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[whitespace] Pencil-Braced Geek: Andy Kaufman cuts up with wrestling legend Freddie Blassie in 'My Breakfast With Blassie.'

Blassie Come Home

Forget 'Mon on the Moon,' the real Andy Kaufman lives in 'My Breakfast With Blassie'

By Richard von Busack

JOHNNY LEGEND is one of the many who has been mistaken for Andy Kaufman. In one of Fred Lovece's two books on the television show Taxi, the author describes Kaufman's short film My Breakfast With Blassie as "directed by Kaufman under the pseudonym Johnny Legend."

Legend is no mere pseudonym. He's a rockabilly musician, director and film archivist who has lurked around San Jose nightclubs and theaters for years. Legend has a new record out, Bitchin (for details, go to www.smutzine.com/legend/). He also has a walk on role in Man on the Moon, the Jim Carrey starring bio-pic about Kaufman. Blink and you'll miss Legend, who plays a New Age shaman covered with beads and gray waist-length beard and hair. The hair is all his.

"I sort of fought my way into the thing," Legend says by telephone from Portland. "There were lots of people involved on the edges of Kaufman's career who tried to get into the movie and ended up on the cutting-room floor."

Legend's sister, Lynne Margulies, was Kaufman's longtime companion and the model for the character played by Courtney Love. For reasons unknown, the [Courtney] Love interest in Man on the Moon isn't a film director like the real Lynne Margulies.

Legend is road-showing his sister's film I'm From Hollywood in a double-bill with his own Kaufman movie, My Breakfast With Blassie. (He mentions casually that there's a floor show with the revived double-bill in Portland featuring "live LSD victims and naked psycho nymphos.")

Ballyhoo aside, when Legend says that his sister is "an accomplished filmmaker in her own right," he isn't engaging in mere nepotism. Margulies' 1989 documentary I'm From Hollywood (co-directed by Joe Orr) and her documentary about Kaufman now playing on A&E, both reveal the gap between Carrey's Golden Globe-winning, warmhearted performance and the real-life diabolical comedian.

Legend claims that Man on the Moon, far from being a vanity project for Carrey, was a much contended for role, with Nicolas Cage, Kevin Spacey and even Tom Hanks showing interest in the part. Carrey lobbied hardest, making his own audition tapes.

Now that the film's done, it's easy to wonder what it would have been like if a more tough-minded actor had captured the beady-eyed, Lee Harvey Oswald-lookin' spirit of the comedian.

The difference between Carrey's Kaufman and the real McCoy is like the difference between the real, aggro Lenny Bruce and the menschy Dustin Hoffman, eyes flickering apologies at the audience, when he impersonated Bruce in Bob Fosse's film Lenny.

I'm From Hollywood is the best history of the real Kaufman's career as Intergender Wrestling Champ, one of his most notorious provocations. Dressed in white long underwear, Kaufman wrestled some 400 different female volunteers from audiences around the country.

During one such match, he was spontaneously challenged by Jerry "The King" Lawler, the hero wrestler who had previously humbled such contenders as Crusher Blackwell and Handsome Jimmy Badd. Lawler's combination suplex/pile driver left Kaufman in a neck brace. The rivalry between the two lasted years.

In a series of videotaped communiqués in I'm From Hollywood, Kaufman spurts out gratuitous, gestalt-level insults at Southerners in general and Lawler in particular. Kaufman's mask is complete with cravenness and sniveling cowardice. He offers cash to any wrestler who could put Lawler in the hospital.

By embodying a redneck's worst hatred of a Jewish Hollywood sharpie, Kaufman assaulted his audience. He had a school-yard bully's ability to find a vulnerable spot and draw blood--if it hadn't been so preposterous, it would have been an outrage. As it is, the running bit is outrageously funny.

Legend's own film starring Kaufman, My Breakfast With Blassie, is the only Louis Malle parody ever to star a professional wrestler--with the exception, of course, of the Scarlet Maniac's 1977 opus, Murmur of the Heart-Punch.

Staged in a Sambo's coffee shop in downtown L.A., My Breakfast With Blassie records a long table-talk conversation between Freddie Blassie "The King of Men," a gruff former wrestler famous for his novelty record "Pencil-Necked Geeks." The two were friends. According to Legend, "Andy and Fred used to turn up on talk shows, claiming that they were ready to remake Sons of the Desert; I have a tape of the Letterman show with Kaufman as Laurel and Fred as a much more surly Oliver Hardy."

In February, Legend is bringing My Breakfast With Blassie to a "re-premiere" at the Nuart Theater in West Los Angeles. The rep theater hosted the film's original opening, the last public appearance Kaufman made before he succumbed to cancer.

"He was thin and bald," Legend remembers," and he had a Mohawk. I guess he went from Taxi to Taxi Driver. And he was very wary about the film, because he thought it would be the coffin nail in his career. But it was an uplifting affair, and the audience gave him a standing ovation."

Like the original My Dinner With Andre, My Breakfast With Blassie is too static for its own good, and I noticed walkouts during the long scenes of Blassie giving Kaufman lessons in a professional wrestler's deportment. (One rule: Never shake hands with fans. You don't know where these people have been.)

But at the end there's an interesting sequence in which Blassie outlines cost of wrestling. Blassie, a burly, sun-baked party who looks like he could crumble Lawrence Tierney with one hand, lists his injuries. He has had multiple fractures and concussions, and an eye put out by an egg thrown at him by an angry spectator. Kaufman, rapt, listens, eager to take on similar wounds in the service of his own comedic muse.

My Breakfast With Blassie is, despite itself, touching and lonely, even with Kaufman's stilted reading of a script at the end. Would Kaufman have ever made it as an actor in anything he hadn't scripted himself? The question, like so many about Kaufman remains unanswered.

My Breakfast With Blassie runs Jan. 28-30 at the Towne Theater in San Jose; Johnny Legend will make a personal appearance all three nights. I'm From Hollywood is available on video.

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