Monday, May 11, 2009

Rudy Riska, Humphrey Bogart, Schultz and Me

Above, clockwise from the top left: Schultz as played by Johann Banner, Robert Sacchi playing Bogart, Rudy Riska and a book about the Heisman Trophy co-written by Riska

Thinking back about Rudy Riska, I just remembered a funny story that happened around 1979-1980.
Rudy became friendly with an actor called Bob Sacchi. Sacchi is an exact double for the actor Humphrey Bogart. I don't mean he looks like Bogart. I mean he looks exactly like Bogart with no makeup whatsoever. He even made the movie “The Man With Bogart's Face.” His roles were mostly limited to playing Bogart, but he did have small parts in Across 100th Street and Die Hard 2.
Rudy introduced me to Sacchi at the Downtown Athletic Club at 19 West Street, where Rudy was the Executive director of the Heisman Trophy Foundation, and I was a member. Once or twice a month, Rudy would invite to to dinner at the DAC, in the private dining room at the 18th floor. Rudy didn't drive, so after dinner I would always drive Rudy home to his house in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
One night I had dinner with Rudy and his guest Bob Sacchi. Rudy told Sacchi about the great Italian food at Patrick Henry's Pub, two doors down from the parking lot I owned at 31 Monroe Street. It was called Ramos until when in 1973 the Ramos brothers Joe and Eddie sold it to Patrick Henry, who was the manager at the A & P on Market Street. The bartender and cook at Patrick Henry's was Mike Maruffi, who had owned the bar at 116 Madison street around the corner. And was the cousin of the 3 Maruffi brothers who owned the bar on the corner of Baxter and Bayard for 30 something years.
below, 116 Madison Street in late 2008

Mike Maruffi was a dead ringer for Schultz, from Hogan's Hero's TV program. The only difference, Mike spoke with a heavy Italian accent, rather than a German accent. Mike was a great cook, and when Rudy called him in advance, Mike would make Rudy a special spaghetti and scungilli, with red sauce.
Bob Sacci said he loved spaghetti and scungilli, so we made plans to go see Mike at Patrick Henry's the following week.
Rudy had told Bob Sacci about the wonderful views from the roofs of Knickerbocker Village, so before we went into Patrick Henry's, I took Rudy and Sacchi onto the roof of the J building, where my father lived on the 12th floor. Sacchi was amazed that you could see both the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges just by slightly turning your head.
When we finally made it to Patrick Henry's, I witnessed one of the funniest incidents I've ever seen.
We didn't tell Mike who Sacchi was, and when Mike saw his face, he did a double take. Mike called me on the side, he asked me, “Is that Humphrey Bogart?”
I told Mike it was Bogart. He said he thought Bogart was dead. I said no, he had staged his own death because he was tired of acting in the movies and constantly being hounded by fans in NY City.
No way in the world did I think for a moment Mike would believe us, but Sacchi played along and Mike fell for the ruse. Sacchi even asked Mike, “You look familiar. Did you act in Hogan's Hero's?”
It was hilarious. Rudy and I had to bite the insides of our mouths to stop from laughing.
We all ordered the spaghetti and scungill. Then the roof fell in, so to speak.
A few minutes later, Mike returned to the table with a steaming hot platter for three of spaghetti and scungilli's. I mean steaming hot. As he approached out table, which was in the back of the small restaurant, Mike tripped and dropped the whole platter onto Sacchi's chest and lap.
Sacchi jumped up screaming, slapping the food from his body with both hands. This was no act. Like I said, the food was hot!
I didn't know whether to laugh, or cry.
Mike's eyes bulged out of his head. “Oh my God!! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!” he screamed.
Mike was slightly fat, and nearly 70 years old and I though he was going to have a heart attack.
But the damage was already done. Mike Maruffi had dropped a hot platter of spaghetti and scungillis on Humphrey Bogart's lap, and I would remind him of this for many years afterward.
While Sacchi went to clean up in the men's room, I went home across the street to KG and got him a set of clean clothes. We were about the same size, so it was no prolem
Mike made another platter of spaghetti and scungilli, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. Because of his slip-up, Mike refused to give us a check. If I had known that in advance, I would have had a few more cognacs.
Before we left, Mike called me on the side and asked timidly, “Is Bogart still mad at me?”
I said I didn't think so, but he had the reputation of being a tough guy, and if he was still mad, I wouldn't want to be Mike Maruffi. Then I made the shooting motion with my thumb and forefinger. Mike's eyes got real wide.
You can't make this stuff up.