Tony and Me….Speaking of Movie Doubles !

| March 30, 2011 | Comments (0)


The flurry of news over Elizabeth Taylor’s  recent death produced a number of interesting articles. My favorite piece  detailed the wonders of Liz’s favorite watering hole, a gay bar in West Hollywood that she frequented on a weekly basis until shortly before she passed. She would arrive in a wheelchair with her  dog Daisy and consume her favorite libations which included shots of tequila and those  cocktails she was so fond of with the “little umbrellas” she always demanded.

There was another article that caught my attention describing a woman who played Taylor’s double in a number of films. Interestingly, I found almost no resemblance between said lady and the famous actress. Whatever… I only mention this item to introduce my own story about a double who was down on his luck.

I worked in midtown Manhattan for many years at the glass Tower of Babel known as the United Nations. Actually I didn’t work in THE glass palace that housed the UN Secretariat, but in one of the satellite offices that sprouted up in the adjacent Turtle Bay neighborhood. My office was in a non-descript structure on 45th Street next to a Subway sandwich shop.

Midday, I would stroll Second Avenue looking for new, exciting places to lunch. The stretch of blocks  from East 45th to East 50th was nice enough, not super-upscale, but not nitty-gritty a la Port Authority and affordable for non-expense account budgets like mine. A respectable neighborhood on the rise.  Which was why I was suprised one day on my post-prandial stroll back to the office to encounter a most aggressive and threatening panhandler.

Not only was he menacing, he was also as filthy as  a beggar could get and very loud. Seeing him half a block ahead,  I did what New Yorkers do to avoid such creatures. I went into my tunnel vision mode and cut a wide swath of sidewalk as far from this hobo from hell as I could without walking onto the traffic-choked street.

But the Terrible Tramp would have none of it. He had spotted me and for some reason made me his target. As I quickened my gait and held my breath in hopes of eluding the  “eau de trash” he exuded, I suddenly found his face in mine.

Breathing out  the halitosis of a Komodo dragon in heat, he screamed at me, “I F–KED Tony Curtis!” I  stood transfixed in disgust and fascination. To punctuate his screed, he grabbed my lapels and repeated his chant, “I F–KED Tony Curtis !!”

As I fled his presence knocking over an old lady in my haste to rid myself of this hound from hell, I thought to myself: this claim is so over the top and outrageous that it must be true. People don’t just make up things like that!

It was my kismet to meet the Hound from Hell every time I sallied forth for lunch. And each time  he dove through the crowds for ME and never differed in his crazed pitch about Tony Curtis. One day he seemed less drug-addled and filthy and  we slipped into conversation. Under the scruff, I realized that he was a very handsome man. I  gave him $5 and he suddenly burst into song with a 1950s  hit parade ballad – I think he sang “Hey There” from Pajama Game – dazzling me with a clear melodious tenor voice.

After his song, the moment was right for me to ask him the inevitable: Did you REALLY F–K Tony Curtis? What was THAT all about ? His reply surprised me, but didn’t. He told me that he worked with Curtis on the film “Some Like It Hot” as Curtis’s double and that he did indeed perform the big nasty with Tony. I looked at Terrible Tramp again and his resemblance to Curtis was uncanny. I asked him what happened to his Hollywood career. He shrugged ruefully, giving me a crooked smile as he uttered the word : “drugs.”

My post-lunch strolls turned into a sociable routine that always included “IFTC” (I F–ked Tony Curtis). He seemed to have cleaned up his act and always had a tuneful ballad ready for me and the fin I would place in his hand.

Then my work took me overseas for an extended period. In 1990, I was sent to Iraq after the first Iraq War on a mission that looked at how neighboring Arab countries might cooperate with Iraq in joint development efforts. We were optimistic about the program we had envisaged for these societies on the brink of a hopeful take-off.  Unfortunately that brief interlude of peace was broken by the long Iraq-Iran War and later the tragically mis-conceived Second Iraq War.

When I got back to New York and my routine, I returned to Second Avenue  for my lunches and strolls, hoping to encounter IFTC. I hoped we could have longer conversations and maybe something interesting would emerge like a life story that I could write about  which  would bring us fame and fortune. I was ready to dump the UN and hit the big time !

But IFTC had disappeared. The Avenue was quiet. I berated myself for never having asked his name or which shelter he was living in. Life is like that…come and go.

But I consoled myself with the thought that for a few months I had made a friend – an outrageous, refreshing character – who had given me surcease from the boring, pompous confabs in windowless UN meeting rooms that was to be my fate for a few more years !

Long live Tony and his nameless stand-in!

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