Not three minutes into her latest custody-battle appearance against her ex-boyfriend, Harvey Keitel, Lorraine Bracco, erstwhile film star, feminist, and suburban mom, had flipped him the bird. She did it with panache, so that for a moment, Judge Margaret Garvey, an urbane blonde jurist in Rockland County’s Family Court, wasn’t sure she’d seen it; but Bracco, every bit as tough as Keitel, then barked out of the side of her mouth: “So ya don’t think I can protect your daughter, huh, Har-vey?” Whereupon Judge Garvey banged her gavel and admonished Sandy Dranoff, Bracco’s attorney, to control his client. Bracco flung herself back in her chair, tossed her luxuriant dark hair, and declared: “Margaritas for everyone!”
The Keitel-Bracco mismatch, which also involves actor Edward James Olmos, Bracco’s current husband, has been blundering on for most of the decade- “Since my bar mitzvah!” quips the droll Dranoff-and has recently devolved into a kind of blue- collar Roshomon and Woody-Mia mess. Keitel, who’d given custody of his (now) 12-year-old daughter, Stella, to Bracco when she’d left him for Olmos in 1991, learned in 1993 that Olmos had been accused the year before of having fondled a 14-year-old family friend and sometime baby-sitter of Stella’s. Keitel also learned that Olmos, while absolutely denying the young girl’s allegations, had paid her family at least $150,000 to sign releases promising not to prosecute, and to keep quiet about the matter. (The court eventually ruled that Olmos could not be alone in a room with Stella.) Most maddeningly for Keitel, Bracco hadn’t mentioned any of this to him, even though their legal agreement called for her to “reasonably consult” on matters crucial to their daughter’s welfare; worse, he charged that, more worried about the effects of bad publicity on her own and Olmos’s careers than about Stella’s safety, she’d “covered up” the “payoff” in a “conspiracy of silence.”
It was for these reasons that Keitel and Bracco were in Rockland County on October 15; Keitel was supporting a motion by his daughter’s law guardian, investigating the degree to which Stella might be at “additional risk” in Olmos’s company because of alleged threats to Olmos’s life made six years ago by members of the Mexican Mafia, a California prison gang about whom he’d made the film American Me. Although Family Court had ruled in favor of Bracco’s retaining custody in 1996 (against Keitel’s contention that his daughter was in danger of being molested, too), Keitel was now carrying the battle to the appellate division and hoped Judge Garvey might give him additional ammunition to reverse custody there.
Accordingly, he swiveled his lower jaw and wrinkled his forehead in concentration as Olmos, a small, swarthy man, took the stand.
Mark Platt (counsel for Keitel): “Do you know someone by the name of Manuel Luna?”
Olmos: “Yes, sir … a lieutenant in the Mexican Mafia.”
Platt: “Is he alive today?”
Olmos: “No, he isn’t.”
Platt: ”Was he involved … with the production of American Me?”
Olmos: “I think that my staff may have consulted him… .”
Platt: “You testified that Anna Lizarraga … was a consultant too?”
Olmos: “Yes, sir.”
Platt: “And she is also no longer alive today?”
Olmos: “Yes, sir.”
Both parties, it turned out, had been killed by the Mexican mafia subsequent to their participation in Olmos’s movie; the film had portrayed the fictionalized homosexual rape of one of the founders of the MM, apparently a profound insult to the machismo of the real gangsters. 60 Minutes, the L.A. Times, and the Washington Post had all run stories citing alleged threats to Olmos from the group, but the actor steadfastly denied them and swore that although he’d been subpoenaed by a Los Angeles grand jury as part of a federal probe of the MM, he’d never felt endangered. The people killed were in trouble with the mafia for reasons having little to do with movies, he assured the court. In fact, the only time his life had ever been threatened was in a completely different context-here he paused dramatically-in phone calls “from Mr. Keitel!”
Platt objected, and after another hour of desultory testimony, Judge Garvey ruled that “Clearly there is no evidence … that Stella is in additional danger by being with Mr. Olmos.”
She looked at Keitel quizzically. Then she threw out the motion.
Judge Garvey had read the history of Keitel’s legal battles over the past five years and was, apparently, considering what drove him. After a rough period in the eighties involving pickup jobs on Italian TV and an intoxication with cocaine, he’d begun to behave like the obsessive characters in his movies; by the early nineties, however, he’d solved most of his troubles, but like Charlie, the doomed young mafioso he’d played in Mean Streets, he’d somehow brought his troubles with him, fixating on the alleged Olmos molestation and Bracco’s “betrayal.” “It was the saddest day of my life when she hooked up with him,” Keitel told me.
His anger might have gradually abated, had it not been for what allegedly occurred in Florida in July 1992. Lorraine; her two daughters, Stella and Margaux Guerard (the latter from an earlier marriage to a French hairdresser); her nanny, Ruth Bergman; and two friends of the family, 14- and 13-year-old girls whom the court has identified as “R.G.” and “V.G.,” were living in a rented house on Golden Beach, in Dade County, Florida, near Miami. Also present for part of the month were Eddie Olmos, then 45, and his sons Bodie, then 16, Brandon, 19, Mico, 19, and Michael, 20. Bracco was making a TV film, Scam, for the Showtime cable network and frequently had to shoot at night; so on those occasions, Olmos would take Bergman and the two sisters to visit Bracco on the set, eat dinner, then return to the house.
During the second week of July, according to R.G., she had driven back from visiting Bracco with Olmos, Bergman, and Stella, then 6 (who’d fallen asleep, it being after midnight). When Bergman and Stella went to bed, only R.G. and Olmos were awake in the house. R.G. had rented a Bogart-Bacall movie and went to watch it in Olmos and Bracco’s master bedroom on the first floor. She later told Linda Fairstein, head of the Manhattan D.A.’s Sex Crimes Unit, and testified in court that she’d fallen asleep on her stomach, head at the foot of the bed, watching the movie, while Olmos reclined with his back to the headboard, in a sitting position.
Sometime after 1 a.m., R.G. alleges, she woke up on her back, her top and bra pushed up around her neck, her shorts and panties pulled slightly down, and with Olmos “peering” at her: “His hand was in my underwear and one hand was under my shirt,” R.G. testified.
Dan Kornstein (counsel for Keitel): “And was he doing anything with his hands?”
R.G.: “Yeah … he was touching me.”
Kornstein: “Did you say anything to Mr. Olmos?”
R.G.: “Well … I had woken up and he stopped… . I left the room.”
Two days later, according to the girl, the scene was repeated, in exactly the same way, under exactly the same circumstances, except that this time, she’d gone into the bedroom reluctantly, after being coaxed by Olmos. When lawyers asked her why she’d told no one about the first incident, and why she’d put herself in danger again, she said she was “shocked” and “confused,” and “didn’t want to tell Lorraine … because I knew how much she liked Mr. Olmos.” She also explained: “I didn’t know how to avoid it.” (Linda Fairstein testified that one reason she found R.G.’s story credible was that she hadn’t tried to embellish her account, “harden the case against Mr. Olmos and make him more evil in other ways… .”)
Olmos, on his side, admitted watching movies with R.G. alone in his bedroom but placed the times as much earlier, between 8 and 10 p.m., and he denied having ever touched her, except on daytime occasions when he said he might have put “suntan lotion” on her “back.” He also testified that all the kids in the house had gotten into the habit of watching movies on his bed, and that there was nothing unusual about the practice.
On July 17, R.G. flew to Jamaica with Bracco and Olmos, turning down an offer to go back to New York with Stella and Keitel; there she worked as a production assistant on Scam, hung out, and had what she later described as “the best summer of my life.” In late August, she flew to Los Angeles and stayed at Olmos’s home with Bracco and the Olmos boys, one of whom, Bodie, later claimed to have engaged in some sexual “fondling” with her while they were in Florida. (R.G. denies it.)
By October, however, she was feeling traumatized and guilty, and she finally wrote her mother a letter, which she posted on an armoire mirror before leaving for the weekend. (Abuse experts testified that it was “not unusual” for child sex victims to wait a long time before reacting, and to exhibit “avoidance” symptoms when they did.) The letter read, in part:
“I was and am so angry at him and myself for not doing anything for being so scared. It’s just that I felt so betrayed. I trusted him to be my friend and he really wasn’t. I didn’t even know if I really was molested, but I guess I was… . I can’t get it out of my head… . I feel like I betrayed you… . Please don’t tell anyone. I love you.”
On a break from shooting Paul Auster’s Lulu on the Bridge in lower Manhattan two months ago, Harvey Keitel showed up at his Franklin Street production offices to discuss his situation. Keitel has several rooms on the sixth floor of a postmodern building directly across the street from Robert De Niro’s massive former coffee factory, now a movie studio with a glass roof and eight stories of offices, not to mention the trendy Tribeca Grill. Keitel’s assistants tend to joke about the disparity in scale, but Harvey, a friendly rival of De Niro’s (it’s been 24 years since Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets launched them both), wasn’t in the mood for trivia. “I don’t wanna talk about that crap,” he said definitively, lumbering into his reception area in custom sweats, a black leather jacket, and gym shoes without socks.
A Brighton Beach “poolroom guy” and product of Abraham Lincoln High and Alexander Hamilton Vocational in Bed-Stuy, Keitel has labored “like a monk,” according to his business partner Peggy Gormley, to rise above the streets. As he struggled to express himself, the agony was palpable: “My only interest here, Lombardi, is my daughter’s welfare. I’m not gonna bad-mouth Lorraine, and I’m not looking for publicity. We have a tragedy here-a man Olmos who passes himself off as a member of unicef, of various children’s groups, a guy who goes to the White House and who addressed the Democratic National Convention, who paid money to silence a child from expressing her pain for an act she says he committed… .” He turned red and subsided, then pumped up again: “He took his finger and stuck it in this girl’s vagina.”
Keitel seemed most interested in demolishing Olmos’s “excuses”: “He claims he paid the money not because he did anything but to ‘protect’ his son Bodie, who he says had relations with the girl. But who accused Bodie? There are no charges against him! Olmos is hiding… .
“Then he told Lorraine and my daughter that he passed a lie-detector test in January 1993, with New York polygrapher Victor Kaufman. But he doesn’t mention another test with Nat Laurendi where he didn’t make out so well… .” (Laurendi confirms that Olmos was in his office in January 1993, that “he didn’t come for a haircut,” and that he, Laurendi, “recommended” Kaufman but says Keitel was “furious” with him for refusing to reveal the results of his polygraph: “He kept asking me, ‘What’s more important, the law or my daughter?’ I told him-the law. I can’t talk unless I’m subpoenaed.”)
“Then there was the $150,000 Olmos paid Lorraine between November 1992 and January 1994, while she says she was ‘investigating’ R.G.’s claims, when she was broke,” said Keitel. “How fucking ‘objective’ could she be? And then the hurry-up marriage on January 28, 1994, just as the custody trial began, and after Family Court ruled that Olmos and his sons couldn’t be alone in a room with Stella! Was that a coincidence, too? Am I just being a wild man, an irrational fellow, as Mr. and Mrs. Olmos try to paint me?”
Keitel was up and pacing. His staff had gathered around him. He looked as haggard as the righteous detective, Rocco Klein, that he’d played in Clockers.
He brushed at his burr haircut. “Do you think the ruling about keeping Olmos out of the room is even enforceable? Is this Disneyland? Or what?”
Harvey met Lorraine at a Paris café in 1983. She was winding up her Wilhelmina modeling career then, literally a Bay Ridge fishmonger’s daughter who’d gotten lucky, but was “never glamorous, more the girl-next-door type,” as she herself has said. When the affair with Harvey started, she quickly divorced and moved into his Hudson Street loft (bringing Margaux with her). In Tribeca, Lorraine threw herself into acting classes and the downtown art scene dominated unofficially by Keitel’s old buddies Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro: “She had a lot of help,” says character actor Victor Argo, a close friend of Keitel’s. “In this business, everything’s connections, even if you’re Laurence Olivier. Did Harvey push her? He’s a very generous guy.”
In 1986, Harvey and Lorraine appeared together off Broadway in David Rabe’s Goose and Tom-Tom, and shortly after that she auditioned for Ridley Scott, who’d directed Harvey in 1977 in The Duellists; she landed her first American movie role in Someone to Watch Over Me, with Tom Berenger and Mimi Rogers. It was a culture-clash part, with Lorraine fighting off a bid by the Fifth Avenue-bred Rogers for her Queens husband’s services; it helped establish Bracco as an “incipient feminist” blue-collar screen presence, as Tyne Daley or, earlier, Shelly Winters had been, but she denies that Harvey “got the role” for her: “Harvey and Ridley had known each other, but I still had to be like Arnold Schwarzenegger to get in the door,” Bracco said in 1993.
That film led to Scorsese’s casting her as Henry Hill’s frantic Jewish wife in GoodFellas, with De Niro and Joe Pesci. It was Lorraine’s finest performance, and in 1990 she was nominated for an Oscar. After that, she was tapped by Richard Donner for the role of the wife in Radio Flyer, a film about child abuse (it screened just as she was going through the R.G. nightmare with Olmos), and handpicked by Sean Connery to play a feisty doctor working with him in the Amazon in a kind of post-tech African Queen.
The movie was called Medicine Man, and it undid the wonderful notices of GoodFellas. Bracco was screechy; she seemed preternaturally energized, bouncing around the set, demanding things; she complained that she’d accepted the role based on a script that had been abandoned, and so the “Bogart-Katharine Hepburn chemistry” that Connery was expecting never materialized. After six weeks in the Mexican jungle, where the film was shot, the production crew nicknamed it Who’ll Stop Lorraine?
Bracco had been extremely busy from 1989 through 1991, at one point spending seven months on the road making movies, with Harvey at home in the Hudson Street loft (and later at a country house in Sneden’s Landing upstate), essentially minding the kids. His career had always been problematic. He’d been Scorsese’s alter ego in Who’s That Knocking? (1968) and Mean Streets (1973), a tough pretty boy in the John Garfield mode, but strangely, though Mean Streets quickly became a cult classic and made Scorsese and De Niro stars, Keitel had been out of work until Scorsese re-employed him (for $3,000) in 1974’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and for a small part as a pimp in the smash Taxi Driver. Then he worked on and Off Broadway until Francis Ford Coppola took him to the Philippines to do Apocalypse Now. It was the role that was to put him up there with De Niro, but the frat brother Coppola and the Avenue X pool hustler Keitel didn’t get along; Harvey was replaced by Martin Sheen after two weeks’ work.
Through the seventies and into the eighties, Harvey did worthy but marginal films like James Toback’s Fingers and The Pick-Up Artist, and Paul Schrader’s Blue Collar, but he had to go to Europe to make the rent, and in 1980, when Hollywood and the moviegoing public were declaring Scorsese and De Niro’s Raging Bull the greatest American film noir since On the Waterfront, Harvey was gratefully collecting $90,000 for a schlock sci-fi flick (in which his voice was dubbed) called Saturn Three. It wasn’t long after this that he met Lorraine.
Intimates describe their relationship as a Honeymooners version of A Star is Born, if you can imagine Alice as a careerist climber and Ralph with a cocaine jones. During their lower-court custody battle over Stella, both alluded to drug-taking, Harvey presenting a therapist’s report that acknowledged his problem, tying it to chronic depression from an unhappy childhood and to “a period … when things weren’t going well for him in terms of work,” but also stated that he’d sought help and had been drug-free after 1991. “The truth is that they did some toot during a time when everyone in the country was into it,” says a longtime acquaintance. “Very big deal …”
But Bracco, while acknowledging that she, too, formerly indulged occasionally, largely blamed Keitel’s “binges” for their breakup, although she told the court that cocaine did not incite him to the “verbal” and “physical” violence that sometimes scared the kids: “Cocaine has a very different effect on Mr. Keitel,” Bracco testified. “He gets very introverted and nervous.”
Their main problem, apparently, was career trajectories. While Lorraine was hot after GoodFellas, Harvey’s The Two Jakes, with Jack Nicholson-yet another shot at major stardom (as Mean Streets, Apocalypse, and The Last Temptation of Christ had been)-bombed out in mannered inconsequentiality. With Sean Connery and Michael Douglas (producer of Radio Flyer) ringing Bracco up, Keitel grew furious: “When Michael Douglas was calling … me, in my excitement I cut off a phone call for Harvey,” Bracco told the court. “He came flying upstairs, pushed the door open … and screamed that I should go and suck Michael Douglas’s dick, and everybody else’s dick in hollywood.”
There were pushing and slapping incidents in Malibu and Sneden’s Landing that predated Bracco’s announcement that she wanted Keitel to move out, but mutual acquaintances also think that after Bracco met Eddie Olmos in Idaho in 1990, where they made Talent for the Game together, she was “trading up.” Of course, once she’d admitted that she’d been having an affair, “there were three years of raging about Eddie,” says Bracco, with Keitel at one point allegedly determined to “tell Stella that I’d lied and was sucking someone else’s dick.”
Olmos, off his signature role as Lieutenant Martin Castillo in the eighties policier Miami Vice, had parlayed his image as a “Pacific Rim man,” part actor, part activist, representing the rising Hispanic-Asian minorities of California, into a hybrid career. Its main dividends in 1991, when he’d literally replaced Keitel in his own home, had been Stand and Deliver, a critical success about an inspirational math teacher in East L.A.’s barrio, and American Me, but he was becoming prominent in Democratic national politics. He presented Bracco with a welcome change from Keitel’s bluesy angst. Where Harvey was chronically upset, Eddie was relentlessly up. He was such a great talker that he’d once persuaded the warden of Folsom prison to let him film inside the walls, using inmates as extras. Clinton invited him (with Bracco) to the 1993 inauguration.
He’d been dividing his time between his Encino home and his life with Bracco about two thirds to one third when the R.G. allegations broke. During custody hearings in 1995, he admitted he’d chosen “the worst of two evils” by opting to pay R.G.’s family and not tell Keitel, but characteristically, he cited good reasons: “Fear” had kept him from facing down R.G.’s charges, he told the court, because he’d wanted to protect his son and because “I knew this young woman had an assistant district attorney from the Bronx her uncle, who negotiated the money settlement with Olmos’s lawyer, Jim Schreiber and the … Sex Crimes prosecutor Linda Fairstein defending her sic. I knew it would cost an extraordinary amount … to defend myself … that the press would be on this and that the truth never catches up to an allegation like this.” Olmos also contended that Bracco had begged him not to tell Keitel, fearing his violent reaction.
So from November 1992 to October 1993, Keitel was unaware of the alleged molestations. During that time, R.G.’s mother, an old friend of both Keitel’s and Bracco’s, had asked Bracco for $75,000 to help set up a catering business. Purportedly, this was before she knew of R.G.’s problems, and Bracco turned her down; then, after the mother received R.G.’s letter, she informed Linda Fairstein. The family originally asked for $750,000 to settle out of court. Although the published amount of the final settlement, in May 1993, was $150,000, a former associate of Olmos’s, in a position to know, maintains the figure was “successful press spin” and that Eddie actually paid $300,000 over a period of time, then “got out ahead of Harvey on damage control” when Keitel went public in October 1993. Keitel was, Olmos told various media, “out of control,” “the real Bad Lieutenant,” “vicious and disturbed,” and didn’t even “want Stella” but was “using the situation to hurt Lorraine and myself.” Later, sources close to the Olmoses told Cindy Adams they had “written documents” to “prove” that Keitel had enlisted De Niro, Scorsese, and Joe Pesci in a “conspiracy” to blacklist Olmos and Bracco in Hollywood.
In fact, Bracco hasn’t been working. “But that,” says Victor Argo, “has to do with her talent, not some conspiracy.” “You ride a kind of surfboard of publicity for a while after you’ve had a hit,” says Peggy Gormley, “but if there’s nothing substantial to keep you afloat, you sink.” “It’s too stupid to discuss,” scoffs Keitel. “Fuhgeddaboutit, all right?”
Fame, at the end of the century, is a resonating chamber of media echoes, some as acute and sharp as Keitel’s performances in Mean Streets and Bad Lieutenant, some as dull and miscast as his romantic aristo in The Duellists or his “noble” Judas in The Last Temptation of Christ. What surprised him and De Niro and Scorsese when they started out together so long ago is that Keitel didn’t “make it” first.
He was the golden boy, a crystallization of Scorsese’s Elizabeth Street fantasies-they even lived together for a while in Hollywood-while De Niro was the geek, the crazy outsider, “Johnny Boy” of Mean Streets. But in the early seventies, geeks became glamorous-Michael J. Pollard, Dennis Hopper, Barbra Streisand-as the culture mutated and transposed standards of talent and attraction; somewhere between the final reels of Mean Streets and his alchemical weight loss for Godfather II, Bobby turned beautiful. And the power dynamic of the three friends altered.
It wasn’t that Scorsese and De Niro abandoned Keitel; they’d just removed to a higher plane. For real working-class artists like them, it was necessary to develop a remorseless sense of their careers-”If I’m not working, I’m nuts,” Scorsese told me while shooting Taxi Driver in 1975. De Niro used to ride around town on a bicycle to audition in order to save money, and Keitel worked for eight years as a court stenographer. The desire to not repeat such experiences is understandably powerful, and the anxiety it causes can warp perception and behavior, especially in the hyper-narcissistic force field of the movies.
And so the strange tales: Scorsese’s calculated distance from the children he’s fathered (they might lessen his concentration), all being raised by ex-wives and girlfriends; De Niro’s “obsessive” portrayals and pathological reluctance to express himself, even with pre-screened, surgically neutered celebrity journalists; Keitel’s one-note fixations on seemingly minor details, like wigs and makeup or the peccadilloes of people he once cared for, that have gained him a “difficult” reputation in Hollywood. “Harvey’s an unbelievable sweetie, very loyal and forgiving,” swears Kerri Courtney, his longtime amanuensis, “but of course he’s had his traumas.”
Despite all of the above, Harvey Keitel’s life, since he broke up with Bracco, has generally improved. He’s been in hit after hit: Mortal Thoughts, with Bruce Willis and Demi Moore; Ridley Scott’s feminist Bonnie & Clyde, Thelma & Louise; Warren Beatty’s Bugsy (for which he was finally nominated for an Academy Award), Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction; and Jane Campion’s The Piano. He’s had a number of romances with young women-Heather Bracken, Toni Welsh, Embeth David-and has overcome his chronic press discomfort long enough to cooperate fitfully with, among others, Playboy, Esquire, Leatherneck (Harvey’s an ex-Marine), and New York. On the street, people stop him constantly, and he seems more gratified than annoyed-”It was a lot worse when no one noticed”-all of this culminating last June in a triumphant appearance on the Bravo channel’s Inside the Actors Studio, where host James Lipton plied him with softball questions designed to mellow Keitel into a sort of punch-drunk beneficence: “Satisfaction was unknown to me as a young man,” the 58-year-old told his rapt student audience. “You could say the pain of my journey led me to satisfaction. By descending into pain instead of trying to avoid it, I learned satisfaction.” and though the effect of such pronouncements from a person like Keitel is startling, like listening to “Crazy Joey” Gallo, the late Colombo-family hit man, quoting Nietzsche, they appear to be true.
He was certainly experiencing satisfaction on Friday, December 12, at Frank’s Steak House on Tenth Avenue, where some retired narcotics agents threw him a celebratory dinner. He was coming off several days’ worth of lurid headlines-fan claims sex attack-in which Olmos’s name had been blackened again, this time for the alleged “sexual assault” of a married 38-year-old South Carolina woman who’d followed him back to his hotel in Rock Hill after Olmos spoke there at Winthrop University on October 18; local police had “investigated” the matter for nearly two months without filing a charge when a leak to Keitel’s press coordinator, a sharp young lawyer on loan from Robert De Niro (who spoke on the condition that he not be named), blew the affair up. But the woman, Patricia Harris, quickly withdrew her complaint, attorneys on both sides characterizing it as “a misunderstanding between adults” and refusing to discuss whether a financial settlement had been reached. Still, damage had been done:
“We’re going to take this into Rockland County for use in the appellate-court appeal,” vowed the sharp young lawyer, who has assisted De Niro (Stella’s godfather) in his ongoing custody fights with former girlfriend Toukie Smith. “I can’t wait to get Eddie on the stand.”
All of this, however, was in marked contrast to Harvey’s mood in early November, when he’d been wrapping Lulu on the Bridge before heading off to Vietnam to make yet another movie. Then Keitel had seemed irredeemably pessimistic about his custody chances in appellate court:
“Did you see those women judges at a petitioner’s panel hearing October 28 in Brooklyn? They weren’t going for me. They were asking about those Academy Award photos Stella took again, and that damned phone tape of Lorraine’s.”
He was referring to a pre-Academy Awards impromptu polaroid session in the Presidential Suite of the Beverly Hills Four Seasons while Harvey and his friends were getting dressed for his Bugsy nomination. Stella, then 6, snapped some shots of Jerry Keitel, Harvey’s older brother, in a towel, and Argo and others in shirts, ties, socks, and shorts, sans tux pants; Harvey insists everyone was “just horsing around, nobody was drunk or indecent-these guys are like my daughter’s extended family,” but Judge Elaine Slobod, the custody jurist who’d ultimately ruled against him, had found the incident showed “poor judgment.” Likewise, a recorded phone message, left by Stella on Bracco’s answering machine while Stella was with Keitel, said: “Hi, Mom-this is a joke … don’t get upset. Dad taught me: ‘You bitch, you fucking bastard.’ Bye, Mom. You fucking bastard, fuck you … bye-bye.”
“It was a joke, for fuck’s sake! When I was little, older guys in the neighborhood would give me quarters to say curse words,” Keitel had explained.
But the judge had “misinterpreted,” just as she and the law guardian and “everyone else” had misunderstood when Keitel told writer Nick Tosches in 1993: “When my daughter has a problem, how will she cope with it? That is my focus, to discuss ideas with her, to discuss divinity with her, to discuss hell with her, and I mean hell in whatever form it might rear its head, in fucking or coking, in books or in ignorance… . Hell has many heads, and it’s such a slight step from here to descending into that hell… .”
Based on Keitel’s “frankness,” the law guardian had recommended that Stella remain with her mother because “clearly, this man has no limits… .”
In Family Court, Judge Slobod had “misconstrued” a story Keitel told about prodding Stella to go down a dark hallway she was afraid of, and had “tied it up” with his having questioned her “obsessively” about Olmos and Bracco, to the point of tears. After months of this, Stella had “voiced suicidal ideation,” in the court’s infelicitous phrase, and had developed “juvenile rheumatoid arthritis,” a stress-based disease in children. The court had had to restrict Keitel’s conversations to make him stop.
Keitel’s dressers and makeup people had abruptly besieged him in his trailer at 24th Street and Eighth Avenue that November day, and by the time they’d finished and he was trucking toward 25th Street, where he would act a farewell scene with Mira Sorvino, he’d withdrawn perceptibly:
“Harvey, is anything wrong? Am I, like, messing up your concentration?”
He’d flashed me a sidelong look: “I just hope I’m gonna come out the good guy in this story.”
“Well,” I’d joked, “you never know. Do you think, for argument’s sake, that there might be a chance that Olmos didn’t do anything? Or that even if he did, he still might not be a serial molester? I mean, there’s no pattern… .”
“I knew it!” he’d exploded. “I shoulda got Jimmy Breslin! He’d have the balls …”
“Harvey!” yelled an A.D. “We need you!”
Keitel had stopped, his chin jutting, his shoulders hunched: “What if the kid R.G. is lying,” he’d said angrily. “He’s still a prick! He still paid a young girl a bribe!” His expression had twisted in frustration. His brown eyes were very unhappy, like those of a man who’d long ago recognized something relentless in himself but couldn’t do anything about it.