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John Vaccaro Fires Jackie Curtis

John Vaccaro Fires Jackie Curtis

“Jackie [Curtis] was a nice person,” John Vaccaro said, “but she was very screwed up with drugs.” Some would say the same about Vaccaro, but what really stirred up trouble between him and Jackie Curtis was their diverging choice of mind-altering substances: Curtis was a speed freak, and Vaccaro’s go-to drug was marijuana (“John always had tons of pot around,” actor Tony Zanetta said, “really, really good pot”). During the Heaven Grand rehearsals at La MaMa, the mercurial Vaccaro grew frustrated with Curtis—who played the lead character, Heaven Grand—after she showed up late and a bit out of it. “I’m going to kick your ass!!!” Vaccaro would shout, until one day he fired the playwright from her own show. “They were always having these horrible fights,” Play-House actress Ruby Lynn Reyner said, “and so finally he just turned to me and said, ‘You’re playing Heaven Grand.’ ” The fallout between Vaccaro and Curtis blurred the lines between high drama, slapstick comedy, gangster movies, and real life—Vaccaro ranted every day that he was going to have Curtis killed (it was rumored that the Italian director had ties to the mob). “I’m gonna call Joey Gallo,” he would scream. “I’m gonna break Jackie’s legs!” Curtis hid out at an Avenue B loft belonging to painter Larry Rivers, and Arcade would stop by after rehearsals. “It was totally insane,” cast member Penny Arcade said. “I mean, Jackie was terrified of Vaccaro, but it was also kind of a joke. Like it was both, a joke and it was real. Reality, per se, didn’t exist.”

From Chapter 17 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore