I've always had a love of movies and a weakness for the people who make them. I guess that's what keeps getting me in trouble. Take my old friend Woody Allen.
Back in the early '70s, Woody hit a dry spell. After those great early films — Sleeper, What's New Pussycat, Bananas — he just wasn't coming up with the fresh material any more. I mean, who remembers Take the Money and Run?
I was living in Athens, Georgia, when Woody called one day from New York. Said he was losing his mind. Said he was so depressed even his shrink didn't want to be around him.
So I invited him to Athens for a little R&R. He agreed and flew down that weekend. I picked him up at the airport and drove him straight to my favorite bar. He wore a fake mustache and a fedora to mask his identity. I said, "Don't worry, Woody, where we're going, nobody will recognize you."
We spent the next few days drinking and talking about books, about life, about women. Yea, mostly about women. I told him about my latest crash-and-burn — and two or three before that one. And then he told me something amazing. He said he wasn't having any more luck than I was. He even dropped a few names. I was shocked. I mean, here was a famous movie star and director who wasn't getting any more hits than I was. Women, we agreed, are the most confounding mystery in the universe. But we were philosophers at heart and took the challenge seriously.
As I recall, I did most of the talking. Woody sort of sat back and kept writing in this little notebook that he always carried. I didn't ask what he was writing. I assumed it was something he wanted to discuss with his shrink. He was always talking about how his shrink hated him.
After four days Woody announced suddenly that it was time to leave. He packed his bags; I carried him back to the airport. And he was gone. He never called or returned my calls, so I figured, "Well, Mr. Big Shot Movie Director, too busy to keep in touch with his friends."
Then, in 1977, Woody comes out with Annie Hall, followed by Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters. I'm stunned. This was my material — my life! I gave him the plots, the characters, most of the one-liners. All he did was set them in New York. Woody's hailed as a genius and wins a raft of Academy Awards. I don't get so much as a "Thank You" card.
Flash forward to 1988. I'm on a large group tour of the Soviet Union, visiting Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Tblisi, Georgia.
In its final days, the Soviet Union was an interesting place — perhaps too interesting. There was fighting going on between the Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan, so our tour was rerouted from Armenia to Kazakhstan.
That's where I met him — the gangly kid who spoke broken English and seemed to latch onto me immediately. I guess he was 16 at the time — loud, brash, inquisitive. He was fascinated that I was a journalist and declared that he was going to be a journalist, too.
His name was Borat and he pestered me with a million questions.
"How is it to live in the great and glorious country of America?" he asked.
"America is a great and glorious country," I told him. "But it's full of rednecks and frats and crazy Christians, which make it not so great sometimes."
"Whats is this rednecks?" he asked. "I don't see this rednecks when I see the movie Star Wars."
"They have a way of hiding wherever they are," I told him.
"Is much mysterious how this rednecks hide in plain daylight," he said.
"Yes, they mostly hide behind each other," I said.
I returned to America and spent the next 18 years trying to avoid the rednecks and Christian nuts. I would quietly move to another table or to another bar stool when one of them sidled up and tried to save my soul or tell me what a misunderstood guy Hitler was.
Then the movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan hit town. I suspected the truth before I saw it, but the moment I glimpsed Borat Sagdiyev's face, I knew this was the kid from my past.
So Borat hit the big time and — like Woody Allen — took me for a ride. All these years I had been avoiding the fools and frauds and crackpots who infest this country, when I should have been videotaping them.
If I had been as smart as Borat, I would be rich and famous today. I might even be married to Pamela Anderson.