Once You’re a Jet, You’re a Jet …

Before they remade “Fame,” they should have talked to Lewwy from 106th Street.

Alright, I’ll grant you that the New York Jets, at 3-0 under former USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, may be the best team in history. But that presupposes you’re a Jets’ fan, something that probably requires you having been alive in 1969 when the wild-ass, mustachioed Joe Namath was “guaranteeing” victory over our parents, old-line Baltimore Colts. (The shock being that the Jets beat the Colts at their own game, running….)
Another Jets’ fan I know is screenwriter Louis (pronounced, in the NYC vernacular, “Lewwy”) Venosta.
I’ve been tempted to call him these last several days. You see, at one point, when I was a film student at Columbia, I lived on the Broadway side of 106th Street; Louis (remember, “Lewwy”) lived on the other, Columbus Avenue side.
But we both wore our #12 Joe Namath jerseys proudly every Sunday the Jets played.
Cut to: A couple of years later.
I’m now Newsweek’s entertainment correspondent in L.A. and my old friend Louis ”from the block” (as J.Lo put it), is suddenly a big star in Hollywood.
Turns out his brother wanted to be a dancer and (just like in “Fame,” the original) brought his younger brother Louis with him to the audition. The older brother didn’t make it, but Maurice Bejart, one of the chief choreographers of the ‘70s, fell in love with Louis and took him on tour through Europe for several years.
When he got back, at 18 and not knowing what to do, he went to an audition for this new movie (in 1980), “Fame.” Not only was he picked as a principal dancer (you can see his Che Guevera-like visage eyeing the beautiful blonde ballerina in the opening sequence), but director Alan Parker liked his story so much that he incorporated it as the main “throughline” to the script. (His screen name is “Leon.”)
Cut to a couple of years later still…
It’s the mid-‘80s and, the world not having seen a good martial-arts movie since Bruce Lee died in the early ‘70s, is suddenly treated to a new, #1 hit, “Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon” (directed, of course, by Motown founder Gordy, but written by Louis Venosta). Naturally, it starts a new trend, bringing everyone from Brian Bosworth to Jean-Claude Van Damme to the screen — the first big movies of each, “Stone Cold,” and “Double Impact,” I oversaw as vice-president of production for Michael Douglas’ Stonebridge Entertainment.
So, of course, I reconnected with Louis, who was now represented by UTA founder Jeremy Zimmer and living on the beach in Malibu (a long way from 106th!)
Turns out he’s now one of the hot screenwriters in town (later writing “Bird on a Wire” for Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn). He and I decide to start a new boxing society (since we considered the rest of Hollywood to be wimps) called the Malibu Boxing and Brix Society, or BBBS (we had T-shirts made to that effect.)
Basically, it was a club for disaffected studio executives (I always tried to get my old boss David Hoberman, to come — until I realized later that, in real life, he wasn’t the tough guy he pretended to be, but rather “Monk,” the series he’s made his fortune on.)
Anyway, one day at one of our Friday boxing sessions on the beach, Louise introduces me to a new kid (and failed dancer from NYC), Lawrence Bender. He’s letting Bender sleep on his couch as he tries to find his way as an “actor” in Hollywood.
Now, the only problem I have with Bender is that he dislocated my ring finger and I still can’t get my wedding ring off. You know how every wannabe martial artist always says "just hold your hand up and I’ll show you how I can stop my kick an inch from your hand”? Well, none of them can, including Bender, who proceeds to push my ring finger about two leagues into the stratosphere.
Believe it or not, Bender kept calling me at work for months after, trying to get me to have Michael Douglas produce (among others), “Boxing Helena,” in which a woman is cut up piece-by-piece so that a sick doctor can have sex with her. I told him that the two-time Academy Award-winning actor/producer of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Wall Street” wasn’t likely to produce a slasher film, but give Bender his credit — he never quit.
So I wasn’t surprised later when Venosta called to tell me he’d introduced Bender to some director named Scott who’d introduced him to an unproduced screenwriter named Quentin Tarantino and they were shooting some crazy movie called “Reservoir Dogs.”
Of course, the real thing I owe Louis for was introducing me to “CSI” producer Cyndy Chavatal. We were at Sundance sometime in the late ‘80s and Cyndy and I had been playing footsie for a while. The problem was, she was William L. Petersen’s manager and had run his theater company in Chicago, when that was the hotseat of young actors including “Platoon’s" Willem Dafoe, “Midnight Caller” (and now, “Entourage’s") Gary Cole, “CSI:NY’s" Gary Sinise, et al.
And they had rented a house in Malibu to watch the Super Bowl (which, in those days, always fell on the last day of Sundance). So Louis and I flew home early to attend their party — but given the level of testosterone in the room, I was terrified. I just wanted to go home; but no, Louis said, I had to put up or show up.
So, sure enough he drove me from the airport to his house in Malibu and then forced me to get back in the car and go meet Cyndy. As predicted, all those Chicago actors gave me a good razzing for taking their (unrequited) girlfriend from them — but all I know is that she took me into the bedroom and didn’t let me out till the next day.
We moved in together for the next three years, developed and produced a couple movies together (including the Toronto Film Festival winning “Hard Promises,” starring Petersen and Academy Award-winner Sissy Spacek) … and I didn’t really see Louis again
Two years ago, I ran into an old girlfriend of Louis’, Kathryn Arnold, at the Cannes Film Festival and she told me he’d moved back to 106th Street. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with that info till last weekend — the Jets are now 3-0 with a rookie quarterback (the first time that’s been done since #12 Joe Namath) and “Fame 2” (or whatever they’re calling it) has bombed at the box office.
Obviously, because they didn’t call Louis. If they had, he could have told them better stories than anything they could have made up — being picked as an internationally acclaimed dancer by Maurice Bejart at 15, creating the modern martial arts movie, helping discover Quentin Tarantino when Quentin was still selling videotapes, even guiding me through the early days of a great relationship.
But I think before I call, I better get out that old Jets’ #12 jersey …