Uncle Rusty was one of the auditioning Hitlers in Mel Brook’s film The Producer. When the audition completes, the casting director says, “Sorry we can’t use you.” Rusty shouts back flippantly in a Jack Benny fashion “You’re sorry.” When I am blue this dialogue exchange can lighten the air. The rest of his film career is hardly visible to the naked eye. Highlights might include a gravedigger in “Young Frankenstein” and rabbi in “The Frisco Kid” and reporter in “Sid and Nancy”
Rusty was one of my three gay uncles on my father’s side. He relentlessly struggled as an actor in Manhattan. He was stuck in Off Off Off-Broadway plays. The financial frustration converted his passion to the stage of high school teaching. When the withdrawal symptoms from acting beckoned he found solace in touring p roductions of West side Story (the policeman) and Oklahoma (Ali Hakim).
My unfulfilled starstruck dreams came from Rusty. His Blitz gene awakened my urge to lip synch Barry Mannilow songs at work functions. I became the go to person for Eulogies, going away speeches, and birthday toasts. I jazzed up my life by giving sermons at temple about Intimacy, Belief in God, Unconditional Love, and spirituality. And of course, my yearly party where I dress in Barbra Streisand drag and lip sync to her songs. Karaoke became a natural fit for my desires.
Rusty was a wild man in public. In 1973 he reinvented himself as a coffee house owner/manager in Los Angeles. His imprint began to tackle me. When I left New York in 1966 I had witnessed little of the Rusty image. Now as a 21-year-old I saw his force.
We sit in Canters on Fairfax. The frowning waitress trudges towards our table. Rusty scream wakes up the entire restaurant.
“Ah, what are you doing honey. Give us a smile. What’s wrong? Having a heavy day?”
She looks dismissive as Rusty continues.
“I just got here from New York and I’m starving. Bring me one of those delicious Canter corn beef sandwiches. $8.95? That’s outrageous. Can I just have a ½?
“That’s $5.95 if you just want a ½” She counters.
He pulls her into his face and says, “Can you give me some extra rye bread sweetie?”
He made his mark on Canters. I love emulating his behavior.
His coffee house was located on Vermont near Melrose. There was an open mike where he invited comedians that were transplants from Manhattan. It was a one man show running the establishment. Rusty waitered, cooked, and was the master of ceremonies as he introduced his friend comedians. Rusty knew how to stretch a dollar through unorthodox methods. With little savings he would pilfer napkins, salt, pepper, condiments, and silverware from his visits to surrounding restaurants. Legendary folklore says he would “borrow” toilet paper for the coffee house from local establishments.
He lived in the same Hollywood Towers where I lost my gay virginity a year ago. The Towers had become a hotel. Rusty loved that he didn’t need to pay for a phone, utilities, furnishing, linens, and toiletries. The primary inducement was that someone took messages, so he could appear to be a Hollywood agent for his comedian friends. He finagled a monthly $500 which was a bargain compared to New York City rents even in 1973.
Rusty changed my life on Bastille Day 1973.
I met Scott at the CSUN. We went out a few times without getting intimate. Because I was hanging out with my high school friend Paul, Scott had assumed we were partners and leery about making a move. Scott and I were going to see a revival of “I do I do” with Carol Burnett and Rock Hudson at the Doolittle theater. Scott opened my eyes and ears to all things theater, opera and literature. He was an English major getting his masters after spending four years at Occidental College. To earn a living while attending college he worked the early morning shift as a mailman. After the musical we visited Rusty for dinner. While we were sitting on the couch Rusty said, “Get closer to each other. Hold hands.” My first long haul relationship began thanks to Rusty.