America's Got Talent

Doing hard time in prison for money laundering and tax evasion? In between (and during) the shower rapes, perhaps you dream about the day your sprung and what you'll do first. Maybe you want to devour a huge, juicy t-bone steak that sizzled on a grill, or buy condoms. I'm not a psychologist.

If you landed in the butt-pokey for money laundering and tax evasion crimes committed with your business partner back when you owned Studio 54, and you're in the big house together, you might dream of a big house.

That's exactly what future disco-tax-dodger-cum hotelier Ian Schrager dreamed of with his partner Steve Rubell (though Rubell might have been more focused on the prison sex) while they were locked up. Because as soon as they were sprung, they opened what is regarded as the first boutique hotel, Morgan's on Madison Avenue near 38th in NYC.

I moved to NY with an apartment and acting school in place. I needed a job. My roommate did some public relations work for Morgan's hotel and thought it would be a good fit, so I applied and was hired.

It was a good fit, we wore chic grey uniform suits designed by Calvin Klein. Calvin K himself kept what looked like hustlers in his apartment at Morgans. Maybe he wrote them off by using them as "fitting models".  I worked in room service. Bianca Jagger also lived there. She'd call me every night so we could spend ten minutes on the phone giggling.

She asked. "Greg, darling, I am so bored. What do I want for  dinner?"

I'd list the menu items, and she'd repeat my boring pronunciation of "chicken" with her luxuriously accented "ccchhhhhhhicchhyyen".  As soon as she made one sound sexy enough, that was her dinner.  If a cheetah could talk, it would sound like Bianca Jagger asking me what she should have for dinner. I can't believe Mick left that sexy but admittedly whiny purr for Jerry Hall's Texas twang. To a boy fascinated from afar with the glitterati cafe society of NYC, I 'd arrived and was all up in it.

Rubell and Schrager couldn't get a liquor license since they were felons, so we called a local liquor store. The store delivered when the guests needed booze. We always threw in a bottle for ourselves to share among the crew. We sat in the stairwell waiting for a guest to order dinner, knocking drinks back and entertaining each other.

Someone brought a boom box to the dirty old basement kitchen at Morgan's. I had a raggedy cassette tape of Patsy Cline hits. I draped a dishtowel over my head, grab a wooden spoon and lip sync along to Crazy. I'd like to tell you that this took a little hooch in me to do; but that would be dishonest. My audience each night were my fellow waiters, the chefs and a Rastafarian dishwasher, Clyde. They didn't make a hairnet big enough to contain his giant dreadlocks, so he just wrapped his huge "do" with a plastic garbage bag and worked away, stoned as a rich hippie. Clyde was thrilled to be in America "mon" operating an automatic dishwasher.

Rubell was cheap -- hence the tax evasion conviction. He didn't see the need to waste money on a night manager for the hotel that catered to the world's elite; he trusted us minimum wage 20 year-olds to cater to the needs of Cher and Liza. The bellmen got to know which guests checked in with cocaine, then used their pass key to steal it. Shockingly, no guest ever called the front desk to report that their drugs had been stolen.

The place was wild. With no night manager on duty and this being the city that never sleeps, the staff was left to run the staff. We should have fired us, and charged us crimes. Instead we got tipped.

During one of my Patsy Cline tribute sets, the day manager, Terry, walked through the kitchen/stage.  She paused, took the whole scene in, processing it in her Hyatt School of Hotel Management-trained mind. Instead of seeing us as staff on-the-clock drinkers that stuffed our faces with stolen shrimp, she saw the chance to showcase the talents of an all actor/model hotel staff.

The hotel had a swanky, elaborately gorgeous restaurant designed by chicsters Philippe Stark and Andre Putnam, but no one used it because Rubell and Schrager were one liquor license short of a good time.

News of the event spread like gossip does. My friend David Youse conceived our act: David, Henry Hodges and I  would perform a medley of Ellie Greenwich numbers. In drag. Ellie wrote the hits Da Doo Ron Ron, Leader of the Pack, and a Marine Corps favorite, Do Wah Diddy Diddy. Not only had David seen every Broadway show since about 1980, but he also owned the soundtracks. Plus basically every show ever recorded. He fascinated me by putting on obscure Chita Rivera show in his Hell's Kitchen apartment. He had a wall of sound and video equipment like no one else in town. I was constantly amazed that he was never was robbed; he was constantly amazed that I walked down his block eating macaroni and cheese doused with Red Devil, bought at Smiler's deli. (I evaded hookers and stepped over a steaming mass of passed-out homelessness to get in that market and their really good mac 'n cheese.)

David mixed the medley of Ellie's hits. We each had a spotlight number and in between our solos, he spliced in the wedding bells from "Going to the Chapel and We're Gonna Get Married". We changed positions during that segue with some simple footwork. The three of us rehearsed a few times, and we felt pretty good about our choreography. Fashion designer Victor Costa and my mother sent up a couple of his ball gowns and one red Halston from her closet. Henry Hodges was muscled, so he donned the red number. Fitting since Halston loved muscles. David had wigs left over from a caveman skit he had done in another show. We struggled a brush through it to remove the bones that were rolled up in them.

The three of us found white pumps for ten dollars on 42nd Street. For three pairs. We ducked in to Duane Reade Drugs, shelled out the same amount for Lee Press-On Nails and some light blue eye-shadow. There was no chance of us looking like anything but trash. Dolly Parton once said, It takes a lot of money to look this cheap. For us, not so much money. Henry bravely decided to shave his armpits, but that only puzzled David and I because Henry's dress wasn't strapless. We knew we wouldn't be beautiful, but we were hoping for somewhere in between Tootsie and The Crying Game. Look, first prize was a VCR, and that was incredibly motivating.

But who were we to judge?

Showtime! Clyde the dishwasher, baked out of his mind on dishwashing detergent and ganja, helped us zip up our dresses and press on our nails. The three of us waited for our turn, watching truly talented co-workers get up and present amazing acts for the judges.

We looked at each other nervously. Sure we were ready and knew our act; but this whole night had gotten out of control. What had been meant as light-hearted fun born from a dishtowel and a dream, had turned into Shakespearean monologues from Juliard students and self-written songs played on guitars shipped in from Brooklyn. How would our act, which was basically three hideous trollops mouthing the words to My Boyfriend's Back and You're Gonna Be in Trouble -- not be offensive?

We didn't actually care -- I wanted that VCR. None of us had one; they were pretty new. Warren Buffet was rich, but he hadn't bought one yet. He was still having his original wife and kids re-enact famous movie scenes for him while he ate his signature popcorn.

As we walked out and onto the stage, I brushed my wig out of my face and left three of my press on nails in the nylon, straggly hair. My boyish figure couldn't keep my dress up;  it slid down a bit and I slipped a nip. The crowd loved it. While that reaction is fun; I was horrified. My coworkers were baring their soul and all I was baring was my balls, and those only metaphorically.

Maybe the serious talent figured the celebrity judges would help them get acting jobs, I don't know. We were there to have fun and committed to do that. But I felt a little guilty, like I was up there making a mockery of the process. I didn't even know who the judges were until later. The restaurant was dark, and Rubell had all kinds of hangers-on and did a lot of drugs, so for all I knew the judges were his mom and his childhood imaginary friend. Turns out it was Rubell, Liza and Bianca.

We made it though our number perfectly, bolstered up by rehearsal and vodka. We did our little jigs between each other's solos. We had to hold for laughs a couple of times. We did our job as entertainers and our act killed. And we won.

Jenny Robertson, a young actress who had just started working at the hotel, ran off the stage crying. I thought, "You better toughen up sweetie, this is a tough town and a Hamlet soliloquy can't beat boys dressed like girls." David and I wanted to believe that her hopes and dreams were crushed forever; however, she soon quit to star in Bull Durham and went on to star in dozens more films and married well.  Superhunk Bradley Cooper wasn't onstage that night -- he would work at Morgan's later. If he had been there, he could have just ripped off his shirt and beaten us with one bicep tied behind his back.

We were aware of the reputation that being Morgan's and Paramount workers had. It was fun and we didn't usually have to wait in nightclub lines. We totally took advantage of it. If we needed a good suit to wear to a personal event, we snuck our uniform out of the building and wore it. It was a pretty tight group, some of us were fired and rehired many times. Richie Notar went on to own Nobu and that is one hard-to-get reservation connection that keeps on giving.

Rubell had a good time at the talent show, too. He had declared that only one VCR would be awarded. Liza lept up, and shoved him back into his chair.

"You cheap sonfoabitch --I couldn't save my mother from those bastards who run Hollywood; but I'll be damned if you're gonna cheat these boys out of electronics!" Her hip popped out of place and she had to sit.

I guess Rubell felt bad, because we all got one.

We found Rubell later that night, passed out on the floor near his hotel room door. He wasn't dead, just asleep, his keys still in the lock of his door. In an incredibly cliche´ maneuver, his hustler of the night had relieved him of his wallet, coke, shoes and pride.

I know the clock on that VCR is flashing in a landfill somewhere.

6 comments:

  1. Another great time with great friends.

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    1. Seems like yesterday we were sitting in that stairwell...

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  2. Replies
    1. Me too- you could have both loaned dresses AND judged.

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  3. And a great time was had by all. sounds like a real hoot. Thanks for your memories.

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  4. Wow.................."Memories, like, well you know what." Thanks Greg, boy, id we have fun !!! And I never knew Liza was to be credited with each of us receiving a VCR !
    Peace Brother & "Thanks."
    -Henry/Hank

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