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Stern Q&A Raises Questions

Lloyd Grove writes:

Did he or didn't he? The folks at Razor magazine have been making a big deal about their "exclusive" Howard Stern interview purportedly conducted by former Daily News gossip A.J. Benza. But Stern insists the alleged interview never happened.

It's part of Razor's June cover story on the blue-tongued radio jock's troubles with the Federal Communications Commission.

I'm told that Razor's editors got very anxious the other day when Stern went on the air to deny that he ever gave Benza or anyone else an interview. According to MarksFriggin.com, a fan site that summarizes Stern's shows, "Howard refused [Razor's interview request] and it never happened. ... He thinks it's kind of funny that the magazine is putting out a press release saying that they have an exclusive with him when they don't."

I hear that the Razor editors' anxiety level increased when E-mails to Benza, who has written for the mag on and off since 2001, were bounced back with the message that the address was invalid.

"I have a hard time believing that A.J. Benza would make up quotes about somebody as prolific and newsworthy as Howard Stern," Razor publisher Richard Botto told me. "I think it would be career suicide, and I think A.J. knows that."

But while Benza told me he didn't make up any quotes for the article, "I never interviewed Howard. I made some calls to him personally as a friend," he explained. "We spent about 30 seconds talking about the FCC, but it wasn't under the guise of an interview. But then the magazine put out a press release about an 'exclusive interview.' It's just stupid. It's ridiculous."

AJ Benza writes: "Luke.... Please, my man, make sure you stay current with the Lloyd Grove/Razor Magazine nonsense. If you heard Stern this morning and yesterday morning you'd know he told his listeners that I never claimed my speaking to him was an exclusive. It was, as Howard said, Razor Magazine trying to drum up publicity for the issue. Other than that...I always enjoy reading your stuff."

From 10/12/99 Luke Ford Wire Services Ltd:


    Concurrent with Content magazine’s observation in the October ‘99 issue that Benza’s “Mysteries & Scandals” offered “a seedier view of Hollywood,” the Village Voice, dated 9-28-99 , reported that “ A.J. Benza was finishing up his cautionary tale memoir.”    
    The following items offer a cautionary glimpse into the mysteries and scandals of A.J. Benza’s momentous life and times:
    “Right now, we’re the shit,” observed Benza in New York magazine, dated 8-1-94.
    An accompanying photo of “the clog-footed, jewelry-wearing, dude-about-town”--his thinning coif moussed and ponytailed, his extremities wound with at least four weighty metal bracelets plus rings and earlobe accessories-- bore distinct clinical signs of phase-three Saturday Night Fever. Not visible were Benza’s three tattoos: The word “Pope” on his right shoulder; a wolf’s-paw print on his right forearm, and a Gypsy flag on his left shoulder.
    “I’ve met more beautiful women in the last two years than I met when I was married and lived on long island....Every girlfiend I’ve had in the last two years has been a person in that scene, y’know? When you go out in that scene, you end up dating bartenders, hostesses, models,actresses, publicists. I would never go back to dating a girl who works in a bank in Levittown, not with this kind of lifestyle....The problem is you do tend to meet the girls you dated last month and they see you with someone else, and so you gotta be really cool. There are worse things in this world! My friends who are married with two kids and a white picket fence all call me to hear about the stories, y’know?
    “..More recently, Benza got into a fight with one of the club’s [defunct Times Square nitery USA] doormen...Vindictive items about the club’s owner, Peter Gatien, started appearing [in the Benza co-written Daily News column]....
    [New York, 3-18-96; accompanying the profile are photos of Benza, attired in head-to-toe leather, grasping his crotch and grimacing suggestively for the camera:] “.....Hot Copy” isn’t neccessarily considered the best column in the city, but A.J. and Michael [Lewittes, a former publicist and Dr. Ruth Westheimer assistant]--”the Fonz and Richie”, as one colleague described them--have made it a contender... The “Hot Copy” office is strewn with Playboy and Penthouse magazines,
and as any viewer of [E! Channel’s] The Gossip Show [canceled for low ratings] can tell you, the wall behind A.J’s desk is littered with photos of women with large breasts....’...You got the publicists who’ll sell out their clients, and you’re set,’ chuckles A.J.. ‘It’s all a trade-off: I run some bullshit thing, then they give me something hot....’
    ...A.J. leans back. He’s wearing silky black pants and a gray untucked shirt hanging to his knees. “My flowing look,” he says of the outfit, delivered to his office via messenger from Donna Karan at, A.J. smiles, [the following in italics] a greatly reduced price. “
    “A.J. has confided to his readers a ‘“concern over male-pattern baldness’...’but it’s funny,’ he says. ‘ If I want to know if I think a girl’s really pretty, I try to imagine what she’d look like bald.’
    ....Then there was the time a few weeks ago when A.J. threatened Nick Paumgarten, a writer who’d made the mistake of going a ahead with a profile of him for The New York Observer after A.J had told him he’d already pledged his loyalty to a New York Magazine profile. ‘I said that
if he went that low on that story, he was going to have to look over his shoulder for the rest of his life. New York Magazine...
    “A.J. has stories: backyard weenie roasts with Warren Beatty, party-hopping with Mickey Rourke and Abel Ferrara, naked swimming in the grotto at Hef’s mansion...breakfasts at the Carlyle with Dan Rather.     ‘Dan knows I have a fucking edge.’
    Daily News 3-25-97: In Hot Copy, A.J. Benza and Michael Lewittes announce sighting of Robert Downey Jr at the L.A. Mondrian Hotel’s Sky Bar back from rehab with a beer in hand.
    New York Times, March, 28, 1997: “Pete Hamill, the new editor of The Daily News...accepted the resignation of A.J. Benza and Michael Lewittes, who have written the ‘Hot Copy’ gossip column for four years [plus A.J. Benza’s] Sunday column on the city’s youthful night-life scene, ‘Downtown’...[Benza reported said] Mr. Hamill was unhappy with the sometimes smart-alecky
tone of both columns, and in particular with the Sunday column’s narrower, youth-oriented definition of celebrities worthy of mention..
    New York Post, 4 - 1-97: “... this week comes Michael Fleming’s story in Variety that has actor Robert Downey Jr. threatening a lawsuit against Benza and the News for the columnist’s report that he saw Downey drinking beer in the Sky Bar in the Hotel Mondrian in L.A. recently. (Benza retracted the story after Downey said he wasn’t even in L.A. he said he was in Savannah, Ga...)...”
    “Had Downey been drinking a beer, he’d have been in vbiolation of parole and wwould face jail. So this was no small matter...
    “...the gossip industry has been polluted with too many people who think they have a hook into every rumor out there,” wrote Benza in his farewell to journalism in the Daily News, dated March 30, 1997. “ And they don’t. And it makes those of us who do--those of us who’ve worked hard at making contacts and honing our intuition--seem like vicious hacks.....
    Daily News, 5-16-97 : “...A.J. Benza was charged with punching and slamming a car door on a cabby in midtown yesterday after the driver apparently refused to pick him up.... Benza was arrested after witnesses flagged down a beat cop...”
    The former Daily News gossip columnist, appears on the E! network's [now canceled] ‘Gossip Show.’
    “The cabby, Collin Osei Tutu, 45, of the Bronx, was treated for a bruised face and a leg injury at St. Clare's Hospital, police said.”
    “The dispute flared about 4:30 p.m. after Benza tried to flag down the cab at 41st St. and Fifth Ave... The cabby told police that because he was off duty, he kept driving, stopping for a red light at 40th St. Benza ran after the cab and allegedly punched the driver in the face through the open car window...
    When Tutu got out, Benza slammed the car door on him... Benza was booked last night on a charge of third-degree assault...
    “...I had penetrated a group most gossip columnists cannot, “ noted Benza in his Daily News swan-song. “ I got beyond the velvet ropes... I did the things. I became the item.”
    According to Los Angeles New Times, dated 8-13-98, A.J. Benza “plays a drug dealer in the next Steven Seagal film, a psychopath in a new digital indie project called Bug Night and a slimy Hollywood agent in an upcoming comedy called Chump Change...along with [the] U.S. President’s brother, recovering coke addict and ex-con Roger Clinton...
    “Benza admits his lifestyle in L.A. is something of a fish-out-of-water tale, although he’s moved on from Vinnies’s couch to a $750 -per-month one-bedroom in West Hollywood’s Normadny Towers.
Because he hasn’t paid his cable bill for months, he goes over to Vinnie’s to watch baseball...”
    Fame: Ain’t it a bitch?