Friday, May 8, 2009

Dom DeLuise: Aug. 1, 1933 to May 4, 2009; a personal remembrance

TrustMovies first met Dom in the lobby of Lincoln Center's Philharmonic Hall (now known as Avery Fisher Hall), in the late 60s -- just around the time he looked like he does in this photo, at right. He was the new boyfriend of a friend of mine named Carol Arthur, an actress/singer (the Broadway musical High Spirits and an off-Broadway Cole Porter review in which she sang, marvelously, "I Happen to Like New York"). I'd done summer stock with Carol and then become part of a circle of her theatre friends. At the time, I worked at the Philharmonic Hall box-office, and one evening Carol stopped by to introduce her new beau. From the first, Dom was funny and friendly -- two important qualities that, over the decades, never changed.

I remember the evening, maybe a year or so after our first meeting, when Dom and Carol (left) came to dinner at the Greenwich Village apartment into which I and my lover Bob had recently moved. (Gays had "lovers" back then; "companion" was a word for someone who took care of the elderly and infirm.) "This is the first time I've ever cooked for a celebrity," Bob told Dom, who, being his usual self, immediately explained that, in order to create a really good meal, you must first make love to your kitchenware. And then, through our entire kitchen he went, greeting, kissing, nuzzling and whispering sweet-nothings to each pot and pan. "You, dear colander, will soon be draining the best pasta in town!" (We actually had roast beef that evening, but on it went: He had all of us in stitches.)

I think that some of us in that group of friends were worried that this guy was going to take Carol away from us. And of course he did. When I grew up a bit, I realized that this is what happens with marriage: You get "taken." Even at that point in his relatively new career, Dom was the most famous person that any of us knew. After awhile, because his career demanded it, he and Carol moved to Los Angeles, settling into one of its lovelier communities, Pacific Palisades.

Dom, putting parrot to sleep.

At this same time I was working for the New Jersey-based publisher Prentice-Hall, and a job promotion took me to California, too -- along with my new wife Rae (this was the 60s, remember and many of us, mostly closeted, were experimenting and discovering our sexuality). I soon began working at one of my company's subsidiaries, Goodyear Publishing, based in -- that's right -- Pacific Palisades.

Rae and I saw the DeLuises off and on, and even occasionally baby-sat for them (they soon had three boys: Peter, Michael and David). My mind is getting foggy these days, but I seem to recall once watching over the youngest child, David, who, soon after, came down with, and then thankfully recovered from, meningitis!

When my wife became pregnant in late spring of 1973, we began a rather tricky time. Almost coinciding with her pregnancy was a major feature published in The Los Angeles Times that linked the use of spray glues with birth defects. I had been using spray glue consistently in my advertising job at the publishing house, so Rae and I considered the possibility of an abortion, which neither of us wanted. We contacted the writer of the Times feature -- who proved a real doll, calling us back immediately, commiserating and giving us all her knowledge of these "defect" links, along with further people to contact in the scientific community. After some research, we decided to continue with the pregnancy. At almost five months, Rae began bleeding and was promptly put on bed rest for the next few weeks. At that point we figured, "If this kid gets born in OK-shape, we'll be really grateful."

Dom -- and his mom.

Then, on the day before Thanksgiving, the event happened in which Dom played -- so far as we are concerned -- his most important role. Rae worked for Tiffany & Co. in Beverly Hills, and on that day, Dom happened into the store to do some shopping. Rae and he had just kissed each other hello, when they heard a loud "pop" and suddenly the guard across the room fell to the ground, bleeding. "Hit the floor, you muthafuckas!" screamed men in masks, and the Tiffany customers and staff did exactly that -- except for Rae whose belly was out-to-here with the baby. One man turned and pointed his gun directly at her, screaming, "I told you to hit that floor!"

She did. But instead of falling forward onto Tiffany's hard floor, she fell directly onto Dom's corpulent and welcoming body, which softened her landing considerably and may even have saved our child's life. During the entire time that the robbery was going on -- glass cases and windows shattering, people crying -- Dom kept repeating over and over, "Keep your head down, keep your head down," talking quietly to reassure Rae.

The DeLuises and, uh, that other famous couple.

Post-robbery, Dom took Rae home and made her tea. It was at this point that she went into sudden contractions and had to be taken to the hospital. Just shy of seven months, Rae was not advised to have an early delivery, so the doctors gave her a shot to quell the contractions. Fortunately, it worked. Where was I during all this? Driving around the L.A. area that afternoon, traveling from publisher to printer. (Nobody had cell phones back then.) When I arrived on schedule to pick Rae up at Tiffany's, I found a closed, window-shattered and boarded-up store. A bystander filled me in on events, and I rushed right home. Given the names and events involved -- Tiffany, robbery and Dom DeLuise -- the story made the evening news, with interviews and all. We missed it, of course. (Nobody had VCRs back then, either.)

Having lasted out the spray glue, the bleeding, and now this, our child, we felt, was quite determined to be born. And so she was (in 1974, remember, you didn't know the sex until the baby was out). On the morning of February 15, 1974, just missing Valentine's Day, Laura Paige van Maanen arrived.

We had already asked Dom and Carol to be Laura's god-parents. When they came to visit at the Catholic hospital where the birth took place, its strict rules meant that only immediate family was allowed to see the new mom and baby. So Dom simply lied and told them he was Rae's brother (that's only a venial sin, right?). Afterward, of course, the entire staff quizzed Rae incessantly about what life had been like, growing up with Dom DeLuise! She improvised.

By the time, thirteen years later, that Rae and I separated and then divorced (we're still very close: a child and 20 years shared help make that happen), we had moved back to New York City, where we remain today -- I with my companion of the last 20 years, Bruce. Though Rae and I have not been as close (or as often in touch) with Dom and Carole in the ensuing years, our daughter Laura, as well as the DeLuises, have maintained contact. That's a photo of newborn Laura (above), with Dom, Carol, their boys and dog -- and another taken just two years ago (below) when our adult daughter, with her own daughter Marlo and husband Bryan Simms, visited the DeLuises (and parrot) in California.

All of us were surprised and saddened to hear the news of Dom's death. But we'll always remember him with a smile on our faces (god knows, there was always one on his) & a very big Thank You.

Note: I've taken these photos
(except those two that include my daughter Laura)
off Dom's web site:
It's a treat to browse the site, should you have a little extra time.


CriticNYC said...

A fine remembrance of a great spirit.

On a side theme to this post, but important to your readers who admire you reviews, one question, though. Since you state in this reminiscence that you are inclined towards your own sex by predilection as revealed over the years, may one ask with great respect if that has to be taken into account by your readers when you assess the sexiness of any particular film or segment? Would that not suggest that you identify with various roles in this realm differently and would perhaps be less thrilled by a beautiful blonde female and what she gets up to in a scene than a heterosexual member of the audience, and that even your approval of the appearance of penises in the last film you covered so well might be different from the response of a heterosexual to the same image? One asks merely for information, as Lady Bracknell once remarked, and in the spirit of science, as it were, since that is the realm this reader tends to be active in.

In the same spirit, one wonders also about the meaning of the image of the luxurious blonde in Antares spread on a bed to great advantage except that the nitwit in the scene has a camera trained up her nether regions instead of doing what all full blooded heterosexuals would identify with. Who was he in the film?

Again one asks merely for information although one wonders if you have reviewed Antares here or somewhere. If so one would like to know to read it. Must be interesting. On the other hand again one would wonder if we heterosexuals of the world who love (female) blondes would be able to go by your measure of how sexy she was (judging from the photo, supremely sexy - to us).

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks, and to answer your question: Yes, I think my sexual preference probably needs to be taken into account. Which is why, in my very first post on this blog -- one to which I link my TrustMovies moniker at least once weekly, if not more, whenver that monkier appears in a post -- I explain myself pretty fully, including sexual preference. Other that that, I would prefer not to keep bringing it up and up and up. I think many readers will figure it out or at least wonder about it. And wondering can be productive too.

Further, since I firmly believe in Kinsey's "continuum" regarding sexuality -- that most of us are at some midway point (very midway or slightly midway) between hetero and homo, rather than 100% in either direction (my life experience has certainly proven this to me, too) -- I also believe that many of us can see the beauty and sexual attractiveness of both sexes. Of course there is such enormous cultural/social stigma to this that it cannot aways be allowed to be felt or seen -- even by the person feeling it, not to mention by others. For me, I now can identify with and enjoy both sexes, while still favoring the same sex side.

As to that blond on the bed in the still from Antares: As I recall (it's been years since I've seen the movie) what you suggest is indeed what is happening. But, as I also recall, the scene itself, once you understand the people involved comes off less as sleazy than as necessary, given the needs of the participants. The still IS a kind of turn-on though, even to the extent of making ME want to do what you say that any red-blooded heterosexual would want.

I believe I gave Antares a short review when I covered Film Movement for GreenCine some years back. Here's the link:

Antares is such a fine film that I suggest you rent it and see for yourself (then tell me, please, what you thought). You're right, too, that the blond is supremely sexy. But then, for me, so is the guy. What's not to like?

Finally: you say "in the spirit of science, as it were, since that is the realm this reader tends to be active in." What kind of science, may I ask? (As long as it's not Christian Science, I can still be your friend.)

CriticNYC said...

God no not Christian Science, except that to me there is something charming about self-healing through trust in God's intervention, inexplicably favoring the patient, though only because it is optimistic and hopeful (on the side of recovery and health, ceteris paribus), and avoids going to the doctor too soon and thus putting one's wallet in the jaws of the medical profession's patented machine for sucking in all dollar bills from any bank account within ten miles. But I dont think it is very happy for people to keep their children away from medical advice and care too long if they are ill. I agree they should be forced to get professional care past a certain point, even though the more we find out about medicine these days the more we realize how little doctors know compared with what they really need to know.

No, my science is investigative, checks paradigms against the literature, and would probably alarm you far too much to enlarge upon without buying us both a stiff drink first.

Sorry to bring the topic up after several ups before (really? someone lobbed this hot potato at you before?) though actually I believe it is an interesting topic, involving how much the appeal of people rests on their physical charms, and/or the mental/emotional frame one views them in, and how much on their apparent spirit and character, which I believe comes through also even on screen. I mean the charms of a good woman are more magnetic than the charms of a selfish one, and it is usually visible on the features too, whether acted or not.

Not sure what stigma you are referring to, since in the arts and even educated society at large there has been no official or even unofficial stigma for being gay, to my mind, for some time. Many years in fact. If you mean bi is frowned upon or worse, surely not. The interesting thing is that you say you can appreciate appeal using two different frames, which would seem to qualify a movie critic more than just one frame.

Actually I think it is quite interesting to be bi more than mono, though I am purely 100% mono possibly owing to being cooped up in a British public school for schoolboys only which contrary to general wisdom had the effect on me anyway of making women of almost any kind a huge attraction since they were unfamiliar except as sisters and cousins, and unfamiliarity bred a certain heightening of eroticism which has proved life long so far.

I'll go to your link and even rent the movie, since the blonde is so wonderful and I didn't really mean to put down the film or the man, though as I say he did seem to have a rather shall we say scientific attitude to a great beauty apparently in his power.

Of course I realize I may find out that he was her brother! Wait, that's a silly thing to say. I think. Have to read your review to find out.

James van Maanen, said...

Checking paradigms against the literature? Yes, we will have to have that stiff drink one day soon. I do want to hear more about this -- if I can get my tiny mind around it, that is. Reading you, and then answering you, is proving so much fun that I am not doing as much of my regular writing of late. Hmmm. Will have to find a nice middle ground between the two....