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CRIME ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Death Comes Out

It always starts with a phone call. This one comes on election night from a detective in Chelsea’s 10th Precinct. Some gay man got knifed to death in the early morning hours in his West 21st Street apartment. His roommate was knifed too, but managed to escape. The room­mate’s in the intensive care unit at St. Vincent’s. It seems they had picked up two guys at a gay bar and gone home and smoked. One of the pickups pulled a gun and said, “Lay on the floor, face down, you motherfuckers.” A bloody battle ensued. Could I come to headquarters and dis­cuss the case? They’d fill me in on details.

At 7 p.m. I’m at the precinct. Under an Etan Patz Missing poster, one of those bulky Irish detectives, the kind Edmund O’Brien played in ’50s movies, asks if I’d visit the local bars with them. They want to distribute “feeler” notices, which begin “There was a homicide and fel. assault of two (2) gay members of our community.” What the cops know so far is the pickup look place at a new semileather bar on Eighth Avenue, the Rawhide, half a block from the victim’s apartment and just around the corner from the precinct. At 11 p.m. the night before, George Alvarez, 32, went to the Rawhide, drank, played pin­ball, and struck up a conversation with two young men who claimed to be visitors from out of town. They needed a place to stay the night. There was no reason for George to doubt their story; they appeared clean-cut and well-mannered. Besides, George thought the shorter of the two was real hot. He suggested they adjourn to the Pike where he was suppsed to meet his roommate.

At the Spike on West Street, George’s roommate, Jay Utterback, 35, played pin­ball with the taller man while George and the short one drank and talked. About 2:30, the quartet headed for George and Jay’s four-room fourth-floor apartment. Grass came out. Sex was discussed. The out-of-towners insisted that they all bed together or they wouldn’t bed at all. George and Jay decided they didn’t want it that way; they suddenly wanted to call the whole thing off. The guests, however, refused to leave. They continued smoking grass in the living room.

At 3:30, the taller man went to the john. When he came out, he waved a pistol and ordered his hosts to fall to the floor. Neither realized the gun was a toy. What followed happened so quickly there was no time to know whether robbery was the motive. In a spontaneous flash of bravery, George jumped up. He pounced at the shorter of the two, who slashed at him with a knife. George struggled to the door. He ran down the stairs — his assailant behind him, cutting him several times — and finally out into the street. Dressed only in slacks, shoeless and shirtless, he ran to the Rawhide, where he collapsed. “Get to my apartment,” he muttered. “My roommate is still there.”

When the cops arrived at 231 West 21st Street, they found Jay Utterback in the hallway outside the apartment. He had been stabbed six times: in his face, head, body. Jay wasn’t as lucky as George. He was dead.

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Early election night. Shifts are about to switch at the Rawhide. The day bartender is counting his change. The three detec­tives working the case seem as indigenous to the bar as Rollerena would be at the Policeman’s Ball. They stride in, politely place their conspicuous frames in an in­ conspicuous corner, and decline drinks. One of them pulls out photos of Alvarez and Utterback.

“This one seems familiar,” offers the bartender, pointing at the shot of Alvarez, “except his mustache and beard is gone.”

“Was he here last night?”

“I told the detectives who were here last night everything.”

At the Spike, one of the co-owners is somewhat friendlier. Although there may have been 80 to 85 people at his bar last night, he thinks he’d have noticed anyone unusual. Unusual at the Spike is under 30 and attractive — and not sporting leather.

“We showed The Great Catherine last night,” the co-owner said, “but the movie was over by 12:30. Look, I wasn’t really working. I was a customer. Bruce, Tony, and Ed were on. But this one’s face, I recognize.”

The co-owner says sure, he’ll tack up the notice of the killing, and he’ll keep his ears open.

“Can you tell me your full name and age so I can fill in this form?” asks a cop.

“About 40.”

“You don’t know your age?”

“42.”

To play it safe, the cops pull the same routine at the Eagle’s Nest and the Glory Hole. In each spot, the managers are veritable pussycats, offering every ounce of cooperation they can muster. The Glory Hole guy does a spot check of his member­ship list. It is too early in the evening to view that unique pleasure concept in oper­ation — there are many things you can do with a hole in the wall — but the officers are fascinated by the layout. They manage to convey, however, that they’re not here to do moral numbers. They just want the facts, ma’am. In turn, there is a “thank Jesus, it’s not me” sigh of relief from the dockstrip personnel, along with an in­satiable curiosity about details, especially sexual details. To them, the names are different, but it’s a variation on an old theme, and they’ll do anything they can to help.

Riding in the back of a police car, you become aware that murder can be ev­eryday work, like selling shoes or styling hair. For the cops, this day is unique only because it’s election day. The radio is turned up. Carter has won two states. Reagan’s winning everything else.

We drop off one of the detectives at the precinct and drive toward the Alvarez­-Utterback block. Across the street from their house, we enter a building where each bell is rung and each tenant grilled. “No, we didn’t hear anything,” is the refrain repeated in each apartment except one, where the melody goes, “It’s so noisy all the time, I don’t know whether I did or didn’t.” What’s unusual about Chelsea is that the neighborhood doesn’t change from block to block, it changes from build­ing to building. We head toward London Terrace to check out a separate case. Somebody’s penthouse apartment he’s been burglar­ized for the 12th time in 11 months. “We thought you’d get o kick out of this one,” says the driver. “This guy has had a Doberman Pinscher, barbed wire, you name it, and they still break in.”

When we get there, the color television, one of the few pieces of furniture left, is blazing and the middle-aged robbery victim is packing his clothes, declaring, “I’ve had it. I’m selling what’s left. I’m getting out.” He and the detectives are on a first­-name basis, and they discuss just how the perpetrator entered — as they have many times before. “If I had the money, I’d put up a fuckin’ execution fence, so that they’d touch it and die,” says the pen­thouse dweller. “Ssh,” says his friend from in front of the TV. “I think Carter’s con­ceding.”

Everything stops. We move close to the television and watch Carter give his speech. “History in the making,” says a cop. “I can’t believe it’s happening,” says the penthouse dweller.

“What? Reagan?” asks the cop.

“No. My fuckin’ robbery.”

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News of murder spreads faster than hanky codes in New York gay circles. It doesn’t matter that the papers didn’t re­port the Chelsea murders. All week, the phone rings.

“This killing is just part of a pattern,” says Jay Watkins of the Chelsea Gay As­sociation. The group installed a Violence Hot Line five months ago. In the past two months, they’ve averaged 10 calls a week. Most incidents involve ripoffs, beatings, or rape done with knives, pistols, pipes, baseball bats, or beer bottles. People work­ing with the organization often return to the scene of the crime with the victim and will act as a conduit between victim and police.

With the gentrification of Chelsea came trouble. Gay witchhunts abound, especial­ly in the area around the Ninth Avenue housing projects. There have been un­provoked attacks on gay males by bands of white teenagers, with robbery almost an afterthought.

Since 1977, Chelsea Gay Association has been meeting with the 10th Precinct to discuss community relations, but the meetings became less frequent and stopped altogether several months ago. As a result of the Utterback killing, they’ll start up again on a biweekly basis in December.

Another call at 3 a.m., from a stranger who seems drunk and wants to know ev­erything I know about the murder because he knew Jay. He finishes by saying he voted for Carter; he feels there’ll be an increase in violence toward gays with Reagan in office.

Yet another call, from an employee of Time-Life who lives in the building next to George and Jay’s. At 3:45 a.m. on election day he was awakened by shouts for help from the street. By the time he got to the window, he could see someone running and gripping himself around the waist. The runner looked as if he had been either cut or shot.

The neighbor went downstairs. In the entranceway of the building next door he saw blood all over the walls and floors. The super told him he had seen a man in a white T-shirt running toward Seventh Av­enue. (The doorman at the corner building of Seventh and 21st also saw the man. Later, a T-shirt with blood stains was found on the street. It’s been sent to the police lab for tests.)

Nick Yanni, host of Tomorrow’s Tele­vision Tonight on cable, calls, too. Jay Utterback was his announcer and floor manager. On the night of his murder, Jay had appeared on the show for a brief moment along with special guests Dina Merrill, Doug Ireland, Bob Weiner, and Quentin Crisp. Jay went directly from the show to the Spike.

“Jay was a smart and steady person,” reports Yanni, “certainly not flaky. He brought guests in and out, signaled cues, announced station breaks.

“His friend George had been to the TV studio twice. I never could warm up to him. None of the people from our show who knew George liked him. They seemed incongruous as a couple. They weren’t from the same background or culture. George struck me as a hot-headed individ­ual.”

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St. Vincent’s Hospital. So easy to get in. All you do is tell the receptionist you want a pass. The cops should be protecting George. The only protection on the fourth· noor is a bevy of night nurses, armed with thermometers.

George isn’t in his room. He’s slouched in a chair in the corridor, wearing a blue nightgown. One arm is in a board-sling, and his complexion is sallow. He volun­teers to show me his wounds. I graciously decline. There are six stab wounds in all, the most serious in his stomach, the deepest in his arm. His stomach wound is infected, and he’s afraid he may have to stay in the hospital another week.

Can George remember the names of the men he met election eve?

“Every time you meet people, they give you names,” he replies. “I wasn’t worried about them. I thought they were lovers. They weren’t dressed crazy either, like in leather or cowboy hats. The little one wore a white shirt with a black design and ordinary slacks. He wore a chain around his neck with an astrological sign. I don’t know what sign. What I remember most were his eyes. They were light brown, almost yellow, like cats’. I’ll never forget his eyes.”

George and Jay had been lovers for six years. They met in Puerto Rico, and George came to New York to live with Jay. The first two years were great but the sexual magic lessened in the third. They came to an arrangement. Every so often, each would have his night out. Sometimes they’d bring home a third party, and once before they’d brought home a third and a fourth. No big deal; if it happened, it happened.

George is a social worker. He earns very little. Apart from his sister, he has no family in New York. He’s petrified about going back to the apartment while the killers are on the loose. But he can’t afford another place. And he doesn’t know any­one who’ll take him in.

During the visit, George shows no par­ticular emotion when Jay’s name comes up. If there are tears to be shed they’re shed privately. If there is guilt to be faced, it won’t be with a visitor. The signs of regret are invisible.

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Propriety is the prevailing emotion at the memorial service for Jay Utterback at the Ethical Culture Center on Central Park West. Most of the guests are Show­time TV employees, bright, white, straight young men and women who knew the straight face of Jay — a face so well main­tained that they didn’t bother to look for another.

Some of them speak at the podium. They reminisce about his enthusiasm, his laughter. They tell how “shocked and angered” they are by his death, how they are “still too numb to feel the loss.” They ask, “Why did this happen? How did it happen? There is no rational ex­planation.” They bow their heads and pray.

A pianist plays “Tomorrow” and the bright young men and women touch each other’s arms, smile wistfully, and say, “Jay would have wanted it this way.” They leave the center and head toward the RT. One of them, Debbie Copeland, joins me for coffee at the YMHA cafeteria.

“I’ve been so depressed,” she whispers. “Jay was my friend. I attended his funeral in Bellvernon, Pennsylvania. It’s real Deer Hunter country.”

“Jay went to public school there, then Ohio State University. He was a lieuten­ant in Okinawa. He operated a disco, I think, in Puerto Rico. That’s where he met George.

“I wouldn’t say that Jay and George were lovers. I don’t know what I’d call them. Roommates? That’s the term Jay used. Jay chose discretion. He was a real ladies’ man.”

Ladies’ man?

“Well, he was dapper and dressed im­peccably. Socially, he had inner grace.”

Was Debbie in love with him?

“Everyone loved Jay as a friend. Noth­ing more. Nothing physical. I think inside we all knew about his relationship with George. George would go to company parties. Jay would introduce him by name: ‘This is my friend,’ he’d say, or ‘This is my roommate.’ We’d never whis­per anything behind his back. It’s im­polite. Everyone at Showtime loved him too much to embarrass him.”

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Back at the precinct, November 10. Detective Michael Churchill, who’s been working exclusively on the case, reports some progress.

On October 26, a Rutherford, New Jersey man met two strangers at Boot Hill,, gay bar at Amsterdam and 75th. They said they were from out of town and needed, place to stay for the night. He drove them back to New Jersey, where they smoked and drank until one of them excused himself to go to the bathroom. When he came out, he brandished a gun and snarled, “This is a robbery. We’re not joking. Lay down on that bed.” The second man had a hunting knife.

They proceeded to tie up their victim with telephone cord and neckties. Then they cleaned him out completely.

They took inconsequential items like salt and pepper shakers, thermal underwear, socks, the light from a fish tank, and a pair of Adidas sneakers, as well as an overcoat, suits, cameras, a Clairol hair. dryer, a Panasonic tape recorder, and a Sears color TV. Everything was piled into the victim’s 1980 black Toyota, New Jer­sey license plate 844-LXE, in which they made their getaway.

Later the victim described his attackers to the police.

The little one called himself Tony. He was white, between 18 and 23, five foot five, 115 to 120 pounds. His hair was black, complexion light, eyes almost yellow, lips sensuously thick, nose too small for the rest of his face. He had the face of a little girl.

The bigger one was called Michael. He was about five foot ten, 150 pounds, 20 to 25 years of age, sported a little mustache, looked Italian. Both had New York ac­cents.

They fit the description of Jay Ut­terback’s murderers.

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Early Thursday morning, November 20. The phone rings. It’s Chuck Ortleb, publisher of Christopher Street. A mad­man opened fire at the patrons of the Ramrod, he says. One man dead. Another dying. Several more in the hospital.

God, they could be people I know. We all hang out there.

It could have been me.

That night, Chuck and I meet at Sher­idan Square. We’ve met there many times before to march with love on Gay Pride Day and with anger each time our civil rights bill is defeated. Tonight we meet in sadness.

The Chelsea Gay Association is there. The Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights. But most of us—  about 1000 in all — are individuals who have heard the news, heard it too many times before, but never so blatant and violent as this time. The gunman, Ronald Crumpley, has told po­lice the reason for his shooting spree: “I just don’t like faggots.”

We hold lighted candles and march west on Christopher. The mood is somber. A man beats slowly on a drum. “Gay life isn’t cheap,” yells a marcher. The cry is picked up. “Gay life isn’t cheap.” Until it’s a roar.

We pass Ty’s. “Out of the bars and into the streets.” We stop at Trilogy. Patrons leave their drinks and join the procession.

Near West Street, we see a long trail of blood on the pavement — a vivid reminder of the massacre. A sign at Badlands says the bar is closed to honor the dead. We reach the Ramrod. The street is cordoned off. Dozens of bunches of daisies — blue, white, and yellow — are clustered in front of a window splattered with bullet holes the size of oranges. Mourners place their candles on the doorstep.

A man makes a speech. “There are now two dead,” he says, “and we can’t go on with life as usual when our brothers have been murdered … We have elected to office the new moral majority who preach bigotry. Things won’t get better: it’s going to get worse.”

The speaker asks for two minutes’ silent prayer.

And then the shout erupts again. “Gay life isn’t cheap.” Louder. Fists in the air. “Gay life isn’t cheap.”

At the Chelsea precinct the search for Jay Utterback’s killers goes on. ❖

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SETTING IT STRAIGHT

The evening after the Ramrod killings, Edward Thulman, a 21-year-old self-described hustler, showed up at the Post declaring he had been Ronald Crumpley’s lover. Thulman claimed the massacre took place because he wouldn’t go out with Crumley anymore — “He had gotten too crazy.” Their liaison, he said, had taken place at a fleabag hotel on Eighth  at 48th Street during a six-month period. The Post quoted Lieutenant John Yuknes, chief detective on the case: “We have no reason to believe Thulman’s not telling the truth. His story appears to stand up.” Reached by phone before press time, Yuknes insisted that the Post used only half his statement. “I told them we had no reason to believe that Thulman’s telling the truth either. Nothing has popped up yet to connect these two guys.”

Yuknes asked Thulman why he went to the Post before going to the police.

“Because they’d pay me.” Thulman said the Post paid him $100.

When told of the accusation, Steve Dunleavy, managing editor at the Post said that aside from $20 which the Post paid for taxis, no money was given Edward Thulman.

Jiog Wentz, doorman at the Ramrod, and Vernon Kroenig, organist at St. Joseph’s Church, were killed in the spray of bullets which hit the Ramrod. Richard Huff, Rene Matute, and Tom Ron are in fair condition at St. Vincent’s Hospital. Olaf Gravesen is in satisfactory condition at St. Vincent’s.

A fund is being started to aid the sur­vivors of the shootings. Contributions may c§ be sent to The November 19th Fund, care of Washington Square Methodist Church, 135 West 48th Street, New York, NY 0 10012. Approximately 1000 people at­tended a memorial service at the church.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

John Lennon, 1940-1980

In 1971, I wrote something about John and Yoko that they liked a lot, and to show their appreciation they invited me and my girlfriend Dominique to John’s 31st birthday party — in Syracuse, where a Yoko Ono retrospective had been mounted. I’ve never been one to hobnob with the stars, but who could resist John Lennon? He’d always been my own personal Beatle, and probably yours. He was the one who could have been a friend of ours, the one we might have known in school or on the scene — the bohemian, the artist, the intellectual. Still, even after the party jet and the room down the hall from ex-Beatle security, I was reluctant to intrude. But this was the only famous person Dominique had ever wanted to meet in her life, and she wasn’t about to let the chance slip by. Eventually we got to the Lennon suite, where J&Y watched themselves on the news and signed 26 autographs for Dominique’s fifth-grade class. Among those present was Ringo Starr, grumpy because he’d called room service an hour before and there was still no food.

“Did you tell them who you were?” Lennon asked.

It should go without saying that Ringo hadn’t.

“Well, why not?” Lennon asked. “You’ve got the fucking fame — you might as well get something out of it.”

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A few weeks later the J&Y entourage picked me up on Avenue B, where the limo attracted more attention than the star–one of the local youngsters thought I was the Beatle, while another didn’t know what a Beatle was. After sitting around awkwardly in my dingy living room for a few minutes we repaired to the Cookery for discussions of Chuck Berry’s jail years and celebrity as a depletable resource — John wondered whether he should lay low for a while. He seemed astonishingly quick and intense — partly, no doubt, because he was. But it’s also true that unprotected by professional obligation I found myself starstruck, and I remember the meeting, our last, with some embarrassment — even as we analyzed how finite his fame was the man radiated an energy that befuddled me, just by being John.

More than most pop stars, Lennon tried to do good with his fame, but that doesn’t mean he had much success. By the time I’d met him there’d been bed-ins and the beginnings of war-is-over-if-you-want-it, so mystically well-meaning that they cost him almost nothing and accomplished little more. But less than a year later he squandered his resources on the ill-fated agitprop of Some Time in New York City — the most politically ambitious and artistically impoverished music he ever recorded. After that came the traumatic separation from Yoko and the half-hearted professional rock, a vocation for which this compulsively honest and necessarily direct artist showed little taste. In the end he chose — bravely and wisely — to lay low, to keep silent until he had something to say. Reunited with Yoko, finally a father again, he retreated into domestic pursuits, and when the couple returned to the studio after five years it was their pursuit of mutual retreat that they celebrated. One astute observer said Lennon seemed “infantilized,” which is true, but while the record was no Imagine or Plastic Ono Band, I found its candor irrefutable. Lennon had always seemed like someone who might make good new rock and roll when he was 60 — and I was 58. Nothing about Double Fantasy damaged that fantasy for me.

Well, the dream is over. Lennon’s death was unprecedented. This tragic superstar wasn’t another chronic suicide; he wasn’t killed, or even murdered. He was assassinated, a fate heretofore reserved for kings, politicians, and captains of industry. Yet as I sit here alternating between my records and WNEW’s all-night vigil, I must admit that my feeling of loss is qualified by a false sense of inevitability. We’ve been expecting this to happen, haven’t we, ever since Phil Ochs wrote “Crucifixion” and various assholes (the acid freak who introduced me to the Doors was one) began imagining Bob Dylan’s martyrdom?

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As I began writing it bothered me that I wouldn’t know much about the alleged killer, Mark David Chapman, until after deadline. Then I decided that whether the putative motive was ambulatory anomie or personal ressentiment or even twisted politics, the underlying pathology would be the same — the anonymous eating the famous like a cannibal feasting on testicles. But that’s too simple. As my wife said despondently an hour after the event: “Why is it always Bobby Kennedy or John Lennon? Why isn’t it Richard Nixon or Paul McCartney?” The fact is obvious enough. Dylan, of course. Jim Morrison, possibly. Neil Young, conceivably. But Paul McCartney? Neil Diamond? Graham Nash? George Harrison? Ringo Starr? Never — because they don’t hold out hope, even if they’d sort of like to be able to. John Lennon held out hope. He imagined, and however quietistic he became he never lost that utopian identification. But when you hold out hope, people get real disappointed if you can’t deliver. You’re famous and they’re not — that’s the crux of your relationship. You command the power they crave — the power to make one’s identity felt in the world, to be known. No matter that the only thing you’re sure it’s good for is room service. No matter that you’re even further from resolving anyone’s perplexities than the next bohemian, artist, or intellectual. You’re denying your most desperate admirers the release they need, and a certain percentage of them will resent or hate you for it. From there, it only takes one to kill.

Of course, many more of your fans will be like Dominique — enthralled, yet basically self-possessed. And they’ll mourn. ❖

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From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Security THE FRONT ARCHIVES

New York’s Whitest

Keeping the Melting Pot on the Back Burner 

Last month New York City agreed to add 126 blacks, 167 Hispanics, and one Asian, along with 306 whites, to its ap­proximately 30,000-member police force. For the first time, minority police appoint­ments reflected New York’s ethnic re­alities — and the principle that all are equal in as well as under the law.

There is a general impression that we have Mayor Koch to thank for that: for his graceful yieldling, despite his high if con­tradictory principles, to a federal court­-ordered hiring quota for cops; yielding, that is, for the year or more it will take him to appeal it. As the reason for his good losership, Koch cited our urgent need for more cops to prevent imminent bloodshed, Miami-style.

But this was the very same reason he gave federal Judge Robert L. Carter back in December when Koch insisted the city couldn’t change its hiring policy for cops. No matter that Judge Carter had found (not for the first time) that this policy was discriminatory and therefore illegal.

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It was this attitude on the part of the city that led to the quota in the first place — and to Judge Carter’s charge that the city not only discriminated against its racial minorities, but did so deliberately.

Carter based his conclusion on court records stretching back over nearly a dec­ade of litigation, in an uphill and contin­uing struggle by the city’s black and His­panic cops to reconcile the letter and the spirit of anti-discrimination law.

The record shows:

  • The city’s Police Department and its Personnel Department knew as far back as 1969 that exams discriminated by race;
  • They knew by 1971 that such dis­crimination had nothing to do with the requirements of the job or ability to perform it;
  • Individual officials unable to act on that knowledge invited and encouraged the ongoing lawsuit by the minority cops,­ back in 1972;
  • Nonetheless the city chose to fight the case, and even now claims it has never discriminated against minority cops;
  • Throughout the course of subsequent litigation, the city continued to test and hire and fire without making any substantial changes in the system.

A decade later, minorities, now nearly half the city’s population, were still only 10 per cent of a police force whose most pressing task is to combat a rise in crime that is polarizing communities along ra­cial lines. Yet Koch in 1980 continues to fight an affirmative-action quota for blacks and Hispanics — a quota he en­dorsed two years ago for policewomen and, more recently, for city construction contractors from poverty neighborhoods. As if affirmative action was not a right but an act of charity.

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Carter’s view that the city dis­criminated with intent — not intent to do wrong, but intent not to do right — pre­vailed (along with his one-in-three quota) for seven months, from January of this year until last July. At that time, federal appellate Judge Jon Newman decided the city hadn’t erred on purpose, though it had erred, and the quota (reduced to one-­in-four) would stay in force.

Newman’s revision was hailed by the Koch administration as a “vindication,” and by the media as a breath of sanity and common sense (as though the perception of injustice were de facto a neurosis). Such a view of events and of Koch, who as mayor must take the rap not only for his own actions but for that of the city as a continuous entity, says a great deal about this moment in the recent history of Amer­ican civil rights.

Forget the editorial rejoicing over the arrival of our long-awaited troops; forget the staged spectacle of mayoral blessing upon the union of black and white in uniform; forget our (false) sense of satis­faction at a problem finally solved.

Look at the record and remember that this is supposedly an enlightened era, and we are supposedly an enlightened city. And then remember what is supposed to happen to people who forget history.

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•••

In 1967, following a wave of racial violence, the federal Kerner Commission began looking at the low numbers of blacks and Hispanics in police departments across the country. Cities began to respond to the problem. In 1968, minority appointments to the New York City Police Department almost doubled: by 1970, when a job freeze halted all hirings, some 1400 minority officers had been hired, or 18.4 per cent of all appointments to the force between 1968 and 1970. And still the 29,500 member police department was, as the department itself observed, 90.8 per cent “lily white.”

This problem did not go unnoticed by the Lindsay administration. In August 1969, the city Department of Personnel released its two-year study of a previous civil service exam for the entry level posi­tion of patrolman.Comparing test-takers of similar employment, education, and family background, Personnel found that only “the ethnic factor” — race — affected exam scores. That finding prompted the department to investigate its most recent exams. The results would not be ready for four years, but eventually they and other studies supported the 1969 speculation of the personnel department: that greater numbers of blacks and Hispanics could have made perfectly fine cops but never got past the front door “because of below passing test grades which may have been unrelated to actual job performance.” (My emphasis.)

With this speculation, the anonymous drafters of the personnel study unwittingly hit upon the crux of a matter that still confuses many people — who ask, some­times pointedly, exactly how something “neutral” like a civil service test does discriminate racially.

The answer is not simply that we don’t know, but — as the personnel investigators foresaw — that it doesn’t matter just how racial bias is “built in” to an exam if the exam itself is irrelevant to the job.

This is the conclusion the U. S. Supreme Court reached in a landmark 1971 decision. In Griggs v. Duke Power Co., the court ruled that if minorities can prove a seemingly “neutral” job requirement or test has a racial bias, then that job re­quirement or test is illegal unless the em­ployer, in turn, can prove it is “job-related.”

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Proof that a test is biased is a straight-forward matter of statistics. Evidence that it is “job-related” (or that the employer genuinely tried to make it so) is more complex. But at minimum the employer is expected to be able to describe in simple English exactly what the job is (the writ­ten job analysis). And obviously, a positive relationship between an employ­ee’s test score and his or her on-the-job­performance would be helpful to the de­fendant-employer.

No such relationship was discovered when, in the fall of 1971, the personnel bureau within the police department re­leased its own study. Minority patrolmen, it noted, were promoted to detective slots a — promotion based on job performance­ — at a higher rate than their white col­leagues. Yet when it came to promotions of equal rank that required civil service ex­ams, minority patrolmen did poorly. In short, there clearly was no connection be­tween a minority cop’s on-the-job performance and the civil service test for promotion. Here was a strong suggestion that this would hold true for the hiring tests as well, which ought to have alerted top brass to the need for a written job analysis.

But as of March 3, 1972, Peter Smith Ring, special assistant to the commanding officer of the personnel bureau, was forced to warn the police commissioner:

There appears to be general agreement that existing testing, and our own past recruitment efforts, are the major roadblocks to adequate minority rep­resentation … I have deep reserva­tions about both efforts as they presently stand … it is impossible to develop a new test until we undertake a job analysis for the rank of pa­trolmen … To the best of my knowledge this is not being done … we have little time to lose.

In fact, the department had no time at, all. On that same day, black and Hispanic officers represented by the Guardian As­sociation and the Hispanic Society sued the city.

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•••

The Guardians’ case did not catch its defendants, the city’s police and personnel departments, unawares. Behind the scenes, high-level city officials had not only acknowledged (if only to each other) that the department’s practices were dis­criminatory; they had already tried, and failed, to correct the problem.

The day the Guardians brought suit, the police department’s legal division delivered the fruits of its research on “the possibility that a significant legal trend may be developing” of anti-discrimination challenges to police departments.

The report, circulated in draft form before its official release, contrasted cur­rent laws with all the department knew of its recruitment and promotion practices and concluded they “are vulnerable to litigation charging discrimination. This Department and the Department of Personnel will be hard pressed to show job-relatedness … Such a suit … will have a good chance of success.”

The department did more than antici­pate the suit — it invited it. In 1971, an informal committee began meeting, com­posed of Police Commissioner Patrick Murphy, Deputy Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward, representatives of Mayor John Lindsay, and Personnel Director Harry Bonstein. Ward later testified to “an agreement pretty much all around the table, that something was wrong with our testing process … All parties agreed to that except Harry Bronstein. He was clear­ly opposed to changing the system.”

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Director Bronstein had been kicked up­stairs to his desk from a key spot in Lindsay’s budget burea, where he was know in that inflationary era as “The Abominable No-Man”. Says a former Lindsay administrator: “Bronstein was bright, he could have done anything, but he was a Depression baby. He wound up in civil service because that’s all there was.” In his official capacity, Bronstein appeared to his colleagues to be acting out of personal spite.

Whatever the reasons for it, Bronstein’s resistance was not overruled by the mayor.

Ward, Murphy, and representatives of the mayor met again, Ward said under oath, “and it was pretty much the con­clusion of the people then in that room that the problem was with the Depart­ment of Personnel … A strategy was then designed and devised to deal with the problem …” That strategy, as Ward testified, was to approach the NAACP. He said police and personnel were aware “that I had spoken to the NAACP Legal Defe1;1se Fund and asked them to bring an action both against the Department of Personnel and the Police …”

Today Ward is Koch’s commissioner of corrections. Through a spokesman, he says he may not comment, “but he stands on his testimony.” The staff attorney from the NAACP with whom Ward spoke, Eliz­abeth DuBois Bartholet, now of Harvard Law School, confirms it. The NAACP worked with the pro bond law firm that handled the suit; the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund was later brought in as well.

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•••

But instead of using the suit to force the desired change in its policy, the ad­ministration chose to fight it. The enormous contrast between the city’s private actions and its public posture may be explained in part by Lindsay’s presidential ambitions, and by the rules of the game of politics: a public admission of racial guilt by city leaders, at a time when race relations were especially volatile and when moreover the police department was already under fire following the Knapp Commissions’s exposure of another kind of police corruption, would have predictably unpleasant consequences for the Lindsay administration. If any consideration other than this obvious political one entered into the city’s turnabout, today — eight years later — the matter is still under wraps. Jay Kriegel, who in 1972 was Lindsay’s liaison to the police department, claims total memory loss on this issue and is unwilling to have his memory jogged.

The Guardians challenged the use of seven exams given between 1968 and 1970 (the date of the last exam before the hiring freeze took effect), including the ones the city knew were discriminatory. Yet the first step of the city’s defense was to ask for still another study. Since the hiring lid was on, the Guardians agreed to postpone trial while this study, by the Rand In­stitute, was undertaken.

But before the results were in (they would, again, confirm the Guardians’ posi­tion) the lid was lifted, and the city­ — using familiar threats of civil unrest­ — proceeded swiftly to hire according to eligibility lists based on scores from the challenged exams.

The Guardians tried to halt the hirings, but the court waited so long before re­sponding that the issue became moot; then, for that reason, it denied their injunction request.

The lawsuit, however, had forced the city to hire all those applicants who’d passed the challenged exams, including the low-scoring minorities who would oth­erwise have been bypassed by the holding of a new exam. Thus both the Guardians and the lame duck Lindsay adminis­tration were content for the moment to leave matters in legal limbo.

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But then the Beame administration began and with it, the fiscal crisis: Despite expressions of concerns from city Human Rights Commissioner Eleanor Holmes Norton and from Mayor Abe Beame himself about the effect of civil service “separation policies” upon the last-hired minority workers, in 1975 22 per cent of all Hispanic cops and 18 per cent of all back ones were let go, compared to only 9.8 per cent of the white force.

Uncertainty in the press about whether more cops would be fired or rehired made it urgent for the Guardians to halt further job actions and seek adjusted seniority for those minorities hired later than they would have been but for poor scores on the biased exams. The Guardians renewed their case in 1976.

At the trial that year, the city insisted the exams were valid, job-related ones, although it was still unable to produce a written job analysis. It also tried to poke holes in the by now overwhelming mass of statistical evidence (much of it collected by the city itself) of discrimination — in short, to deny the facts.

Finally, in its ugliest move, the city argued that it had never discriminated because Title VII, the part of the Civil Rights Act that bans job discrimination, didn’t apply to cities until March 1972 (just three weeks after the Guardians’ suit was first filed). Since all the recent hirings and layoffs were based on exams given before 1972, the city claimed they weren’t discriminatory.

This reasoning, set side by side with the evidence above that the city knew long before 1972 that it was discriminating due to race, was rejected by Judge Carter — ­first in March 1977 and again in February 1979 (Carter was required by the appellate court to reconsider in light of a then-recent Supreme Court decision that appeared to lend weight to the city’s argument).

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At this point, enter Mayor Koch.

Faced with Carter’s reaffirmation that the 1968-70 exams were biased and that the city was wrong to use them, Koch could have decided to drop the line he’d inherited from Beame and move to settle with the Guardians in good faith. He was not dealing, after all, with the kind of “radical,” “revolutionary” black politi­cians he claims to abhor, but with a group of hard-working, dues-paying family men who wished for nothing more than the means to be among those middle-class, law-abiding citizens Koch considers his constituency.

Koch chose instead to apeal. He lost that appeal before Appellate Judge Thom­as Meskill, in a decision that was totally ignored by the press, last July 25. The city is appealing and this time so are the Guardians, because Judge Meskill has re­duced by about 700 the number of minor­ity officers who could receive retroactive seniority in, compensation for the city’s actions.

Koch had had another opportunity to turn over a new leaf in the fall of 1978 when, true to his campaign pledge to hire more cops, his administration made plans for a new patrolman’s eligibility exam, from which 4000 officers were to be hired over the course of his administration. Yet Koch failed to ensure that the lessons of the past were respected. Though changes were made in the test-preparation process, they seem to have been executed in a spirit of indifference to its impact on the lives of real people — and with a carelessness that could only be from stupidity or arrogance.

The facts support at minimum the Guardians’ claim that the new exam was biased. Of those who passed the exam, held in June 1979, 15.4 per cent were minorities, though they formed at least 30.9 per cent of all test-takers; in contrast 66.6 per cent were white, though whites were only 53.8 per cent of the total. (A number of applicants declined to identify themselves by race.) The statistical dis­parity, the courts agree, is too great to be by chance.

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The Guardians filed their complaint last October. But in November, the month of the trial, the city went ahead and hired using the contested exam. Of the 415 ap­pointees, all but 45 were white. And even as Judge Carter mulled over his decision, the city announced a second group to be hired in January 1980: of a total of 380, only 38 would be minority officers.

The city’s expressed determination to use the challenged exam even after Carter personally informed its lawyers in Decem­ber that in his forthcoming opinion he would declare it illegal, forced Carter to issue his written opinion just hours after the last hearing on the case. Very likely the city’s uncooperative attitude, right down to the wire, helped settle any linger­ing doubts Judge Carter may have had about its good intentions.

Intentions were not legally at issue. The city hadn’t been charged with deliberate discrimination, because that — like rape before the corroboration law was repealed — is almost impossible to prove. But the question of good faith creeps in the back door when one must assess the credibility of a witness on matters of great complexi­ty; and Carter, unlike the Appellate court, has been dealing with the city on this issue for years.

His ruling, on January 11, found “that Examination No. 8155 was designed either with a deliberate intention to discriminate against blacks and Hispanics or with reck­less disregard of whether the test would have that effect.” And he ordered the hiring quota.

Of course, as we know, the city ap­pealed. Judge Newman of the federal ap­peals court was inclined to give the city the benefit of the doubt in matters of faith, but when it came to matters of fact he could only conclude the exam was illegal. He modified, but nonetheless upheld, the hiring quota.

Without that so-called “drastic” reme­dy, the number of black and Hispanic cops in New York City — after a decade of of­ficial affirmative action and litigation — ­would still be only 10 per cent.

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•••

Why?

At each stage of these events, the mayor — Lindsay, Beame, and finally Koch — had two options: to make peace; or to accept the legalisms that propped up the city’s resistance, along with the prac­tical obstacles that he would otherwise have to struggle to overcome.

Like Lindsay, like Beame, Koch chose the latter course. Since he has bought it, Koch now must defend — along with the present — the past.

Why didn’t the city buck the civil ser­vice system? “Put yourself in the position of the police commissioner,” says one of Koch’s attorneys who is handling the case. “In the back of his mind are 29,500 white police officers, breathing down his neck.”

Why didn’t — why doesn’t — the city of­fer a settlement? “Where were we going to get the money for that? Do you have any idea how much that retroactive seniority would cost? There’s backpay, there’s pen­sion contributions … We can’t even total it up; we’ve tried.”

Yes, money is tight. Yes, the PBA, to which, in bitter irony, the minority officers must pay dues, has filed briefs against the Guardians in this case. (The PBA has also successfully fought efforts to bring quali­fied minority youths into the department under an internship program.)

But these aren’t reasons for the city’s stand, they’re excuses. The city lays the blame for the status quo on the status quo, a tautology that becomes more suspect when we look at what other cities have accomplished. Detroit, for one, has a vol­untary affirmative action quota for its police, one it was willing to go to bat for when white cops attacked it in court.

So have Tampa, Seattle, and Sacra­mento County. Closer to home, Syracuse, when its voluntary plan came under at­tack, worked out a settlement with the state Civil Service Commission; there is no reason why New York City could not do likewise. The long list of local govern­ments that have reached settlements in the past year rather than fight suits brought by the U. S. Justice Department (a “friend of the court” on behalf of the Guardians in this case) includes Cincin­nati, Fort Lauderdale, and the Ohio State Police.

[related_posts post_id_1=”717345″ /]

And New York, of course, is willing to promise hiring quotas to its policewomen. The consent agreement between the de­partment and the Policewomen’s Endow­ment Association in April 1978 pledges the department “will in good faith use its best efforts to have women comprise 10 per cent of the entry level police officer positions within five years of the date of this agree­ment. To achieve this goal the Police De­partment will use its best efforts to have women comprise a minimum of 30 per cent of the officers hired to the Police Department during the aforesaid five-year peri­od.”

Finally, only one explanation for the city’s intransigence remains. When I pressed Koch’s attorneys to explain why the city didn’t just bow to the inevitability of justice, they said — as Koch has said, in different words, before them — “But we haven’t done anything wrong.”

“You know, I used to be glad whenever I saw a black cop,” a friend of mine said not long ago, “and I used to think it was because I was so unbiased, because it confirmed my political beliefs.

“Then I realized that wasn’t it at all. I was happy to see a black man in uniform because that meant he was one less I had to worry about.”

I heard these words with a jolt of self­-recognition. My friend and I are white, we think of ourselves as decent and progressive. But there is more than one variety of racism.

So it is, speculates one of his adminis­trators, with Ed Koch. The mayor seems to see himself as he likes to see himself: he knows he means well. Trust him. And meanwhile, like the rest of us, he is trav­eling the path of least resistance, and we know where that leads — not despite, but because of “good intentions.” ❖

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

The Rolling Stones Cruise on Eighth Street

I was talking to a friend of mine one night a couple of years ago, after ten thousand varyingly voluntary rehearings of Some Girls had convinced us it wasn’t so bad after all, that in fact we really actually liked it: “Do you think the Stones should break up now while they’re tem­porarily ahead,” I asked, “or play it out to the very end?”

“Oh, no!” he fairly cackled. “l think they should stay together till they all drop dead, a little more pathetic and decrepit each time, out there grinding away at the same Chuck Berry licks when they’re 60 years old!”

Go ahead and laugh, but they’re proba­bly going to do exactly that, and after panning just about everything they re­leased in the ’70s I’ve had a change of heart. You tell me whether it has something to do with turning 30 and all that, but what I said to another friend the other night in a similar conversation was, “Shit, yeah, let’s all grow old with the Rolling Stories, I can think of worse things.”

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Every time they released an album last decade we went through the same process: expectation, the exhilaration of hyping ourselves up, mainlining hope, then the crashing, crushing disappointment when we first heard each of the damn things, followed by the weeks or months in which we accommodated ourselves to and sooner or later usually fell in love with them. In that very process there was an existential drama being played out, for them and for us, that made them in a way far more interesting and even crucial than they’d been in their ’60s prime. And just how great were a lot of those ’60s albums any­way? Putting aside Satanic Majesties, which I always loved myself, people tend to forget that Aftermath was almost all the same song in a way, and that if you clipped off the framing anthems and the first cut on side two of each, Beggars Banquet (a bit cut and dried to my taste from the beginning) and Let It Bleed were effectively the same album, in terms cf sequencing, song styles, subject matter, etc. I think “100 Years Ago” from the dreaded Goat’s Head Soup (a severely underrated album whose love songs and general lushness made it the logical black­-and-white successor to Exile) is a far more interesting tune both musically and thematically than (take your pick) “Cool, Calm, Collected,” “Who’s Been Sleeping Here?” or “Something Happened to Me Yesterday.”

As individual peaks the magnitude of, say, “Let’s Spend the Night Together” grew fewer and farther between, the peril both we and the Stones believed them to be in rendered them more the auteurs than ever. Where once they’d been so good in a field of many great groups and most of their songs were about fucking and 1001 Ways to Snub a Broad, now they clung onto the insistence that they still were The World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band, and more and more of their songs were about the difficulty of remaining that while growing up/old, maybe even the point­lessness of rock ‘n’ roll itself in the 1001 new contexts of dread the ’70s offered us. So in a way, in their decline, they mattered more than ever, especially since ev­erything else seemed to be declining with them.

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Now, I’m not sure exactly when this stopped being true — whether it was Black and Blue, Some Girls or Emotional Rescue that was their first Long Awaited Major Release that was also just a piece of good old-fashioned product, but I do know that with this new album it’s come all the way home for me. I just couldn’t get that worked up in anticipation of it. Probably because of that, I found myself liking it almost iminediately. With the exception of Keith’s song, “All About You,” it has absolutely no Existential Significance, is in fact a real nice fun summer album, kinda light and fluffy and playful. The Stones don’t matter any more, at least in the way rock critics are always talking about how this or that artist “matters,” and if they feel this themselves — and I think, whenever they started to, they do now — then it’s probably that both the Stones and that portion of their audience who even -bother to think about these things are breathing one huge sigh of re­lief.

See, because they really have got this stuff down to a science, yet they’re still having fun with it, they haven’t gone em­barrassingly cold and dead like, say, the Post-Whos Next Who. Before I ever heard it, people were talking to me about Emo­tional Rescue in terms of “Well, the first song’s ‘Miss You,’ they got a ‘Respectable’ right after that, there’s a ‘Beast of Burden’ in there somewhere too … ” But that’s missing the point. Which is that, like Chuck Berry, the Stones may have stopped progressing, but in a way what that means is that they can always be counted on for a good solid ride or at least a little fun. Unlike Chuck, they still write decent songs even if they’re not about anything special. Hell, the Stones were never all that progressive to begin with. And all of this is why l believe now that they still will be not only around but making good records (the stage, well … ) for plenty more years yet. They’re cruising.

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The fact that they’ve become old reliables makes it easy to pick out the weak points on any new Stones album, but not that easy to find anything particularly new or significant to say about some of the best songs they’re corning up with now, things like ”Summer Romance,” “Let Me Go”, and “She’s So Cold.” It’s all stuff you’ve heard a million times before but it still feels good and that’s all there is to it. Shit, the best songs on the album are “Dance” and “Down in the Hole,” respec­tively a near-jam with almost no lyrics and a standard blues. Nobody looking for any kind of “relevance” is gonna settle for things like “Indian Girl’s” reference to Angola, and really tile only bit of the old gritty, “real” Stones on the album is Keith’s song, which is genuinely nasty — he even throws you a curve ball at the end (“How come I’m still in love with you?”), like Jagger’s beautiful cascade “liar liar liar”s at the end of Goat’s Head Soup’s “Winter.” Some people think there are more gay references than usual on this album, and “Where the Boys Go” is in­teresting (if that’s what it’s really about) in that the flipside or the really down and dirty stuff like “Cocksucker Blues,” “Memo From Turner” and “When the Whip Comes Down” in the Stones’ con­cept of homosexuality was this kind of smarmy leering· ,offhandedness which basically reminded you of that guy in Tropic of Cancer who said he’d given up women because it was “less annoying” to masturbate.

The glaringly weak spots are, as usual, Jagger’s attempts at (non-blues) ethnici­ty, and there are more of them here than ever. The Stones should give up trying to do reggae forever, though once you get used to the fact that it’s absolutely nothing, “Send It to Me” is an inoffensive little number that doesn’t hold up the flow of the side particularly (and I suppose “alien” refers to the movie, oh well). Just like the compassion in “Indian Girl” comes off fake as Mick’s accent at first, but you force yourself not to notice how fake it is and pretty soon the song sounds fine and you’re not even embarrassed by the way he sings “Mr. Gringo” or that he says it at all. As for the title cut, most say Bee Gees but I say let him have Curtis Mayfield even though he sounds sorta ridiculous. Can there be anybody in the world who actual­ly thinks that rap about “I’ll be your knight in shining armor … on a fine Arab charger” is sexy? I mean it doesn’t matter, it’s okay that it isn’t, I’m just wondering if anybody’s fooled. And does Mick care, or is it just a goof for him too? Because if it is, then he’s healthier than we thought, healthy as he and all of them sound, and if you think the idea of the Rolling Stones being nothing more than a goof is depress­ing you oughta consider the relative-hide­ousness of possible alternative scenarios, like say Bob Dylan. Me, I’m looking for­ward to all the Stones· future albums for the same reason a friend of mine dug “Everything’s Turning to Gold!”: “I like it because it’s just really garbagey.” ■

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES From The Archives Uncategorized

Film in Focus: Cruising Into Confusion

CRUISING. Directed by William Friedkin. Screenplay by Friedkin, based on the novel by Gerald Walker. Produced by Jerry Weintraub. Released by United Artists. 

The controversy over Cruising seems to be drifting toward an anticlimax now that the finished movie is available for inspec­tion. My sympathy, as always, tends to be with the filmmaker against the censor, however well-intentioned the latter may be. I think that it is hard enough making a good movie without having a lot of people screaming at you from the side­lines. On the other hand, I cannot deny that much, if not most, filmmaking is superficially exploitational in its depiction of sex and violence. So what? Most people in every field, including my own, are in it at least partly for the money. Consequent­ly, I have no illusions that William Friedkin, Jerry Weintraub, Gerald Walk­er, and Al Pacino undertook this project to feed the starving people of Cambodia. Whether any or all of these individuals are homophobic to any extent I cannot say. Much of the initial controversy seems to have been fueled by what A is supposed to have said at a seminar staged by B, and attended by C.

Some years ago, William Friedkin directed Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band on the screen, and I thought that his direction was reasonably sympathetic. Certain gay activists have attacked the play and the film for finally enshrouding the characters in gloom, morbidity, and self-pity. But if gloom, morbidity, and self-pity in the face of approaching middle age make Friedkin and Crowley antigay, then all of Chekhov’s plays can be at­tacked for being antistraight. It is in the nature of modern characters to be misera­ble at the slightest provocation.

One of the problems from the beginning may have been that the “story” of Cruis­ing was being told from the outside. Gerald Walker’s novel completely lacks either any confessional self-implication or any philosophical overview. The plot is developed almost entirely from the point of view of two characters: (a) John Lynch, an unmarried rookie cop recruited to act as a homosexual decoy to trap a homophobic murderer, and (b) Stuart Richards, the homophobic murderer. Ex­cept for a short prologue and some short plot-catching-up entries from Police Cap­tain Edelson’s Notebook, the novel is divided alternately in chapters headed “John Lynch” and “Stuart Richards.”

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Walker’s novel is in many ways much more gruesome than the movie. Richards not only murders his victims with a long knife but mutilates and dismembers them afterwards. There are a great many phallic references to the knife, and to its symbolic function in the Freudian notion of mater­nal castration. Walker makes a great deal of the fact that Richards murders people of his own physical and facial type, and that Lynch turns out to be a dead ringer for him. In his spare time, Richards is working vaguely on a graduate thesis on Rodgers and Hammerstein at Columbia. His pa­rents have been painfully and traumatically separated since he was a child, and they still bug him, his mother with smothering solicitude, and his father with strangling stinginess. Richards is a discerning movie buff, and two of his favorite movies are Stranger on a Train and The Third Man, both discussed extensive­ly within Richards’s sick mind or their “double” or “Doppelgänger” themes. Walker never mentions Psycho, but there is obviously a great deal of Norman and Mrs. Bates in the Stuart Richards character.

One incongruity in the Richards char­acter in the novel, however, is the frequen­cy and intensity of his heterosexual ac­tivities. Between murders he makes out with women like mad as if he were trying to exorcise some dreaded homosexual temptation. By contrast, the Lynch char­acter seems completely asexual. There is never the slightest intimation of a woman in his life, past or present, and even during his army days he did not indulge in any off-base pick-ups. Indeed, we gradually learn that he used to hang around an off-­post gay bar, and went in for a little gay-­bashing after hours. From a narrative point of view we are thus placed in the hands and minds of two confirmed homophobes, one (Lynch) of the Archie Bunker variety, and one (Richards) completely crackers.

New York’s gay milieu, and for that matter, New York itself, has never seemed so vile, sordid, dispiriting, and degrading. One can almost smell the piss in the doorways, the massive body odors on the steamy city streets. One can feel also the boiling feelings of loneliness, failure, me­diocrity, disgust, and raging self-hatred. What one cannot feel is the author’s in­volvement in this hellish scene. The book is written and structured in a singularly disengaged form. There is not even the sociological hypothesis that kept Judith Rossner’s Looking for Mr. Goodbar limp­ing along to its preordained denouement. All that keeps Cruising together as a book is a gory stew of Freudian nightmares, films noirs, and gay guignol.

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The movie has made many drastic changes from the novel. The Richards character has been considerably reduced in size and scope, and the plot tilted from suspense to mystery. Furthermore, he has been transformed from a womanizing homophobe to black-leather hard trade. (Walker’s novel never touches on the kind of s&m scene that exists today.) Richard Cox is very effective in the role, such as it is, but he bears not the slightest re­semblance to Al Pacino as the rookie cop, now named Steve Burns rather than John Lynch. Pacino is now the one with the steady girlfriend, and he is seen banging away at the slightest opportunity. As in the book, the Pacino/Burns character makes friends with a gay playwright, but the plot payoffs are much vaguer in the film. In the novel the rookie cop kills another decoy by mistake, and then mutilates the body to make it look like the work of the homophobic murderer. Stuart Richards then goes berserk in a steam bath and knifes half a dozen male patrons before being killed in self-defense. The gay playwright is then found murdered and mutilated after having oral intercourse, and the horror resumes presumably with a decoy turned Doppelgänger.

Not only does the second decoy disap­pear in the film version; the book’s men­tion of 10 decoys on the case is omitted as well. For all we know, Pacino is the only decoy on the case, and this seems some­what grotesque on a screen across which potential suspects parade by the dozens. In the book Lynch was carefully instructed not to go “all the way” on his heavy dates. With Pacino it is never made clear just how deeply he is becoming involved. The ending is therefore completely muddled in that one cannot be sure that the Pacino decoy has or has not become the murderous Doppelgänger for the Cox/Richards culprit.

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Confusion, however, does not necessar­ily constitute evidence of homophobia. Whereas the novel can be criticized for being facile and unedifying, the movie’s major flaws are dullness and disorganiza­tion. Both Walker and Friedkin seem trapped within a genre in whose logical certitudes they can no longer believe. Hence, a pseudo-realistic open-endedness in both works undermines the mystique of detection and the faith in just and swift punishment. If anything, the movie is even more cynical and despairing than the novel in displaying the omnipresence of evil and corruption. And the police come off even worse than the leather boys in their treatment of street gays. From a political viewpoint, there is in neither the book nor the movie any moral standard against which to compare any lifestyle. The movie can be charged with sensation­alizing the milieu to the extent that it implies some of the victims “are asking for it” with their provocative costumes and overly aggressive come-ons.

In a strange way a project like Cruising seems regressive in terms of what was being done on the subject a decade ago with movies like Midnight Cowboy, Sun­day, Bloody Sunday, and even Fortune and Men’s Eyes. It is as if a less sophisti­cated audience had emerged in the in­terim.

Page 11 of 12.

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FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Ballad of Tom Hill

A Doorman’s Tale

Doormen, once the staid, uniformed liverymen for the affluent, have become unarmed sentries on the battleground of the Upper West Side. Yet, servants or victims, they remain invisible people. Their perils first exploded in the public’s consciousness on September 11, when one doorman on 101st Street and West End and another on 94th Street were murdered within minutes of each other. But the dangers have been a muted reality for several months now.

I live in an attractive co-op on Riv­erside Drive. With its locked, grilled doors, its doormen and utility men, its carefully controlled intercom, the place seems like a fortress in comparison to most buildings in the city. Or rather, it once seemed like a fortress.

On August 18, at 7 p.m., two young men forced their way into our lobby. Bran­dishing pistols, they forced Tom Hill, black, athletic, in his late thirties, into the back of a service elevator. They threat­ened to kill him if he didn’t surrender his money. On Labor Day, at two in the afternoon, two more gunmen forced a middle-aged doorman to go into the storage room, then stripped him naked and stole his money. Both men feel that they were easy, unprotected prey for junkies who needed to score a few hundred dollars to feed a day’s habit.

For years now, Tom Hill and I have been about as friendly as a doorman and tenant can be. It’s not just that we discuss baseball and politics, or people in the building. When we both have free time we talk about a mutual obsession — Mississip­pi. I spent about a year there as a civil rights worker and a journalist. Tom, who now lives in the Bronx, was raised on a plantation in the Delta, during the last, violent impoverished years of segregation. Emmett Till was one of his best friends. Indeed, he was with Till until about 7 p.m. on the horrible, legendary 1955 night when Till was murdered allegedly for whistling at a white woman.

Tom’s life incorporates the sea changes that have swept through Mississippi and New York over the past 25 years. It is the story of a brave man’s attempt to deal with two dangerous, difficult environ­ments. It’s not just a doorman’s story. It is a capsule version of a crucial segment of American history.

***

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Drive through the sultry Mississippi Delta, and you’ll see fields rich with cot­ton, soybeans, oats, corn, sorghum. Even now, years after the civil rights revolution, black sharecroppers cluster on both sides of the road, moving with the slow, canny patience that allows them to tend crops from sunrise to sunset. They are the last traces of the feudal economy that domi­nated the region in the 1940s and ’50s, when Tom Hill was growing up.

There were about 100 families on the Racetrack Plantation, where Tom spent his childhood. With luck each sharecrop­per earned $4 a day for 12 hours of work, during the six months when the weather was good enough to plant or harvest the crops.

The kids, like their parents, were treated as instruments of labor. The school year was supposed to begin in August, but the cotton was ripe by then. So the kids would work in the fields from August to December, when the cold weather set in. Sometimes, if it had rained the night before, they’d spend two or three hours in the classroom until the cotton dried and the plantation boss sent for them to come back outside and work. Their only unin­terrupted school time was from December until May.

Of course, they had to be pliant and docile. “I grew up with a white boy — the boss’s son,” Tom recalls. “His name was Jimmy. We played with him — in his house or in his yard — until he got to be 10 years old. That birthday was a stop sign. After it, his father began to call him Mr. Jimmy when he was around us. And, we knew that we’d better call him Mr. Jimmy, too. We never played with him any more. I figure that was because, after 10, he might begin knowing about the business and we might find out things we shouldn’t know.

“The rule wasn’t just for us children. Every black person, no matter how old, had to call him Mr. Jimmy. I used to hear that his father beat people for disobeying him. I won’t say he beat them for calling his son Jimmy, not Mr. Jim, but the older people were so afraid that they always called the 10-year-old boy Mister.”

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Some of the plantation hands had no choice but to obey. “They had nowhere to go but Mississippi,” Tom says. “If they had relatives who lived somewhere else, they never knew where. I was lucky. I had relatives in New York, Chicago, Indiana, and California. I knew I had someplace to go when I grew up, so I could fight back in my own mind.”

Tom’s family life was flecked with trag­edy. The youngest of five boys, he was raised by one of his aunts because both of his parents died before he was six.

“My mother got sick when I was a baby,” he says. “I don’t really know what she died of.”

That meant his father, Joe Hill, had to raise the five boys. For four years the family lived in a wood plantation shack with three small rooms. There was a nar­row dirt road outside the house. Tom and his brother Hardy still have vivid memories of the driving Mississippi rainstorms that would turn the dirt into “gumbo mud” so thick that it would suck their boots off their feet whenever they went out to visit friends or work in the fields.

When Tom was five his father was shot.

“He’d been gambling at one of those Saturday night joints out in the country­ — the kind of place where they drank liquor and played cards. It was never proved, but I think the guy who shot him was his brother-in-law. Up till then, they’d been pretty good friends. But that night some­thing happened — maybe someone was cheating — and that started a fight.”

The wound wasn’t fatal. The bullet hit Tom’s father in the hip. “When they took him to a hospital he wouldn’t let them operate,” Tom says. “He felt like we needed him at home.” So, for the next several weeks, he lay at home in bed, with his leg suspended by a sling. One after­noon the wound became so painful that his relatives took him to the hospital. Tom remembers the uncontrollable, grievous crying that began when his aunts and uncles got home that night.

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Joe Hill had died of blood poisoning at the age of 35. The following month Tom turned six.

The murderer was never arrested — a fact that still makes Tom angry. “The white people had their own law on those plantations,” Tom says. “The sheriff had to get the bosses’ permission before he could begin an investigation. The man who shot my father was a good worker. That was more important to the boss than the fact that he’d committed murder.”

When Tom was about 10, one of his mother’s sisters, who lived in New York, came to Mississippi to fetch Tom and his brother Hardy. She wanted to raise them in the North. Lunch, that day, was a sort of going away party. The two boys dressed up in their finest clothes. They ate greens and meat, and for the first time in their lives Tom and Hardy ate with a fork and knife instead of their hands. Embarrassed by their untutored ways, they sat in a corner of the room, as far as possible from the table, until their aunt bade them sit next to her. In the North, she said, they’d always eat at a decent table, with proper utensils. Tom still remembers the excite­ment he felt at the prospect of leaving Mississippi.

Midway through the meal, the planta­tion owner came to the house. He was accompanied by two of Joe Hill’s sisters who lived on the Racetrack Plantation and didn’t want the boys to leave. The planta­tion owner backed them up. They had more relatives in Mississippi than in New York, he insisted: they would receive more love, more attention, on the plantation than in the city. “Of course, he really wanted me to stay there so that I could keep working for him,” Tom says.

That night his aunt returned to New York, alone: she didn’t want to make trou­ble for the Hill family. Tom was forced to heed the white man’s ruling, “but after that,” he says, “I told myself that when I was a grown man I’d always make my own decisions.”

Tom first met Emmett Till in the early 1950s. Emmett lived with his parents in Chicago during the winter and stayed with relatives in the town of Money (about six miles from the Racetrack Plantation) ev­ery summer.

Two brothers-in-law, white men, owned a general store in Money, and the place became a hangout for Tom and Emmett and their friends. “They had a pinball machine and a juke box, candy on a stick, and the kind of ice cream you can buy for a nickel,” Tom recalls. Every Sunday, when Tom was 13 and 14, kids from the plantation would climb into an old car which one of them owned and meet Emmett over at the store.

Till was a little wealthier than the kids from the plantation. “Our people were sharecroppers and his people had their own little bit of land,” Tom recalls. (In the Delta, blacks were always better off if they had their own farms. They didn’t depend on the white man’s mood for physical and financial survival. Indeed, years later, when the civil rights struggle intensified, the independent Delta farmers were its backbone.)

“Emmett always shared his money with me,” Tom remembers. “I knew that if he had a quarter I’d get twelve and a half cents. And he knew that if I had money — ­which I didn’t, very often — he could get it, too.

“I was with him the Sunday he got killed. We’d been playing pinball in the store until about sundown. Then all the kids from the plantation got into the car so that we could drive home. Emmett lived nearby. He walked.”

Leaving the store, he passed one of the storeowner’s wives. “That’s when they say he whistled at the white lady,” Tom says. “I don’t believe that happened, though. By then I knew the store owners pretty well. They were poor whites. They just owned a little small-time store. I think the lady just looked at Emmett Till and said, ‘There’s a nigger. We should have him killed.’ She knew that all she had to do was tell her husband he’d whistled at her, and he’d go after the nigger.”

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Later that night, the brothers-in-law appeared at Emmett Till’s uncle’s house and took him away at gunpoint. “They just took him outside. They didn’t say anything to his relatives. The next thing those people knew, Emmett was dead.”

After the storeowners killed him they weighed the 14-year-old down with a piece of machinery and dropped him in the Tallahatchie River. His skull was bashed in and his body mutilated. When a fisherman found him, three days later, he was bloated and distended from the water his corpse had absorbed.

Emmett Till’s photograph and grisly story was circulated all over the United States, through newspapers and news magazines. The murder probably did more than any other event — including the Montgomery bus boycott — to reawaken the nation’s shame and outrage at the brutal reality of segregation. It symbolized everything the civil rights movement would change. But, in 1955, those changes were completely unimaginable to a black growing up in the Mississippi Delta. The fact that Emmett Till’s murder enraged millions of outsiders didn’t do anything to comfort his friend Tom Hill.

“I felt terrible for him,” Tom remem­bers. “But I felt scared, too. Those white men knew that I’d been with Emmett that night. I was afraid that if I went over to Money they’d say I was one of the boys who whistled at the woman.

“After that Sunday they closed the store down. I heard there was a trial and the owners moved somewhere else. But they didn’t serve any time. I didn’t go back to that town for several years.”

***

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By 1960, when Tom was 17, his brothers had all left Mississippi. “It was kind of sad being there, just me, when we were all raised together. I was living by myself in a rickety old wood plantation shack. I had to go to school and work and cook for myself. You know, that’s one reason I got married when I did. I’d always known my wife. She lived three houses away from me on the plantation. I loved her. And I needed someone to cook and take care of the house. We got married when I was 17. We had a baby that year, too. We’ve been together more than 20 years now.”

Tom always knew he’d come North, but, down in Mississippi, he’d heard you couldn’t get a job in New York or Chicago until you were 21. Yet he couldn’t make a living in the Delta. Even after he became a tractor driver — the best job he could get on the plantation — the low pay and sea­sonal nature of the work left him con­stantly in debt to the plantation grocery store. He hated living on credit. He hated depending on the white man’s mercy when he knew he was an honest, competent worker. So, at the age of 19, he and his wife and baby daughter moved to New York, where his brother Hardy worked in a plastics factory.

Tom got a job in a factory that made eye-glass cases. “It was something like chopping wood down South. I had to ham­mer plastic, to make the section that holds the glasses, and I used a big tool, like a pick, which weighed about 25 pounds. I picked it up and slammed it down all day long. At least when you chopped wood you wore gloves. I couldn’t do that at the factory, so I got corns on my hands. Once I told my boss my hands were sore. He knew I was from Mississippi. He asked me if I’d ever chopped wood. I said, yeah, but I left Mississippi to keep from chopping wood.”

By 1970, after he’d been at the factory for seven years, he was making $80 a week. There was no union, no health plan, no vacation time, no sick leave at all. By then his brother Hardy had a job in the build­ing where I live. One day he told Tom there was an opening in the midnight to 8 a.m. shift. Tom came at once, at a salary of $100 a week. Now he’s a regular doorman and earns $256.

As a boy, Tom had been starved for an education. In New York, his factory job, though grueling, was easier than the ex­hausting labor on the plantation. He went to high school at night and got a diploma. “But I didn’t have any money. I didn’t have anyone to sponsor me to go to col­lege.” His oldest daughter, Sarah, however, got a scholarship to Colgate University, and Tom feels that his decision to move here has given his children the means to realize the dream that seemed so remote from the plantation shack where he was raised.

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Part of him, of course, is still the teen­ager whose reflexes were conditioned by the Racetrack Plantation owner’s threats, by Emmett Till’s lynching. So he has felt a sense of freedom in the North — even in rough ghetto areas — that very few natives ever experience.

“Down South, whenever a white person teased me, I felt like my hands were tied. I could whip them in a fight, but I didn’t know what would happen to me afterwards. Up here, I felt like if anyone hit me I could hit them back.”

He never worried about being mugged. “I knew it happened to other people, but I never thought it would happen to me. I felt strong enough that it couldn’t hap­pen.”

Then, in August, two young black men came into our building and asked for a tenant named Gent. Tom told them that no one by that name lived there. A few minutes later they returned and asked for Mr. Gent again. “I still didn’t think any­thing about it,” Tom says. “People are always coming here with the wrong ad­dress. But when I looked at the guys I saw that one of them had a gun. You know, I thought that he was playing.

“Then the other guy pulled his gun out and said, ‘This is a stick up.’ They both put their guns in my back, took my arms, shoved me hard, and made me walk to the back elevator. That’s when I knew they meant business.

“They shut the elevator door and took everything out of my pocket except my wallet. They threw it all on the floor. Then they began to look through my wallet. One of them said, ‘Don’t look back. Don’t make a move.’

“I was scared. I was in the elevator and I knew no one could see what was going on. I thought they might shoot.”

Tom had $12 in his wallet. “One guy said, ‘Is this all you’ve got, man? How come you haven’t got more?’

“I said, ‘Man, listen. I’m just a working guy. I ain’t no big time guy. That’s all I’ve got.’

“He told me to stand with my hands all the way up. The gun was against me and I was flat against the wall. I was shaking.” Soon he snatched Tom’s watch and ring.

“He told his partner, ‘Man, we should shoot this guy. He’s probably going to call the police.’ He said that three times. Then he pushed me into a corner, put a garbage bag over my head, and got a chair and put it right close against me. That way if I moved he could hear the chair move.

“His partner was cooler. He said, ‘Man, let’s just take what we have and run.’ They told me to stay still. I was so scared I waited about five minutes. Then I opened the elevator door, walked down the stairs, and circled around to the other side of the building. I didn’t see anybody, so I called the police.”

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That phone call was a matter of princi­ple for Tom. “I know a lot of doormen who get robbed around here. They don’t report it for fear the guy will come back. But I figured someone’s got to talk or those guys are going to keep on robbing people.

“Right now, my wife is afraid for me to come here at night. She wants me to call home when I get to the building. But I’m not afraid. I feel like either you work or you stay at home. You can’t work scared — not and do your job right. Anyway, whatever happens is going to happen. One way or the other you’re going to die some day.”

Listening to him, I remembered the intense moments in Mississippi in 1964 when black or white integrationists would use that sort of raw, idealistic, rhetoric to explain a brave decision to risk their lives and register voters on one of the state’s lonely back roads. Plainly, there is some­thing twisted and distorted about an America where someone like Tom has to explain his decision to go to work as a doorman in those apocalyptic tones.

Still, there’s a survivor’s prudence woven into his boldness — and it grows out of his troubled past.

“If a guy doesn’t have a gun, I’m sure I can take care of myself,” he says. “But I’m not going to fight with anyone who has a gun. I think about my family a lot. If someone kills me, what happens to them? I know what it’s like not having a father. It was very lonely for me, growing up watching other kids do things with their fathers. When I was younger I used to say to myself, one day I’m going to be grown up and if I have kids I’m going to do as much for them as I can.

“We’re a very close family. We always do things together. When I come home from work my kids wait on me. They compete for who can do the most for me. I think that’s good.

“I try to protect them from the things they see on the street. We read the news­papers and watch television together and I tell them what happens to people who commit crimes or become junkies. They say, ‘Wow, I don’t want that to happen to me.’

“I try to be a good example. A lot of people who were raised in New York sit down and smoke pot with their kids. My kids know I don’t smoke pot. They trust me. They believe what I tell them.

“And now that Sarah’s in college, the young ones want to go to college too. That’s what I always wanted for my fami­ly. It’s so precious that I don’t want to risk it in a fight with some crazy gunman.”

 ***

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At one point I asked Tom if the emotions after his mugging reminded him of those he felt after Emmett Till was killed. He said no. The murder terrorized him in a way that nothing in New York ever can. That left a stain on his psyche. His recent experience simply made him more cautious on the streets.

But it prompted him to discuss thoughts that have been forming in his mind for several years. Now, 24 years after Emmett Till’s death, 16 years after white Mississippians thought they could kill civ­il rights workers like Andy Goodman, Mickey Schwerner, and James Chaney with impunity, Tom believes the Delta is a somewhat safer place than New York. The segregationist brutality he grew up with is a distant memory — so distant, in fact, that many black teenagers literally can’t believe that the events and attitudes which Tom witnessed occurred within their parents’ lifetime. There is dope and crime in the Delta, Tom says — much of it an import from the North — but since the towns are smaller, the criminals are less able to remain anonymous.

Beyond that, economic prospects that were unimaginable when Tom left the South have now become real. Some blacks he knows are still sharecroppers, but many more work in the factories that have opened near his home over the past dec­ade. He and his brother Hardy often talk about some cousins of theirs who stayed in Mississippi. The cousins would have been sharecroppers in Joe Hill’s generation. Now they work in a piano factory, and own their own large two-story home.

“When I was a kid you would work from sunup to sundown for $3. Now they’ve got a minimum wage of $3.10 an hour. Some people I know are making $6 or $7 an hour.

“My kids are scared of the South. I don’t know if I could make a living there myself. I couldn’t just go back and tell people I’ve been in New York for 19 years, and expect to get a decent job.

“But things have changed so much. You can mix with white people on a pretty equal basis. You don’t always have to worry that a white lady will think you said the wrong thing, and get you killed like they killed Emmett Till.

“There are just as many good jobs, more good homes, more safe neighbor­hoods than in New York.

“If I was 19 years old right now, I think I’d stay down in Mississippi.”

Those words are a calm description of reality, not a lament. For, in spite of the troubles he’s seen, Tom Hill is a relatively happy man. “I tell my children about my childhood all the time,” he says. “They can’t believe that things were like that. But they were. I’ll never forget what it was like to chop cotton for those $3 a day, and then be so tired when I got home that I could barely make it through the front door.” Then he talked about workers in New York who strike because they’re not getting $10 an hour — and chuckled with rueful wonder at the sheer audacity of that act.

“Sure, this is a dangerous city and an expensive place to live,” he says. “But I wish more people realized what life was like for us back home. Then they’d realize that, really, they are blessed.” ❖

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CRIME ARCHIVES FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Murder on a Day Pass

One Walked Out of the Cuckoo’s Nest

Ewa Berwid knew perfectly well that her husband intended to kill her. Adam had told her so in a series of matter-of-fact letters penned on yellow legal sheets from the Nassau County Jail. He would strangle her, he promised. Push her ribs right through her back. 

So resolute was he in this obsession that during May of 1978, sometime after their divorce became final, he announced in open court his intentions to take her life if she did not relinquish custody of their two small children, Adam and Olga. After catching a glimpse of her during a later appearance, he lunged for her and was tackled by sheriff’s deputies before he could straddle the rail of the jury box. 

Life for Ewa Berwid became, as a result, one long-running nightmare. Even after Adam was committed to a state mental hospital for observation, she never drew a free breath. For she knew that Adam was cunning enough to elude those who watched him. She bought a revolver, kept it by her bed, and tried to live sensibly with terror. 

Early last December, Adam Berwid persuaded a psychiatrist at Pilgrim Psychiatric Center at Brentwood, Long Island, to give him a day pass. He was free more than six hours before Ewa realized it. When she did, it was too late. Shortly after dusk on December 6, Ewa was at home with her two children when she heard glass shattering in the basement. There was no time to run upstairs for the gun. She hurried instead to the wall phone in the kitchen at the head of the basement stairs and punched 911. An emergency operator answered, but Ewa never had the chance to identify herself or utter a coherent message. Adam appeared at the top of the stairs with a hunting knife, and when he grabbed her the nightmare ended in a series of fast, flickering freeze frames. 

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“Olga, get out!” Adam plunged the knife into her neck and chest with four fatal and audible blows. As the receiver dangled by its cord from the wall, the police operator heard the muffled shuffles of a struggle and a woman crying, “He’s killing me… I’m dying… Oh, God… Oh, God.” Then there was silence except for a sigh. And someone placed the receiver back on its cradle. There was no time to trace the call. 

Ewa Berwid’s death, while perhaps not the most ghastly homicide in this season of mutilations and decapitations, was certainly one of the most infuriating. How could a woman marked so clearly for death be left so vulnerable by the police, by the courts, and most particularly by the psychiatrist who granted Adam Berwid his day pass? 

During the weeks that followed the slaying, all of those who might have saved her engaged in a frantic round of recriminations, trying to find some place to deposit the guilt. Both the Assembly and the Senate held hearings into the matter, during which legislators and public witnesses excoriated the State Office of Mental Health for lax security and supervision. And the OMH, mortified and anxious to distance itself from the tragedy, announced that as the result of an intensive investigation it would, for the first time in its history, suspend two psychiatrists for “misconduct.” The ax fell upon Berwid’s doctor, Irving Blumenthal, and his immediate superior, Dr. Tsu-Teng Loo. Then the state cooperated meekly with Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon, who asked that administrative charges be suspended temporarily so he could seek a criminal indictment against the two doctors — a move which sent a chill through the medical establishment and challenged the already eroding principle that pa­tient-doctor privilege gives psychiatrists some special immunity to prosecution. (A California supreme court held in 1974 that a psychia­trist treating a patient who utters threats must take steps to warn the prospective victim.) 

At present, Blumenthal and Loo are the most visible targets for reprisal. Whether Dillon can prove that they are criminals remains to be seen. But the responsibility for Ewa really goes far beyond two careless doctors. She was failed by an entire system of law that should have contained safeguards to protect her. That system, however, turned out to be combed with trap-doors and trip-locks. And Adam Berwid slipped right through it. 

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To be sure, the test of wills between Adam and the mental health system was a mismatch. He was clearly superior. Pilgrim’s director, Peggy O’Neill, says in retrospect, “He was a very bright man. Super­bright. Probably brighter than anybody treating him.” He was by every account remarkable. Even Ewa, during the last months of her life, was mesmerized in a horrible way by his enterprise. That all his genius should be turned upon destroying her seemed unreal, because she had once loved him very much. 

Adam had courted her in Poland during the early sixties. She was nineteen, a blonde unworldly engineering student. He was twenty-six, dark and domineering, already a nuclear engineer. He offered to be her protector and she accepted. During the early years of their marriage, Adam dominated her with her blessing. In 1969 he brought her to America. They arrived in New York City with only two small suitcases and $1,000 between them. But they both found good engineering jobs and eventually moved to Mineola, where they bought a modest white shingled house at 244 Wellington Road. 

A couple of years after leaving Poland, Ewa gave birth to Olga; three years later, to Adam. To all appearances, the Berwids and their two healthy infants were a family favored by fortune. Neighbors considered them close, devoutly Christian. Particularly Adam, whose religious convictions were firm to the point of unyielding. 

No one is quite sure when Adam’s problems began. In one theory, he was unhappy that Ewa continued to work after the children were born. She was advancing very rapidly and eventually earned more than he did. Jealous of her success, he complained when she hired housekeepers, and was resentful because she did not spend more time cooking, caring for the babies, and doting upon him. 

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He quit his job, took out a $25,000 Small Business Administration loan, and tried to start his own consulting firm. But he couldn’t make it go. And early in the summer of 1977, Eva found him growing increasingly strange. The children, he claimed, were in some kind of danger. When Ewa tried to put them to bed early, Adam refused to allow it because, he said, “the devil” wanted them to go to bed early. 

Those amorphous fantasies gradually focused upon his wife. When she changed the baby’s diaper and nuzzled his stomach, Adam accused her of practicing sodomy upon the little boy. At first Ewa tried to reason with him. When that failed, she argued. The arguments grew into fights, and he struck her for the first time in their marriage. During one of these bouts, Adam dragged her downstairs by the hair and threw her out the front door. She obtained a protective order to keep him away from her and the children. He ignored it. She had him arrested and then filed for divorce. 

Much later, Adam wrote in “An Open Letter to the People of Nassau County” that he feared for his children and “that killing their biological mother is the only effective means to protect my kids against her harmful practices toward them.” Those delusions festered and swelled in the Nassau County Jail. It was there he began writing death threats couched in long and terrifying letters sent to Ewa by certified mail. The threats were so explicit that they came to the attention of the district attorney, who brought the most serious charge the law allowed — “aggravated harassment.” A misdemeanor. 

After Adam threatened Ewa’s life in court, Judge Joseph DeMaro set bail at one million dollars and ordered psychiatric examinations to determine whether Berwid was capable of standing trial. The examina­tions revealed that Berwid was incapacitated by a “personality disor­der” manifesting itself in delusions and paranoia. He was sent upstate for ninety days of observation at Mid-Hudson Psychiatric Center — the only hospital in New York State equipped to handle violent or potentially violent patients committed under court order. 

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Here Berwid began slipping through the gears where criminal law and mental health law did not quite mesh. Had he run afoul of Ewa a decade earlier, he would have effectively forfeited his civil rights and been packed off to Matteawan, a notorious psychiatric prison which the state main­tained under scandalous circumstances until pressure for reform closed it down during the mid-seventies. There he might have spent twenty to thirty years, along with a mismatched assortment of other “violent” patients, being shocked, abused, and lobotomized. But Berwid, as it turned out, was the living converse of a Kesey nightmare; a criminally insane man whom the system was not reluctant, but anxious, to release. As soon as he was handed over by the court to the custody of the mental health system, the misdemeanor charge was automatically dropped and he became a civil patient. As the result of a 1973 New York Court of Appeals decision, he was entitled to equal rights in a system determined — in the interests of enlightened treatment — to move him up through the concentric circles of institutional psychiatry and out into society as quickly as possible. The law required it.

That Berwid should have been prematurely discharged by the system came as no surprise to those familiar with Ewa’s predicament. It was foreseen by at least one psychiatrist who, on the eve of Berwid’s departure for Mid-Hudson, warned the court that Adam possessed the sort of genius required to convince a psychiatrist somewhere along the course of his treatment that he was sane. One young law intern in the Nassau County DA’s office read the statutes and saw what was coming: that Berwid would be kept only until he lost the most obvious signs of illness. And then the law would have no reason, no right, to keep him locked up. So he referred Ewa to the Community Legal Assistance Corporation, a consortium of Hofstra University law students and their professors, with the hope that they could put in the hours of legal work it would take to force the system to save her. 

Ewa’s new lawyer, Chuck McEvily, began an urgent correspondence with Mid-Hudson, requesting the administration to recommit Berwid at the end of ninety days. In an extraordinary move, Judge Joseph DeMaro also took it upon himself to write the hospital, admonishing doctors to be cautious because, as he put it, “this court is convinced that the defendant intends to carry out his threat.” An assistant DA sent a chilling and prophetic letter. Berwid, he wrote, was “a clear and homicidal threat” who, in one psychiatrist’s opinion, would even kill his children to prevent his wife from having them. “We have no doubt,” the assistant DA continued, “that if he is released, we will be reading about the murder of Ewa Berwid in Newsday at some time in the future.” 

Sensitive to pressure, Mid-Hudson recommitted Berwid as an involuntary civil patient for another six months. But Ewa’s lawyer kept up the relentless correspondence. “We were trying to get the system to give us notice of whatever happened before any decisions to transfer or release him could be made,” recalls Marjorie Mintzer, Ewa’s attorney at the time of her death. “[We wanted] to participate in those decisions because she was a clear and acknowledged future victim.… The doctors in the mental health system would never acknowledge that we had any rights whatsoever to participate in any decision involving Adam Berwid.” 

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Meanwhile, Berwid chafed at his confinement, claiming he was being poisoned. But his most morbid delusions, as usual, centered about his family. He complained to one psychiatrist that keeping him there was unfair because it kept him from killing Ewa. Yet after nine months, Mid-Hudson authorities determined that keeping Berwid under maximum security would accomplish nothing more in the way of treatment, and doctors started the wheels in motion to transfer him to a less secure — less prisonlike — setting. The choice was Pilgrim Psychi­atric Center in Brentwood. In the eyes of the mental health bureau­cracy, it was the only choice. Pilgrim was the civil hospital closest to Mineola, and the law required that a patient be transferred back into his own community, allowing him as much access and support from family and friends as possible. The patient, in this case, was relocated to a spot within one hour’s train ride from his intended victim. 

Under the best of conditions, Pilgrim would not have welcomed Adam Berwid’s arrival. No one there really knew quite what to do with criminals who filtered down from Mid-Hudson. There were no forensic wards staffed with criminal psychiatrists. Not even any secure wards. Indeed, why should there have been? Mental health reforms of the past two decades emptied out Pilgrim’s acres of brick dorms — warehouses, they were called — and transformed the sprawling psychiatric city into a “civil hospital” with responsibility for only about 3,000 geriatric patients. The intrusion of court-ordered patients was a nuisance, even a menace, and when one like Adam arrived on the scene, Pilgrim’s most fervent hope was that he would get well and go away. 

Pilgrim did not want to keep him, and Ewa — her dread heightened by the transfer — was in a quandary. “Take the children and run,” friends urged her. “Go away somewhere and change your name. Start a new life.” But she said no. She had a good job, friends, church, neighbors, a new male friend. She had an understanding with the local police, who cruised past her house at intervals, checking for trouble. Besides, she said, if Adam were truly intent upon killing her, he would hunt her down no matter how far she ran. Perhaps, she mused to her attorneys, Adam really was getting well. Hoping to see some genuine improvement, she went to visit him at Pilgrim. It was an amiable encounter. He seemed better. At least he was calm. He told her he wanted to move back in with her. Perhaps they could even travel together. Would she like that? As gently as possible, she told him no. And he returned to his locked ward. 

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The lock, however, proved illusory. No one watched Adam closely. That was partly because the acute ward to which he was assigned was in a state of turmoil as the result of an HEW investigation which had discovered inadequate nursing care, sloppy drug therapy, and lax supervision of patients’ treatment. Staff was being shifted here and there, and Berwid, it seems, was lost in the shuffle. On April 5, 1979, he escaped, if you can call it that. He simply shoved open the push bar on the locked ward, left the grounds, and walked thirty miles west to Mineola. When the hospital discovered he was missing, an official notified Ewa so she could take care not to be alone in the house. Two days later, Ewa returned home with her male friend. On her way to the upstairs bathroom, she noticed the bedroom door ajar. From an oblique angle, she saw Adam lying on the bed in his underwear. He appeared to be stirring from a sound sleep. She tiptoed downstairs and went to the phone. The wires had been cut. She called the police from a neighbor’s house. But when the patrolmen arrived, they were not quite sure what to do. They were not authorized to arrest Berwid, since Pilgrim had never sent a teletyped message verifying his escape. Adam was docile as police debated for the next two hours whether or not they could take him in for trespassing. This had, after all, once been his house. There seemed to be no statute covering the situation. Finally they received word from headquarters to take him the hell back to Pilgrim. 

Within a week, he escaped again. This time, he pried loose the chicken wire from a second-story bathroom window and climbed down a rope of knotted sheets. That night, two plainclothes detectives kept a vigil with Ewa at the house. But Adam did not show. Instead, at noon on the following day, he surfaced at Olga’s elementary school in Mineola and demanded to take her away. The principal said Olga was in class, then quietly called the police.

These escapes got Berwid transferred back to maximum security at Mid-Hudson. There his entire demeanor changed. The complaining stopped. For seven months, he put his short, compact body through a daily conditioning regimen of 100 sit-ups and five miles of laps. His delusions apparently subsided, and days passed without mention of Ewa or the children. He filed a writ to the courts insisting that he was not mentally ill. And because he was not “acting out” — not raving or attacking attendants — Mid-Hudson felt it safe to transfer him back to Pilgrim with instructions that he be eased slowly back into the community. 

Adam’s menacing history was chronicled in one black loose-leaf binder. This record preceded him wherever he went within the system and it contained everything: the assistant DA’s warning, DeMaro’s warning, the psychiatrist’s admonition that Adam would one day con a doctor into letting him go. And in late November last year, that record landed on the desk of an elderly Pilgrim psychiatrist, Dr. Irving Blumenthal. As Adam’s doctor, Blumenthal had nearly absolute authority. He could issue his patient an honor card to stroll the grounds, or a day pass allowing him to leave the hospital unescorted. Such excursions are, after all, considered good therapy — a kind of decompression for patients soon to be released. Blumenthal was cold and noncommittal, therefore, when he received a call from Legal Assistance asking him to notify Ewa if Adam were allowed off-grounds unescorted. Blumenthal would not promise that. His rationale — one supported by the majority of institutional psychiatrists up through the top echelons of the Office of Mental Health — was that day passes were part of therapy. To contact outsiders, therefore, violated con­fidentiality. Furthermore, the law did not require notification except when a patient escaped. 

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Blumenthal’s superior, Dr. Loo, also refused to commit himself to notification if the patient was allowed to leave. He was sufficiently alerted, however, to instruct a male therapy aide to flag Berwid’s notebook with large red letters reading: POLICE MUST BE NOTI­FIED IF PATIENT ESCAPES. On the front of the book, the aide also posted the telephone numbers of the police and Ewa ‘s lawyers, as well as Ewa ‘s unlisted number. 

Those warnings, so stark and urgent, could hardly have escaped Blumenthal’s notice. Six days after Bcrwid arrived, Blumenthal observed for the clinical record that if Adam did indeed escape, emergency notification procedures would be followed. (He also signed a typed memorandum to that effect one week later, on December 3.) 

But during the two weeks that Benvid was at Pilgrim, he was, as Blumenthal later put it, “an absolute angel.” He helped other patients and rarely talked about his family except to explain that he wanted to visit family court again to see about getting his children back. “Whatever he was told to do, he did,” Director Peggy O’Neil recalls. “He even volunteered for more. In fact, he was at the point of asking if he could get involved in the work program.… He was extremely cooperative. There was probably a method in his madness to be that cooperative.” Berwid began pressing for an honor card; he said he wanted to buy himself a winter coat. 

A little more than two weeks after Berwid arrived, Blumenthal stunned his treatment team by announcing that he was giving Berwid both an honor card and a day pass. Berwid had received no intensive therapy. He had met only once with the team to draw up his treatment plan — one that specified improving relations with his “wife” — and was scheduled to see a psychiatrist only once a week for an hour. One nurse, particularly distressed by the prospect of the passes, pointed out to the others that Berwid hadn’t been around long enough to be evaluated properly — that hospital policy dictated extending freedom by degrees. Nevertheless, Blumenthal authorized two excursions, and the following morning, December 5, Berwid was allowed to roam free on the grounds. 

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When he failed to return by 4:00 P.M. curfew, the nurse on duty told Blumenthal that she was worried and suggested that he call all the parties on the front of Berwid’s binder. Blumenthal dismissed the warning, saying that emergency notification did not apply to a day pass. He then extended Berwid’s curfew to 9:00 P.M. Berwid wandered in sometime before 5:30 P.M., apparently offering no explanation of where he had been, except that he had checked $100 out of his institutional savings account to buy a coat. Instead of disciplining him, Blumenthal signed him out on a day pass the following morning, December 6. That was the second anniversary of the Berwids’ divorce. Blumenthal’s apparent indulgence worried two nurses, who took their concerns to Dr. Loo, who telephoned Blumenthal to satisfy himself that the situation was under control. At that point, Loo could have overridden the pass. But he did not. 

Berwid left the acute-care ward shortly after 10:00 A.M. He was stopped by a county patrolman, but he flashed his pass and was waved on. According to the itinerary he had outlined to Blumenthal, he was to take his $100, get on a bus to Bay Shore three miles to the south, and shop for a coat. No one seems to have noticed that Berwid already had a winter coat. 

Instead of heading for Bay Shore, Berwid took the Long Island Railroad from the West Brentwood Station to Mineola. The train deposited him at the outskirts of his old neighborhood. He strolled to a Friendly Ice Cream Shop around the corner from Ewa’s house and ate an unhurried lunch — a hamburger and coffee. He dropped by the dentist’s office to have his teeth cleaned. Then he went shopping for a knife at Herman’s World of Sporting Goods. He found one that would do. It had a short, utilitarian blade. About five inches. The kind of knife a woodman might use to dress a deer. His errands complete, he waited until dark. 

When Pilgrim’s evening shift came on duty, the same nurse who had urged Blumenthal the night before to notify police was disturbed to find Berwid had once more not met the 4:00 P.M. curfew. Her fears subsided when, at 4:30 P.M., he called in to say that he had taken the wrong train and ended up at Penn Station in New York City. He would be back in a couple of hours. He was not, of course, in New York at all, but at the Mineola train station only ten minutes away from Ewa, who was beginning to prepare dinner for Adam and Olga. No one else was at home. Adam arrived in the dark and walked down the driveway to the backyard. There he jimmied off the screen of one of the squat rectangular basement windows and, through the narrow opening, he dropped to the basement floor and climbed the stairs. At the top, he grabbed Ewa, who was standing at the phone, and stabbed her again, and again and again. 

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When she was still, he set to work putting things in order. He methodically mended the broken window with boards. He cleaned the blood from the kitchen floor and washed himself. He removed some of Ewa’s garments and washed her too. Then he carried her to the front room, where he laid her on a cot and folded her arms over her chest. He covered her with a coarse brown blanket, then placed a small votive candle on either side of her body. On one wall, he fashioned a cross of red ribbons. Then he commenced a dreadful wake, summoning Olga and Adam, who were cowering in an upstairs bedroom. 

“Pray for Mommy,” he told them. “Kiss Mommy good-bye.” Then he sent them back upstairs to sleep. 

Berwid did not return to Pilgrim at 6:00 P.M. as he had promised. But the ward nurse did not start emergency notification. Still bound by Blumenthal’s order to extend curfew, she waited. It was not until 9:00 P.M., therefore, that the staff began calling the numbers on the front of Berwid’s black binder. No answer at Legal Assistance. No answer at Ewa’s number. They sent her a mailgram informing her in passionless terms that Mr. Berwid was off the grounds without consent. The police arrived at Wellington Road about 9:30 P.M. They rang the doorbell and checked for signs of a break-in but everything seemed secure. So they left. About 11:00 P.M., however, Pilgrim sent a more urgent message out over the teletype, and three patrolmen familiar with Ewa’s case went to check the house again. They banged on the doors and peered in the windows. The house was dark except for a faint glow, too weak to be an incandescent bulb, that appeared to come from the front room. They supposed it to be a night light. One cop spotted that morning’s Daily News still lying in the yard and speculated that Ewa had already learned of Adam’s escape and had fled with the children. So they drove away. And all the while, Adam sat by candlelight ruminating over Ewa’s body. 

Next morning, about 8:45, Berwid called the DA’s office. No one was in yet; the call was picked up by the police operator who advised him to try again at 9:00. 

“Thanks,” he replied, “I’ll call back.” 

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Finally reaching an assistant DA, he explained calmly that he had escaped from Pilgrim and that he had murdered his wife. Detectives from County Homicide were the first to arrive. Adam and Olga waved to them from an upstairs window. The detectives waved back. Adam answered the door and took them to Ewa’s body. Only later that afternoon did the police play back that fragmented emergency 911 tape and realize the call had come from Ewa, the corpse on the cot. The following day, a postman delivered the mailgram from Pilgrim inform­ing Ewa her husband had escaped. No one had thought to send the warning Special Delivery. 

Adam Berwid inflicted heavy casualties not just upon his harried victim but upon everyone around her. The children he sought to keep from evil are now under a psychiatrist’s care. Ewa’s lawyers feel bitter and mortally cheated. 

Dr. Loo reportedly is overcome with remorse and has been hospitalized for heart problems. Blumenthal still admits to no error in judgment. Neither man will discuss the case. They are stifled, of course, by the threat of criminal indictment — a prospect which has thrown a pall over psychiatry in New York. During the weeks immediately following the murder, patients’ rights advocates reported a dread reluctance among psychiatrists to make release decisions. Their defense: Psychiatry is an art, not a science. We cannot tell you when a patient will kill. 

One probable and far-reaching consequence of the Berwid scandal is that it is likely to give rise to a “defensive psychiatry” wherein doctors will make fewer mistakes simply because they will make fewer decisions. “The doctors are as human as we are,” says patient-rights advocate Alfred Besunder. “If they’re afraid they’re going to get their backsides sued, they’re going to say, ‘The hell with it. I’m not going to make any decisions…’ And for some patient who has been making progress, that is tragic.” 

One opinion that is gaining support among psychiatrists is that doctors should be given absolute immunity — in the same manner, perhaps, that the U.S. Supreme Court recently allowed immunity for parole officers. Short of that, the decisions for release of potentially dangerous patients will probably end up in the courts. In the opinion of Ewa’s attorney, Marjorie Mintzer, that is just where the responsibility belongs.

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“I have a feeling,” says Mintzer, “that doctors are not trained to look past their responsibility [to] their patients. Now it may have been in Adam Berwid’s best interest to have a chance outside of the institution for a day.… But would you balance the minimal good it might have done [against] the risk to society? And if so, would you put that decision in the hands of a doctor? I wouldn’t. Judges make those decisions.” 

The legislature, now rallying to find remedies, has entertained a spate of proposals, some so reactionary they would roll back two decades of reform in mental health. But others are more moderate. One remarkably restrained bill came out of the office of the Nassau County DA, who proposes to caulk the “statutory gap” between criminal and mental health law by allowing the DA to keep tabs on a court-ordered patient even after that patient is turned over to the mental health system. It would require doctors to notify police and any potential victim at least two days before a patient is given a day pass. Implicit within this proposal is the power of the prosecutor to challenge a doctor’s decision in court, bringing in his own psychiatrists to air conflicting medical opinions before a judge. Even a relatively con­servative proposal such as this, however, will run into problems in the definition of “potentially violent.” If psychiatrists confess their own inability to predict violent behavior, who will make the determination? 

Even assuming that the notification bill survives close constitutional scrutiny, it does not really reach to the heart of the problem. The fact is that Berwid was mischanneled through a maze of law into a mental health system equipped neither to treat him nor to incarcerate him. He clearly does not belong there. But to direct him elsewhere, through the penal system, would be to buck a precedent going back to Anglo-Saxon law, which holds that an insane man cannot be held a criminal. Assuming the venerable McNaughton legal definition of insanity can be altered to allow the criminally insane to be treated within prisons will mean spending millions to provide clinical facilities. To keep them within the mental health system, on the other hand, will mean spending millions on secure and forensic wards. Either way, the pendulum swings back toward the prison mentality of Matteawan and Dan­nemora. 

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Berwid has not actually created any new dilemmas: he has simply stirred the embers of old controversies. And as they burn around him, he sits in the Nassau County Jail still imposing his own will upon events. Confessing at the slightest provocation. Confounding the system. 

Last December, he wrote to Newsday from jail: “I did my act of taking a human life, not in the name of hatred toward my former wife, but in the name of Jesus Christ to defend my loved ones.” He considers his cause righteous and is quite certain that judge and jury will see the justice in what he did. 

Meanwhile, he is drawing up a death list of all those who have suggested he is insane. The list includes his first court-appointed lawyer — whom he fired — and a second to whom he barely speaks. To facilitate these righteous executions, he has applied for a handgun permit. 

He refuses to plead innocent by reason of insanity and will not allow himself to be examined by psychiatrists. How, they ask, can you examine a mute man? Although charged with second-degree murder, he has twice refused to come to court voluntarily for his arraignment, and a frustrated Judge Richard Delin has ordered the use of force, if necessary, to bring him to his next hearing, set for late February. 

If Adam Berwid is found capable of standing trial, he will almost certainly be acquitted by reason of insanity. In that case, he will be sent back through the cycle to Mid-Hudson, where felony charges against him will eventually lapse. 

In the meantime, he will be eligible for a day pass. 

Categories
CRIME ARCHIVES FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Death of a Playmate

It is shortly past four in the afternoon and Hugh Hefner glides wordlessly into the library of his Playboy Mansion West. He is wearing pajamas and looking somber in green silk. The incongruous spectacle of a sybarite in mourning. To date, his public profession of grief has been contained in a press release: “The death of Dorothy Stratten comes as a shock to us all.… As Playboy’s Playmate of the Year with a film and a television career of increasing importance, her professional future was a bright one. But equally sad to us is the fact that her loss takes from us all a very special member of the Playboy family.”

That’s all. A dispassionate eulogy from which one might conclude that Miss Stratten died in her sleep of pneumonia. One, certainly, which masked the turmoil her death created within the Organization. During the morning hours after Stratten was found nude in a West Los Angeles apartment, her face blasted away by 12-gauge buckshot, editors scrambled to pull her photos from the upcoming October issue. It could not be done. The issues were already run. So they pulled her ethereal blond image from the cover of the 1981 Playmate Calendar and promptly scrapped a Christmas promotion featuring her posed in the buff with Hefner. Other playmates, of course, have expired violently. Wilhelmina Rietveld took a massive overdose of barbiturates in 1973. Claudia Jennings known as “Queen of the B-Movies,” was crushed to death last fall in her Volkswagen convertible. Both caused grief and chagrin to the self-serious “family” of playmates whose aura does not admit the possibility of shaving nicks and bladder infections, let alone death.

But the loss of Dorothy Stratten sent Hefner and his family into seclusion, at least from the press. For one thing, Playboy has been earnestly trying to avoid any bad national publicity that might threaten its application for a casino license in Atlantic City. But beyond that, Dorothy Stratten was a corporate treasure. She was not just any playmate but the “Eighties’ First Playmate of the Year” who, as Playboy trumpeted in June, was on her way to becoming “one of the few emerging goddesses of the new decade.”

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She gave rise to extravagant comparisons with Marilyn Monroe, although unlike Monroe, she was no cripple. She was delighted with her success and wanted more of it. Far from being brutalized by Hollywood, she was coddled by it. Her screen roles were all minor ones. A fleeting walk-on as a bunny in Americathon. A small running part as a roller nymph in Skatetown U.S.A. She played the most perfect woman in the universe in an episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. She was surely more successful in a shorter period of time than any other playmate in the history of the empire. “Playboy has not really had a star,” says Stratten’s erstwhile agent David Wilder. “They thought she was going to be the biggest thing they ever had.”

No wonder Hefner grieves.

“The major reason that I’m… that we’re both sittin’ here,” says Hefner, “that I wanted to talk about it, is because there is still a great tendency… for this thing to fall into the classic cliché of ‘smalltown girl comes to Playboy, comes to Hollywood, life in the fast lane,’ and that was somehow related to her death. And that is not what really happened. A very sick guy saw his meal ticket and his connection to power, whatever, slipping away. And it was that that made him kill her.”

The “very sick guy” is Paul Snider, Dorothy Stratten’s husband, the man who became her mentor. He is the one who plucked her from a Dairy Queen in Vancouver, British Columbia, and pushed her into the path of Playboy during the Great Playmate Hunt in 1978. Later, as she moved out of his class, he became a millstone, and Stratten’s prickliest problem was not coping with celebrity but discarding a husband she had outgrown. When Paul Snider balked at being discarded, he became her nemesis. And on August 14 of this year he apparently took her life and his own with a 12-gauge shotgun.

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The Pimp

It is not so difficult to see why Snider became an embarrassment. Since the murder he has been excoriated by Hefner and others as a cheap hustler, but such moral indignation always rings a little false in Hollywood. Snider’s main sin was that he lacked scope.

Snider grew up in Vancouver’s East End, a tough area of the city steeped in machismo. His parents split up when he was a boy and he had to fend for himself from the time he quit school in the seventh grade. Embarrassed by being skinny, he took up body building in his late teens and within a year had fleshed out his upper torso. His dark hair and mustache were groomed impeccably and women on the nightclub circuit found him attractive. The two things it seemed he could never get enough of were women and money. For a time he was the successful promoter of automobile and cycle shows at the Pacific National Exhibition. But legitimate enterprises didn’t bring him enough to support his expensive tastes and he took to procuring. He wore mink, drove a black Corvette, and flaunted a bejeweled Star of David around his neck. About town he was known as the Jewish Pimp.

Among the heavy gang types in Vancouver, the Rounder Crowd, Paul Snider was regarded with scorn. A punk who always seemed to be missing the big score. “He never touched [the drug trade],” said one Rounder who knew him then. “Nobody trusted him that much and he was scared to death of drugs. He finally lost a lot of money to loan sharks and the Rounder Crowd hung him by his ankles from the 30th floor of a hotel. He had to leave town.”

Snider split for Los Angeles where he acquired a gold limousine and worked his girls on the fringes of Beverly Hills. He was enamored of Hollywood’s dated appeal and styled his girls to conform with a 1950s notion of glamour. At various times he toyed with the idea of becoming a star, or perhaps even a director or a producer. He tried to pry his way into powerful circles, but without much success. At length he gave up pimping because the girls weren’t bringing him enough income — one had stolen some items and had in fact cost him money — and when he returned to Vancouver some time in 1977 Snider resolved to keep straight. For one thing, he was terrified of going to jail. He would kill himself, he once told a girl, before he would go to jail.

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But Snider never lost the appraising eye of a pimp. One night early in 1978 he and a friend dropped into an East Vancouver Dairy Queen and there he first took notice of Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten filling orders behind the counter. She was very tall with the sweet natural looks of a girl, but she moved like a mature woman. Snider turned to his friend and observed, “That girl could make me a lot of money.” He got Dorothy’s number from another waitress and called her at home. She was 18.

Later when she recalled their meeting Dorothy would feign amused exasperation at Paul’s overtures. He was brash, lacking altogether in finesse. But he appealed to her, probably because he was older by nine years and streetwise. He offered to take charge of her and that was nice. Her father, a Dutch immigrant, had left the family when she was very young. Dorothy had floated along like a particle in a solution. There had never been enough money to buy nice things. And now Paul bought her clothes. He gave her a topaz ring set in diamonds. She could escape to his place, a posh apartment with skylights, plants, and deep burgundy furniture. He would buy wine and cook dinner. Afterwards he’d fix hot toddies and play the guitar for her. In public he was an obnoxious braggart; in private he could be a vulnerable, cuddly Jewish boy.

Paul Snider knew that gaping vulnerability of a young girl. Before he came along Dorothy had had only one boyfriend. She had thought of herself as “plain with big hands.” At 16, her breasts swelled into glorious lobes, but she never really knew what to do about them. She was a shy, comely, undistinguished teenager who wrote sophomoric poetry and had no aspirations other than landing a secretarial job. When Paul told her she was beautiful, she unfolded in the glow of his compliments and was infected by his ambitions for her.

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Snider probably never worked Dorothy as a prostitute. He recognized that she was, as one observer put it, “class merchandise” that could be groomed to better advantage. He had tried to promote other girls as playmates, notably a stripper in 1974, but without success. He had often secured recycled playmates or bunnies to work his auto shows and had seen some get burnt out on sex and cocaine, languishing because of poor management. Snider dealt gingerly with Dorothy’s inexperience and broke her in gradually. After escorting her to her graduation dance — he bought her a ruffled white gown for the occasion — he took her to a German photographer named Uwe Meyer for her first professional portrait. She looked like a flirtatious virgin.

About a month later, Snider called Meyer again, this time to do a nude shooting at Snider’s apartment. Meyer arrived with a hairdresser to find Dorothy a little nervous. She clung, as she later recalled, to a scarf or a blouse as a towline to modesty, but she fell quickly into playful postures. She was perfectly pliant.

“She was eager to please,” recalls Meyer. “I hesitated to rearrange her breasts thinking it might upset her, but she said, ‘Do whatever you like.’ ”

Meyer hoped to get the $1,000 finder’s fee that Playboy routinely pays photographers who discover playmates along the byways and backwaters of the continent. But Snider, covering all bets, took Dorothy to another photographer named Ken Honey who had an established track-record with Playboy. Honey had at first declined to shoot Dorothy because she was underage and needed a parent’s signature on the release. Dorothy, who was reluctant to tell anyone at home about the nude posing, finally broke the news to her mother and persuaded her to sign. Honey sent this set of shots to Los Angeles and was sent a finder’s fee. In August 1978, Dorothy flew to Los Angeles for a test shot. It was the first time she had ever been on a plane.

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***

Even to the most cynical sensibilities there is something miraculous about the way Hollywood took to Dorothy Hoogstraten. In a city overpopulated with beautiful women — most of them soured and disillusioned by 25 — Dorothy caught some current of fortune and floated steadily upward through the spheres of that indifferent paradise. Her test shots were superb, placing her among the 16 top contenders for the 25th Anniversary Playmate. And although she lost out to Candy Loving, she was named Playmate of the Month for August 1979. As soon as he learned of her selection, Paul Snider, by Hefner’s account at least, flew to Los Angeles and proposed. They did not marry right away but set up housekeeping in a modest apartment in West Los Angeles. It was part of Snider’s grand plan that Dorothy should support them both. She was, however, an alien and had no green card. Later, when it appeared her fortunes were on the rise during the fall of 1979, Hefner would personally intervene to secure her a temporary work permit. In the meantime, she was given a job as a bunny at the Century City Playboy Club. The Organization took care of her. It recognized a good thing. While other playmates required cosmetic surgery on breasts or scars, Stratten was nearly perfect. There was a patch of adolescent acne on her forehead and a round birthmark on her hip, but nothing serious. Her most troublesome flaw was a tendency to get plump, but that was controlled through passionate exercise. The only initial change Playboy deemed necessary was trimming her shoulder-length blond hair. And the cumbersome “Hoogstraten” became “Stratten.”

Playboy photographers had been so impressed by the way Dorothy photographed that a company executive called agent David Wilder of Barr-Wilder Associates. Wilder, who handled the film careers of other playmates, agreed to meet Dorothy for coffee.

“A quality like Dorothy Stratten’s comes by once in a lifetime,” says Wilder with the solemn exaggeration that comes naturally after a tragedy. “She was exactly what this town likes, a beautiful girl who could act.”

More to the point she had at least one trait to meet any need. When Lorimar Productions wanted a “playmate type” for a bit role in Americathon, Wilder sent Dorothy. When Columbia wanted a beauty who could skate for Skatetown, Wilder sent Dorothy, who could skate like an ace. When the producers of Buck Rogers and later Galaxina asked simply for a woman who was so beautiful that no one could deny it, Wilder sent Dorothy. And once Dorothy got in the door, it seemed that no one could resist her.

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During the spring of 1979, Dorothy was busy modeling or filming. One photographer recalls, “She was green, but took instruction well.” From time to time, however, she would have difficulty composing herself on the set. She asked a doctor for a prescription of Valium. It was the adjustments, she explained, and the growing hassles with Paul.

Since coming to L.A., Snider had been into some deals of his own, most of them legal but sleazy. He had promoted exotic male dancers at a local disco, a wet underwear contest near Santa Monica, and wet T-shirt contests in the San Fernando Valley. But his chief hopes rested with Dorothy. He reminded her constantly that the two of them had what he called “a lifetime bargain” and he pressed her to marry him. Dorothy was torn by indecision. Friends tried to dissuade her from marrying, saying it could hold back her career, but she replied, “He cares for me so much. He’s always there when I need him. I can’t ever imagine myself being with any other man but Paul.”

They were married in Las Vegas on June 1, 1979, and the following month Dorothy returned to Canada for a promotional tour of the provinces. Paul did not go with her because Playboy wanted the marriage kept secret. In Vancouver, Dorothy was greeted like a minor celebrity. The local press, a little caustic but mainly cowed, questioned her obliquely about exploitation. “I see the pictures as nudes, like nude paintings,” she said. “They are not made for people to fantasize about.” Her family and Paul’s family visited her hotel, highly pleased with her success. Her first film was about to be released. The August issue was already on the stands featuring her as a pouting nymph who wrote poetry. (A few plodding iambs were even reprinted.)

And she was going to star in a new Canadian film by North American Pictures called Autumn Born.

Since the murder, not much has been made of this film, probably because it contained unpleasant overtones of bondage. Dorothy played the lead, a 17-year-old rich orphan who is kidnapped and abused by her uncle. Dorothy was excited about the role, although she conceded to a Canadian reporter, “a lot [of it] is watching this girl get beat up.”

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A Goddess for the ’80s

While Dorothy was being pummeled on the set of Autumn Born, Snider busied himself apartment hunting. They were due for a rent raise and were looking to share a place with a doctor friend, a young internist who patronized the Century City Playboy Club. Paul found a two-story Spanish style stucco house near the Santa Monica Freeway in West L.A. There was a living room upstairs as well as a bedroom which the doctor claimed. Paul and Dorothy moved into the second bedroom downstairs at the back of the house. Since the doctor spent many nights with his girlfriend, the Sniders had the house much to themselves.

Paul had a growing obsession with Dorothy’s destiny. It was, of course, his own. He furnished the house with photographs, and got plates reading “Star-80” for his new Mercedes. He talked about her as the next Playmate of the Year, the next Marilyn Monroe. When he had had a couple of glasses of wine, he would croon, “We’re on a rocket ship to the moon.” When they hit it big, he said, the would move to Bel-Air Estates where the big producers live.

Dorothy was made uncomfortable by his grandiosity. He was putting her, she confided to friends, in a position where she could not fail without failing them both. But she did not complain to him. They had, after all, a lifetime bargain, and he had brought her a long way.

As her manager he provided the kind of cautionary coaching that starlets rarely receive. He wouldn’t let her smoke. He monitored her drinking, which was moderate at any rate. He would have allowed her a little marijuana and cocaine under his supervision, but she showed no interest in drugs, save Valium. Mainly he warned her to be wary of the men she met at the Mansion, men who would promise her things, then use her up. Snider taught her how to finesse a come-on. How to turn a guy down without putting him off. Most important, he discussed with her who she might actually have to sleep with. Hefner, of course, was at the top of the list.

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Did Hefner sleep with Dorothy Stratten? Mansion gossips who have provided graphic narratives of Hefner’s encounters with other playmates cannot similarly document a tryst with Dorothy. According to the bizarre code of the Life — sexual society at the Mansion — fucking Hefner is a strictly voluntary thing. It never hurts a career, but Hefner, with so much sex at his disposal, would consider it unseemly to apply pressure.

Of Stratten, Hefner says, “There was a friendship between us. It wasn’t romantic.… This was not a very loose lady.”

Hefner likes to think of himself as a “father figure” to Stratten who, when she decided to marry, came to tell him about it personally. “She knew I had serious reservations about [Snider],” says Hefner. “I had sufficient reservations… that I had him checked out in terms of a possible police record in Canada.… I used the word — and I realized the [risk] I was taking — I said to her that he had a ‘pimp-like quality’ about him.”

Like most playmate husbands, Snider was held at arm’s length by the Playboy family. He was only rarely invited to the Mansion, which bothered him, as he would have liked more of an opportunity to cultivate Hefner. And Stratten, who was at the Mansion more frequently to party and roller skate, was never actively into the Life. Indeed, she spoke disdainfully of the “whores” who serviced Hefner’s stellar guests. Yet she moved into the circle of Hefner’s distinguished favorites when it became apparent that she might have a real future in film.

Playboy, contrary to the perception of aspiring starlets, is not a natural conduit to stardom. Most playmates who go into movies peak with walk-ons and fade away. Those whom Hefner has tried most earnestly to promote in recent years have been abysmal flops. Barbi Benton disintegrated into a jiggling loon and, according to Playboy sources, Hefner’s one time favorite Sondra Theodore went wooden once the camera started to roll.

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“Dorothy was important,” says one Playboy employee, “because Hefner is regarded by Hollywood as an interloper. They’ll come to his parties and play his games. But the won’t give him respect. One of the ways he can gain legitimacy is to be a star maker.”

There is something poignant about Hefner, master of an empire built on inanimate nudes, but unable to coax these lustrous forms to life on film. His chief preoccupation nowadays is managing the playmates. Yet with all of those beautiful women at his disposal, he has not one Marion Davies to call his own. Dorothy exposed that yearning, that ego weakness, as surely as she revealed the most pathetic side of her husband’s nature — his itch for the big score. Hefner simply had more class.

Dorothy’s possibilities were made manifest to him during The Playboy Roller Disco and Pajama Party taped at the Mansion late in October 1979. Dorothy had a running part and was tremendously appealing.

“Some people have the quality,” says Hefner. “I mean… there is something that comes from inside… The camera comes so close that it almost looks beneath the surface and… that magic is there somehow in the eyes.… That magic she had. That was a curious combination of sensual appeal and vulnerability.”

After the special was aired on television in November, Dorothy’s career accelerated rapidly. There was a rush of appearances that left the accumulating impression of stardom. Around the first of December her Fantasy Island episode appeared. Later that month, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. But the big news was that Hefner had chosen Dorothy Playmate of the Year for 1980. Although her selection was not announced to the public until April, she began photo sessions with Playboy photographer Mario Casilli before the year was out.

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Her look was altered markedly from that of sultry minx in the August issue. As Playmate of the Year her image was more defined. No more pouting, soft focus shots. Stratten was given a burnished high glamour. Her hair fell in the crimped undulating waves of a ’50s starlet. Her translucent body was posed against scarlet velour reminiscent of the Monroe classic. One shot of Stratten displaying some of her $200,000 in gifts — a brass bed and a lavender Lore negligee — clearly evoked the platinum ideal of Jean Harlow. Dorothy’s apotheosis reached, it seemed, for extremes of innocence and eroticism. In one shot she was draped in black lace and nestled into a couch, buttocks raised in an impish invitation to sodomy. Yet the cover displayed her clad in a chaste little peasant gown, seated in a meadow, head tilted angelically to one side. The dichotomy was an affirmation of her supposed sexual range. She was styled, apparently, as the Compleat Goddess for the ’80s.

By January 1980 — the dawning of her designated decade — Dorothy Stratten was attended by a thickening phalanx of photographers, promoters, duennas, coaches, and managers. Snider, sensing uneasily that she might be moving beyond his reach, became more demanding. He wanted absolute control over her financial affairs and the movie offers she accepted. She argued that he was being unreasonable; that she had an agent and a business manager whose job it was to advise her in those matters. Snider then pressed her to take the $200,000 from Playboy and buy a house. It would be a good investment, he said. He spent a lot of time looking at homes that might suit her, but she always found fault with them. She did not want to commit herself. She suspected, perhaps rightly, that he only wanted to attach another lien on her life.

This domestic squabbling was suspended temporarily in January when it appeared that Dorothy was poised for her big break, a featured role in a comedy called They All Laughed starring Audrey Hepburn and Ben Gazzara. It was to be directed by Peter Bogdanovich, whom Dorothy had first met at the roller disco bash in October. According to David Wilder, he and Bogdanovich were partying at the Mansion in January when the director first considered Stratten for the part.

“Jesus Christ,” the 41-year-old Bogdanovich is supposed to have said. “She’s perfect for the girl.… I don’t want her for her tits and ass. I want someone who can act.”

Wilder says he took Dorothy to Bogdanovich’s house in Bel-Air Estates to read for the role. She went back two or three more times and the director decided she was exactly what he wanted.

Filming was scheduled to begin in late March in New York City. Paul wanted to come along but Dorothy said no. He would get in the way and, at any rate, the set was closed to outsiders. Determined that she should depart Hollywood as a queen, he borrowed their housemate’s Rolls Royce and drove her to the airport. He put her on the plane in brash good spirits, then went home to sulk at being left behind.

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They All Laughed

The affair between Dorothy Stratten and Peter Bogdanovich was conducted in amazing secrecy. In that regard it bore little resemblance to the director’s affair with Cybill Shepherd, an escapade which advertised his puerile preference for ingenues. Bogdanovich, doubtless, did not fancy the publicity that might result from a liaison with a 20-year-old woman married to a hustler. A couple of days before the murder-suicide, he spoke of this to his close friend Hugh Hefner.

“It was the first time I’d seen him in a number of months because he’d been in New York,” says Hefner. “He was very very up. Very excited about her and the film.… I don’t think that he was playing with this at all. I think it was important to him. I’m talking about the relationship.… He was concerned at that point because of what had happened to him and [Cybill]. He was concerned about the publicity related to the relationship because of that. He felt in retrospect, as a matter of fact, that he… that they had kind of caused some of it. And it played havoc with both of their careers for a while.”

Stratten, as usual, did not advertise the fact that she was married. When she arrived in New York, she checked quietly into the Wyndham Hotel. The crew knew very little about her except that she showed up on time and seemed very earnest about her small role. She was cordial but kept her distance, spending her time off-camera in a director’s chair reading. One day it would be Dickens’s Great Expectations; the next day a book on dieting. With the help of makeup and hair consultants her looks were rendered chaste and ethereal to defuse her playmate image. “She was a darling little girl,” says makeup artist Fern Buckner. “Very beautiful, of course. Whatever you did to her it was all right.”

Dorothy had headaches. She was eating very little to keep her weight down and working 12-hour days because Bogdanovich was pushing the project along at rapid pace. While most of the crew found him a selfish, mean-spirited megalomaniac, the cast by and large found him charming. He was particularly solicitous of Dorothy Stratten. And just as quietly as she had checked into the Wyndham, she moved into his suite at the Plaza. Word spread around the set that Bogdanovich and Stratten were involved but, because they were discreet, they avoided unpleasant gossip. “They weren’t hanging all over one another,” says one crew member. “It wasn’t until the last few weeks when everyone relaxed a bit that they would show up together holding hands.” One day Bogdanovich walked over to a couch where Dorothy sat chewing gum. “You shouldn’t chew gum,” he admonished. “It has sugar in it.” She playfully removed the wad from her mouth an deposited it in his palm.

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Bogdanovich is less than eager to discuss the affair. His secretary says he will not give interviews until They All Laughed is released in April. The director needs a hit badly and who can tell how Stratten’s death might affect box office. Laughed is, unfortunately, a comedy over which her posthumous performance might throw a pall. Although the plot is being guarded as closely as a national security secret, it goes something like this:

Ben Gazzara is a private detective hired by a wealthy, older man who suspects his spouse, Audrey Hepburn, has a lover. In following her, Gazzara falls in love with her. Meanwhile, Gazzara’s sidekick, John Ritter, is hired by another wealthy older man to follow his young bride, Dorothy Stratten. Ritter watches Stratten from afar — through a window as she argues with her husband, as she roller skates at the Roxy. After a few perfunctory conversations, he asks her to marry him. Hepburn and Gazzara make a brief abortive stab at mature love. And Gazzara reverts to dating and mating with teenyboppers.

Within this intricate web of shallow relationships Dorothy, by all accounts, emerges as a shimmering seraph, a vision of perfection clad perennially in white. In one scene she is found sitting in the Algonquin Hotel bathed in a diaphanous light. “It was one of those scene that could make a career,” recalls a member of the crew. “People in the screening room rustled when they saw her. She didn’t have many lines. She just looked so good.” Bogdanovich was so enthusiastic about her that he called Hefner on the West Coast to say he was expanding Dorothy’s role — not many more lines, but more exposure.

Paul Snider, meanwhile, was calling the East Coast where he detected a chill in Dorothy’s voice. She would be too tired to talk. He would say, “I love you,” and she wouldn’t answer back. Finally, she began to have her calls screened. Late in April, during a shooting break, she flew to Los Angeles for a flurry of appearances which included a Playmate of the Year Luncheon and an appearance on The Johnny Carson Show. Shortly thereafter, Dorothy left for a grand tour of Canada. She agreed, however, to meet Paul in Vancouver during the second week of May. Her mother was remarrying and she planned to attend the wedding.

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The proposed rendezvous worried Dorothy’s Playboy traveling companion, Liz Norris. Paul was becoming irascible. He called Dorothy in Toronto and flew into a rage when she suggested that he allow her more freedom. Norris offered to provide her charge with a bodyguard once they arrived in Vancouver, but Dorothy declined. She met Paul and over her objections he checked them into the same hotel. Later, each gave essentially the same account of that encounter. She asked him to loosen his grip. “Let the bird fly,” she said. They argued violently, they both sank back into tears. According to Snider, they reconciled and made love. Dorothy never acknowledged that. She later told a friend, however, that she had offered to leave Hollywood and go back to live with him in Vancouver, but he didn’t want that. In the end she cut her trip short to get back to shooting.

Snider, by now, realized that his empire was illusory. As her husband he technically had claim to half of her assets, but many of her assets were going into a corporation called Dorothy Stratten Enterprises. He was not one of the officers. When she spoke of financial settlements, she sounded like she was reading a strange script. She was being advised, he suspected, by Bogdanovich’s lawyers. (Dorothy’s attorney, Wayne Alexander, reportedly represents Bogdanovich too, but Alexander cannot be reached for comment.) Late in June, Snider received a letter declaring that he and Dorothy were separated physically and financially. She closed out their joint bank accounts and began advancing him money through her business manager.

Buffeted by forces beyond his control, Snider tried to cut his losses. He could have maintained himself as a promoter or as the manager of a health club. He was an expert craftsman and turned out exercise benches which he sold for $200 a piece. On at least one occasion he had subverted those skills to more dubious ends by building a wooden bondage rack for his private pleasure. But Snider didn’t want to be a nobody. His rocket ship had come too close to the moon to leave him content with hang-gliding.

He tried, a little pathetically, to groom another Dorothy Stratten, a 17-year-old check-out girl from Riverside who modeled on the side. He had discovered her at an auto show. Patty was of the same statuesque Stratten ilk, and Snider taught her to walk like Dorothy, to dress like Dorothy, and to wear her hair like Dorothy. Eventually she moved into the house that he and Dorothy shared. But she was not another Stratten, and when Snider tried to promote her as a playmate, Playboy wanted nothing to do with him.

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Paul’s last hope for a big score was a project begun a month or so before he and Dorothy were married. He had worked out a deal with a couple of photographer friends, Bill and Susan Lachasse, to photograph Dorothy on skates wearing a French-cut skating outfit. From that they would print a poster that they hoped would sell a million copies and net $300,000. After Dorothy’s appearance on the Carson show, Snider thought the timing was right. But Dorothy had changed her mind. The Lachasses flew to New York the day after she finished shooting to persuade her to reconsider. They were told by the production office that Dorothy could be found at Bogdanovich’s suite at the Plaza.

“It was three or four in the afternoon,” says Lachasse. “There had been a cast party the night before. Dorothy answered the door in pajamas and said, ‘Oh my God! What are you doing here?’ She shut the door and when she came out again she explained ‘I can’t invite you in. There are people here.’ She looked at the photos in the hallway and we could tell by her eyes that she liked them. She took them inside, then came out and said, ‘Look how my tits are hanging down.’ Somebody in there was telling her what to do. She said, ‘Look, I’m confused, have you shown these to Paul?’ I said, ‘Dorothy, you’re divorcing Paul.’ And she said, ‘I don’t know, I just don’t know.’ “

When Lachasse called the Plaza suite the following week a woman replied, “We don’t know Dorothy Stratten. Stop harassing us.”

“Paul felt axed as in every other area,” says Lachasse. “That was his last bit of income.”

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They All Cried

During the anxious spring and early summer, Snider suspected, but could not prove, that Dorothy was having an affair. So as the filming of They All Laughed drew to a close in mid-July, he did what, in the comic world of Peter Bogdanovich, many jealous husbands do. He hired a private eye, a 26-year-old freelance detective named Marc Goldstein. The elfish Goldstein, who later claimed to be a friend of both Dorothy and Paul, in fact knew neither of them well. He was retained upon the recommendation of an unidentified third party. He will not say what exactly his mission was, but a Canadian lawyer named Ted Ewachniuk who represented both Paul and Dorothy in Vancouver claims that Snider was seeking to document the affair with Bogdanovich in order to sue him for “enticement to breach management contract” — an agreement Snider believed inherent within their marriage contract. That suit was to be filed in British Columbia, thought to be a suitable venue since both Snider and Stratten were still Canadians and, it could be argued, had only gone to Los Angeles for business.

Goldstein began showing up regularly at Snider’s apartment. Snider produced poems and love letters from Bogdanovich that he had found among Dorothy’s things. He instructed Goldstein to do an asset search on Dorothy and to determine whether or not Bogdanovich was plying her with cocaine.

Even as he squared off for a legal fight, Snider was increasingly despairing. He knew, underneath it all, that he did not have the power or resources to fight Bogdanovich. “Maybe this thing is too big for me,” he confided to a friend, and he talked about going back to Vancouver. But the prospect of returning in defeat was too humiliating. He felt Dorothy was now so completely sequestered by attorneys that he would never see her again. Late in July his old machismo gave way to grief. He called Bill Lachasse one night crying because he could not touch Dorothy or even get near her. About the same time, his roommate the doctor returned home one night to find him despondent in the living room. “This is really hard,” Paul said, and broke into tears. He wrote fragments of notes to Dorothy that were never sent. One written in red felt-tip marker and later found stuffed into one of his drawers was a rambling plaint on how he couldn’t get it together without her. With Ewachniuk’s help, he drafted a letter to Bogdanovich telling him to quit influencing Dorothy and that he [Snider] would “forgive” him. But Ewachniuk does not know if the letter was ever posted.

Dorothy, Paul knew, had gone for a holiday in London with Bogdanovich and would be returning to Los Angeles soon. He tortured himself with the scenario of the successful director and his queen showing up at Hefner’s Midsummer Night’s Dream Party on August 1. He couldn’t bear it and blamed Hefner for fostering the affair. He called the Mansion trying to get an invitation to the party and was told he would be welcome only if he came with Dorothy.

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But Dorothy did not show up at the party. She was keeping a low profile. She had moved ostensibly into a modest little apartment in Beverly Hills, the address appeared on her death certificate. The apartment, however, was occupied by an actress who was Bogdanovich’s personal assistant. Dorothy had actually moved into Bogdanovich’s home in Bel-Air Estates. Where the big producers live.

Several days after her return to Los Angeles, she left for a playmate promotion in Dallas and Houston. There she appeared radiant, apparently reveling in her own success. She had been approached about playing Marilyn Monroe in Larry Schiller’s made-for-TV movie, but she had been too busy with the Bogdanovich film. She had been discussed as a candidate for Charlie’s Angels although Wilder thought she could do better. She was scheduled to meet with independent producer Martin Krofft who was considering her for his new film, The Last Desperado. It all seemed wonderful to her. But Stratten was not so cynical that she could enjoy her good fortune without pangs of regret. She cried in private. Until the end she retained a lingering tenderness for Paul Snider and felt bound to see him taken care of after the divorce. From Houston she gave him a call and agreed to meet him on Friday, August 8, for lunch.

After hearing from her, Snider was as giddy as a con whose sentence has been commuted, for he believed somehow that everything would be all right between them again. The night before their appointed meeting he went out for sandwiches with friends and was his blustering, confident old self. It would be different, he said. He would let her know that he had changed. “I’ve really got to vacuum the rug,” he crowed. “The queen is coming back.”

The lunch date, however, was a disaster. The two of them ended up back in the apartment squared off sullenly on the couch. Dorothy confessed at last that she was in love with Bogdanovich and wanted to proceed with some kind of financial settlement. Before leaving she went through her closet and took the clothes she wanted. The rest, she said, he should give to Patty.

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Having his hopes raised so high and then dashed again gave Snider a perverse energy. Those who saw him during the five days prior to the murder caught only glimpses of odd behavior. In retrospect they appear to form a pattern of intent. He was preoccupied with guns. Much earlier in the year Snider had borrowed a revolver from a friend named Chip, the consort of one of Dorothy’s playmates. Paul never felt easy, he said, without a gun, a holdover from his days on the East End. But Paul had to give the revolver back that Friday afternoon because Chip was leaving town. He looked around for another gun. On Sunday he held a barbecue at his place for a few friends and invited Goldstein. During the afternoon he pulled Goldstein aside and asked the detective to buy a machine gun for him. He needed it, he said, for “home protection.” Goldstein talked him out of it.

In the classifieds, Snider found someone in the San Fernando Valley who wanted to sell a 12-gauge Mossberg pump shotgun. He circled the ad and called the owner. On Monday he drove into the Valley to pick up the gun but got lost in the dark. The owner obligingly brought it to a construction site where he showed Snider how to load and fire it.

Dorothy, meanwhile, had promised to call Paul on Sunday but did not ring until Monday, an omission that piqued him. They agreed to meet on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. to discuss the financial settlement. She had been instructed by her advisers to offer him a specified sum. During previous conversations, Paul thought he had heard Dorothy say, “I’ll always take care of you,” but he could not remember the exact words. Goldstein thought it might be a good idea to wire Snider’s body for sound so that they could get a taped account if Dorothy repeated her promise to provide for him. They could not come up with the proper equipment, however, and abandoned the plan.

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On Wednesday, the day he picked up the gun, Snider seemed in an excellent mood. He told his roommate that Dorothy would be coming over and that she had agreed to look at a new house that he thought might be a good investment for her. He left the impression that they were on amiable terms. That evening he dropped by Bill Lachasse’s studio to look at promotional shots of Patty. There, too, he was relaxed and jovial. In an offhanded way, he told Lachasse that he had bought a gun for protection. He also talked of strange and unrelated things that did not seem menacing in the context of his good spirits. He talked of Claudia Jennings, who had died with a movie in progress. Some playmates get killed, he observed. And when that happens, it causes a lot of chaos.

Bogdanovich had somehow discovered that Dorothy was being trailed by a private eye. He was furious, but Dorothy was apparently not alarmed. She was convinced that she and Paul were on the verge of working out an amicable agreement and she went to meet him as planned. According to the West Los Angeles police, she parked and locked her 1967 Mercury around 11:45 a.m., but the county coroner reports that she arrived later, followed by Goldstein who clocked her into the house at 12:30 p.m. Shortly thereafter, Goldstein called Snider to find out how things were going. Snider replied, in code, that everything was fine. Periodically throughout the afternoon, Goldstein rang Snider with no response. No one entered the house until five when Patty and another of Paul’s little girlfriends returned home, noticed Dorothy’s car and saw the doors to Snider’s room closed. Since they heard no sounds, they assumed he wanted privacy. The two girls left to go skating and returned at 7 p.m. By then the doctor had arrived home and noticed the closed door. He also heard the unanswered ringing on Snider’s downstairs phone. Shortly before midnight Goldstein called Patty and asked her to knock at Paul’s door. She demurred, so he asked to speak to the doctor. The latter agreed to check but even as he walked downstairs he felt some foreboding. The endless ringing had put him on edge and his German shepherd had been pacing and whining in the yard behind Paul’s bedroom. The doctor knocked and when there was no response, he pushed the door open. The scene burnt his senses and he yanked the door shut.

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***

It is impolitic to suggest that Paul Snider loved Dorothy Stratten. Around Hollywood, at least, he is currently limned as brutal and utterly insensitive. If he loved her, it was in the selfish way of one who cannot separate a lover’s best interests from one’s own. And if he did what he is claimed to have done, he was, as Hugh Hefner would put it, “a very sick guy.”

Even now, however, no one can say with certainty that Paul Snider committed either murder or suicide. One of his old confederates claims he bought the gun to “scare” Bogdanovich. The coroner was sufficiently equivocal to deem his death a “questionable suicide/possible homicide.” One Los Angeles psychic reportedly attributes the deaths to an unemployed actor involved with Snider in a drug deal. Goldstein, who holds to a theory that both were murdered, is badgering police for results of fingerprintings and paraffin tests, but the police consider Goldstein a meddler and have rebuffed his requests. The West LAPD, which has not yet closed the case, says it cannot determine if it was Snider who fired the shotgun because his hands were coated with too much blood and tissue for tests to be conclusive.

And yet Snider appears to have been following a script of his own choosing. One which would thwart the designs of Playboy and Hollywood. Perhaps he had only meant to frighten Dorothy, to demonstrate to Bogdanovich that he could hold her in thrall at gunpoint. Perhaps he just got carried away with the scene. No one knows exactly how events unfolded after Dorothy entered the house that afternoon. She had apparently spent some time upstairs because her purse was found lying in the middle of the living room floor. In it was a note in Paul’s handwriting explaining his financial distress. He had no green card, it said, and he required support. Dorothy’s offer, however, fell far short of support. It was a flat settlement of only $7500 which, she claimed, represented half of her total assets after taxes. “Not enough,” said one friend, “to put a nice little sports car in his garage.” Perhaps she had brought the first installment to mollify Paul’s inevitable disappointment; police found $1100 in cash among her belongings, another $400 among his. One can only guess at the motives of those two doomed players who, at some point in the afternoon, apparently left the front room and went downstairs.

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It is curious that, given the power of the blasts, the little bedroom was not soaked in blood. There was only spattering on the walls, curtains, and television. Perhaps because the room lacked a charnel aspect, the bodies themselves appeared all the more grim. They were nude. Dorothy lay crouched across the bottom corner of a low bed. Both knees were on the carpet and her right shoulder was drooping. Her blond hair hung naturally, oddly unaffected by the violence to her countenance. The shell had entered above her left eye leaving the bones of that seraphic face shattered and displaced in a welter of pulp. Her body, mocking the soft languid poses of her pictorials, was in full rigor.

No one, least of all Hugh Hefner, could have foreseen such a desecration. It was unthinkable that an icon of eroticism presumed by millions of credulous readers to be impervious to the pangs of mortality could be reduced by a pull of a trigger to a corpse, mortally stiff, mortally livid and crawling with small black ants. For Hefner, in fact, that grotesque alteration must have been particularly bewildering. Within the limits of his understanding, he had done everything right. He had played it clean with Stratten, handling her paternally, providing her with gifts and opportunities and, of course, the affection of the Playboy family. Despite his best efforts, however, she was destroyed. The irony that Hefner does not perceive or at least fails to acknowledge is that Stratten was destroyed not by random particulars, but by a germ breeding within the ethic. One of the tacit tenets of Playboy philosophy — that women can be possessed — had found a fervent adherent in Paul Snider. He had bought the dream without qualification, and he thought of himself as perhaps one of Playboy’s most honest apostles. He acted out of dark fantasies never intended to be realized. Instead of fondling himself in private, instead of wreaking abstract violence upon a centerfold, he ravaged a playmate in the flesh.

Dorothy had, apparently, been sodomized, though whether this occurred before or after her death is not clear. After the blast, her body was moved and there were what appeared to be bloody handprints on her buttocks and left leg. Near her head was Paul’s handmade bondage rack set for rear-entry intercourse. Loops of tape, used and unused, were lying about and strands of long blond hair were discovered clutched in Snider’s right hand. He was found face-down lying parallel to the foot of the bed. The muzzle of the Mossberg burnt his right cheek as the shell tore upward through his brain. The blast, instead of driving him backwards, whipped him forward over the length of the gun. He had always said he would rather die than go to jail.

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***

Goldstein arrived before the police and called the Mansion. Hefner, thinking the call a prank, would not come to the phone at first. When he did he asked for the badge number of the officer at the scene. Satisfied that this was no bad joke, Hefner, told his guests in the game house. There were wails of sorrow and disbelief. He then called Bogdanovich. “There was no conversation,” Hefner says. “I was afraid that he had gone into shock or something. [When he didn’t respond] I called the house under another number. A male friend was there to make sure he was [all right]. He was overcome.”

Bogdanovich arranged for Stratten’s cremation five days later. Her ashes were placed in an urn and buried in a casket so that he could visit them. Later he would issue his own statement:

DOROTHY STRATTEN WAS AS GIFTED AND INTELLIGENT AN ACTRESS AS SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL, AND SHE WAS VERY BEAUTIFUL INDEED—IN EVERY WAY IMAGINABLE—MOST PARTICULARLY IN HER HEART. SHE AND I FELL IN LOVE DURING OUR PICTURE AND HAD PLANNED TO BE MARRIED AS SOON AS HER DIVORCE WAS FINAL. THE LOSS TO HER MOTHER AND FATHER, HER SISTER AND BROTHER, TO MY CHILDREN, TO HER FRIENDS AND TO ME IS LARGER THAN WE CAN CALCULATE. BUT THERE IS NO LIFE DOROTHY’S TOUCHED THAT HAS NOT BEEN CHANGED FOR THE BETTER THROUGH KNOWING HER, HOWEVER BRIEFLY. DOROTHY LOOKED AT THE WORLD WITH LOVE, AND BELIEVED THAT ALL PEOPLE WERE GOOD DOWN DEEP. SHE WAS MISTAKEN, BUT IT IS AMONG THE MOST GENEROUS AND NOBLE ERRORS WE CAN MAKE.

PETER BOGDANOVICH

Bogdanovich took the family Hoogstraten in tow. They were stunned, but not apparently embittered by Dorothy’s death. “They knew who cared for her,” Hefner says. Mother, fathers — both natural and stepfather — sister, and brother flew to Los Angeles for the service and burial at Westwood Memorial Park, the same cemetery, devotees of irony point out, where Marilyn Monroe is buried. Hefner and Bogdanovich were there and after the service the family repaired to Bogdanovich’s house for rest and refreshments. It was all quiet and discreet. Dorothy’s mother says that she will not talk to the press until the movie comes out. Not until April when Stratten’s glimmering ghost will appear on movie screens across the country, bathed in white light and roller skating through a maze of hilarious infidelities.

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Playboy, whose corporate cool was shaken by her untimely death, has regained its composure. The December issue features Stratten as one of the “Sex Stars of 1980.” At the end of 12 pages of the biggest draws in show business — Bo Derek, Brooke Shields, etc. — she appears topless, one breast draped with a gossamer scarf. A caption laments her death which “cut short what seasoned star-watchers predicted was sure to be an outstanding film career.”

Hype, of course, often passes for prophecy. Whether or not Dorothy Stratten would have fulfilled her extravagant promise can’t be known. Her legacy will not be examined critically because it is really of no consequence. In the end Dorothy Stratten was less memorable for herself than for the yearnings she evoked: in Snider a lust for the score; in Hefner a longing for a star; in Bogdanovich a desire for the eternal ingenue. She was a catalyst for a cycle of ambitions which revealed its players less wicked, perhaps, than pathetic.

As for Paul Snider, his body was returned to Vancouver in permanent exile from Hollywood. It was all too big for him. In that Elysium of dreams and deals, he had reached the limits of his class. His sin, his unforgivable sin, was being small-time. ❖

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Black History Month: Post-Soul Culture Circa 1992

When did it happen? Was it when “Richard Pryor’s blues-based life experience humor gave way to Eddie Murphy’s telegenic, pop-culture–oriented joking”? Or was it when “DJs began rocking Kraftwerk’s ‘Trans-Europe Express’ ”?

In the March 17, 1992, issue of the Voice, contributor Nelson George surveyed the “post-soul” landscape and discovered that, “as a musical genre, a definition of African American culture, and the code word for our national identity, soul has pretty much been dead since Nixon’s reelection in 1972. But what’s replaced it? Arguing in these pages in 1986, Greg Tate tried to establish a ‘new black aesthetic’ as a defining concept. He had a point, though I’d argue there was more than one aesthetic at work. For better and worse, the spawn of the postsoul era display multiple personalities.”

Indeed, over seventeen pages George explores a broad spectrum of post-soul black aesthetics, and the Voice’s art department helped with diptychs comparing and contrasting Malcolm X to KRS-One and Muhammad Ali and Bundini Brown to Chuck D and Flavor Flav, as well as triptychs of Lisa Bonet and Magic Johnson. The amped-up graphic treatment was necessary to keep pace with the sweep of George’s essay: “Which brings us back to our search for the source of this transition — for the single event that first engaged all these aesthetic, class, and economic issues. After considerable equivocation, I’ve decided that my starting point is a renegade work that, like many pivotal expressions throughout history, has only been encountered by a small percentage of the folks it affected.…When Melvin Van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baaadassss Song came out in 1971, nothing like it had appeared on an American movie screen before. The depiction of a Watts-based male hustler’s act of rebellion against brutal police and subsequent flight to freedom ‘was an important moment in the evolution of black cinema which involved redefinition and initial statement of a willingness to act against one’s fate in America,’ according to veteran black filmmaker St. Clair Bourne.”

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George goes on to observe, “Sweetback’s ghettocentric style, outsider perspective, and financially independent spirit still reverberate in two crucial African American artistic movements — hip hop and black film. Sweetback defied the positive-image canon of Sidney Poitier, dealing openly with black sexuality, government-sanctioned brutality, and the arbitrary violence of inner city life. Its refusal to compromise still sparks black artists from Ice Cube to Matty Rich.”

After the essay comes a sumptuously illustrated fourteen-page “Time Line to Postsoul Black Culture” (1971–1991). Black History Month may be the shortest month of the year (landing there largely because it grew out of Negro History Week, which celebrated both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’s birthdays, on the 12th and 14th, respectively), but you could do worse than spend a big chunk of it revisiting the time line’s list of cultural highlights. Many, many celebs, politicians, actors, activists, athletes, and artists get shout-outs in the time line, including the gorgeous Pam Grier in 1973’s Coffy, the tenacious Shirley Chisholm in Congress, the atmospheric neorealism of Charles Burnett’s beautifully filmed Killer of Sheep, Grace Jones celebrating “the bisexual and campy black gay aesthetic” at Studio 54 in 1978, black quarterback Doug Williams leading the Washington Redskins to a triumph in the 1987 Super Bowl, and the 1989 debut of In Living Color on Fox. The time line also reminds us of less than positive events that occurred during those two decades, with this entry coming near the end: “Neocon Clarence Thomas, nominated to succeed civil rights warrior Thurgood Marshall, is confirmed as the second black to serve on the Supreme Court by the smallest margin in history after he’s almost derailed by law professor Anita Hill’s charges of sexual harassment. Never has America seen so many real-life Buppies on TV. Unfortunately, they’re all Republicans.”

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Take a ride back to the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly — and a whole lot more from back in the day that helps us understand where we are now. —The Voice Archives

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What Empire? ‘Empire Strikes Back’ Reviewed

What Empire?
May 26, 1980

The movie begins: Episode V–The Empire Strikes Back. George Lucas, the most benevolent and least gurulike of the new California moguls, is officially telling­ the faithful that the beloved Star Wars was merely Episode IV in an evolving triple trilogy. The most popular movie ever, made for $10 million and released in 1977, introduced a rebel skirmish in a far-­off galaxy. The 1980 sequel, made for $20 million, continues the fight between hero Luke Skywalker and villain Darth Vader. And Lucasfilm Ltd., the most pragmatic and least mystic of the new ministudios, has announced that Episode VI, due in 1983, will conclude the duel to the death. Has anyone in this Force-fed organization figured out that at the present rate of progression Star Wars IX will come in at over $2.5 billion in the year 2001?

Meanwhile in Episode V, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford are back as the most likable gauche trio since Buster Crabbe, Jean Rogers, and Frank Shannon blasted off in Flash Gordon. The severe limitations of the Star Wars juve­niles, however, make no difference to the master plan.

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Empire has recruited a top-notch dra­matic filmmaker in Irvin Kershner as its titular director, but he is not permitted the luxury of reintroducing many existing characters. In a script that calls for an adolescent romance between Princess Leia (Fisher) and Han Solo (Ford) on the Hen­ry Aldrich level of affirmation through insult, Kershner’s hands are haplessly tied and the relationship stays safely within kiddie bounds. But Kershner does get in his licks. He has the chance to introduce into the series Billy Dee Williams as a dashing rogue adventurer, and while a new set of doe eyes is a bit much, the smooth assimilation of a black hero who is just as democratically callow as his fellow actors should lay to rest some of the silly accusations of racism and reverse racism aimed at the original. Kershner is probably re­sponsible also for a jarring shift in tone between the films. Star Wars, with its cool, stylized comic-book action, was sweetly and innocently a G-spirited film, but a more adult rating was requested for respectability’s sake. Empire is tartly and calculatedly, especially in its revving up of Dolby stereo into a weapon of subliminal edginess, a PG hard-action movie.

Otherwise, Lucas’s midway opus — and let it be stated once and for all that Lucas, like Disney and Selznick, is a true auteur from conception to final cut — is startlingly candid about its structure as a serial interruptus. The original’s leisurely introduc­tions, the sense of airy exploration of new worlds, and the pageant-like story with beginning, middle, and end are all gone. Empire careens willy-nilly from peril to battle to cliff-hanger. The accelerated pace is almost tiring so that the new movie, only three minutes longer, seems to unravel more slowly. Within an hour, it’s clear that nothing finally will be resolved in Empire, that neither good nor evil will triumph, and that the characters’ fates will be left dangling in various outposts of the galaxy. Empire is the first motion picture of its cost without a monster to leave its audience on hold.

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Shades of Mongo! Empire couldn’t be closer to the experience of walking into the middle five chapters of Flash Gordon Con­quers the Universe. There are five new locations, hence five sequences, very neat, very economical: There’s the ice planet of Hoth, the swamp of Dagobah, an asteroid belt, the Empire’s command battleship, and the floating city of Bespin. On Hoth, the animated sequences of riding snow beasts are crude and amateurish. The craft is far below Ray Harryhausen’s ex­pertise. It doesn’t matter. The film keeps moving. The snow beasts are quickly for­gotten in the swift choreography of an aerial dogfight against attacking mechanical behemoths, a speeding movement that later, through exquisite special effects, will climax in a race among dancing asteroids.

The Star Wars modus operandi is settl­ing down to a patchwork of scenes shot with actors in England on vast sets and those shot in miniature in Lucasfilm’s California factory. The split causes a defi­nite loss. The steering is so much in the hands of the special-effects men that one no longer gets a sense of the characters showing off their driving skills. The one set carried over from Star Wars, the battered smuggler’s ship Millennium Falcon, has been reduced to a running gag: it never gets in shape for a leap to hyperdrive, and there’s no real sense of Han Solo and Chewbacca manning the controls.

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There are other slippages, none of which favorably reflect on Lucas as the preserver of the Star Wars mythos. What I liked most about the original was the way it overlapped (or robbed from) my favorite sci-fi pulp: the straight-arrow militarism of E.E. Doc Smith, the fatalism and extrasensory gobbledygook of Frank Herbert, and the rover-boy adventurism of Larry Niven, one of whose favorite charac­ters is the Kzinti, a 15-foot, intelligent, fighting tomcat. Chewbacca, the wookie, was also once comically fearsome. In Em­pire, he’s a shaggy pussycat and a victim of sentimental domesticizing. Let us also mourn Alec Guinness’s Ben Kenobi, now relegated to a spectral holograph bringing infusions of the Force, making his first appearance to a near-frozen Luke like a Saint Bernard in the snow. C-3PO and R2-D2 are back, but here they seem awkward adjuncts, not central messengers of grace.

In many ways, Star Wars IV and V get away with murder. As Lucas has said of its hero: “Luke is a pawn in an adventure that has been going on for longer than his span of years.” Yeah, and for longer than the audience’s span of attention. What empire are we faced with? What emperor? (We finally get a one-minute hologram of His Badness in the new film.) What re­bels? What Force be with you? Lucas has trained a knot-hole eye on a science-fiction adventure; he has not drawn an epic can­vas, but has pasted together a slick, clean, noninterlocking collage of derivative bits and pieces. So let’s have no more Time talk of Lucas/Homer and Lucas/Bunyan. Empire is simply a minor entertainment, but I admire the moxie of betting $20 million on one-ninth of a matinee serial to be continued into the next century.

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Directed by Irvin Kershner. Written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, from a story by George Lucas. Produced by Gary Kurtz, A Lucasfilm Ltd. pro­duction released by 20th Century-Fox.