40th Anniversary

The Best of Mr. Chatterbox: Mr. C. Breaks Major Political News, Pontificates on Art, and Attends Every Party He Gets Invited to and Quite a Few He Doesn’t

November 1986 was a busy month for Mr. C.

By Robert Plunket February 26, 2019 Published in the March 2019 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Connie Mack

Image: Wikipedia

You read it here first: Congressman Connie Mack will definitely run for the U.S. Senate in 1988. He hasn’t said it in so many words, but he sure is giving off those vibes. When Mr. Chatterbox caught up with him recently at the Hyatt he was toting the prerequisites of a successful campaign: a stack of “Connie Mack” bumper stickers and a can of The Dry Look hair spray.

Connie’s wife Priscilla was there, too, dressed in Nancy Reagan red. She campaigns with the same ease most of us lie on sofas. She told Mr. Chatterbox that she and Connie were high school sweethearts down in Fort Myers back in the late ’50s. The Macks are what you would call “Fun Conservatives.”

I love to watch our political system in action. Take the kids from New College who were hanging around outside. They sent Kristi Krueger from Channel 40 in with a message: “We’ll demonstrate against your position on South Africa, but you have to promise to make a statement. Otherwise we won’t get any news coverage.”

While the kids practiced their demonstration, Connie discussed the important issues of the day—tax reform, the deficit, Nicaragua—while occasionally casting a nervous glance toward the window. The most important issue of all never came up though, i.e., what is Connie Mack’s real first name? Surely it couldn’t be Constance. Is it Constantine? Conrad? Fess up, Connie, the public has a right to know.

A Life in the Theater

Sarasota is on a roll theater-wise. First there was “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” It seemed to go on forever. (Mr. Chatterbox refers, of course, to the length of its run, not its pacing.) Then “Oh, Coward” opened. We were there the opening night and, as Rodney Dangerfield would say, what a crowd, what a crowd: the Wilhelms, Stu Barger with Patti and the kids, Pat Buck, Annette Scherman, plus a lot of other people I wish I could name only I forgot to bring a pencil. You’d never know it was August. Can’t these people afford to get out of town?

Sitting behind us was a couple so hip, so SoHo-esque that we immediately decided to make friends. They turned out to be Joe Jacobs and Joan Goldberg. He’s the new curator of modern art over at the Ringling, where they just paid $11,250 for that Hockney that was in all the papers. We’re not sure what Joan does, but she sure does it with a lot of style. Over drinks at Celebrity’s we discussed how long their lap pool should be. They’re remodeling a 1950s house and are scouring the town for appropriate furniture.

Mr. Chatterbox gets the feeling there may be wedding bells in their near future. Not only are they clearly nuts about each other, but they’ve been spotted at Kanes on more than one occasion looking at couches. Plus, if they get married Joan can get on the museum’s medical plan. Hey, Joan: I sure hope it’s better than the one over here at Clubhouse. We have a $500 deductible!

As good as “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Oh, Coward” were (and they were good) there is nothing as exciting as a home-grown product that can hold its own with the best of them. That’s why we liked “Frostproof” so much. If you’ve ever fantasized about the private life of a Publix cashier—what goes on when the lime green pants suit comes off—then this is the play for you. Playwright Alan Ball’s portrayal of lower middle class Florida sure rang true, and best of all, it takes place in a mobile home!

Dan Denton gave the “Frostproof” cast a party the same day that Arden Fowler’s rave review came out in the Herald-Tribune. Did you read it? She said “Broadway was beckoning” and put Ball in the same league with O’Neill and Tennessee Williams. Naturally, this propelled the company to the very heights of ecstasy, and you know what that means at a party in Sarasota: people started getting pushed into the pool. Some, like Nancy Oliver (the play’s co-director), used the occasion to swim several laps in a sleeveless black cotton-ribbed knit mini-dress with a mock turtleneck, while others, like Mr. Chatterbox, sat shivering in the kitchen, drying the contents of their wallets in the microwave and plotting revenge.

Meanwhile, that black-clad group from Opus was ensconced in the den, riveted to a video entitled “Wild Nurses in Lust” and Barry Karas was being chased around by a woman who claimed he had been her lover back when he was a hippie in Berkeley in 1972. What can I say, it was that kind of party. Last to leave: Rick DeFuria. Now that he’s no longer a judge he’s in training for all the wild theater parties he will attend as a student at the Asolo Conservatory. He promised to tell me what he saw in movie producer Allan Carr’s bathroom when he’d been in California the week previous, but Mr. Chatterbox unfortunately fell asleep on the couch before that event could take place.

(Confidential to Alan Ball: In spite of that really unfortunate confrontation we had at the party, Mr. Chatterbox really, really liked your play. If you want to make it perfect, do this: Have Parker’s son die of internal bleeding during the night. Just think how sensational this will make the scene where he walks in on the two of them in bed. Talk about Drama! And it will provide the spark the play needs so the characters can achieve catharsis. Also, you need that metaphor, that symbol, that image that expresses everything. You need Laura playing with the glass animals, you need Shirley Booth on the back porch saying “Sheba? Sheba? Come back, little Sheba!” I’m not sure what it is, but I’m sure it will come to you. So remember: 1) kill the kid, 2) find the image, and you really will be headed for Broadway.)

But the very best play of the summer was definitely “Take My Breath Away.” It was the “recital” of the kids’ theater camp at Florida Studio Theatre. Now, Mr. Chatterbox usually doesn’t care much for children. When he’s forced to watch them on stage it’s like fingernails on a blackboard. But not these kids. They were cute. And talk about cast parties: Kool-Aid and cookies out in the lobby. Lots of fun, but it made shaking hands with the actors a rather sticky business.

Bright Lights, Medium-Sized City

Of course, there is theater and then there is “theater.” Mr. Chatterbox has recently become aware of a new development in the art form that is taking Sarasota by storm. I refer, of course, to the Promotional Fashion Show.

We are particularly taken with the work of a guy named Socrates. I think he’s Greek. At any rate, he is the Nureyev of the genre. We’re caught several of his “Hollywood Nights” at Restaurant St. Georges and we think they’re terrific. Be forewarned—it’s strictly Plug City. Everybody gets thanked. A lot. Jeanette for the clothes. The hairdressers. The person who did the models’ nails. The bank that holds the mortgage on Bay Plaza… But after a while this orgy of self-congratulation becomes part of the aesthetic, sort of like boredom at the opera.

Socrates seems to run some sort of talent agency or modeling school where things like Poise and Runway Attitude are taught, plus several of the simpler dance steps. (I know I’m being a little vague about all this, but Socrates is so interesting you don’t really want the facts. It’s more fun to invest him with an exotic and mysterious background. For all I know, he’s probably from Palmetto.)

As far as local choreographers go, I’d rate Socrates a close second to my all-time favorite Bunni Thompson. She and her dancers performed this year at the Mr. and Ms. Sarasota body-building pageant at the Van Wezel and let me tell you, in my book they dance Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp right off the stage. Part Las Vegas, part aerobics, part MTV, Bunni’s work deals with mythic parables about noble gladiators and evil queens. Watch for her. She’s the real thing. 

Anyway, back to St. Georges, where Mr. Chatterbox is gamely puffing away at a cigar forced upon him by Brian Bifulco, who divides his time between East Hampton and the Palladium nightclub in New York City. The occasion is the birth of Brian’s son Nicholas Ryan (9 Ibs., 12 oz.). Brian is certainly a fun-loving young man. His favorite activity is driving around town looking for little old ladies and then sticking his head out the car window and yelling, “Hey, baby, how much?”

Brian bears a startling resemblance to Matt Dillon. Since he has ambitions in modeling and acting, he monitors Matt’s career very closely, just in case the star might suffer some sort of disfiguring injury, in which case “I could step right in.”

Bachelor Fodder

Wasn’t that Bid for Bachelors something? Marjorie Marsh called it “an event unlike anything seen in Sarasota in memory.” Mr. Chatterbox came away feeling he had witnessed a major skirmish in the Battle of the Sexes, a sort of feminist Tet Offensive that left the enemy shaken and worried for the future.

I refer, of course, to the American Cancer Society fund-raiser whereby single women got to bid for a date with one of 30 or local bachelors of note. “Women in Sarasota must really be desperate,” said the woman next to me. I was a little shocked—the bachelors didn’t look that bad—‘til I realized she was referring to the fact that the ballroom of the Hyatt was literally crammed with a highly anticipatory mob of well-coiffed females, each one dressed to kill, all of them clutching their bidding paddles in one hand and their checkbooks in the other. They all seemed to have the same glint in their eye. I’ve seen that glint before. It’s the same glint Liza Minnelli has in her eye when she sings “Maybe This Time.”

The bachelors, meanwhile, were hanging out in a sort of Bachelor Bullpen on the far side of the ballroom. There was very little conversation, but the bar was doing a land office business. One by one they were called to parade down the runway by the admirable Annette Scherman (“Show them your gorgeousness!”) who was attired in a gown so unusual that Mr. Chatterbox was tempted to make sketches of it on the back of a cocktail napkin and send them off to the costume designers of Star Trek IV.

Bachelor Number One was Steve Albee, who, with his charm and charisma, proved a tough act to follow. You know Steve—he was in all the papers recently when he dropped out of that political race at the last moment, claiming that his new gutter-cleaning contraption would be taking up all his time. We’re sure the fact that his opponent had raised $40,000 and he had raised $900 had nothing to do with it.

Anyway, Steve started the dubious trend of opening up his tuxedo jacket to give the frenzied audience a better glimpse of his torso. Either that or his cummerbund. The other bachelors felt obliged to follow suit and, frankly, many of them lacked Steve’s washboard abdominals.

Mr. Chatterbox spoke with several of the bachelors after they had been auctioned off. The words “threatened,” “terrified,” and “shaking in my boots” figured heavily in these conversations. Yes, this was a group of sobered men. Several professed not to remember a thing and one was being led around in a daze by friends, like Gary Cooper in that movie about shell-shock victims in World War I.

One of the lessons these bachelors learned was the buying power of the modern woman. As one so succinctly put it, “I didn’t realize so many of the broads in this town could raise a grand.”

One of the bachelors for whom a grand was raised was Pat Hogan. His “date package” included a flight to Atlanta and lunch with Ted Turner. Since this is an experience Mr. Chatterbox would pay large sums of money to forego, he was a little puzzled by the frantic bidding. Must have been the way Pat strolled down the runway in his mauve dinner jacket, insouciantly chewing on a stick of gum.

Jordan Crandall, who published Splash magazine (Clubhouse’s big competitor), sent a mannequin to represent him, claiming he couldn’t be present. This provoked a rather disrespectful caption in the Herald-Tribune (something about Carolyn Michel “holding the dummy”), but the strangest thing was—he was really there! Mr. Chatterbox spied him lurking in the back of the room behind a pair of dark glasses. He watched himself fetch $500, then slipped away across the rain-slicked parking lot. Of course, Jordan is famous for being a little offbeat. He’s sort of the Michael Jackson of Sarasota. In fact, I heard a rumor that he even sleeps in one of those pressurized chambers that’s supposed to extend your life span to 150 years, just like the Gloved One.

Image: Shutterstock

Fear and Loathing at the Magazine Convention

So certain was Mr. Chatterbox that he would win the coveted “Best Columnist” award at the recent Florida Magazine Association convention in Palm Beach that the afternoon of the big banquet he skipped the seminar on how to write better columns and ran off the Hermes on Worth Avenue to purchase a $63 necktie so he would look good when being congratulated by his peers.

It turned out that Mr. Chatterbox was the one who did the congratulating. He placed a poor third in what he sternly suspects was a field of four. Just about the only person who he beat out was Calysta, who writes “Sprains and Strains,” the medical column for Middle Eastern Dancer, which is, of course, the trade publication for professional belly dancers. What went wrong? Vote fraud?

Then, to make matters worse, Mr. Chatterbox’s colleagues at Clubhouse won so many awards they were calling Davi and Valenti to get an estimate on hauling them back to Sarasota. David Warner won big for his piece on “The Secret Life of Borden Deal” and Chuck Koelsch’s picture of swimmer Kristen Linehan from our November 1985 cover was chosen the best black-and-white photograph from any Florida magazine for the entire year. Then, to add insult to injury, Dan Denton, the big boss who publishes Clubhouse, actually won a writing award, some sort of first place for best feature article, the details of which it gives Mr. Chatterbox a migraine to even think about.

Short Takes

Clubhouse contributor Tim Kantor is putting the finishing touches on My Father’s Voice, his new book for McGraw-Hill. It’s about three generations of Kantors. For some reason Mr. Chatterbox most closely identifies with Tim’s grandfather, a famous con artist who got his start shilling for Midwest revival meetings. Later on he stole $5,000 from Sophie Tucker. Tim remembers being the only kid in the schoolyard with a grandfather in Sing Sing…

Rob Knepper, who broke so many local hearts when he was here with Asolo several seasons back, has the lead in John Sayles’ new movie, now filming in Toronto…

Speaking of Toronto, Bill Pettibon is just back from there, where he had dinner with Sadegh Godzbedeh’s former mistress. You remember Sadegh—he was executed by the Ayatollah back in ’79…

John D. MacDonald’s new book, A Friendship—letters between JMD and comedian Dan Rowan—is being held up by panicky publishers who feel the book may be too revealing. Sounds good!...

Check out that new art gallery, Eye of the Beholder, at the Sarasota Square Mall. They have paintings priced from $10 to $100,000! Co-owner Wayne Kastner, who is completely bald just like Telly Savalas, has high hopes for the unorthodox mix. “It’s either going to fly or I’m going to eat crow and pick my teeth with the feathers,” he confided.

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