April 16, 2016
New York—Harvey Keitel, the actor, rang up to invite me to a Marine shindig where General Petraeus would be guest speaker. The venue was Carnegie Hall, and I arrived late, having had a tough session at the karate dojo. I was also very dehydrated. Next to me was a beautiful young woman by the name of Aimee, who introduced me to her fiancé, a familiar-looking young man with a friendly manner. I looked at his place card and it read “Rupert Friend.” Nothing. Finally I asked him whether we knew each other. We did not. Still, the guy looked awfully familiar. Amy untied the Gordian knot. “Perhaps you’ve seen him on Homeland,” the TV series that got as good as it gets, for a while anyway. The penny finally dropped.
By this time, however, I had consumed three very large glasses of wine and my head was spinning. Harvey at the next table made take-it-easy gestures. He was with his wife, Daphna, and next to them were Robert De Niro—an acquaintance—and his wife, Grace. Before the general’s speech there was an auction. By now the wine had turned into Niagara Falls, and even my great friend James Toback, the director, was making the kind of gestures that flight deck controllers make when trying to land a jet fighter on a pitching aircraft carrier.
Among the items auctioned was a dinner with De Niro and Keitel and a look-see at one of their movies. It began at $2,000. I bid three. A lady somewhere in the back bid four. Up we went, a thousand at a time. Finally I raised my hand for $10,000, but “with a condition.” “Which is?” asked the auctioneer from Christie’s. “That I watch the movie alone without having to eat with the two of them,” said yours truly. Both Keitel and De Niro broke up. Their wives howled, Grace yelling at me, “If only you knew how right you are…” I didn’t think it was that funny, but the place was going wild. Suddenly, and serendipitously, I heard a desperate woman’s voice over the din: “Eleven thousand!” I was saved. She’s probably having dinner with her two heroes as you’re reading this. And I must say, it isn’t every day film actors laugh at themselves when a drunk makes a silly joke. But both of these men have a sense of humor to go along with their enormous talent.
My friendship with Harvey Keitel began the first time we met, at a Chuck Pfeifer lunch for people who don’t move their lips while reading. It was at a gentlemen’s club in New York about twenty years ago. I asked him what a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn was doing in the Marine Corps instead of “being on Wall Street screwing Christians.” He roared with laughter and asked no one in particular, “Who is this guy? I like him.” Well, it was a fun night at Carnegie Hall, not even spoiled by a ghastly neocon by the name of Max Boot interviewing the general and sounding as though a valet were asking the questions. General Petraeus got a very raw deal—only in Anglo-Saxon countries does one lose his job for bedding a woman—but Boot should stick to fluttering like a moth around celebrity flames and leave the questions to, well, yours truly. I repeatedly interrupted with questions about Pakistan enabling the Taliban to operate with impunity, and about Saudi Arabia having made it possible for thousands of schools it pays for to spread jihadism around the world. I didn’t get any real answers. That I understand. The general has to be careful with what he says, especially about such reliable “allies” as the Saudis and the Pakistanis.