I arrived in Los Angeles on July 8, 1987, having driven cross-country with my best friend, Matt Blazei. We didn’t know where we would stay. I had a second (or third maybe) cousin who was an aspiring actor, I’d exchanged a couple of letters with him, but he was not expecting me. We did not connect.
The Blaze and I calmly flipped through my “Rolodex” and patiently dropped coins into a phone booth (remember those?) until we got a warm voice.
Lo and behold we were able to track down a crazy, wild-eyed fellow named “Koolhead.” We were drinking buddies nearly two years earlier on the beach in Waikiki.
Long story short, we drove to his apartment and the party was on.
“Koolhead” was exactly one half of an intergalactic partying pair I met my first year in Hawaii. I had moved there after dropping out of college, and my mind was open and unattached to any sort of formal declaration like “what’s your major?”
The other half of this drink-all-day, drink-more-all-night duo was a curly red-haired, furry chested teddy bear named Anthony Greene. The kind of guy who could charm the room in 18 seconds and leave with the girl.
We met one day in front of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach, both amused by the fact that on each of our boom boxes was playing the ultimate Springsteen rock anthem, “Born to Run.”
Anthony became my first roommate in Los Angeles. Man, did I score.
I didn’t know at the time why Anthony was living in Hawaii. Never really bothered to ask. Most of us back on that beach had our own back stories tucked neatly in our suitcase. What did it matter who you were or where you came from. Or what you might be running from. Once you’re on the Islands, bruddah, you got no worries.
Turns out Anthony was the son of legendary celebrity photographer Milton Greene, recently portrayed by Dominic Cooper in the wonderful film, My Week with Marilyn.
Milton Greene had passed away the year before Anthony and I met. I was escaping the cold in Minnesota, and a sudden lack of academic focus; Anthony was escaping a gigantic shadow he had been living under his entire life.
He was the master of borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. But Peter always got his money’s worth in the transaction and Paul was always invited to the next party.
We lived in a one-story house on 6th and Broadway in an area of Venice known as “Oakwood.” In recent years, the area has seen quite a few celebrities and west side beach magnates swoop in on some properties and pretty up the place. But not by much. It was back then, and still is today, a rough part of town. The kind of neighborhood where you avoid eye contact with the trio standing on the corner for fear of being mistaken for a customer – or in my case, a DEA agent.
Well, Anthony and I not only called “Oakwood” home for a little over a year, but get this: for about a 5-month stretch, we had a dealer/mechanic/limo driver sleeping on our couch, his limousine parked in front of our house. In the back yard we parked another car. Sammy Davis, Jr.’s widow, Altovise, had entrusted Anthony’s pal, the dealer/mechanic/limo driver to service her Rolls Royce. Ya see, Sammy Davis, Jr. was Anthony’s Godfather, so the arrangement was as easy as a phone call.
Still with me? Did I mention that next to Sammy Davis, Jr.’s widow’s Rolls Royce was stacked over one hundred gift baskets, filled with bottles of Chardonnay and various cheese and mixed nut selections?
Anthony was always putting people to work. It fired him up to “hook people up.” Nobody could get on the phone and sell snowballs to Eskimos like Anthony Greene.
The gift baskets were the back-end booty of a job I was handed. I would drive with my girlfriend, a gorgeous blonde I was dating (she was the ex of one of my Waikiki roommates who stiffed me on buying my tv when I moved to Maui, so I returned the favor by “befriending” his girlfriend when she moved to L.A.), to Palm Springs to retrieve a gaggle of gift baskets leftover from a convention of some sort. Did it matter?
You should have seen the two of us driving back from the desert with 100+ gift baskets jammed into our car – the trunk only held about 10, so you do the math.
But the funniest part of the gig was that the baskets seemingly had no ultimate destination. Or if they did, they never got there. We had wine and cheese piled in a pyramid in our back yard for half a year.
Another gig Anthony set up found me driving a half-dozen super models around town in a 32 foot R.V. He had convinced a producer that I was the right man for the job, a fashion shoot for Marshall Fields. I would chauffeur these living breathing mannequins back and forth to Palm Springs, up Laurel Canyon, and along Mulholland Drive.
Man, I thought, L.A. is awesome! Wine and cheese growing in the yard and super models in the camper.
I moved to Hollywood to become an actor – I had found my focus.
Anthony set me up with my first agent. A dumpy little dude name Joe Kolkowitz. Yeah, I just called him dumpy. Even though, when I worked with Joe in the first chapter of my professional career as an actor, he was O.J. Simpson’s bi-weekly tennis partner. Joe also repped Marcus Allen, Vlade Divac, and a long list of other notable professional athletes. In me he saw a fresh-scrubbed Midwestern knucklehead “football player” type. I gladly accepted that as my first niche.
Suffice it to say my introduction to Tinseltown was eventful and full of surprises. Though I had early success booking some commercials and a few television roles, the real thrill of my new life was the constant parade of activities, parties, and odd job adventures provided me by Anthony Greene.
One day we would be in La Jolla jet skiing, bar hopping, and eating lobster, the next day we would be ducking behind our sofa back in Oakwood, pretending to not be home as our Yugoslavian landlord, Denise, pounded the door in search of our rent.
Anthony loved the art of the deal – often to a fault. Relationships were his currency, he collected friends like baseball cards, making each feel like he or she was now on the inside. A front row seat is what he offered. He loved facilitating, but almost always with an angle, and at times without nearly enough escape hatches. But no one ever questioned his heart. It was the size of Yankee Stadium. To his close friends he was loyal to the end.
We were quite a crew. There was Koolhead, Strummer, Evan Kertes (aka “The Gemologist”), Richie Z, Sonno, Kot, Randino, Levy, Gary Rose, Bruce Tolchin, Darren Turner, and the one and only J.G. Every weekend was a party. No exceptions. Every party began and ended with Anthony. He would load up the freezer with top shelf vodka, put platters of ribs in the center of the table, play D.J. and crack wise ’til dawn, lip quivering as the Stoli danced down his pipeline; and the next morning we would laugh it off and he would get back on the phone, chasing down Peter and tracking down Paul.
I wish I could say that Anthony left L.A. on his own terms. But that wouldn’t be true. He racked up a few too many moving violations, two of the drinking variety, wound up in a work camp for nearly a year, and bolted the Hell out of here with Johnny Law on his heels nearly a decade ago.
We stayed in touch for the first few, but then our relationship evaporated. I blame mostly myself for letting it go. Out of sight, out of mind. My bad. Some times the miles between just make the connection too fuzzy. Anthony married a great gal named Christine, whom I had actually waited tables with my first year in town. They settled down in Florida with her young son, Ryan. They put Los Angeles in their rear view mirror good and final. Out of sight, out of…damn I wish I had worked harder to stay in touch. Out of sight, but never ever out of mind. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Anthony.
It’s only fitting that Anthony passed away on Marilyn Monroe’s birthday. After all, she baby sat young Greener as a lad. Milton left behind all of those amazing photographs, and Anthony dotted his walls with her image. She was omnipresent.
I’ll never forget the morning I woke up on the couch at Anthony’s beachside duplex in Playa del Rey, hung over as heck, and stumbled to the phone. “Hello,” I grumbled. “Yes, is Anthony in?” came a soothing British voice over the line. “Ummmm. (I had no idea) No. (I was used to telling anyone who called that Anthony was not home). “Oh, well would you please tell him that Roddy McDowell phoned?” A pause. “Ummmmm, yeah, sure, I’ll tell him.”
I hung up and crawled back to the sofa. Wow, I thought, I just spoke to ‘Cornelius’ from The Planet of the Apes. I’d only been in Los Angeles for about three years and I’d already spoken to ‘Cornelius’ from The Planet of the Apes.
Anthony loved hot tubs. He also loved butter. And sushi. And crab legs. And vodka. And cold beer. And betting on horses. And basketball. And movies – he really loved Westerns. And women – he really loved women. He was a gentleman, too. He stood with my groomsmen at my wedding and he delivered a beautiful and heartfelt toast. Anthony loved Sinatra and Dean Martin and had a very romantic and old fashioned side that could melt you. But he would also surprise you with some rap outbursts, quoting Grand Master Flash or Whodini. He had an eye for talent as well. He once pushed and pushed his producing partner to hire an unknown talking head to host a show for a Reader’s Digest project. His partner balked. That host has had a pretty decent career on the “Today Show.”
So long, Greener. I’m not sure I ever properly thanked you for all you did for a wide-eyed kid from Minnesota who landed in LaLaLand with a couple hundred bucks in his pocket and not a clue how to proceed. You paved my path with a magical patina I could never have scripted in my wildest dreams. I can say with certainty there will never be another like you.