For Dennis Franz of TV's "NYPD Blue," life Is good.
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"From what we've seen of him so far, he isn't battling as many demons as were presented in the Kelly character," says Franz. "That's not to say it's not going to happen, because I'm sure it is. There's something going on in his past, but we don't know about his past yet. There have been a few episodes that have ended where I really longed to know what happened to Bobby Simone before he came to this point. I assume that the audience is asking the same question. What kind of man is this, where is he coming from and will that open up as time goes on?"
"NYPD" is a show that always seems to make its own press. Whether it's the little "viewer discretion" warning at the beginning of each episode or the parade of naked bottoms, the production always rates high on the titillation meter. One example was Sipowicz's first skirmish with Sylvia Costas. She comes at him with a Latin phrase common in legalese, saying "ipso facto..." Sipowicz grabs his crotch and shoots back, "Ipso facto this, bitch." Before long, Franz suggested to writers that it would be novel for two people from such different levels on the food chain to get together. The writers began developing the relationship.
Then came the now-infamous scene in which Sipowicz's ass made its grand debut. While he showers, his girlfriend enters and begins to wash him. "I usually wash myself down there," he says, not quite protesting. "It's getting clean down there," he says, as she continues. While her tush was a sight worth beholding--perhaps even freeze-framing on your 19-inch--Sipowicz's ass became the butt of late-night TV shows. "I did it as a joke," Franz says with a smile. "I know what I look like. I wanted to show I'm Everyman."
Jay Leno went to town on him. "Did we need to see Dennis Franz's ass just before Thanksgiving?" Leno wondered during one monologue. "I had only a 20-inch screen and couldn't see it all," Leno continued. On another show Leno cracked, "Franz was actually doing a public service announcement: 'This is your ass, and this is your ass on Twinkies.' " No one got a bigger kick out of it than Franz. "He had a ball at my expense," he says.
Franz was invited onto Leno's show. "I brought Twinkies onto the show. I was going to throw them at him, but gave them to the audience instead." But a truce was not called; Leno wasn't finished. Referring to the New York City cop, Carol Shaya, getting fired for baring it all in Playboy, Leno said, "What kind of country is it when a beauty in her 20s is fired for going around topless, and Franz is 50 and allowed to go bottomless?" Now Leno leaves messages on Franz's machine such as, "More ass jokes coming!"
Franz has taken the kidding well. And why shouldn't he? He and the show are riding a frothy wave. "I've got a good job," he says. "I want to stay five years. I expect it'll be five years."
And it just keeps getting better. First came the TV miniseries "Texas Justice," when Franz got to play a loud and unorthodox Texas attorney, Richard "Racehorse" Haynes. "I also got to have hair in that part," he says with a laugh. And now he has been signed on for the upcoming film version of David Mamet's drama, American Buffalo, in which he will play a lead role opposite Dustin Hoffman. The movie began filming after "NYPD" wrapped its final episode of the season on May 2. And then there is his new marriage.
He and Zeck were married April 1 in Carmel, California, with about 100 guests in attendance. They told the press it was to be in Santa Barbara to avoid the hassles, Zeck explains. Franz proposed to Zeck at his 50th birthday party last October. All of the 175 guests--and Zeck herself--were surprised. "I said yes, and it was very emotional," she recalls. "A lot of people were crying that day."
Zeck is the president of RCA Consulting, a gift and promotions firm. Thus, both of them keep long hours. When time allows, they go to films together--sometimes five in a row in multiplex theaters--and regularly attend swap meets. "A swap meet is like a flea market where people basically bring their own junk to sell and they buy other people's junk," Franz explains, "though now they've gotten more sophisticated." He and Zeck have filled their Bel Air home with antiques bought at the meets. But one thing not tolerated in the home is cigar smoking. "I don't mind cigars," Zeck insists, "but they make the house smell afterwards."
So, Franz gets together with cigar buddies such as actors Dennis Farina, Joe Pantoliano (whom he calls "Joey Pants") and Joe Mantegna. Mantegna recalls "dabbling" in cigars with Franz almost 25 years ago: "At that time we smoked stuff that was crooked and flavored," he recalls. In July, Pantoliano opened Havana, an upscale cigar club in Beverly Hills, with Farina, Franz and Mantegna as charter members. The foursome also smoke at Gus' Back Room on Ventura Boulevard.
Farina, Franz and Mantegna are depicted (with Michael Jordan) in a mural painted along Chicago's Northwest Expressway. The mural, which is on three sides of a warehouse owned by Bigsby and Kruthers, a local clothier, shows the Chicago threesome in suits and smoking cigars. The display is so prominent that when Franz recently attended a golf tournament, former Bears' coach Mike Ditka came up to him and said the mural was "the greatest thing you ever did."
The threesome probably won't be smoking flavored tiparillos anymore. Franz likes Arturo Fuentes, Ashtons and Dunhills. "Some of the Cubans I find almost a little too strong for me," he says. But Franz, like other cigar smokers, is feeling the pressure from antismoking laws. "The restrictions have become so heavy on cigar smokers. But there are some people who just refuse to acknowledge any kind of restrictions and just go ahead and smoke regardless."
As for Franz, "I have to acknowledge the restrictions set by my bride. Joanie is a reformed smoker. When time permits, I sit out on the patio or somewhere outside the house and enjoy a cigar out there. I also go to occasional smokers with Joey Pantoliano, Joe Mantegna and Michael Nouri, just to mention a few who get together on a regular basis to enjoy a good cigar. Unfortunately, my job takes me in and out of the set so much that I can't sit down and thoroughly enjoy the cigar."
Upon hearing that President Clinton is a closet cigar smoker, Franz quips, "Really? He smokes? Maybe we can invite him to one of our smokers." He smiles, and that moon-faced grin lights up his face.
All is good, very good, for Dennis Franz.
Kenneth Shouler, a freelance writer based in White Plains, New York, is a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado.
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