Short stories and essays by Shaun Costello, as well as excerpts from manuscripts in progress.

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HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO

HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO

 

by Shaun Costello

This guy in a uniform must be my father. Hey there, Dad.

This guy in a uniform must be my father. Hey there, Dad.

 

This story becomes Chapter One (following the prologue)

of the childhood memoir:

THE LAST TIME I SAW JESUS

Surviving God and Elvis in the Time of ‘Duck and Cover’

 

My newlywed parents, along with my Aunt Alice and Uncle Tommy, at The Stork Club, a few weeks before my father left for The Pacific during World War II

My newlywed parents, along with my Aunt Alice and Uncle Tommy, at The Stork Club, a few weeks before my father left for The Pacific during World War II

As a child, I had two adult male role models, neither of whom, as far as I know, experienced a single responsible moment in their lives; which goes a long way toward explaining why money has always been a mystery to me. There was my father – a pathological liar, degenerate gambler, alcoholic, chain smoker, and raconteur to the uninformed; who seemed involved in an endless struggle between his income and the image of himself he had created, with clumsy slight-of-hand, as a buffer to prevent being discovered as the fraud he must have known in his heart he undoubtedly was.  

My father - a raconteur to the uninformed.

My father – a raconteur to the uninformed.

And then there was my Uncle Tommy, who staked his claim to my affections during the waning months of World War II, while my father was off serving in the Pacific, and then with the occupation forces after the Japanese surrender. Uncle Tommy was movie star handsome and a professional dancer, who parlayed this combination of useful traits, regardless of the fact that he was homosexual, into a lifetime of living off the gifts of generous and very wealthy women, whose ranks included Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton.

My Uncle Tommy was movie star handsome.

My Uncle Tommy was movie star handsome.

Quite understandably, my father resented my uncle, who lavished expensive gifts upon his favorite nephew, made his gift-laden visits to our family driving his Rolls Royce, and occasionally took us cruising on his yacht. My friends would gather outside our house as the trunk to Uncle Tommy’s Rolls would open like a cornucopia of generosity, the gifts flowing, while my father watched from our living room window, properly fortified with yet another VO Manhattan against the onslaught of familial competitiveness, a turf war he had no chance of winning. I thought Uncle Tommy was rich – the Rolls, the yacht, the custom tailored suits; but I’m willing to bet that, for all his lavish behavior, Uncle Tommy never had a bank account containing more than a hundred dollars. Neither my father nor my uncle spent any time planning for their futures. They couldn’t be bothered. They both lived in the smoke they had created around their respective ever-precious present. They had tricks up their sleeves. They did it with mirrors – an endless hocus-pocus.  They both died broke.

On the surface, my family seemed to be living out the post war, Robert Moses version of the American Dream – Father, mother, brother, sister, dog and station wagon; all ensconced  in the suburban subdivision of Green Acres, a delightfully park-like, child-friendly community, in Long Island’s Nassau County – about a forty minute car ride from midtown Manhattan.

Our house in Green Acres. I wanted to live there forever.

Our house in Green Acres. I wanted to live there forever.

We lived in a two story brick house that was identical to every fourth house in the community, Green Acres offering four designs to choose from. This meant that on Elderberry Lane, which had a total of fourteen houses, our house was repeated three or four times, pretty typical in post World War II cookie-cutter subdivisions. Sounds a bit like Baltimore, but, despite architectural similarities, people seemed to find their way to their own houses unaided, with the exception of my philandering father, who was often accused by my mother of spending just a bit too much time offering domestic assistance to neighboring housewives, which was the cause of many interruptions in our familial tranquility. Virtually all of the streets in Green Acres were cul-de-sacs, which meant no through-traffic, or paradise to a kid on a Schwinn. Sections of the community were separated by small parks, so that you could walk from one end to the other without crossing a single street, allowing our extremely eccentric Dachshund ‘Ronzoni’ to wander freely about the neighborhood, sometimes for days at a time.

And then there was Montauk. In the late 1930’s, some members of my mother’s family, siblings of mygrandmother, bought property in Montauk, which was then a small fishing village at the very Eastern tip of Long Island, about a hundred miles East of Manhattan. These were the Stephensons, the children of my great grandmother Kitty Lane, who married Edward Stephenson, whose photograph, for decades after his early demise, sporting a straw skimmer and handlebar mustache, adorned the wall of their family’s Bronx apartment.

My Great Great Grandfather Edward Stephenson. Looks like a rakish dog, doesn't he?

My Great Great Grandfather Edward Stephenson. Looks like a rakish dog, doesn’t he?

Little Shaun showing his penis to fish on the beach at Hither Hills, in Montauk

Little Shaun showing his penis to fish on the beach at Hither Hills, in Montauk

The Stephensons visit us in Green Acres. It was my Great Grandmother's 85th birthday. She's in the back next to little Shaun.

The Stephensons visit us in Green Acres. It was my Great Grandmother’s 85th birthday. She’s in the back next to little Shaun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They were blue collar, working class, depression era Irish, bringing to the table all the good and the bad that that combination of unfortunate circumstances might suggest. With the exception of Aunt Catherine, I found them to be likeable and exotic. They seemed to speak another language, pronouncing words differently than I had ever heard before. Oil was earl, as in, “I’ve got to put some motor earl in the car”, or, “Pick up some olive earl for salad.” They called Chinese food chinks, and pizza was ahbeetz. Their apartment in the Bronx was filled with strange and bewildering religious oddities, each room with a crucifix on the wall and framed pictures of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and various Saints. And there were glow-in-the-dark statues, mostly of Jesus that, if held next to a lamp for a minute or so, would glow a strange blue-green. On my Great Grandmother’s dresser was Statue of Jesus with little doors built into his chest which, when opened, revealed all his internal organs, like an illustration in a biology book. I had no idea why Jesus would want to share his internal organs with me, but examining the sacred innards was so wonderfully weird that it became my favorite source of amusement whenever we paid a visit.

My Aunt Catherine and Uncle Harold's wedding portrait. They don't make silver prints like this any more, It's truly beautiful.

My Aunt Catherine and Uncle Harold’s wedding portrait. They don’t make silver prints like this any more, It’s truly beautiful.

The oldest Stephenson was Edward Junior (Uncle Eddie) who, although his Montauk cottage sat directly across the .street from his younger sister Catherine, had, some time between the purchase of his building lot in the mid 1930’s, and the end of World War II, engaged in some dispute with his siblings, a result of which was eternal and mutual banishment. His sisters seldom spoke his name, and then only accompanied by a shaking head and mournful sigh – an Irish form of familial excommunication. As a small child I saw him once or twice, but was discouraged from crossing the dirt road that separated the warring parties.

The next in line was my Great Aunt Rose, a stout, determined woman, who lived far outside the code of conduct normally adhered to by her peers. Some time in the early 1920’s, Rose divorced her husband, and married Charlie Volk, a Jewish soda vendor with whom she had been carrying on a delightfully disgraceful affair for quite some time. Among depression era Irish, divorce was unthinkable. And marrying a Jew, well, the whole neighborhood probably grabbed their rosary beads and fell to their knees in a desperate attempt to prevent Bronx-bound lightening strikes. Rosie drank whiskey in bars, and enjoyed the company of men. Rosie got into bar fights that she usually finished. Rosie had some cojones.

Aunt Rose had some cojones.

Aunt Rose had some cojones.

Aunt Della married Clem who ate clams and dropped dead.

Aunt Della married Clem who ate clams and dropped dead.

Then came Aunt Della, a small, thin, mousy little woman, who, it was rumored, suffered a terrible bout of tuberculosis in her early twenties, which kept her chair-bound for most of her life, but didn’t seem to deter her chain smoking. Della married a man named Clem who, during prohibition, succumbed to a lethal combination of bad calms and bathtub gin. He walked out of the clam bar on City Island with a smile on his face, and was dead two hours later. There were whispers about Aunt Della that my young ears detected, but that my child’s brain could make little sense of. Something about a tubal pregnancy. A dead fetus inside Aunt Della. A shameful secret. Hair that kept growing. Different lengths were mentioned – three feet, five feet, ten feet – all inside Aunt Della. Until finally, she could hide her delicate dilemma no longer, and off to the hospital she went, to have her expanding Medusa surgically removed from her Catholic self. I assume it was the offspring of the diseased clam eater, but I guess we’ll never know.

My grandmother married notorious gambler and stage performer Black Jack Dowling.

My grandmother married notorious gambler and stage performer Black Jack Dowling.

Next was Anna (Nan), my Grandmother, who flew the coop at an early age, and married notorious gambler, and stage performer Black Jack Dowling. They started a Vaudeville act, had two kids (my Mother and Uncle Tommy), added them to the act, and called themselves the Dancing Dowlings. They played the Southern Vaudeville circuit for about ten years, before returning to New York City. Unlike the rest of her siblings, Nan lived in Manhattan for most of her adult life.

My Grandmother performing with her husband and my Grandfather Black Jack Dowling.

My Grandmother performing with her husband and my Grandfather Black Jack Dowling.

Last and probably least, was Aunt Catherine, the baby of the Stephenson clan. She bore a startling resemblance to Margaret Hamilton, who played the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz. Catherine was married to Harold Hanley (Uncle Harold or sometimes Bootsiboo – don’t ask) who was a construction foreman, flounder fisherman, and pretty affable guy. How he put up with all those old biddies is anybody’s guess. Catherine was an unpleasant woman who couldn’t resist pinching my cheek, which really hurt. I hid from Aunt Catherine.

I hid from Aunt Catherine.

I hid from Aunt Catherine.

In the early days of World War II, Aunt Catherine and Uncle Harold built a tiny cottage on their Montauk property, and their presence seemed to draw other family members out to the end of Long Island. Uncle Tommy, who worked on the Tars and Spars Shows, out of the Brooklyn Coast Guard Barracks, began taking weekend passes, along with his Coast Guard pals, and heading out to Montauk, where he had befriended Otto and Mary Steinfeld, who owned the Montauket Hotel. After the war, Sonny Volk, Rosie’s son, who had lost a leg in the Battle of the Bulge, settled in Montauk, looking for business opportunities.

In January of 1946 my world, as I knew it, would change forever with the return of my father from Japan. Hail the conquering hero. He was resplendent in his army uniform, shiny Captain’s bars adorning the epaulets on his shoulders, and I’m sure a great fuss was made over him by everyone he knew, or was introduced to.  This would be the first time I laid eyes on my father, who was on a troop ship sailing to New Guinea when I was born. Up until then, having a father, in my little world, meant being told stories by my mother of her hero, off somewhere far away, fighting for America.

Hail the conquering hero.

Hail the conquering hero.

She would show me pictures and read me letters, and drag me to the record store where we would sit in a booth and record our voices on a disc that she would send off to somewhere in the far Pacific, to be listened to by her husband and his army pals. Personal recordings were extremely popular during the war, where many, like my father, could listen to the voices of their wives and sweethearts, and children they had yet to meet. I was two when I first met him, and I’m sure that his sudden presence in my life was bewildering, to say the least. He moved in to the small apartment I had shared with my mother, on Creston Avenue in the Bronx. My mother told me years later that she made my father wear his uniform after his return so she could show him off to everyone she knew. Take him down to the Club Fordham and flaunt her victorious soldier to the gang. He was a handsome guy, and I’m sure my mother’s pals were impressed by those shiny Captain’s bars on his shoulders.

A few years later, while snooping through his army trunk, which was one of my favorite forms of rainy day adventure, I came across his discharge papers. They were right there, along with his uniforms, and souvenirs of his years in the Pacific; a samurai sword, a blood-stained Japanese flag allegedly taken from the pockets of a dead enemy soldier, ivory Buddha statues, sea shells, photographs of naked women, and the various and sundry collected keepsakes of two years in a distant land. First Lieutenant Albert W. Costello was Honorably Discharged…………First Lieutenant. This would be my first brush with my father’s sleight-of-hand. He must have purchased Captain’s Bars at the PX, and somewhere between exiting the troop ship, and being enveloped into the welcoming arms of my mother, Lieutenant Costello became a Captain. I guess his army rank disappointed him, but more importantly, he thought it might disappoint others. I never mentioned my discovery, which I’m quite certain my mother was unaware of. The uniform finally went into mothballs, replaced by custom tailored suits, but the story of Al being a Captain in the war became his permanent legacy.

My sister's fifth birthday party. Outside our house in Green Acres.

My sister’s fifth birthday party. Outside our house in Green Acres.

It wasn’t until my family moved to Green Acres that we began our visits to Montauk. After the birth of my sister, my father, looking for more space for his growing family, and greener pastures for his fragile self-esteem, moved us from our tiny Bronx apartment to the town of Katonah, in the wilds of northern Westchester County, a two and a half hour commute by train to his office in mid-town Manhattan. He had rented a house on a lovely estate called Blue Spruce Farm, overlooking the Croton Reservoir. The property, owned by a mysterious man named Korhulse, was extensive – fields, woods, ponds, streams, barns containing horses, empty buildings in which to do make-believe and exploring – what a place to be a kid. The literally thousands of family photographs I inherited tell a story of countless visits by many of my father’s friends from the city, who made the trek north to our house in the country, to witness, first hand, the kind of life style Al Costello now enjoyed. But, after two years, the length of the commute, and the lure of participation in the American Dream’s reward of home ownership, overwhelmed my father, who decided to buy a house on Long Island. I was told quite abruptly, half way through kindergarten, and was uprooted, and dragged kicking and screaming to the enclave of Green Acres, a short commute to my father’s office, and the first home my family actually owned.

We now lived less than a hundred miles from the hamlet of Montauk, where family members owned houses, and others like my Uncle Tommy were now visiting fairly often. It didn’t take long before we began stuffing ourselves and our baggage in our Nash Rambler station wagon to make weekend trips east.

My father took to Montauk like a prodigal son.

My father took to Montauk like a prodigal son.

My father took to Montauk like the return of the prodigal son, although I’m not sure why. He wasn’t a fisherman, being a bit too squeamish to gut a freshly caught flounder.  Boating made him sea sick. He was prone to sun burn. Yet, according to all who witnessed Al Costello’s Montauk epiphany, the man just loved the place. Early attempts at staying with Aunt Catherine, Uncle Harold and all the old biddies in their tiny cottage were quickly exchanged for rooms in local hotels. There was Bill’s Inn on Fort Pond, and The Montauk Chalet in a place called Shepherd’s Neck, and finally  cottages in Hither Hills overlooking the ocean that were owned by a family named French. The Frenches were friends of my Uncle Tommy, who recommended we stay there.

The French family owned considerable property in an area of Montauk called Hither Hills, which sat directly above the ocean beaches and, many decades later, would become the most valuable real estate on the East Coast. Richard Nixon, who, while staying at Gurney’s Inn, an ocean front hotel in Hither Hills, wrote his acceptance speech for his nomination as the Republican candidate for President in 1968. Nixon was so taken with Hither Hills that, after his inauguration as President, he attempted to have the government purchase the property adjacent to Gurney’s Inn, with the intention of constructing the Nixon Summer White House. The Secret Service put the kibosh on Nixon’s plans because of security concerns, the property being too visibly accessible from the ocean.

My parents at one of the French's cottages in Hither Hills.

My parents at one of the French’s cottages in Hither Hills.

The familial competition between my father and uncle rekindled when the Frenches persuaded my Uncle Tommy to purchase ocean front property adjacent to their own. Uncle Tommy’s always-prosperous appearance deceived the Frenches into thinking he could afford it. Unable to actually buy the property, and unwilling to be found out as a mountebank and charlatan, my uncle somehow wrangled an option to purchase the land with a small down payment, which could only have come from one of his many dowager patrons.

Uncle Tommy at Ditch Plains in Montauk.

Uncle Tommy at Ditch Plains in Montauk.

No one but Uncle Tommy knew this, of course, everyone assuming that he was now the proud owner of some very expensive real estate. This was disturbing news to my father, who had recently purchased, on a G.I. mortgage, our house in Green Acres, and was almost certainly financially overextended. Not to outdone by his brother-in-law, and ignoring his financial reality, the ignoble Army Captain found himself a willing real estate agent, and began looking for a suitable site for the Costello family’s new summer house.

Within a year, Al Costello found himself making mortgage payments on our home in Green Acres, and our new summer house in Montauk. My father was now living way beyond his means, the two mortgages added to his ever-increasing gambling debts, and, unknown to the rest of us, was drowning in a whirlpool of fantasy-driven irresponsibility, robbing Peter to pay Paul, and struggling to somehow keep his head above water.

Our eccentric Daschound Ronzoni outside our house in Montauk. Uncle Tommy's Jaguar Mark IX in background.

Our eccentric Daschound Ronzoni outside our house in Montauk. Uncle Tommy’s Jaguar Mark IX in background.

Meanwhile, Uncle Tommy, unable to make any additional payments on his ocean front fiasco, lost his option to purchase the property. Somehow, no one found out about this real estate calamity, and his friends and family went right on thinking, for many years, that Thomas Dowling Esquire owned that ocean front property, a myth he enthusiastically encouraged. After all, in his custom tailored suits, driving his Jaguar Mark IX sedan, gifts lavished upon him by generous women, he certainly looked the part.

Our house in Montauk with our Nash Rambler Station Wagon exiting the driveway.

Our house in Montauk with our Nash Rambler Station Wagon exiting the driveway.

My mother, now ensconced in her Green Acres dream house, spending weekends splashing about on the beaches near her newly acquired summer home, was unaware of her husband’s financial difficulties, at least in the beginning. But financial pressures quickly eat away at marital stability, and within a short time my parents’ marriage became out and out warfare, my sister and I hiding under our beds during bouts of shouting, name calling, and dish throwing; the argument usually started by my father, who was by then stopping off for a few quick ones on his way home to face the family he now blamed for his dilemma. I remember one horrific incident, when my father came home quite late and obviously drunk, ignoring the dinner set on the dining room table, and staggering to his room where he collapsed in bed. My mother was so enraged that, for reasons known to her alone, she took all of the dishes off the table and smashed them against the living room wall which, by the time she had thrown her last projectile, was completely covered by dripping food, and broken fragments of china, a violent and terrifying image I can still recall vividly.

My sister Debbie and I in our Montauk living room

My sister Debbie and I in our Montauk living room

Our family was in jeopardy. Revealed to me many years later, my father uncharacteristically confessed his situation, even the gambling debts, to my mother. A change had to be made, and it had to be made quickly. One of the houses had to be sold, and my parents decided to sell our home in Green Acres, and hold on to, at least temporarily, the Montauk beach house. Leaving Green Acres was probably the most traumatic moment of my childhood, and I never really forgave my parents. It had been decided, certainly without consulting me, that we would pack up our belongings and move to an apartment in Forest Hills, which I was told was in the borough of Queens, a part of New York City.

My mother and Uncle Tommy. They danced at the Forest Hills Inn way back when.

My mother and Uncle Tommy. They danced at the Forest Hills Inn way back when.

My mother had spent time there as a teen, dancing with my uncle at the Forest Hills Inn. She said it was a wonderful neighborhood. There was a famous tennis club, and a beautiful Catholic school, just a short walk from our apartment. I was told I would love it. Both my parents assured me that life in Forest Hills would not be that big of a change. After all, we still had the house in Montauk. They considered it a solution. I considered it a betrayal.

 

So I was dragged kicking and screaming to the Forest Hills Gardens, where I enjoyed the remainder of my childhood. I grew to love it.

So I was dragged kicking and screaming to the Forest Hills Gardens, where I enjoyed the remainder of my childhood. I grew to love it.

*

© 2014 Shaun Costello

PORNOGRAPHER FOR HIRE

 

  PORNOGRAPHER FOR HIRE

Toiling at day labor in the world of smut.

 by Shaun Costello

 Risky Behavior cover art   In 1978, the Reverend Jim Jones, a self-proclaimed Apostolic Socialist Preacher, increased the world-wide awareness of Kool Aid immeasurably, by moving his “People’s Temple” flock from the city of San Francisco to an obscure corner of Northwest Guyana, where he led them in a ritualistic Jim Jonesmass suicide, leaving over nine hundred rotting, bloated corpses for the world’s Paparazzi to record for posterity.  At Camp David, in rural Maryland, Egypt and Israel shook hands on a peace agreement while, in Lawrenceville Georgia, Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler Magazine, was paralyzed by gun shots from an Larry Flyntunknown assailant. In England, the birth of the world’s first test tube baby was recorded – conceived through In Vitro Fertilization. Before the year would end, Atlantic City would legalize gambling, the Love Canal would be declared a federal disaster, and Garfield the Cat would enter syndication. Garfield In the Spring of 1978 I got a call from Roy Seretsky, who had an office in New York’s Film Center Building where I also had space for years. I knew Roy only slightly, and he knew me mostly by reputation. He also knew of my association with Dibi (Robert ‘Dibi’ DiBernardo) and the Gambino crime family. I was considered a protected guy, which meant I was untouchable, a status I reveled in. Dibi, in deference to my friendship with the late John Liggio, had kept the status of “connected” from our relationship. Instead I was considered a “friend” of the family, and friends were protected, without the reciprocity that would be demanded of a “connected” guy, or an “associate”.  An ideal situation.

New York's Film Center housed everyone from the makers of Deep Throat to many Oscar winners.

New York’s Film Center housed everyone from the makers of Deep Throat to many Oscar winners.

  A year before, I had met Roy during the shooting of ‘Fiona on Fire’, a movie I was reluctant to direct. Fiona was written and produced by Ken Schwartz, who owned a film editing facility a few floors above my office in the Film Center. Schwartz was an affable man who I had gotten to know through renting his editing rooms to do post production on Waterpower, a movie I had produced a year earlier.  Ken couldn’t get over Waterpower – how well he thought it turned out, and how absurdly kinky it was. He mentioned to me more that once that, if he ever got the opportunity to produce a film of his own, I would be the only director he would consider. I had been directing adult films for six years, and had always written and produced my own projects, a situation that I was not anxious to change. Working with long-time collaborator, cameraman Bill Markle, I had always written and produced everything myself.  But Ken was relentless, and suddenly the opportunity presented itself. He had written a script based on Otto Preminger’s 1944 classic “Laura” and, through Roy Seretsky, had come up with the

Marlene Willoughby meets a sad end in FIONA ON FIRE, a movie I never wanted to direct.

Marlene Willoughby meets a sad end in FIONA ON FIRE, a movie I never wanted to direct.

money to produce it. The idea of working with someone else’s material was unappealing to me, and I declined Ken’s offer. But sometimes a situation can dictate a change in direction. A film I was planning had been cancelled by its backers, who were restructuring and temporarily out of business, and I found myself unemployed. This, combined with Ken’s relentless pursuit and offers of a hefty director’s fee, changed my position. So I took the job and hated every minute of it. Although I was allowed to hire Markle as the Director of Photography, that hire was my limit. Ken had written a complicated screenplay, with tricky dialogue that even experienced actors would have trouble with, and he expected porn performers, who had difficulty with the simplest scripts, to deal with it. It was impossible. Not only had Ken written the script, but he would also do the casting, so that actors I didn’t know, who had little experience, and even less talent would show up on the set to wrangle with dialogue they had no hope of delivering in any believable way. And, as the film’s director, I was supposed to sort all of this out – make it happen. It was hopeless. Bill Markle did a great job, as always, giving the movie a professional look, but the performance of most of the cast was laughable. At the end of every shooting day, after begging Ken to

After FIONA ON FIRE I swore I'd never hire myself out as a director again.

After FIONA ON FIRE I swore I’d never hire myself out as a director again.

simplify the dialogue, I swore I’d never do anything like this again. Two or three times, during Fiona’s eight shooting days, Roy Seretsky would show up on the set, look around, and then quickly disappear. I had maybe one or two conversations with him, certainly nothing memorable. A year after we wrapped the set on Fiona, I was surprised to hear from him.   Roy had one of the most unique jobs in show business. He scouted investment opportunities in theatrical and motion picture production for organized crime, particularly the Bonanno family. He had put together financial packages for many Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, which had enjoyed a long and profitable Off-Broadway run, was wholly Bonanno funded, the arrangements made by Roy. Their biggest success was twenty percent ownership of “Cats”, which made them a fortune. On the film side,  Roy was offered all or part of almost everything produced by Dino DeLaurentis. Roy had backers for a script that my old nemesis

The Broadway Musical CATS was mafia owned, and made the boys downtown a fortune.

The Broadway Musical CATS was mafia owned, and made the boys downtown a fortune.

Ken Schwartz had written and wanted to direct, a comedy/sex version of Dracula. The budget was huge, maybe $150,000, which was more money than had ever been spent on what would still have to be considered a porno movie. The script was hilarious, but the backers were nervous. Roy asked me to meet with him, along with some of the Colombo people. My part in this meeting would be to act as consultant in order to advise them on the profitability of the project.  The meeting was held at Lanza’s Restaurant, on First Avenue and Twelfth Street. Roy, myself, and two of the Colombo people would participate. My good friend and sponsor John Liggio, a ranking member in the Colombo family, had died of lung cancer a few years before, and I recognized one of the Colombos from the funeral.  He worked under John, and knew of our friendship, so the mood of the meeting was warm and friendly.  They laid their cards on the table and I advised them as best I could. Ken Schwartz, who wrote the script and was lobbying to direct it, wanted to cast Jack Wrangler, a notoriously gay porno actor, famous for his live-in relationship with singer Margaret Whiting, as Dracula.  Mafia members are born homophobes, and they were nervous about putting up the

Lanza's Restaurant on First Avenue was kept open for meetings like this one.

Lanza’s Restaurant on First Avenue was kept open for meetings like this one.

biggest budget ever spent on a heterosexual porno movie (Dracula) starring a notoriously gay actor (Jack Wrangler). Wrangler had told Schwartz that if he got the part his good friend, famous Broadway wardrobe designer, William Ivey Long, would do the costumes. A stage-struck Schwartz was smitten with the idea of Long’s participation and, although I had no idea how that would add to the project’s profitability, I continued to listen. I heard them out and told them what I thought. Ken’s script was hilarious, and had real possibilities if correctly handled. I had met Wrangler a few times and liked him. I told them that Jack might make a very campy and funny Dracula. When asked if I would cast him I told them that, with a budget this big, it could be risky. I suggested that if the decision were mine I would cast Jamie Gillis as the moody vampire. On the Schwartz/directing issue I told them that he would probably be fine, but he should be closely watched. First time directors have a tendency to overshoot, and in 35MM that could lead to stock and lab overages that could be substantial. The meeting ended and we went our separate ways. I left the meeting hungry because the food at Lanza’s was awful. The place was kept open exclusively for meetings like this one, not for its cuisine. 

Jack Wrangler, pictured here with his main squeeze singer  Margaret Whiting, would have made a funny, campy Dracula, but the mob's homophobia wouldn't allow it.

Jack Wrangler, pictured here with his main squeeze singer Margaret Whiting, would have made a funny, campy Dracula, but the mob’s homophobia wouldn’t allow it.

  A few days later Roy called. He asked me if, as a favor (a big word with these guys), I would take the job of assistant director on the picture in order to keep an eye on Schwartz. I declined. Having an obvious spy in the crew would only serve to make the first time director nervous. Roy had his back-up offer ready. He said that if I would direct the movie for a flat fee he would hire Gillis to play the lead, and I would have final say on all casting. This would mean a month in the city, and I had been training for a major dressage competition in Rhinebeck in a few weeks, so this was not an appealing idea. Also, it seemed like Fiona redux, which was an awful thought. But I knew that, if I said no, the Colombo’s would pressure the Gambinos, and I would get a call from Dibi suggesting I do this for the good of all concerned. So I caved. During pre-production it became obvious that the whole project was quickly becoming a mess, but there was one exception.  Ken Schwartz, who had been kicked upstairs as Producer, and was becoming strangely

Jamie Gillis wound up playing the moody vampire. He was my first and only choice.

Jamie Gillis wound up playing the moody vampire. He was my first and only choice.

unstable, had hired a typist/PA on the production who caught my eye. He was a skinny, mousy guy with thick glasses, and a mid-western accent, who seemed to be an island of quietly assertive competence in the sea of chaos that this production was becoming. This was Mark Silverman, who would become my producer and friend for the duration of my tenure as a pornographer. The shooting of “Dracula Exotica” took over three weeks. I had a script supervisor and even an assistant. There was a production manager named Bill Milling, who I loathed on sight, and the biggest crew I had ever seen, much less worked with. Ken Schwartz spent most of his time going over sketches with William Ivey Long, the famous Broadway wardrobe designer, who took the job because he thought his friend Jack

Broadway costume designer William Ivey Long, who thought his friend Jack Wrangler was playing the lead, quit after the first week of shooting.

Broadway costume designer William Ivey Long, who thought his friend Jack Wrangler was playing the lead, quit after the first week of shooting.

Wrangler was going to play the lead.  Long quit after a week. The first night of pre-production, Milling and I got into it over something. As the shouting got louder, and the tension approached the red line, Mark Silverman, who was the lowest ranking production assistant in the crew and had the title “typist”, walked right over to the shouting parties and said, “Hey, do either of you two assholes want coffee?” I was in love. With one line Mark was able to diffuse the argument, and even get a few laughs. My kind of guy.

Dracula Exotic turned out to be a big disappointment.

Dracula Exotic turned out to be a big disappointment.

  I was happy with the look of the dailies. If only Ken Schwartz could handle post-production, he’d have a huge hit on his hands. By the end of the first week of shooting Schwartz, who had been growing more unstable with each production day,  had a nervous breakdown. It seems that earlier in the day, William Ivey Long, the wardrobe designer, who was disappointed at the absence of Jack Wrangler, quit the project, and Ken flipped out. I was in a screening with Bill Markle and Robbie Lutrell, the special effects designer, when Mark Silverman burst in. “We have a big problem”, he said. “Ken has flipped out, and Bill Milling is running around like a lunatic, making phone calls and telling anyone who’ll listen that he’s taking over the picture”. I told Mark to get Roy Seretsky on the phone. I told him not to give details, but that he should get over here right away. Ken was sitting behind his desk mumbling something and had become completely dysfunctional. I guess that being responsible for this sized budget had gotten to him. Anyway, Roy showed up and straightened Milling out, and we kept shooting. Ken gradually recovered his ability to speak and by the end of shooting seemed normal, but wasn’t. The responsibility for the huge budget had gotten to him, and the loss of his famous wardrobe designer was the last straw. He never seemed to recover his original enthusiasm for the project. Ultimately, Dracula Exotica was a real disappointment. The cast, particularly Jamie Gillis, Vanessa Del Rio, and Bobby Astyr were terrific. The sets were elaborate. The locations were lush and inventive. Ken’s script was funny. But the picture just never worked. Schwartz, who seemed to have lost all faith in the production, and in order to save a few shekels, hired Robby Lutrell, the special effects designer on the project, who had never edited anything in his life, to cut the picture. The dailies had great potential, but the finished picture was flat. Robby couldn’t cut sex, and he couldn’t cut comedy, a bad combination. Dracula Exotica could have been a breakthrough picture for all concerned but, because Ken cheaped out in post production, all that expensive footage, that took us all so many long shooting days to achieve, was wasted. If asked, I probably would have cut the film for nothing, and the result might have been quite different. But I wasn’t, and this time I swore, and stuck to it, never to work as a hired gun again.

In the 1970's, New York's Pussycat Theater, owned by the Bonanno crime family, was the number one venue in the country.

In the 1970’s, New York’s Pussycat Theater, owned by the Bonanno crime family, was the number one venue in the country.

  I’m going to take a moment here to explain why adult movies with big budgets like Dracula Exotica were, from an investor’s point of view, pure folly. During the Seventies there were a finite number of first run adult movie houses in major cities, just as there were a finite number of second and third run (where the real profit was made) houses in the suburbs and rural areas. In 1978, the year I made Dracula Exotica, a Porn Feature made its reputation playing the big houses in NY and LA. This assured that picture of major play in the rest of the big cities. The biggest play date

Mickey Zaffarano, a Bonanno family Capo, operated the Pussycat Theater for the mob, He died of a heart attack during an FBI raid on the theater.

Mickey Zaffarano, a Bonanno family Capo, operated the Pussycat Theater for the mob, He died of a heart attack during an FBI raid on the theater.

  was the Pussycat Theater in NYC. The Pussycat played the biggest pictures, not because of their quality, but because of the familial connection of the backers. Since the Pussycat was owned and operated by New York’s Bonanno crime family, it stood to reason that a Bonanno funded picture would be first choice, guaranteeing a nice profit for its investors. A full page rave review, written by Al Goldstein, would appear in Screw the week of the opening, with quotes galore, available for the print ads and one-sheets. Goldstein was on the Bonanno’s payroll, and did what he was told. If no Bonanno funded picture was available then a Gambino funded picture would play the house, followed by a Colombo funded picture, etc. The rule of thumb was that the first run houses in major cities made back the picture’s negative cost, and the second and third run houses in the hinterland made the profit. The same is true in television, where the network run makes back the production cost, and syndication makes the real profit.  

The formula was:   Dollar one of profit was reached at 2.5 X negative cost.  

So a Movie like Dracula Exotica, which had a production cost of $150,000 and additional lab costs (internegative, and release prints) of $30,000 had a total negative cost of $180,000. This meant that it would not make dollar one of profit until it grossed $450,000. That’s a number that might take years to reach. The only reason that the budget was so big was to make Ken Schwartz feel good about himself. He convinced Roy Seretsky, who arranged the financing, that he could produce a “Breakthrough” movie that would make them all rich and Roy bought into Ken’s fantasy, a bad decision, from a purely business point of view.

When I was approached by Cal Young, that same year, to make a picture with Dom Cataldo’s money, I was careful about how I approached it. This was Cal’s first attempt at a “better” movie, and I liked both of these guys, and wanted them to do well. Also I had a piece of it. So I designed the production to maximize profitability. I came up with a great title (Afternoon Delights), wrote a screenplay that revealed itself in vignettes (more bang for the buck), shot the movie in 16MM, specifically designed to be blown-up to a 35MM internegative, and limited the 35MM release print run to ten (you rarely needed more). Dom Cataldo was a highly ranked sub-boss in the Colombo family with gambling operations in Brooklyn and Queens, so opening Afternoon Delights at the Pussycat was assured. That would mean that the two pictures would have pretty much the same play dates throughout their runs.

  Let’s compare them:   THE TALE OF THE TAKE:

Dracula was ultimately a disappointment to its backers.

Dracula was ultimately a disappointment to its backers.

  DRACULA EXOTICA: “The Heavyweight Champ and disappointment to its backers”

Negative cost $180,000

Dollar one of profit reached at $450,000.

Gross revenues (as of ‘83) $550,000. (I know this number because Seretsky, who was pissed at Ken Schwartz, told me)

Profit: $100,000. or 56% of its negative cost.

Afternoon Delights turned out to be a cash cow for its investors.

Afternoon Delights turned out to be a cash cow for its investors.

  AFTERNOON DELIGHTS: “The Lightweight Challenger, and little known cash cow”

Negative cost $60,000 (production cost $40,000…blow up and print run $20,000)

Dollar one of profit reached at $150,000.

Gross revenues (as of ‘83) $500,000.

Profit $350,000. or 580% of its negative cost.  

Which investment would you rather have made? The moral to this story is that,  back in 1978, as long as you were connected, spending more than $60,000 on an adult movie was pure folly. Other than freakishly profitable blockbusters like, Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door, and some others, most adult movies made the same money, provided they were ‘Family’ financed, and looked good. The pictures I made for Reuben Sturman a few years later were made with video in mind somewhere down the road, so they had to appeal to a wider audience, namely couples. Sturman wanted a “Look”, was willing to pay for it, and it was money well spent. He had the foresight to understand where the business was going. At this point the ‘Families’ were coming to the conclusion that there was more money in heroin and cocaine than in porn, which was basically the end of them.  

Mafia arrest pic *

© 2014 Shaun Costello

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REVISIONIST HISTORIANS CAN BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR WEALTH

 

REVISIONIST HISTORIANS CAN BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR WEALTH

 

By Shaun Costello

Historians sometimes become so involved in the events they are chronicling, that they begin to feel they were participants in, rather than chroniclers of those events.

Historians sometimes become so involved in the events they are chronicling, that they begin to feel they were participants in, rather than chroniclers of those events.

 

Mr. Bowen will endlessly insist that his version of events is correct, regardless of challenges from people who actually experienced the era he's revising.

Mr. Bowen will endlessly insist that his version of events is correct, regardless of challenges from people who actually experienced the era he’s revising.

Revisionism is a dangerous commodity. I speak from experience, having had my life turned into fiction by numerous writers whose motives and sources were questionable at best. Those who call themselves historians are a dangerous breed, who often become so involved in chronicling an era that they begin to think they were actually part of it. Busy attempting to reassemble the characters and events of the Adult Film Industry in the 1960’s and 1970″s, I can think of two so-called historians who fit this category. One is Michael Bowen, and the other is Ashley Spicer. The former, who has some oblique connection to NYU, will endlessly insist that his version of history is correct, regardless of challenges from people who actually experienced the era he’s revising.

 

 

 

 

 

Ashley Spicer behaves like he's filed for patent rights on his revelations.

Ashley Spicer behaves like he’s filed for patent rights on his revelations.

 

The latter, who, in addition to his day job as an investment banker, operates, along with his wife April, a web site called The Rialto Report, which offers articles about, and interviews with adult film stars from the Sixties and Seventies, the decades that are often called porn’s “Golden Age’. Mr. Spicer seems to have filed for patent rights to the chronicle of these decades, suggesting his ownership of the whole story, and woe be unto those who dare to challenge the authenticity of his revelations. Like Evangelical Christians, who believe the Bible is the word of God and should be taken literally, Mr. Spicer seems to suggest that, not only should his version of history be taken as Verbum Dei, but that he owns the book and film rights as well.

 

 

 

Ashley and April Spicer would have you believe that, not only should their version of history be taken as Verbum Dei. but that they own the book and film rights as well.

Ashley and April Spicer would have you believe that, not only should their version of history be taken as Verbum Dei. but that they own the book and film rights as well.

 *

© 2014 Shaun Costello

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HUFFINGTON POST’S INFO GRAB CONTINUES

 

AriannaMark

LIKE TWO PEAS IN A POD

Like Bogart and Bacall. Like Gable and Lombard.

Like Madonna and the NBA.

Arianna and Mark – together at last. And the cash keeps flowing.

As a long time reader and commenter on Huffington Post, I was surprised when, in December of 2013, my comments were no longer welcome. Instead, I was told that I needed to sign back in to my Huffington Post account through Facebook. The reason given was that Huff Post needed to verify my identity. After several years as a commenter, Huff Post needed to know who I was. Of course the stench of this deceit was obvious to anyone with any sense at all. Huffington Post had gone into the information business – mine, yours, anyone’s.

By signing in to Huff Post through Facebook, all of the personal information stored in my Facebook account would now be available to Huff Post. Included in this information of course, would be all the personal information stored in the accounts of all those who are on my Facebook friends list. Your Facebook account, in terms of the personal information stored in it, is like a little Ponzi Scheme, with you at the top of the pyramid, and the rest of the structure built from the information about all those on your FB friends list. This pyramid of personal data is available to any opportunistic FB advertiser whose despicable but effective method includes: Click “Like” if you like kittens. Of course, naïve Facebook members who click “Like” are now going to be hounded by the advertiser, who, if they had looked closely enough, turns out to be a pet food and services company who now has, not only all the personal information in their FB account, but all the personal information from all the people on their FB friends list. This is why Mark Zuckerberg is a billionaire, folks. And why YOU are NOT.

OK, back to my battle with Huff Post. Feeling a sense of righteous indignation, I contacted Huffington Post to complain about my dilemma, and their preposterous info grab. I sent off two emails, one to the normal channels for reader complaint, and the other to Arianna Huffington directly. Arianna, to her credit, has responded in the past to my emails. Not this time – there was no response. After a week or so of Huff Post’s silence, I noticed an additional possibility to address my frustration. Listed among contact possibilities was DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY. So I sent off an email to this personage, and got a response that very day.

His name was Tim McDonald, Huffington Post’s Director of Community. He seemed reasonable enough, even though he vehemently denied that Huff Post was collecting personal information through Facebook that it would later market in the great, world-wide, internet information bazaar. For the purpose of full disclosure dear reader, I am going to paste in here, my entire correspondence with Mr. McDonald – from my very first plea for reinstatement, to our dubious final agreement that Mr. McDonald himself would personally see to my identity verification without going through the farce of the Facebook revelation which, of course, he never really did. As I assemble this chronicle of complaint, it is Wednesday January 15th, and I still can not comment on Huffington Post. I am no longer a welcome participant in Huff Post’s public dialogue. No, I am cast out into the darkness, a leper without portfolio, because I dared to suggest that Huffington Post was selling information it collects through the naiveté of it’s readership. So here is my correspondence with Mr. McDonald. You, dear reader, should judge this farce for yourselves. You, members of Arianna Huffington’s wretched refuse, are a jury of peers. Read, and judge accordingly:   

     

Shaun Costello

Shaun Costello

December 16,2013

I am a long-time reader and commenter on Huffpost, but can no longer comment and refuse to give up the personal information of many people who have trusted me with it. You can no longer comment on an article on Huffpost unless you verify your ID through Facebook, which automatically releases all the personal information stored in your Facebook account to Huffpost. In so doing you are also releasing to Huffpost all of the personal information of everyone on your Facebook friends list. This is just an attempt by Huffpost to create a bigger archive of personal informarion which Huffpost has every intention of marketing. I lodged a complaint with Huffpost, and CC’d the complaint to Arianna huffington by email. She has responded to my emails in the past. Let’s see what happens. Huffpost used to be the good guys, but they are quickly becoming internet Nazis. It’s been a week now, and no response from Huffpost.

Tim McDonald

Tim McDonald

December 16, 2013
Shaun,

I understand your concerns with privacy and want to assure you that at HuffPost we are just as committed as ever to protect it. Nothing in our privacy agreement has changed. The message you see about access to friends lists, etc., is something we are required to disclose by Facebook. The information we use (Name and verified account token) comes from accessing their data that contains the rest. We don’t pull this other information into our database and we do not disclose any information other than your name (first and last or first and last initial).
I hope you see we are just as concerned with your privacy as you are.
Tim McDonald
Director of Community
Shaun Costello

Shaun Costello

December 16, 2013
Tim,
Are you telling me that no personal information acquired by Huffpost from Facebook in the verification process, other than my first and last name, will be used, disseminated, sold, marketed, used in marketing studies, used to test trends, used in media traffic studies, or used in or sold to any media now known or later to be discovered, now or at any time in the future? Do you take personal responsibility in guaranteeing Huffington Post’s adherence to that guarantee? Will you actually sign your name to it?
Tim McDonald

Tim McDonald

December 16, 2013
Shaun,
I can not promise that. One, I am not in a position to do so and two, because we would never say at any time in the future.
Shaun Costello

Shaun Costello

December 16, 2013
Tim,
On one hand you’re firmly asserting that Huffington Post does not upload any of the peripheral information made available by Facebook, such as personal information about me or anyone on my Facebook friends list. Yet, on the other hand, you can not guarantee what Huffington Post might do with this information in the future. Of course you’re in no position to guarantee Huffington Post’s policies or agenda. I think I can safely assume that you are not a majority share holder. But it IS your responsibility as Huffington Post’s Director of Community, to assuage the fears that might exist in the minds of Huffington Post’s readers, regarding their privacy. Your initial response to my questions regarding the Facebook verification process was that Huffington Post does not actually upload the peripheral information provided by Facebook, only the first and last name and possible middle initial, yet when pressed to guarantee that Huffington Post would not use that peripheral information to some purpose in the future, you could make no such guarantee. This suggests that this peripheral information, while not initially used by Huffington Post, is stored in some way for possible use at some time in the future. This is hardly a guarantee of privacy. Based on what you have said, I can only suggest that I would like to continue to comment on Huffington Post’s articles, as I have done for years, but I can not, in good conscience, release to Huffington Post information now stored on Facebook’s data base, that Huffington Post might put to some purpose, at some time in the future. The ball, as they say Tim, is in your court.
Best regards,
Shaun Costello
Tim McDonald

Tim McDonald

December 16, 2013
Shaun,
If you give me (not our tech team) a link to  your account and your name matches Shaun Costello and you are ok with displaying Shaun C. next to your comments, I can have it done manually, but it may take some time. I can personally guarantee that I will not share your Facebook account with anyone but will keep a link on file. We will not have access to any information that you do not make public on FB.
Shaun Costello

Shaun Costello

December 16, 2013
Tim,
I will give you this link in good faith:
https://www.facebook.com/XXXXXXXXXX (I assume this is the link that you need)
But my main concern is the information that Huffington Post will receive from every person on my Facebook friends list. This was the diabolical genius of Mark Zuckerberg that made him a billionaire, the information flow through friends and “likes” that his codes provided to naive users, most of whom still remain ignorant of what happens when they click “Like”. I’m grateful for your efforts on my behalf, but still concerned about what will happen eventually with all of this information.
Tim McDonald

Tim McDonald

December 16, 2013
Shaun,
That’s all I need. Are you OK with having Shaun C. displayed next to you user name? What is your current HP username? And lastly, is this the email you use to login to HP?  Nothing will change on your account except the addition of your name, and the ability to comment. We will access no information from FB about you or your friends.

Shaun Costello

Shaun Costello

December 16, 2013
My user name is Shaun Costello. I have never hidden behind an alias. Thanks Tim
I hope Arianna knows and appreciates your value.
Tim McDonald

Tim McDonald

December 16, 2013
Thank you. Do you want first and last name or just first and last initial?

This may take a while with many of our tech team on holiday until the new year. I’ll see how fast I can get it done.
Shaun Costello

Shaun Costello

December 16, 2013
First and last name please. Thanks Tim
Tim McDonald

Tim McDonald

December 16, 2013
Thank you. Appreciate you reaching out.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
So, that’s it – the correspondence in it’s entirety. As of today, Wednesday January 15, 2014, my situation with Huffington Post remains the same. I remain an outcast. I can not comment. I am one of Arianna’s UNPERSONS.  Do I think Mr. McDonald was devious? No, I believe he was well-intentioned. If I were to venture a guess, I would suggest that Mr. McDonald, while attempting to rectify my dilemma, brushed sleeves with members of Huffington Post’s legal team, who promptly admonished his sincere attempt to help a reader, rapped him on the knuckles, told him to never correspond with this ungrateful slob again, and sent him back to his office, having been properly corrected.
And so it goes. My faith in Arianna Huffington and her once-extraordinary web post is tarnished, at best. Like Google, and other web venues, whose success has turned their once-great and probably still-valued services into nothing more than greedy info-merchants, Huffington Post joins the phalanx of internet bottom feeders, who prey on the naiveté and ignorance of world-wide web users. Mark Zuckerberg’s Ponzi stratagem has made him a Billionaire many times over. And Arianna Huffington, who once seemed to stand for something admirable,  is instead well on her way to that cozy oceanfront  abode in The Hamptons, that will be built, brick by brick, on information bought and sold, and, on advice of counsel, eternally denied.

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*

SANTA’S RACIAL DILEMMA

SANTA’S RACIAL DILEMMA

The Morality Police busy themselves saving children from reality.

By Shaun Costello

  New Child picBlack SantaWhite Santa

Members of the Liberal press, people I listen to, and read daily, had a communal nosebleed when a Fox News bimbo-clone and a few Republican idiots recently proclaimed that Santa Claus was their favorite color – WHITE. I’m as liberal as liberal gets short of anarchy, but I find no fault in Santa’s being white. Santa Claus, AKA Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Father Chrismas, etc, is a product of Northern European folklore, and his inclusion in the celebration of Christmas is a product of Northern European culture and tradition. As Europeans immigrated to the New World, they brought their traditions with them, and an Americanized version of the Santa character evolved on our shores. America, unlike Northern Europe, became a multi-cultural nation, and as different nationalities and races assimilated into American society they were exposed to each other’s religious beliefs, celebrations, and traditions. America’s diversity is our greatest strength, and tolerance of our differences, while long in coming, is an American phenomenon well worth the wait.

White kids

The celebration of our individual ethnic traditions by Christians, Jews, Moslems, Hindus, etc, does not make us any less American. I hope that Christmas and Chanukkah are never, at some future date, molded together into a celebration of the ultimate amalgam of political correctness – Christukkah. The Jewish God, with his flowing white hair and beard, and lightening bolts in each hand, ready to toss at some unfortunate offender, would never allow it. Nor should he. Chanukkah, the festival of lights, is a

Jewish kids

wonderful holiday that should remain forever Jewish. As Christmas, a celebration, for those who are keeping score, of the birth of Christ is, and should always remain Christian. That Santa should have no color is preposterous. That the spirit of Christmas should have no color is something to strive for. I can only hope that one day, children will honor and celebrate the spirit of each other’s ethnic holidays and appreciate the wonder of their differences.

Black kids

The commercialization of Christmas in America has turned a once charming tradition into a frenzy of gift giving that borders on the ridiculous. The spike in the suicide rate at Christmas time has a direct correlation to the obligation Americans seem to feel to give the right gift, and the disappointment and shame they feel when they fail to do so. Bargain sale days like black Friday, which allegedly exist to help shoppers fulfill their obligatory purchases for the upcoming gift swapping conflagration that Christmas has become, have become so competitive that gift-hungry buyers line up sometimes several days in advance to assure their purchases at the right price. This holiday season has so far seen three deaths at shopping venues, two by gun shot wounds, as frantic shoppers compete, sometimes violently, for the discounted price.

Traditional icons of the Christmas celebration, like Santa Claus, have lost their luster, and their connection to the idea of Christmas. As commercialization overtakes ritual,

Menorah

Christmas loses the charm of its identity, and morphs into the struggle of buying, and giving, and returning, and the never-ending obligation to succeed in the frenzy of finding the perfect gift. Americans have long ago lost touch with the origins of this Holiday and the traditional characterizations that have always accompanied the

Nativity Scene

celebration. So, Santa Claus, a product of centuries of folklore, becomes a plastic, red and white, bearded face on a front door. We no longer think of him as flesh and blood – the jolly white-bearded, bearer of Yultide gifts, driving his reindeer and sleigh through the skies to bring joy and gifts to the children of the world. He’s been lost in the amalgamation of the idea into the commercialization of the moment.

So just why, exactly, do Liberals think Santa has no color? Are they so guilt-ridden that they busy themselves creating an antidote to offending absolutely anyone? Do they really think that Black children can’t relate to a Santa who is white? Do they

Hasid with paes

really think that black children see the world as grey? Do they really think that black children are oblivious to the fact that there are black people, and white people, and yellow people, and brown people? Are they so lost in the androgyny of their morality that they’ve gone on the permanent defensive against the celebration of anything unique or individual?  Do they really feel that playing the role of the morality police compensates for a lifetime of questionable decisions and behavior? Do they really think they can throw us all in the blender, obliterate our differences, and turn us into them? Just what exactly are they afraid of? Why can’t Santa be white – the guy is from Poland.

Santa in sleigh

*

 © 2013 Shaun Costello

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THE FIRST REVIEW OF “WILD ABOUT HARRY”

Harry cover alternative two

From The Erotic Film Society in London

The first review of:

WILD ABOUT HARRY

by Shaun Costello

For such a prolific director – at least 66 films between 1973 and 1984 – Shaun Costello remained one of the New York XXX scene’s best kept secrets for many years. One reason is the number of noms-de-porn he worked under.

He made more than his fair share of films that are now recognised as classics but not always under the same name – he was ‘Kenneth Schwartz’ for FIONA ON FIRE but ‘Warren Evans’ for DRACULA EXOTICA, for example – and this prevented him from getting due recognition until relatively recently.

For notorious roughies FORCED ENTRY and WATERPOWER, he was ‘Helmuth Richler’ but ‘Amanda Barton’ made the sensitive PASSIONS OF CAROL. At Avon Productions he was ‘Russ Carlson’ and for a while he was even ‘Oscar Tripe'; plus there were numerous uncredited one-day-wonders.

In ONLY THE BEST, published at the dawn of the video era, critic Jim Holliday indicated that one person was behind some of these pseudonyms; but pre-internet it was pretty much impossible for even dedicated pornologists to crack the Costello code.

Public outrage at Deep Throat's popularity

Public outrage at Deep Throat’s popularity

With the advent of the web, the IMDb and IAFD and dedicated discussion forums where smut-hounds could compare what they’d discovered, facts began to surface.

Then something occurred that every film historian dreams about; Shaun Costello himself joined the forums. He posted on IMDb. He corrected. He clarified…   And suddenly his incredible career came into sharp focus.

Not just those 66 films that he helmed but around the same number of appearances from 1971 to ’89 – and that doesn’t include loops – plus at least 50 films he produced and a similar number of writing credits. It’s a wonder he ever found time to sleep.

On the evidence of WILD ABOUT HARRY, his by turns hilarious and moving memoir about his friendship with Harry Reems, during the pre-DEEP THROAT days of Big Apple hard-core, sleep was often the last thing on his mind.

Whether he was editing into the early hours – the only way he could afford post-production facilities – or heroically carousing with his buddies – ‘the Three Musketeers of 42nd Street’ – those years in the late 60s and early 70s seem to have been one madcap adventure, where anything was possible.

Harry and Linda Lovelace in DEEP THROAT

Harry and Linda Lovelace in DEEP THROAT

A voracious film fan, from art-house masters to grindhouse smut, Shaun absorbed everything. He fell into the pornographic loops business by happy accident, just as they were on the borderline of becoming legal, or at least tolerated, in the adult bookstores of the Deuce.

And he was there when a handsome, young, legit actor – still known by his birth name, Herb Streicher – made his debut in an explicit 8mm film destined for ‘under the counter’ sales.

(Assumed names were cast aside faster than underwear: Herb wouldn’t settle on Harry Reems for a couple of years, after he’d tried on ‘Tim Long’ among other aliases.)

It wasn’t just the start of a professional relationship – Shaun cast Herb/Harry as a disturbed Vietnam Vet in FORCED ENTRY, his first feature as director – it was the beginning of a deep friendship.

And now Shaun has published this memoir of those heady days – and that double entendre is very much intended – as a tribute to his buddy, who passed away in March of this year.

Anyone who knows the recipe for Automat Soup (a container of ketchup and hot water, if you’re asking – gourmets break some gratis crackers on top to simulate croutons) will probably already have a copy.

The United States of America v Harry Reems

The United States of America v Harry Reems

But what if you’re not a dedicated devotee of the Deuce and are wondering whether to purchase? Or what if you – horror – have to ask, ‘What’s the Deuce’? Well, let Mr Costello explain…

‘The Times Square subway station, my portal to the neighborhood, was an intense assault on the senses. A sudden, almost overwhelming surge of smells and filth hit you as the train doors slid open to the rush of urine, and cotton candy, and damp humanity, and hot dogs on their revolving spits, and vomit, and baked goods like crumb cakes and bran muffins and pretzels, and the garlicky pungent scent of Gyros slowly rotating, and everything suddenly interrupted by someone chasing a pick-pocket through outstretched hands asking for dimes, and a tidal swarm of the disenfranchised huddled in groups, trying to stay warm. And this entire sensory phantasmagoria was musically scored by the overmodulated sound of Kool and the Gang wailing “Jungle Boogie” from the cheap speakers over the door to the subterranean record store. And then the cold again as you climbed the stairs to the street, and there it was, “The Deuce”.’ (from WILD ABOUT HARRY © 2013 Shaun Costello)

From this vivid evocation of arriving at 42nd Street, you should immediately have discerned that our guide to all this decadence has a very neat turn of phrase indeed, which he puts to fine effect throughout the book.

Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty come to Harry's rescue

Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty come to Harry’s rescue

It’s prose that encapsulates the sights, the sounds, the smells, the animal excitement of the city – and the only reason not to enjoy it is that it makes you break down and cry, lamenting the passing of such delightful debauchery.

Herb being Harry, and enjoying himself

Herb being Harry, and enjoying himself

‘Delightful debauchery’? Well, yes. Shaun Costello is aware of the oxymoron. On the one hand, he’s a cultured chap, dating a wealthy heiress. On the other, he’s working his way up the porn ladder.

And he’s having fun all the way, along with his lifelong friend Jimmy and – of course – Harry, who is seemingly ever ready for an adventure. Such as one hallucinogen-fuelled romp which takes them from Times Square to the East Side via various apartments whose inhabitants are woken at unearthly hours, before disgorging them on a pitch-and-putt golf course by the beach… all described with a panache that matches Hunter S Thompson’s knack for conveying altered reality.

When DEEP THROAT made Harry a porno chic superstar, his world suddenly became a round of press and promotion and personal appearances, followed equally swiftly by the traumas of the authorities’ attempts to prosecute him for merely appearing in the film.

During this period, Shaun lost contact with his buddy, so he has to rely on the interviews that Harry made when he reappeared from anonymity (he’d become a real estate salesman in Colorado) in the wake of the documentary INSIDE DEEP THROAT, to describe what happened.

Initially I was worried that this could turn into a cut and paste job, but Costello has chosen and edited the quotes with great sensitivity.

Fanny was a Puerto Rican stripper who taught young Herb everything he knew about sex

Fanny was a Puerto Rican stripper who taught young Herb everything he knew about sex

It’s rather like that moment in a jazz number, when the star soloist comes forward. We’ve enjoyed Shaun talking about his friend and now we get hear Harry’s own voice.

And what a lovely voice it is, especially talking about his conversion to Christianity and the spiritual belief that saved him from alcoholism (with the aid of a 12 step programme).

This sort of tale could so easily be preachy. And how often have former porners turned on the business, their former friends, their whole past life, when they found God?

But Harry – or Herb – was clearly such a sweet guy – and his story of salvation comes over as so genuine – that even if you don’t believe yourself, you can’t help but feel glad that he found that faith because it saved his life.

And then there’s a coda: a meeting years later; a final phone call. It’s deeply touching and heartfelt. Shaun Costello has written as beautiful a tribute as anyone could imagine. Any quibbles? Just one. I was left ravenous for more of Shaun’s own autobiography. From his contributions to various forums, I know he has great tales to tell and that he tells them in an exceptionally entertaining manner.

Herb/Harry found love, God and happiness in the mountains of Utah

Herb/Harry found love, God and happiness in the mountains of Utah

   WILD ABOUT HARRY

is available as an eBook

http://store.blurb.co.uk/ebooks/384584-wild-about-harry

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WHY I’M NOT SURPRISED THAT MARK JACKSON BECAME A SUCCESSFUL NBA COACH – AFTER ALL, ONCE UPON A TIME, HE SAVED MY ASS AND MADE ME A HERO

by Shaun Costello

I was born and raised in New York City, commuted to High School by subway – a real city kid, and dedicated gym rat. When it came to basketball, I rooted for the New York Knickerbockers. After all, they were the city’s team, my team. Over the years I rode the roller coaster of highs and lows that the sometimes magnificent, sometimes dreadful New York Knicks provided for their loyal and befuddled fans. I remembered the names of all of the players and their many coaches – even some of the assistants. This is the plight of kids who grow up as gym rats, and who, once upon a time, thrilled to the peerless ballet performed on the floor of Madison Square Garden by the likes of Willis Reed, Dave Debuscher, Frazier,

Champ Knicks

Monroe, Lucas, and the rest. You become a hopeless case, who dreams the impossible dream, of your team, the city’s team, returning to its former glory, even though, with passing years, those days of glory had long since faded into the distant past.
During the Eighties, I made a very good living directing television commercials for New York advertising agencies. In early September of 1989 I was handed a story board from Grey Advertising containing their concept for an ambitious television commercial for none other than my beloved New York Knicks. I was beyond thrilled. If my production company was awarded this project, the entire team would be turned over to me for one whole day.

Boardroom pic

OK, long story short; the agency creatives liked my input, the suits gave the go-ahead, and the job was mine.
Now, this was the 89/90 Knicks – the Patrick Ewing/Charles Oakley/Mark Jackson/Trent Tucker/Kiki Vandeweghe/Gerald Wilkins Knicks. The team that came between the Rick Pitino trap and gun blur of the mid Eighties, and the Pat Riley-led NBA Finalists of the mid Nineties. A good, but not great team, filled with journeyman role players. Of course, how good they were was meaningless to me. All I could think about was that the New York Knickerbockers were going to be mine for a day.
The commercial would be a complicated combination of live action (Knicks players) interacting with recognizable pieces of New York City’s skyline

Skyline

(Empire State Building, Pan Am, World Trade Center, etc). The players, who would appear to be hundreds of feet tall, would dribble, pass, and dunk their way through Manhattan’s caverns, using the famous buildings as props. I spent seven shooting days carefully photographing the buildings, so that they would match the intended interaction of the players. We would need the largest soundstage in the city, to accommodate the players, who were taller than I ever imagined, and the building cut-outs with which they would interact. Locked-down cameras were set up in position to photograph the cut-outs, which were carefully constructed to exactly match the buildings I had already photographed, and the Knicks personnel, who would appear as giants, doing their thing. The cut-outs would be painted a color that the computer animation system would recognize, hopefully allowing the intended magic to happen. On the studio floor, the action would appear to be basketball players weaving between huge green set pieces, but on the monitors that were set up all over the building, my original footage of the skyscrapers would be sandwiched with the new shots that included the players at work. Patrick Ewing, and his giant

Ewing Jackson. 2 jpg

shadow, would appear to be three quarters the size of the World Trade Center. To do this right, the camera set ups had to be absolutely exact, and this would take several days. In order to simulate the action during the complicated set-up, crew members and agency personnel stood in for the players. The problem was, that none of our crew people or art directors was seven feet tall, but this didn’t seem to matter at the time. Once we were convinced that the set-ups were correct, we were ready for the players. The team was in training, preparing for the upcoming season, and we would only have them all together for one long shooting day.
I arrived early the morning of the shoot. Everything had been set up by the time we left the studio the night before so, other than turning on all the lighting, and technical gadgetry that covered the studio floor, not much had to be done. I had assigned a production assistant the important task of taking still production photographs of the director, and former gym rat, interacting with his heroes throughout the day. In addition, I handed him my very own personal basketball, with instructions to get every player to sign it – reasonable perks for a lifetime fan.
Whenever celebrities were involved in a production like this, an unusually large number of hangers-on were sure to show up. Between Grey Advertising, the Madison Square Garden handlers and publicity staff, the production company, and all of the personal management people who represented the individual players, there must have been well over a hundred gawkers, who were there for a free lunch and a glimpse of Charles Oakley’s sneer.

Oakley

This was in addition to the twenty five crew members who were already busy warming up the production machinery. And, of the approximately 125 people now waiting for their arrival, I was sure that I would be the only one in the building who knew each and every player by name. A lifetime Knicks fan was about to get his due.
Other than Trent Tucker, who lived in Manhattan, and was already sipping a coffee on the studio floor, the team would be bussed down from their training facility in Westchester. After a pleasant Chat with Trent, I was

Trent

informed that the team had arrived, and were all upstairs in the dressing rooms. My heroes, here at last. The first player I noticed was Kiki Vandeweghe, who was sitting in a chair in the make-up room, having some pancake applied to his face. I introduced myself, and he cheerfully engulfed my outstretched hand in his own, the largest hand I had ever seen. I felt like a three year-old, shaking hands with an affable gorilla. One by one, I met the players, who seemed happy to get a day off from the rigors of training camp and, this early in the day, were in a playful mood.
Down on the studio floor, the players mingled with crew people, asking questions about the technology involved in this endeavor, looking in camera viewfinders, seemingly happy to be there. The two players who took particular interest were Mark Jackson, and Gerald Wilkins, who asked intelligent questions, and seemed genuinely fascinated by the technology involved in the production.

Mark plays

Jackson, who addressed me as “Chief”, which almost made me swoon, was relentlessly curious about everything we did. He seemed amazed by the artistry, and wanted to know all about the technology we used to achieve it. I introduced him to our chief video engineer, and walked over to the edge of the studio floor, where Patrick Ewing was sitting all by himself. Now, I’m just not used to being in the presence of anyone seven feet tall, and have to admit to being intimidated by his knee being level with my waist. I asked him if he needed anything, and he shrugged and said he was fine. A few minutes later, I noticed my assistant director, a woman considerably more sensitive that I, approach Patrick, who still seemed aloof.

Mark plays big

She slid her arm around his sitting shoulder and gave him a half hug, and his face lit up like a Christmas tree. Patrick wasn’t aloof – he was just shy.
At some point Stu Jackson, the newly hired Knick’s coach made a brief appearance. He asked me if everyone was behaving, and left after a few minutes. Actually the players, with the possible exception of Charles Oakley who had on his snarly game face, were a cooperative bunch. As we began the first set-up, it became obvious that something was wrong. When Oakley or Patrick Ewing stood next to our precious cut-outs, the scale was off by a mile. A common practice in prepping a production, we had used crew people as stand-ins when we constructed the sets. The problem, which was now obvious, was that crew people are not seven feet tall, and that none of our carefully constructed building cut-outs would work with the actual players. I had a very expensive disaster on my hands. We told the team to take a break, and had a crash meeting. Everything would have to be at least two feet taller. All the set-ups, that had taken so many long days to achieve, would have to be redone, and in a hurry. The construction crew attacked the task at hand, and we would have to go through the day shooting one set-up while constructing the next; a noisy, distracting process.

New York Knicks v Portland Trailblazers
Somehow we managed slowly shooting set-up after set-up, the crew becoming exhausted and cranky, but the players, again with the possible exception of Oakley, were real troopers and none of them complained about the time all of this was taking. After ten hours of shooting, and well into overtime, we were ready for the final shot, which would be the whole team, forming a semi-circle, standing along the edge of Madison Square Garden’s cylindrical roof-line, high-fiving each other, and exuding the energy and confidence of a sports franchise ready to kick some butt. The enormous cylinder shaped platform that the players would stand on had been raised a good five feet by the construction crew, while we were shooting the other set-ups. This would be the big shot. The players climbed up on the platform, and I arranged them in an order that made sense in the camera. The choreography of this shot took at least another hour and, by the time everyone was in position, they hardly looked like the high-energy butt kickers I has envisioned, but instead just a bunch of tired guys who wanted to go home. We began shooting and, take after take, the team seemed more and more exhausted. Payroll wise, we were now into ‘Golden Time’, the client was grumpy and becoming nervous, the crew was sleep-walking, my heroes appeared very unheroic, and my ‘big shot’ was just not working. Just about the time I considered killing myself, I heard a familiar voice from up on the platform. “Hey Chief, wait a second”.

mARK PIC

It was Mark Jackson, who jumped down from the platform, took me by the arm, and led me off somewhere beyond the earshot of the huge crowd of gawkers who had been watching this disaster in the making. “Look”, he said, “There’s no energy here. It’s late. These guys are beat. You’ve got to wake them up”. I could only nod, grateful for his interest, but almost too tired to respond. “Look Chief, these are performers you’re dealing with here. They need something to respond to. They need a crowd to cheer them on like it’s the last minute of overtime and they’re one point down. They need their fans to get behind them and make some noise”. Of course, he was absolutely right. He saw the situation, found the problem, and came up with the appropriate solution. Mark took his place back up on the platform, and I rallied the troops. I had to turn every crew person, gawker, and corporate freeloader on that studio floor into frenzied, screaming sports fans, rallying their heroes on to victory. I told the exhausted, yet somehow still cooperative players that we would try one more take, while Mark Jackson poked and prodded them into laughing and trash talking. The camera began rolling, and I began screaming at the people on the floor to get behind their team. As the noise level grew louder, the energy level of the players grew as well, until the crowd, who had now gathered close around the platform, was a delirious cacophony of deafening encouragement to twelve tall men who had totally bought into their enthusiasm. Trash was talked, high fives were swapped, someone threw a basketball up to the players and they did mad tricks with it. It was exactly the high energy madness I had envisioned, but was unable to achieve, until Mark Jackson wisely intervened with exactly the right solution. This very expensive disaster, was transformed into an enormous success thanks to a guy who saw a problem, and knew how to fix it.

Mark holds mike
I can remember thinking at the time, that one day, after his point guard days were over, Mark Jackson would have a long and successful career coaching NBA basketball. He was a natural. A leader of men. A fixer of problems. He walks with a swagger that’s been earned. He would be a brilliant coach. But, although he interviewed well, he was turned down by a series of teams because of his lack of coaching experience. After retiring as a player, Jackson chose the broadcast booth over an Assistant Coach’s seat on the end of the bench, and most teams chose from the pool of Assistant Coach’s to fill their Head Coaching vacancies. I knew Jackson’s manager, Steve Kauffman, and sent him a version of this humble scribbling, which he used in his campaign to find a Head Coaching job for his client. I’m sure that my literary plea on Jackson’s behalf had little to do with the San Francisco Warriors final decision to give Mark Jackson his chance as their Head Coach, but I’m thrilled to have helped.
Warriors name Mark coach

After his extraordinarily successful first season, there’s little doubt that Mark Jackson is a coach to be watched, something I knew all along. After all, if Mark Jackson could turn my miserable self into a hero, winning an NBA championship is really not so much of a stretch.

*
© 2012 Shaun Costello

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