words by seltzerboy .::. This item is a bit of stretch, but somehow it seems appropriate for a compendium of New York pizza—a fixture of city life—to search for a link to note the death of radio legend Scott Muni (right) earlier this week. After all, listening to his show was a slice of life here, so to speak.
Very recently, I happened to watch the Sidney Lumet film Dog Day Afternoon again. The film recounts an incredible bank heist in 1972, when a couple of guys’ robbery attempt turned into an all-day affair for the employees and customers—and for all the New Yorkers who watched the events unfold on television and in person. Basically, the New York Police Department surrounded the Bay Ridge bank before the robbers could escape, so the pair held everyone hostage all day and well into the night. Meeting their demand of a chartered plane out of the country took extensive plotting by police. With the hostages holed up all day, the lead bank robber, Sonny Wartzik (deftly played by Al Pacino), turned into a bit of a showman. The crowds of onlookers outside the bank cheered him on as the drama played out in front of them, and he became a kind of folk hero to the masses.
Throughout the ordeal, these guys tried to portray themselves as otherwise normal people. When locked inside on a hazy summer afternoon, what could be a more normal New York thing to do than ordering pizza? Among the funnier scenes in the film is when Mr. Wartzik expresses concern that his hostages might be hungry, and demands that police order some pizza. Sure enough, the ubiquitous pizza man (played by Lionel Pina) shows up, insulated bag in hand, and walks up to the front door of the bank. Even more, Mr. Wartzik refused to let the cops pick up the tab. He went back inside the bank and paid the deliveryman with the bank’s stash of counterfeit money. (Mr. Wartzik, who had previously worked in a bank, spotted some notes as fake in his initial demand to the teller.) After the exchange, the pizza man patted Mr. Wartzik on the back, wished him well, and then carried on a bit in front of the television cameras.
Tough to believe? Well, one of the real-life events that inspired the moive but was not captured on the silver screen involves Cat Olson (the bank robber's real name) calling Scott Muni from the bank. "Scottso" put him on the air during his WNEW radio show [Listen to an MP3 of the actual on-air exchange here]. Ever the gentlemen, Scottso treated Mr. Olson with kindness and respect; Mr. Olson asked him to play some Grateful Dead. (The film’s lone reference to this was when Mr. Wartzik fielded a telephone call at the bank by answering, "WNEW. We play all the hits.") This clip was played during the noon hour Thursday on WAXQ, where "the Professor" (a nickname earned due to his extensive knowledge of pop music) had made his home since WNEW fired him—after 31 years at the station, where he was a pioneering force in free-form rock radio—in November 1998. All told, Scottso had been on the air in New York for nearly 50 years.
On a personal note, I had been listening to Scottso since 1987, after my eighth-grade music teacher clued me in to the Professor’s affection for—and personal relationship with—the Beatles. A few years later while working for various publications, I would force the staffs to indulge me by listening to Scottso’s singular gravelly yet calming voice over our transistor radio in my high school’s print shop. Many times over the past few years, I have forced Slice editor and publisher Adam K. to share a Beatles Block with me from a wind-up Freeplay radio at work.
As part of his radio family, Slice extends its heartfelt condolences to the entire Muni family. Much like two founding members of the Slice team, Mr. Muni was a gentleman with Kansas roots for whom Gotham opened its arms. He was a New York original, whose impact was felt far beyond the Place Where Rock Lived. Adios, compañero.