What, Me Guilty?
Rule No. 2: If you run afoul of Rule No. 1, you should not do four major TV talk shows in seven days and irritate people by saying things that just get you in deeper.
Which, of course, brings us to Marv Albert. In September, Albert, 56, pleaded guilty in a Virginia courtroom to a misdemeanor charge of assault and battery after Vanessa Perhach, 42, accused him of biting her on the back and forcing her to perform oral sex during an encounter in February. Albert had been accused (in court and out) of trying to arrange ménages-à-trois, wearing a garter belt and belting out Broadway show tunes while cavorting with a transvestite.
And yet there was Albert, sentenced to a year (suspended) and ordered into counseling, two weeks into his time of reflection and rehabilitation, spinning to Barbara Walters (Friday, Nov. 7), Larry King (Tuesday, Nov. 11), David Letterman (Wednesday, Nov. 12) and Katie Couric (Thursday, Nov. 13), giving season-high ratings to Walters and Letterman. It was not a pretty sight. Let's go to the videotape:
On ABC's 20/20, with Walters hanging on every word—but cohost Hugh Downs hanging elsewhere in protest against Albert's appearance—Marv and Heather Faulkiner, 40, his steadfast steady, answered a few questions about their sex life, and Faulkiner said that when she learned of Marv's infidelity, "I felt like I had just had a stake driven through my heart." (On American Journal, Albert's ex-wife, matrimonial lawyer Benita Oberlander, said pretty much the same thing about her discovery, years before, that Marv was having an affair with Faulkiner.)
Then Albert warmed to his theme. Perhach had done him wrong. "I thought she was my friend," he told Walters. "She asked me would I bite her." Albert conceded that he had tried a three-way. "I did it once with...Vanessa and another woman," he said, hastily adding, "but she was the one...who did the suggesting."
As for the wig that trial witness Patricia Masten testified she pulled off while resisting his advances in 1994, Albert was indignant. "It's a hair weave..." he said. "It does not come off my head." Heather agreed: The hairpiece is of a piece with the man. And no, Marv never bit her.
Four days later, Albert moved on to Larry King, where he attributed Masten's allegations to his rejecting her advances. King, no Torquemada in the matter of interrogation, did wonder why Albert was appearing on so many talk shows. "It's different demographics," said Albert. "You know, the same people don't see all the same shows."
Albert then went to the Late Show and his old pal David Letterman, who observed, "In court you said you're guilty; now you say you're innocent." And when Albert explained his encounter with a transvestite by saying he was going "through a curious stage," Letterman had a suggestion: "When I get curious, I turn on the Discovery Channel."
The next morning, back at his old network, NBC, which had dismissed him after his guilty plea, Albert went face-to-face with Katie Couric on Today. "You have lied in the past to your ex-wife and cheated on her," said Couric. "You have lied in the past to your fiancée and cheated on her, so you don't have a completely stellar record." Albert conceded the point but said, "I was set up." As for the lesser offense of singing Broadway tunes with a transvestite, Albert pleaded ignorance. "I don't know show tunes," he said.
Now that Albert has run the gauntlet and vanished until such time as he is thought to have paid for his sins, he has had to take a few lumps from the critics. The 20/20 segment, wrote Frank Rich in The New York Times, was "an excruciating exercise in recycling dirty underwear." Yet Howard Rubenstein, Albert's PR guru, was proud of how his client had handled himself. "The damage to him emotionally has to be very great, but he doesn't show it," says Rubenstein. "He doesn't talk about it."
Well, that's a relief.
SABRINA McFARLAND in New York City
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