“Master of Ceremonies: A True Story of Love, Murder, Roller Skating & Chippendales” by David Henry Sterry
Details about the upcoming television show, and book, available at
Pitchapalooza at Montclair Literary Festival, Sept. 12, online
By GWEN OREL
Before Chris Farley and Patrick Swayze began dancing with bow ties and bare chests on “Saturday Night Live,” Chippendales was a Place to Be.
Brooke Shields celebrated her birthday there.
Models and celebrities, along with bridge-and-tunnel tourists, thronged the Upper East Side club where gorgeous men took it all off (or nearly), to choreographed routines, with elaborate costumes.
David Henry Sterry of Montclair was the emcee, and he wrote about it in his memoir, “Master of Ceremonies: A True Story of Love, Murder, Roller Skates & Chippendales.”
Now his 2007 book is being turned into a television show, with Gordon L. Smith, an executive producer on “Better Call Saul” who was just nominated for an Emmy award, as the showrunner (head writer and the person who oversees the entire show). Smith was Vince Gilligan’s assistant on “Breaking Bad.”
It’s the first television pilot for Sterry, who wrote screenplays before he wrote books. With wife Arielle Eckstut, he runs a company called The Book Doctors, whose mission is to help writers get their work to print.
Sterry and Eckstut also run the “Pitchapalooza” at the Montclair Literary Festival every year, as well as taking that particular show on the road. They are scheduled to do the Pitchapalooza, in which 20 writers are selected randomly to give a one-minute pitch, at MLF online this September.
Smith is writing the pilot now, Sterry said. The showrunner has a deal with Sony to develop a project — and Sterry had a project. It was perfect timing.
If all goes well, a director will be attached, the show will be cast, Sony will sell the show, and it will go into production.
How will they do it, in these “live (but not really)” on Zoom?
Television shows and films have been quarantining actors and crews together, Sterry explained. So it looks like viewers may not be relegated to reruns for another year after all.
“I feel euphoric,” Sterry said. He has been flying back and forth to Los Angeles to take meetings for a while.
Smith has enough credentials to be taken seriously, and he was hungry for a good project, Sterry said.
Unusually for Hollywood, Sterry will be involved in the show as an executive producer. Hollywood often notoriously cuts out book authors from adaptations.
“Master of Ceremonies” opens with Sterry being interrogated about a murder: the murder of club manager Nick de Noia.
It’s a fantastic start, to open with a mystery and then flash back to Sterry’s arrival in New York as a would-be actor and comedian, and then his audition at Chippendales.
When Sterry first began pitching the book to Hollywood, he framed it as a story about working for a man who was assassinated, “one of the worst human beings I ever worked with, a bully, nasty, but who could be very charming and loving also.”
But then Sterry realized that the book was really about New York City from 1985 to 1988, a time when “greed was good, money was everywhere, and girls just wanted to have fun.”
The book includes references to many pop songs: “‘Like a Virgin’ blasts at staggering volume as a gigantic Madonna tarts it up in a wedding dress on huge video screens. I read in Rolling Stone, I think, that she’s making a point about religion and sexuality, but I can’t quite figure out what that point is.”
Descriptions of dress also evoke the time: “Miami Vice” pastel T-shirts, bustiers worn as tops, teased hair, shoulder pads. There are also many local references: At one point Sterry explains who “Crazy Eddie” was (local electronics chain owner with schlocky commercials featuring a man who said the prices were “insaaaaane”).
Chippendales was packed every night.
Along with the mostly-loving evocation of the time and place, Sterry also celebrates the new, and freeing, effect of the club on women.
“I always thought it was fascinating that Chippendales was the first place in human history where women were not just allowed but encouraged to be sexual with men,” he said. “One of Nick’s edicts was that the dancers would each bring a woman to the center of the stage, and he was insistent that it had to be a grandmother, or someone big and beautiful, or someone not traditionally skinny, beautiful and young. The club celebrated the sexuality of women who were never seen as sexual.”
Where a grandmother might be seen as gross or funny if sexualized, at Chippendales, if a grandma was onstage, the men would put their heads under the woman’s dress, and the crowd would scream and go crazy, Sterry said. “One time I was watching, and there was a woman with a blue mohawk, and sitting next to her was her grandmother, with that blue old-lady hair.
“It was a show where you could take your grandmother.”
LEARNING FROM CHIPPENDALES
Sterry, the emcee, was a “marshmallow man” compared to the sculpted Chippendales stars, hosts, waiters and dancers. “I was the ugliest man at Chippendales, surrounded by beautiful men. I thought, ‘Oh wow, I’ll be in a Martin Scorsese movie soon. I was invisible, in my top hat, roller skates and tuxedo. I was the biggest dork in the world,” he said with a laugh.
At one point he brought his mom to the show. His mom is a lesbian, and she sat in the VIP booth, Sterry said. “Apparently she fell asleep.”
He has kept in touch with some of the people he worked with.
And working at Chippendales helped him professionally and personally.
“I was an actor at the time. Sometimes you get nervous at an audition,” he said.
“Once you’ve stared down 600 screaming drunken women, nothing phases you.”
He learned some tips from de Noia about being a showman: when to stop, when to go, when to be loud or soft, and how to engage a room full of people.
He learned about beauty, naturally, and about how some of the most beautiful people are also the most wicked and mean.
Being confronted with so much beauty on a daily basis does something to you, he said. It makes you jaded: “You’re constantly evaluating flesh, looking for every imperfection. It leads you down dark paths.”
He also became addicted to cocaine, which Sterry described as being to the ’80s what the dry martini was to the ’50s.
Chippendales was like a cocaine distribution center in the Upper East Side, he said.
“Dealers would come up to me and wanted great introductions. They would offer me cocaine,” Sterry said. The first time seemed weird, but it quickly became normal. “I learned a lot about addiction and about myself, about learning to say no. That has stood me in good stead the rest of my life.”