Actor/playwright/politico Gene Duffy returned to his Jim Thorpe home town three years ago after a 10-year quest for stardom in Hollywood, California.
"I entered Hollywood with stars in my eyes, and 10 years later left with them circling around my head," he said.
Along the way, Duffy learned several life lessons. He discovered how to cater to and waiter to celebrities, how to write, and along the way, acquired an alter-ego, that of Josef Rothstein.
Josef Rothstein is the character Duffy created in his performance piece as a waiter in a Hollywood Jewish-style delicatessen. He used it as a stage name in auditions – he went to over 200 – as his waiter persona when he foisted his schtick on unwary patrons, and currently, as his nom de plume for his semi-fictional memoir, As The Matzo Ball Turns.
As The Matzo Ball Turns by Josef Rothstein, a.k.a. Gene Duffy, is according to the author, "a tale of an aspiring actor's ten-year encounter with hit-men, celebrities and old Jewish ladies," whose "own missteps find him flat-face on the pavement."
Rothstein's 10-year stint in Hollywood was one where fledgling actors tried just about anything, not only to get a part, but just to get an agent. One agent, he wrote, "signed me because of the cover letter that I had sent to him written in crayon. In a child's penmanship, I wrote that if he wanted to represent me he should check the 'Yes' box and if he didn't he should check the 'No' box that I courteously provided. The agent thought that this was creative."
The book starts off with 29-year-old Josef Rothstein leaving Phoenix, Arizona in a beat-up Mazda and driving to Hollywood, arriving with "stars in his eyes."
"He doesn't know anyone in this large, lonely city," he said. Eventually, he gets his first big break. I got referred to a job at a Jewish deli that caters to the entertainment industry by day, and at night, attracts LA's underbelly – anyone from hookers and hit men to drunk college kids."
The book is fiction based-on-fact. It is Rothstein/Duffy's blog of what happened during his quest to become famous. Although he names celebrities, the names of non-celebrities, details and places, including the name of the deli, have been omitted or changed for either comedic or legal purposes. While in Hollywood, Rothstein/Duffy learned to become paranoid.
"I wasn't paranoid before I got to Hollywood," he said. "I think Hollywood pretty much locked it in. The salient issue was when parts of my screenplay, a sports drama, were stolen.
"I was pitching it and I got a lot of interest from one studio in particular. They asked me to sign a sole-use letter and I agreed. I was naïve."
One day, he went to a theater to watch a movie, and as it progressed, he heard parts of his screenplay.
"Sure enough, I kept seeing things that were jumping out at me," he said.
During his Hollywood Odyssey, Duffy wrote five screenplays, all under his own name: a drama, two sports dramas, and two comedies. He felt that screenwriters and authors were considered by the Hollywood industry insiders as incompatible, and that is why he chose a pen name to write his book.
The closest he came to using his deli job to create an opportunity was when Jerry Seinfeld sat at a table at Rothstein's section of the restaurant.
"I was really looking forward to meeting him but it ended up like an un-filmed episode of one of his shows," he said. "I walked up to him excited to have the opportunity to bounce some impromptu material off of him."
Seinfeld wasn't interested.
"He just wanted to place his order and be left alone. I had the bright idea to give him a go through our 20 points of service. Each time I approach the table, he got increasingly frustrated. At one point he slammed down his fork and let out a heavy breath," he recalled.
The 6-foot-5-inch Duffy played tight end at Penn State, where he graduated with a BS in mechanical engineering in 1991. He never worked as an engineer, but did work as a headhunter at recruiting engineers.
"That's about as close as I got," he said.
One of his screenplays, Living With Uncle Ray (2006), is out on DVD.
His book, As The Matzo Ball Turns by Josef Rothstein, a "what not to do manual if you ever aspire to become an actor in Hollywood," is available online at asthematzoballturns.com and local booksellers.