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Sundays At The Gangster’s Mansion

By: Tamra Scott-Hunt

Nearly every Sunday in 1993, I had dinner at a mafia boss’s mansion.

I was friends with a bona fide gangster — the real deal. I’ll call him “Jay” so as not to ruffle any feathers. Though anyone who knew the L.A. scene in the 90s can probably guess who “Jay” was, I will neither confirm nor deny your suspicions.

Jay had worked his way up to the rank of capo. He was a dear friend of my best friend, Dee. And over time, she would become his L.A. best friend.

I met Jay on Halloween night of 1992 at a swanky West Hollywood restaurant called Nicky Blair’s. Nicky Blair’s was a posh Italian restaurant named after the owner, which sat in the middle of Sunset Boulevard’s paparazzi row, next to Le Dome — and it was Jay’s favorite restaurant. Nicky was an actor who had been in over 75 movies, and even had a small part in ‘The Godfather Part III’. Nicky seemed to know everyone in Hollywood, and for a time, his restaurant was “the place to be seen” for the rich & famous. One night I stood three feet away from Tony Curtis, too starstruck to make a sound. His hair was white, and his eyes were the most beautiful blue. He was shockingly handsome. Another time, Sylvester Stallone came in for dinner, and Dee nearly fainted when he stopped to say hello to us. We also met Magic Johnson, sat in a booth schmoozing with the famous quarterback Eric Dickerson (<—SUPER-nice guy!), and saw Chuck Norris there a few times. There were so many others, but I can’t remember them all now.
Nicky’s maître d’, Charlie Guardino, was one of the most charming hosts I’ve ever known. He made everyone feel important and welcome when they walked through that door. If you’d been there before, he’d remember your name and welcome you back, saying “Where’ve you been? We’ve missed you.“ On a side note, I don’t think Dee & I ever paid for dinner at Nicky’s place. Though we never asked anyone for anything, usually by the time dessert came, someone had pulled our waiter aside to ask for our check.

But back to that Halloween night… My friend Dee and I were both dressed as cats — I as a leopard, and she as a panther. Jay was sitting with several of his close friends at a large, round table — ‘his’ table, the best table in the restaurant. Dee pulled me over to meet Jay. And when Jay snapped his fingers at the waiter, more promptly than you can imagine, two chairs appeared so we could join them. On my right was my friend Dee, on her right was Jay, and on my left was a famous & very handsome Italian playwright named Louie La Russo, with whom I would soon fall deeply in love and become engaged.

On my right, Dee began whispering in my ear that Jay really liked how I looked in that leopard bodysuit, while on my left, Louie was asking if I’d come to his house sometime to see his screenplays. Although Louie was very handsome, and reminded me a bit of Robert De Niro, I had a significant other at the time, and steered the conversation to a more friendly vibe.

Two months later, on New Years Eve, I ended things with my significant other. I knew it was the right decision, and I refused to let the breakup get me down. That night I went with Dee to a New Year’s Eve party in Beverly Hills at Jay’s mansion. There were several celebrities there that night, but my favorite was James Coburn, who had as his dates two attractive young gals. And just as soon as those gals went to powder their noses, Dee & I hijacked a very willing Mr. Coburn onto the dance floor. But sadly, and too soon, his gal-friends returned to retrieve their date.

Several times Jay came by to make sure we were having fun, to fill our champagne glasses to the brim, and give us each New Years’ kisses. Jay always served my favorite champagne, Veuve Clicquot. Half way through the evening, Louie appeared and swept me off my feet on the dance floor, and charmed me for the rest of the evening. That man could dance! In his younger days Louie had owned & managed an Arthur Murray Dance Studio.

Louie was a passionate, romantic Italian with a soft spot for Irish girls like me, and we fell in love hard & fast. It seemed that in no time at all I was living with him in West Hollywood, and we were engaged. We were very happy in those days.

Tamra & Louie, 1993

Every week we went to Jay’s mansion for Sunday dinner. Jay would get up at 5am to start the red sauce. He loved to cook! He’d make pasta, homemade pizza, Caprese salad with the most beautiful vine-ripe tomatoes & fresh basil, and a warm, crusty Italian bread — of which every inch was buttered to perfection by Jay himself. And all of this was washed down with a deep, rich, red Chianti or Merlot.

On sunny days (and most days are in Southern CA) we’d arrive at noon and sit by the pool with our bottomless champagne glasses. You never knew who was going to be there. Sometimes we’d see Mickey Rourke, Eric Roberts, Christopher Walken, Frankie Vallie or Joe Pesci. One time Jay slapped Mickey hard across the face over something I have no knowledge of, and Mickey was wise to take it without complaint.

Often, Nicky Blair would come by, and sometimes he and Jay would argue over silly things, like what brand of pasta was best. Jay thought it was De Cecco, and I still buy that brand today. Nicky swore that was the brand he used at the restaurant, but when Jay dared him to get his keys and prove it, Nicky backed down.

Louie’s L.A. best friend was always there, a somewhat famous restaurant owner, Richie Palmer, who would later go on to marry (and divorce) Raquel Welch. And of course, Richie’s girlfriend at that time, the stunningly beautiful & talented (too-good-for-Richie) actress, Cathy Moriarty of ‘Raging Bull” fame. Cathy was a hoot, and we always got along well. She invited us to the premiere of her movie “Matinee”. It turned out to be a pretty good movie, but it didn’t have enough backing from the studio for advertising to really take off.

In the late summer of ‘93, Cathy & Richie would generously cater all the food for our engagement party at Jay’s mansion. Louie’s good friend, Eddie O’Neill from ‘Married With Children’ and “Modern Family” attended.

But on those Sundays by the pool, there were also other people to whom I never spoke. We were told to never make eye contact with, or speak to, a small group of men on the other side of the pool. They were from the east coast and were, as Louie put it, “on the lamb”. If we never looked at them, we could never identify them. Louie told me FBI agents were always watching Jay’s house. I didn’t know what those men had done, but it was impossible not to steal a glance across the pool every now & then. Frankly, they looked like a bunch of fish out of water to me, smoking their cigarettes, laying in the sun with their fedoras and slacks on. I’m sure they were also told never to look at, or speak to us.

The last time I attended Sunday dinner at the mansion, everyone was there. It was a beautiful October day. We had Merlot & pasta. And when people were starting to leave, Louie & I made the rounds saying goodbye to all our friends. One of Louie’s friends, a lovely Jewish man and a sweetheart of a guy whom I had developed a friendship with, leaned over and lightly kissed me on the cheek just as we were leaving. His wife, a warm & wonderful woman, was standing next to him and she smiled sweetly at me as we left. But sadly, when we got in the car, Louie’s jealousy and temper flared, and he yelled at me all the way home. His jealous outbursts were not only getting worse as time went on. He knew what the problem was; he just didn’t think he could change. I moved back to Orange County a few weeks later.

Two months went by, and Louie asked me to come back home. I told him I would always love him, but I didn’t think it was our destiny to be together. Seven months later I met the man I would marry.

When Jay found out from Dee that I was happily in love with a new guy, he invited us both to his 1994 New Years’ Eve party. By this time, Louie had moved back to Hoboken, and though Louie was a good friend of his, Jay was warm & welcoming to us both. That was the last time I saw Jay. He died of a heart attack in 1996. Dee was on her way to his house to have dinner with him when it happened. When she got there, she saw the ambulance, and it broke her heart.

Nicky Blair moved to Las Vegas to open another restaurant there, but he died soon after in 1998 of liver cancer.

Louie moved back to his row house in Hoboken early in ‘94 to concentrate on his writing. We would remain friends for the rest of his life. He was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 98 and was only expected to live a few months, so everything he wrote after that he referred to as his “bonus plays”.

The last time I saw Louie was the spring of ‘99. My dear husband, Michael, had died of cancer 7-months earlier. I was on a business trip to New York, and when my business there was done I took a cab all the way over to Hoboken. I spent 3-days with Louie. The first day we walked all over Hoboken and I took pictures of the beautiful churches there, and of the Twin Towers, that still stood at that time, across the Hudson River. That night, Louie asked me if I wanted to share his bed. But with my husband having recently died, I told him my heart was in no shape for it, and I scurried off to the third floor to snuggle with the cats.

In the summer of 2002, Louie wrote a play for me called “The Ghosts of My Soul”, and wanted me to come to Hoboken in the spring of 2003 to play the part of myself. I thanked him and told him, “Louie, I am no actress”. But he wouldn’t live long enough to direct that play. He died less than a year later, in February of 2003. I was the last person to speak with him — a half hour before he died. A nun at the hospice held the phone to his ear. “Louie, it’s Tamra” I said. “I’m calling to tell you that I love you, and to wish you a safe journey. I’ll see you again someday.” I heard him trying to respond, and I think he may have said, “I love you too.”

And now they are gone, Jay and Nicky and Louie. But Dee & I are still here, and we speak their names often as we recall the remarkable times we had. And we hold them all with love in our memories.

They weren’t perfect men, but they were good to us. And they were damn interesting.

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