“This is Shakespearean,” said Ted Kavanau, one of the founders of Channel 5’s 10 o’clock news, as he surveyed the sea of taut, ruddy faces, piercing eyes and accessible smiles.
“It certainly isn’t Freudian,” replied agent Richard Liebner.
Actually, the term “Serlingesque”-as in Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling-came to mind. Gathered in the back room of Elaine’s on Sept. 3 was a collection of local on-air talent that, seen in a single setting, boggled the mind. These were men-and with one exception, they were all men-meant to be viewed at a safe distance through the cool medium of television. But for one night they broke through the fourth wall and gathered in a single, sweaty space, reminiscent of one of Mr. Serling’s ambulatory nightmares, mixed with a little of Paddy Chayefsky’s The Bachelor Party .
Which it was: John Roland, master of the Dry Look, Channel 5 anchor, veteran of the airwaves since 1969-when John Kluge, not Rupert Murdoch, owned the station-with a long, legendary history as a man about town and Westhampton, was about to get hitched for the third time, to the financial planner Joanna O’Rourke. (The wedding took place on Sept. 6 in Westhampton.) “She was marvelous to me when I was very, very sick,” the apple-cheeked, 61-year-old Mr. Roland told The Transom, referring to his bout with diverticulitis last year. “This one’s going to work.”
Near the makeshift bar was veteran Channel 11 reporter Marvin Scott, decked out in a retro flecked tweed jacket that looked straight off the set of L.A. Confidential, posing for a photo with doe-eyed Channel 2 anchor Ernie Anastos, Channel 4’s mustachioed medical reporter Dr. Max Gomez, and slightly spastic Channel 2 sports reporter Warner Wolf. National talk-show host Maury Povich, his hair perfectly tousled, caught up on gossip with bantam-like former Channel 5 news director Ian Rae. Elsewhere in the crowd were Channel 5’s sunny-faced weatherman Nick Gregory , beefy reporter Bob O’Brien and snowy-haired Good Day New York anchor Jim Ryan, New York Post reporter Steve Dunleavy-who looks as if he’s slowly turning into a lead statue-and, for a little while, Fox 5 news anchor Rosanna Scotto, who came in a flowing beard and man’s suit, compared facial hair with attorney Barry Slotnick and grabbed her crotch at least once before she left.
Ms. Scotto came in drag because the evening’s proceedings were meant to be a Friars’ Roast-style bachelor party for her Fox 5 news colleague, whose friends weren’t about to let him forget his past. “Does the bride-to-be know that the cumulative marriage time preceding her is 52 months?” Mr. Liebner-who represents a lot of the men in the room, including Mr. Roland-said aloud to no one in particular shortly before the festivities started. About the same time, Mr. Povich made an early exit, leaving the $125 that each of the guests were supposed to pay for the evening. When Mr. Scott said something about giving Mr. Povich his money back, Mr. Liebner said: “He’s a millionaire. Give it to U.J.A.”
Even though agents are some of the funniest people on earth-and not necessarily intentionally-for some reason Mr. Liebner was not designated as one of the Roland roasters, but he should have been: He seemed to have the Friars spirit in his blood. “Say ‘pussy’!” the agent’s nasal voice boomed at one point in a game attempt to stir up the boys.
Frankly that’s why The Transom had come to cover the festivities. We’ve long suspected that Mr. Ryan, Mr. Wolf and Dr. Gomez could work blue with the best of them, and we were hoping to hit paydirt. We wanted to hear Mr. Wolf say “pussy” instead of “Let’s go to the videotape!”, or to witness Mr. Anastos sneer “cocksucker!” instead of “Goodnight, Dana.”
But perhaps mindful of their public images, the on-air guys left most of the cussing to the behind-the-scenes guys like Mr. Rae, who is both Australian and a former news director, which makes him prone to foul language. Suffolk County Surrogate Court Judge John Czygier, who M.C.’d the evening, told the crowd that the party’s organizers had decided to go with a sit-down meal in honor of Mr. Rae because “Ian’s from Australia” and “usually by this time of night he’s at the sterno in the chafing dishes.”
“You sonuvabitch, I’ll get you,” shouted Mr. Rae, whose arm was in a cast.
Turning his attention to Mr. Roland, who was decked out in a black-and-white hound’s-tooth patterned jacket, black shirt and black pants, the judge recalled the time that Mr. Roland came to tell him that he was going to marry Ms. O’Rourke. “And knowing John and knowing the way he lived, I was just so pleased that he would come to me and ask,” Judge Czygier said.
“I said, ‘John, are you fucking out of your mind? I mean, you bring a different girl out every weekend and bang her like a dinner gong on the Ponderosa!’”
“Oh my God!” brayed Mr. Rae.
Judge Czygier continued, saying that he told Mr. Roland that “if you’re leaving the world of bachelordom, you can’t just leave and forget your past. You have to leave a legacy, because we all know John. We’ve all seen him around town.
“And John said, ‘You know what? I’m going to give you something and you can pass it on.’”
“Gonorrhea!” said Mr. Liebner.
Later, Ralph Nathan, one of Mr. Roland’s oldest friends, read from a long, long list of Mr. Roland’s old girlfriends, including “Linda the liquor lady,” whoever that was.
“I think I’m coming,” Mr. Roland said about three-quarters through the list.
“Me, too,” said Marvin Scott, who was sitting at the same table.
But Mr. Roland visibly shuddered when Mr. Nathan included, at the end of list, “your abbreviated affair with Billie Boggs.”
In 1988, Mr. Roland was suspended from Channel 5 after a testy interview with Joyce Brown-a homeless woman who took her alias from another Channel 5 on-air personality, Bill Boggs-in which Mr. Roland accused her of defecating on the sidewalk near the station’s studios. He eventually apologized.
Mr. Scott was up next, and he had clearly prepared a lot of material. “We did try to find a stripper tonight, but we couldn’t find someone you haven’t already dated,” Mr. Scott told Mr. Roland.
“Stop using Alan King’s stuff!” someone yelled.
Like we said, Mr. Scott had prepared a lot of material. “I got two more pages,” he said when the crowd began to chant for Mr. Rae. “I paid 125 bucks for this, would you get on with it?” Mr. Ryan yelled.
Mr. Scott reeled off a top-ten list of the things you shouldn’t say on your wedding night. Number seven was “I think biting is romantic, don’t you?”
“Marv Albert said that,” Mr. Roland rebutted.
There was applause and groans, and, finally, Mr. Rae made like the news director that he once was: “All right, mate, yer out,” he said.
“Fuck you all, ” Mr. Scott told his colleagues.
Mr. Rae, whose right arm was in a sling-a fracture incurred during a game of golf, according to his tablemates-had been waiting all evening to tell the room the “real” reason for his injury.
“Roland lent me a Viagra pill and nobody showed up,” he said as paced back and forth in front of the room, holding a glass of red wine in his left hand.
Mr. Ryan followed and recalled the time in 1983 when Mr. Roland disarmed and shot one of the three gunmen who tried to rob the Racing Club, a hangout for Channel 5 and Murdoch lifers on East 67th Street.
“How fucking drunk were you?” Mr. Ryan wanted to know.
Replied Mr. Roland: “I’m an anchor man-what can I tell you?”
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