ME AND BERNIE SCHWARTZ – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Those of you who are regular visitors to this site know I like to share stories about my encounters with legendary stars from old Hollywood. The shares come from my working days as a TV news reporter. It was a time before social media when larger-than-life stars could count on privacy and trust reporters. It was also a time when reporters could enjoy socializing with celebrities without the intrusion of internet gawkers. Most of my stories are threaded with little moments enjoyed off camera when the stars could relax and shed their big screen personae.

I’ve held off on sharing this story. As you’ll see, this wasn’t my finest hour professionally or personally, but it was a heck of a lot of fun.

Let’s dial the clock back to the 1980s. I’d wrapped up a regular working day and needed to unwind from a heavy dose of violence. A heavier than usual dose of violence, I thought, as I spent time at the local pub. I needed to unwind before visiting a colleague, a psychologist who doubled as the house shrink for the TV station. To be clear, he was the “Dr. Phil” of his time, fronting pieces on the usual suspects who may have had a mental disease. We, TV folks, were not his subjects. Just to be clear about that.

I was giddy, helped along by the pub’s finest self-medication as I arrived at my colleague’s upscale residence.

As I entered, the air was thick with a pungent smoke. Not my kind of self-medication but compelling. Through the haze I saw the “Doc” and an unexpected guest who was very familiar. I knew I was well-fortified so I wanted to be careful about my behavior. “Doc” greeted me and then introduced his friend. The familiar figure, with his trademark lock of hair falling over his forehead, greeted me before I could say anything.

“Well, hi Geerey, so good to meet ya — I heard a lotta good stuff about ya!” The sharp Bronx, New York accent didn’t jibe with the handsome Hollywood face. I stared harder. “Geerey, I hear you knew Albert DiSalvo. Geez, what a hoot! I did a show about him, ya know.” The Hollywood face was smiling as he continued the conversation and I stared.

My mouth started working with a clever reply. “You, you’re Tony Curtis!” Raucous laughter from “Doc” and the handsome Hollywood face.

“Yeah, Geerey, that’s me. But, hey — I hear you come from Brooklyn. That’s cool, dude, way cool!” I just stared. Handsome Hollywood face kept talking, “Geerey, call me Bernie. That’s my real name. Bernie Schwartz. My friends call me Bernie — not Tony. Geerey, ya know I tink Tony might be a fairy name. Wha-cha tink, dude?” I just kept staring, trying to figure what to say next.

Finally, I blurted, “So, you’re TONY CURTIS!”. More raucous laughter as we sat down. “Doc” and Bernie-Tony resumed enjoying their blunts with obvious pleasure as I nursed a ginger ale. I saw no need to further cloud my thoughts. It was already feeling surreal, I thought.

The conversation continued on Bernie-Tony’s Albert DiSalvo ‘show’ (film). I just nodded, adding my notion it — “The Boston Strangler” – may have been the actor’s finest work. Handsome Hollywood face beamed through the haze. I think we just shared nods for long minutes as the blunts were enjoyed.

Bernie-Tony expressed disappointment that he never really got to know Albert DiSalvo. I just nodded, sharing his disappointment. “Doc” seized the moment, with expansive details about how The Boston Strangler had chosen me as a trusted reporter and a “pal.” I glanced at “Doc,” trying to suggest he back off the DiSalvo stories because they clearly didn’t sit well with the cinema’s Boston Strangler. “Doc” ignored me and continued, telling us how the serial killer had gifted me with a lamp he made in prison. Bernie-Tony flinched at the lamp anecdote. I cut “Doc” off, explaining the lamp was just a curiosity and no big deal. The movie star was still sullen. I stared at “Doc” with obvious disapproval. He grinned.

I darted back to compliments to hopefully lighten the mood. “Hey, Bernie, I enjoyed your work as Ira Hayes in “The Outsider.” You really got into that character. You nailed it. You should be proud of that one”. Bernie-Tony’s petulance dissolved into a smile.

“Yeah, Geerey. I kinda dug deep to find Ira. I even woiked on my diction to get Ira’s voice”.

I nodded. “Bernie, you were excellent. You should’ve gotten more love from the critics”. Bernie-Tony pushed back his trademark forelock and nodded,

“Geerey, I never git any love from them critics. They’re all New York snobs. Probably fairies. Jealous of my action shows.”

I nodded in agreement, adding “Yonda lies da castle of my fodder, de Car-leef.” Unwise and unfair on my part. It was a familiar riff on one of Bernie-Tony’s early shows/films, “The Black Shield Of Falworth,” an exciting, sword-fighting flick designed for pure enjoyment and it delivered, despite some scathing critical reviews.

I noticed the actor’s face and quickly followed, “Hey, I absolutely enjoyed that flick. Sat through it 2 or 3 times at the Carlton Theater in Jamaica. Just 10 cents for kids back in ’54, Bernie. Just 10 cents. What a great time we had and you were so cool as the knight. Way Cool!”

Bernie-Tony was beaming again. “Yeah, me and Janet did that show. I did some of my own stunts, Geerey.” I just smiled and nodded as “Doc” and Bernie-Tony sucked heartily on their blunts.

Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh pose with their children, Kelly 5, and Jamie, 2-1/2 in this Sept. 19,1961 file photo prior to their departure on the SS Argentina for the Argentine where Curtis was to do location filming for the movie “Taras Bulba.” (AP Photo/HO – File)

I didn’t venture into questions about the actor’s highly publicized marriage/divorce to actress Janet Leigh. It would have truly been bush league for me to go there. I could see Bernie-Tony waiting, anticipating the gossip question. No, not going there.

We arrived at that moment when you realize you’ve outstayed your welcome. I realized that “Doc” and Bernie-Tony had “stuff” to discuss in private. We all stood up at the same time. We all were very wobbly. I was aware of my own state and wanted to make a smooth exit.

I nodded to “Doc” and shook hands with “Bernie-Tony” who grinned “Geerey, it’s been real, dude. I’m gonna try and catch one of your TV tings before I leave town. “Doc” showed me one of your weather tings. Man, you got to work hard, huh? Hey, Geerey, do you have a double for that blizzard stuff ya do?” I smiled and nodded a weary negative as I walked through the still thick and bewitching haze.

As I reached the door, I turned for the last time and yelled, “So, you’re TONY CURTIS, eh?” Raucous laughter as I left. I think “Doc” and Bernie-Tony were giggling as I closed the door.



Categories: Anecdote, Celebrities, Garry Armstrong, Hollywood, Movies, News, reporting

Tags: , , , , ,

23 replies

  1. Great story! I met Jerry Lewis on a plane from LA to NYC – what a nasty SOB he was. Similar accent to Bernie as well. I was just a kid but, as my grannie would say, what a potty mouth he had.

    Liked by 1 person

    • JT, thank you. Your Jerry Lewis story is all too familiar. I did a pre-arranged interview with him back in the 80’s. He was guest performing at the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset, Ma. A summer tent venue.

      I arrived with my cameraman and we were set up for the shoot – on time. Lewis waltzed in 10 minutes late in a sullen mood. I could feel the bad vibes immediately but pressed on with a smile. Lewis had a few nasty things to say about doing interviews on a show night. I politely reminded him this was arranged through his agent and a local publicist. Lewis just ignored me like I wasn’t in the room (tent). I guess five minutes went by with this ego nonsense. I was ready to leave when my veteran cameraman struck up a conversation with Lewis who was curious about our equipment. Jerry was into his auteur film director mood. So, I segued into a chat about film directors. Lewis eyed me suspiciously. I mentioned how director Delmer Daves used signature master shots — starting high and wide, panning DOWN and slowly tighter to the actors. I mentioned several DD films using the same technique. Jerry now was staring at me. My cameraman said, “Jerry, why don’t you give the kid a break. He is a good reporter”. I swallowed my anger and smiled. We did the interview and I managed to get Lewis to relax and discuss his directorial philosophy. The interview was successful but not enjoyable.

      Like

  2. Amazing coincidence Garry. I just doing a humor piece for my blog and it featured and image of Curtis from one of my favorite movies The Vikings (1958) He truly was an amazing guy. A fine Actor – both Comedy and Drama – a superb athlete (did a number of Action Movies) – and became a fine Painter who has sold a ton of his work. Won many Acting Awards. Many of his films are very re-watchable.

    Another feather in your sizable sombrero Amigo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the feather.

      Yes, Bernie-Tony was a decent often very good actor. “The Vikings” was a terrific flick, I thought. Well mounted through Kirk Douglas’ BRYNA company. The music was haunting.

      Bernie-Tony was also good in “Sweet Smell of Success” – playing nasty columnist Burt Lancaster’s “go to” guy.

      Like

  3. It’s an interesting story of a Hollywood legend. It must have been exciting to meet him. I understand the DiSalvo movie was highly fictionalized and perhaps not a good topic of conversation with Bernie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rich, you may be right. I didn’t lead the conversation about the film. Curtis was proud of the movie. Locals were less impressed. The DiSalvo manhunt was before my arrival in Boston. I met him when he was doing time at Walpole State Prison now known as “Cedar Junction” to appease Walpole residents who are not thrilled with the prison’s locale.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Most enjoyable.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love, love this story!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great anecdote Garry. Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a great reminiscence.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Marilyn, I delayed telling this story because I didn’t behave very professionally. But, golly, I had so much fun. Bernie-Tony obviously was so relaxed and comfortable with me that he slipped into his Bronx accent. The REAL Bernie Schwartz. The weed and booze helped make it a surreal evening.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Lol class garry, class! I loved reading this! Xoxo ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This is absolutely your best retelling of this story. I’ve heard it in pieces, but I think this is the first time I’ve heard the whole story, end to end. It reminds me of the day we met the Clintons on the Vineyard and all i could think to say was “You’re the President!” I was pretty sure he already knew that.

    Liked by 1 person

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