Richard Gere’s New York office hired me to set up a universal remote control for his VCR. His apartment was on University Place near Tenth Street. This was in the early 1990s. It was a pre-War building and he lived in the penthouse, which had its own private elevator. The penthouse took up the whole floor and included a terrace that encircled it. The décor was in a Southwestern ranch house theme, which included the outdoor space. It was beautiful and had character in an elegant rustic way. It felt like New Mexico with a view of Manhattan.
That lavish spread was used as his home in one of his movies. Richard Gere’s character was a 49-year-old chef and known womanizer. He played a famous publicly acclaimed chef in the Bobby Flay mode. The story had him falling in love with a younger gal [Wynona Ryder, age 22] who was terminally ill with cancer. The movie, Autumn in New York, did not get complimentary reviews. While well-directed, shot, and acted, unfortunately it repeated the same old, sappy Hollywood formula. I personally enjoyed it, and his apartment looked the same in the movie as it did in real life.
Signed, not singed: Ken Sander gets an autographed book from Bobby Flay, circa late 1990s or early 2000s. Courtesy of Ken Sander.
The restaurant in the movie existed in real life in Manhattan’s Flatiron district, but in the movie, it operated under a different name. I ate there one weekday evening with my mom and sister Vicki. We were seated next to Bryant Gumbel and a woman he seemed close with. A couple of tables away was Bill Bratton, the former police commissioner of Boston, New York City (on two separate occasions), and chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. The commissioner was having dinner with a woman whom I assumed was his wife. Bill came over to Bryant’s table and introduced himself. It went something like this: “Hi, I am Bill Bratton, New York’s police commissioner,” and Bryant answered, “of course, I know who you are, pleased to meet you,” and he shook Bill’s hand. Manhattan was a smaller island then; you could get into new and exclusive restaurants. The city back then was low-key and even celebrities could go anywhere they pleased without being bothered (except of course Times Square, as David Bowie once said).
I have lived in the city most of my life, not counting my time spent in the Army, or after, when I was living in Hollywood. The city was my home base during my touring days in the music business. But making service calls while operating The Cable Doctor business is when I really got to see how the other side lived. Looking back, it was really some view.
The Cable Doctor store on East 14th Street in Manhattan. Courtesy of Ken Sander.
There are times when you cannot win. The day after the service call to Richard Gere’s penthouse I went to his office on Ninth Street to pick up my check. His assistant then told me that the remote did not work, and that Richard had changed the batteries to try and fix it. This information was disconcerting. I told her that by doing that he had erased the data I had programmed in. She replied that Richard knew better than that, and she gave me my check.
The likely scenario is that he’d picked up the remote in order to use his VCR and had pushed play, and nothing happened. My guess is he then assumed the batteries were dead and changed them. Of course, that was game over, with the remote reverting back to factory settings. On the top of this remote there were buttons: TV, Cable, VCR and AUX. I would bet dollars to donuts he did not first choose the VCR function, in order to select the source. But then again, I had programmed the remote (with new batteries) and of course I had tested it to evaluate that the remote’s functions were working. It is quite possible that my last use was the VCR function, and that the remote should have worked for Richard when he tried to play a videotape, so, hmm.
Ron Perlman was a different story; at the time he was starring on Broadway. Not only was Ron present when I had to make a service call to him for his cable setup, he acted like he was my best friend. He was upbeat and helpful, even throwing me the cable wire across the air shaft when I had to run the new cable. He was having a fun time. I enjoyed that call. I later mentioned this to his manager, and his manager said, “Ken, he is an actor; trust me, he is not your friend. It is what they do.” Duh, you dummy, I thought to myself.
Ron Perlman. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Gage Skidmore.
Al Goldstein was a person who appeared at various times in my life. When I was 14 my mom became was acquainted with him. At the time he was in his mid-20s and a photographer for the New York Post. He had an assignment to take photos of the Chinese New Year parade on Mott Street just south of Canal. His transportation at the time was a Vespa motor scooter, and he invited me to come with him. So, I got on the back, and we headed downtown. Once there, he took his pictures. We had an up-close view of all the dragons and fireworks. It was a fun, interesting afternoon.
Around that time, I was on public access TV with two shows, The Cable Doctor Show, and with Speak Out, and that show was getting quite a bit of attention. It had a viewer call-in format. My intention was for New Yorkers to comment (speak out) and voice their opinions on an assortment of issues. I would choose a topic and then viewers would respond by calling in.
Speak Out was for the most part live. It aired on Sunday nights at 11:00 PM. It was a wonderful time slot, since many Manhattanites had already watched the news and they were looking for something to watch afterward. Speak Out was a middle of the road kind of program, in the vein of AM radio talk shows. The format worked and we had a big viewership.
One Sunday night my preteen son, who was supposed to be sleeping, went out to a local bodega, Willy’s, to get candy. When my son walked into the deli, they were watching Speak Out. He said, “hey, that is my father on TV.” They went, “yeah, sure.” My son answered, “no really, that is my dad. How do you think I got out of the house this late?” They laughed. Willy’s bodega was a classic, with good sandwiches and staples such as milk, beer, and an excellent candy selection. Candy is the reason for the deceit of many a child.
Al Goldstein had made millions as the publisher of Screw magazine from the late 1960s to the early 2000s. (It was in fact in a newspaper format.) That was long before the internet blew up. He also had a public access show called Midnight Blue. That was a breakthrough show, being soft-core porn. The show was widely viewed, and it made Screw even more successful.
I had recently done a show regarding an incident of self-defense with an illegal firearm. Al had just gone public regarding this issue. His office had been robbed at gunpoint a month earlier and he was really angry about it. I approached his people for him to be on Speak Out. Doing it live was not an option, but he agreed to do a taped interview at his office on West 14th Street. During the interview he was outrageous. I asked him about his feelings on gun control, and he said, quote, gun control is all about good aim, unquote. Al had gone public with a rant about the strict gun control laws in New York City. He publicly complained about how unfairly the gun laws were enforced. He complained that celebrities and even newscasters could easily get carry permits, but for regular citizens it was virtually impossible. If you were patient and submitted to all the rigmarole, then maybe you could get a premises permit.
A couple of years later Al was doing an on-air phone interview with Howard Stern. My son and I were listening to FM radio while driving up to Hunter Mountain for a day of skiing. Al was being sued by his former assistant for sexual harassment. But that was not the story. Howard was amazed that Al had just spent three days in jail for contempt of court.
Howard was trying to explain to Al that you could not address the judge with insults, especially about the judge’s background. Howard was all logical about it, and Al was like, why can’t I? The lawsuit had had opportunities to be settled, but Al was stubborn and was fighting it. He was like that, and he had a mouth on him. But he was all mouth and nothing else. And he was no molester. Al was all shtick during the show, with Howard trying to explain to him that some battles were not worth having. Al was insisting, “why not?” in a “what, me worry?” pose, and this was one of the funniest radio shows I had ever listened to.
Half a year later Al had other legal problems. This time it was in Palm Beach, Florida where he owned a mansion in a very private closed community. He got into a dispute with his neighbors, no surprise there. They tried to get him expelled from the community. His answer to that was to buy a six-foot-tall sculpture of a middle finger salute and put it on his front lawn. It took them years, but they finally got him out of there.
Years later I was hired to do an installation at his town house in the east Sixties. He was not there but he had a couple of technical guys that worked for him who were waiting for me. They were helpful, and knew what they were doing; we got the job done. As I left, I wondered why he had needed me if he had these fellas employed.
Even later I ran into Al at CES. He no longer was a millionaire, and he was in poor health and had trouble getting around. Bob Guccione, Penthouse magazine founder and then-publisher, would always have the magazine help Al obtain press credentials. Nowadays I wonder if Al remembered our history together, but he aways seemed to know me, so I think he did.
At that point in time, I was writing technology articles for Penthouse. Bob Guccione got the idea for a tech column after seeing me hosting The Cable Doctor Show. He had instructed Penthouse editor Peter Block to hire me to be the technology guy.
Public and leased-access TV was extremely popular in New York City back then. It was a viable alternative to the homogenized fare the networks put out. Guccione named my column “Technomania,” as he understood the growing popularity of consumer electronics. I had two to four pages in every issue for almost 11 years. They were not product reviews, but rather a roundup of new and exciting products. They did not want me to write anything negative; Peter told me to only write about what I liked. I personally evaluated everything I covered in the magazine.
I quickly became a trusted contributor. I arranged for getting the products in for review, and coordinated with the photographers. With few exceptions, “Technomania” was completely my baby.
Header image: Richard Gere, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/John Mathew Smith & www.celebrity-photos.com.