmas was the unofficial official town holiday. All students at Lakeview Elementary School were required to partake in the “holiday” concert—which really was eight-to-10 Christmas songs, many of which included references and odes to Jesus and Mary and the like. In the name of fairness, they’d usually toss in one for the Jewbies—”Chanukah, Chanukah, Festival of Lights” or something of that ilk.
Inevitably, I’d complain, bark, howl, ask out and demand equality. “There are two holidays!” I’d whine. “We deserve recognition, too.”
Of course, I was ignored.
Some three decades later, I look back and laugh. More than that, I cringe. What the hell was I so militant about? Why would any Jew want Christmas and Chanukah to be treated as equals?
Truth: Christmas is the birth of Jesus, Chanukah is the festival of lights. Enormous, enormous different in magnitude. Truth: Christmas has long been celebrated with gifts, Chanukah has sorta long been celebrated with gifts … because of its proximity to Christmas. Truth: Christmas is a greed-infested, commercialized pile of crap, damned by the XBox and PlayStation and need to have, have, have, have, have at all costs, until WE ALL DIE IN A FLAMING POOL OF DEATH AND WATCH THE SKIN MELT FROM OUR BONES AS SATAN LAUGHS ALL THE WAY TO THE BANK!!!!! (Deep breath). Truth: Chanukah is almost there, too.
It really is. Nowadays, when Jews fight for Chanukah equality I ask, “Why? Why would you want our cute little holiday to become … that?” At its base, the holiday is Christmas is a beautiful thing—the honoring of a savior who walked with the poor and the sinners and the infirmed; the honoring of a savior who had no material needs and who would, I’m guessing, cringe at the ornate lavishness of many modern buildings constructed (oddly) to honor him. But the base vanished long ago. Today, Christmas is the lining up at midnight outside a Walmart, then charging in at 12:01, trampling prone bodies en route. Today, Christmas is a commercial for Coca-Cola which, while warm and fuzzy on the surface (oh, Mommy, a polar bear drinking a soda alongside a snowman!), was actually produced last May in a gray-walled studio in Los Angeles by the marketing firm of Greed & Greedbag, Inc.). Today, Christmas is as Christian as a Ryan Braun homer to right; as a Malcolm X speech; as a pile of my dog’s excrement. It’s lost its meaning … its purpose … its soul.
So, my fellow Jews, stop whining about Chanukah not being Christmas.
Just a reminder—sorry—that I’m coming to Chicago for events this Monday and Wednesday. Here are the details …
Nov. 28: Jeff Pearlman will discuss and sign “Sweetness,” 7 p.m. at
Anderson’s Bookshop, 123 W. Jefferson Ave., Naperville.
Nov. 30: Jeff Pearlman will discuss his book, “Sweetness: The
Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton,” at 7:30 p.m. at KAM Isaiah Israel
Congregation, 1100 E. Hyde Park Boulevard. The event is free and open
to the public.