Book Reviews


 

Fame, Ain't It a Bitch
By A.J. Benza

Review by Rich Sheppard

 

August 22, 2001 -- For any guy, even a guy who does amateur book reviews of occasionally weightier volumes, there are few more compelling stories than that of a fellow dude who achieves intimacy with (1) his favorite porno actress, and (2) his favorite supermodel, and (3) throw in an unspecified liaison with John Gotti gooma Lisa Gastineau. When a fellow guy completes this kind of rare, fantastic, and even dangerous “triple-banger” or trifecta, it’s almost mandatory – if the writing isn’t too demanding - to read up on whatever other fun he’s had.  Because let’s face it, when it comes to fun times with eye-popping babes, guys are just as tuned to gossips as dames are. 

"...there are few more compelling stories than that of a fellow dude who achieves intimacy with (1) his favorite porno actress, and (2) his favorite supermodel, and (3) throw in an unspecified liaison with John Gotti gooma Lisa Gastineau...."

And A.J. Benza, a former Daily News gossip columnist and recently fired Radio (Howard Stern) personality, and present TV (E!) host - read: celebrity - has sure had his fun. “Fun” might be too mild a word considering A.J.’s enviable access, frantic-antics, comely conquests, and comeuppances as he dashes around Manhattan Island grabbing armloads of information about, at rock bottom, who was banging who in the deep dark of night and murky pre-dawns. And then printing this stuff in New York’s Hometown tabloid, the Daily News. (Readers note: this reviewer HATES the Daily News. This reviewer also works at a sister company of the Daily News, under the same ownership.  This is not a pleasant reality, either.)  

A Nightlife Napolean

A better description might be that AJ died and went to Heaven while he was still alive. From a guy’s perspective, dying might be a small price to pay for the five year or so run A.J. had as New York’s bad boy of gossip. At the height of his time at the Daily News, A.J. was a nightlife Napoleon, trampling in every direction through high-living New York and its dreamy and druggy damsels, clublords, and underworld. The guy cut a huge dude swatch through Manhattan that would be tough to match even if your name was, say, Sly Stallone or George Clooney.  The broads? Well, like broads, they just ate it up. And then they had dessert, and then after-hours cocktails and treats.   

Fame begins with A.J. growing up in near-Manhattan Long Island suburbia. Early on, A.J. must endure the death first of his father, and then his mother, who passes away after a difficult battle with cancer. During his mother’s illness A.J. is compelled, with the help of his Mafiglioso-connected cousin “Allie Boy,” to make book to pay the bills. There’s some entertaining tales of how A.J., with his unspoken but probably brandished mob clout behind him, cons and otherwise scams the bettors whom comprise his clientele.  This section might be termed: “Poverty: Ain’t it a Sin.” A.J. definitely doesn’t want to be a sinner.  

Eventually through some legitimate hustle, A.J. capitalizes on a meager sports-writing background and is able to get on the staff of Long Island’s Newsday (Readers note: this reviewer HATES Newsday). 

Feedback from Readers

I am A.J. Benza....and I must say this is the best, most honest review I have seen on my book. All I ever wanted to convey was what a weird and wonderful time I had during my sudden rise and subsequent fall in the NYC gossip ranks. I just wanted to thank the writer from one writer to another.

Good work. I owe you a drink.

Best

A.J. Benza

While working at Newsday, A.J. befriends gossip queen Linda Stasi (presently appearing as an inside-the-front-page columnist for the New York Post.  Readers note: this reviewer LOVES the New York Post, but not necessarily Stasi). Stasi takes A.J. under her chirpy wing as it were, and he begins his ascent into night-life heaven. Eventually Linda moves from Newsday to the Daily News, taking Benzi-boy along. When she leaves the News, he stays, taking over as chief gossip-monger. Soon, he starts making blurby TV gossip snippet appearances for E! and Joan Rivers batty daytime talk show, and generally raising his profile and making some decent dough. A.J. has hit the big time, stalking through New York’s storied clubs and parties wolf-like, frankly admitting he’s the luckiest man alive. If even half of his stories are true – such as in one instance banging porno vixen Barbara Dare - he sure was.

The 'Starting Five'

But as all good things must end, so it seems for A.J. He gets hooked on pills. In one of the funnier sequences in the book, he calls the first five Percocets he takes each morning (ostensibly for an old football “back injury”) his “starting five.”  That makes the second five he takes at around noon his “second unit.” Of course there’s other units later in the day depending on how long a day (or night) A.J. has, and he has plenty. 

A.J., no shrinking violet, thus starts becoming more of the story himself -- instead of being an mere observer and tattler. A.J. joins the likes of his newfound celeb pal Mickey Rourke and chop-suey actor Jean-Claude VanDam by getting punched out by Oz badboy Chuck Zito after being quoted out of context in a New York magazine profile. A.J. befriends the ever-nuttier Mariah Carey, much to the chagrin of Mariah’s svengali, Tommy Mottola – who offers A.J. nice things if he’ll keep out of Tommy/Mariah’s imploding marriage. A.J. has additional dame problems, mainly of the “too many” variety (as if that’s really a problem). One foxy companion leaves him for a European Prince, another (his one “true love” supermodel Kara Young) leaves him for orange-haired, smarmy The Donald (Trump). Things finally reach a nadir when Pete Hamill – the pseudo-grizzled and pompous a-hole NY columnist – becomes top editor at the News and tells A.J. to write more for the reader, etc. A.J. can’t or won’t do it, and while he’s out covering the Oscars in LaLa, the ax falls. Almost end-of-story.

A.J. turns up as host on some quirky “Mysteries” show on E! (Readers Note: this reviewer does not have cable and has never watched cable TV and thus cannot comment on this particular show.) A.J. turns up on Howard Stern, although he was recently tossed off the Stern show for slapping one of Howard’s flunky sidekicks. Stories relate that the flunky sidekick was letting too many “anti-A.J.” callers through, making fun of A.J.’s fading “career.”  Lately, A.J.’s profile is so low, it’s hard to find the dude even in the gossip pages. Still, what a run while he lasted. There aren’t many dudes on the planet who’ve notched as much quality beaver as A.J. and frankly it’s an envious proposition to even consider it. Much less review a book by the cat who done it.

A Powerful Player on the After-Dark New York Stage

As a long-standing New York Post reader, A.J.’s Daily News gossip column of the mid-nineties and thereabouts isn’t too familiar, although many of the high-publicity incidents he describes are quite well-known to any casual newspaper reader. Eventually, of course, no matter who breaks a hot gossip story, that story makes all the media rounds and becomes part of society’s increasingly celebrity-drenched collective consciousness. For A.J., if he didn’t become quite a household name among vast swaths of non-Daily News or even Daily News readers, he surely became a notorious, influential, and even powerful player on the after-dark New York stage. Thus Fame: Ain’t it a Bitch ultimately describes how A.J. Benza merged some murky mob connections, a real talent for bullshit, and looking good in chi-chi designer clothes into a bundle of pussy, free drinks, notoriety, and real newsprint-splashing clout. But it doesn’t quite explain A.J.’s descent into his present obscurity; which is too bad, because usually that’s the best part of any story.  A.J. is still a comparatively young man, perhaps it’s a story that isn’t quite over yet.

-- Rich Sheppard