The Keitel-Bracco bust-up, which also involves the actor Edward James Olmos, Bracco's current husband, has been blundering on for most of the decade - "Since my bar mitzvah!" quips the droll Dranoff. Keitel, who'd given custody of his (now) 12-year-old daughter Stella to Bracco when she'd left him for Olmos in 1991, learnt in 1993 that Olmos had been accused the year before of having fondled a 14-year-old family friend and sometime baby- sitter of Stella's. Keitel also learnt that Olmos, while absolutely denying the young girl's allegations, had paid her family at least $150,000 to sign releases promising not to prosecute, and to keep quiet about the matter. (The court eventually ruled that Olmos could not be alone in a room with Stella.) Most maddeningly for Keitel, Bracco hadn't mentioned any of this to him, even though their legal agreement called for her to "reasonably consult" on matters crucial to their daughter's welfare; worse, he charged that, more worried about the effects of bad publicity on her own and Olmos's careers than about Stella's safety, she'd "covered up" the "pay off" in a "conspiracy of silence".
It was for these reasons that Keitel and Bracco were in Rockland County in upstate New York on 15 October of last year. Keitel was supporting a motion by his daughter's court-appointed guardian, investigating the degree to which Stella might be at "additional risk" in Olmos's company because of alleged threats to Olmos's life made six years ago by members of the Mexican Mafia, a California prison gang about whom he'd made, and starred in, the 1992 film American Me. Although Family Court had ruled in favour of Bracco's retaining custody in 1996 (against Keitel's contention that his daughter was in danger of being molested, too), Keitel was now carrying the battle to the appellate division and hoped Judge Garvey might give him additional ammunition to reverse custody there.
Accordingly, he swivelled his lower jaw and wrinkled his forehead in concentration as Olmos, a small, swarthy man, took the stand.
Mark Platt (counsel for Keitel): "Do you know someone by the name of Manuel Luna?"
Olmos: "Yes, sir ... a lieutenant in the Mexican Mafia."
Platt: "Is he alive today?"
Olmos: "No, he isn't."
Platt: "Was he involved ... with [the] production of American Me?"
Olmos: "I think that my staff may have consulted him ..."
Platt: "You testified that Anna Lizarraga ... was a consultant [too]?"
Olmos: "Yes, sir."
Platt: "And she is also no longer alive today?"
Olmos: "Yes, sir."
Both parties, it turned out, had been killed by the Mexican Mafia subsequent to their participation in Olmos's movie; the film had portrayed the fictionalised homosexual rape of one of the founders of the MM, apparently a profound insult to the machismo of the real gangsters. The TV news show 60 Minutes and the LA Times and Washington Post newspapers had all run stories citing alleged threats to Olmos from the group, but the actor steadfastly denied them and swore that although he'd been subpoenaed by a Los Angeles grand jury as part of a federal probe of the MM, he'd never himself felt endangered. The people killed were in trouble with the Mafia for reasons having little to do with movies, he assured the court. In fact, the only time his life had ever been threatened was in a completely different context - here, he paused dramatically - in phone calls "from Mr Keitel!"
Platt objected, and after another hour of desultory testimony, Judge Garvey ruled that "Clearly there is no evidence ... that Stella is in [additional] danger by being with Mr Olmos." She looked at Keitel quizzically. Then she threw out the motion.
JUDGE GARVEY had read the history of Keitel's legal battles over the past five years and was, apparently, considering what drove him. After a rough period in the Eighties involving rent-paying jobs on Italian television and an infatuation with cocaine, he'd begun to behave like one of the obsessive characters in his movies. By the beginning of the Nineties he seemed to have solved most of his earlier problems - but like Charlie, the doomed young mafioso he'd played in Mean Streets, Keitel somehow brought trouble with him, fixating on the alleged Olmos molestation and Bracco's "betrayal". "It was the saddest day of my life when she hooked up with him," Keitel told me.
His anger might have gradually abated, had it not been for what allegedly occurred in Florida in July 1992. Lorraine; her two daughters, Stella and Margaux Guerard (the latter from an earlier marriage to a French hairdresser); her nanny, Ruth Bergman; and two friends of the family, 14- and 13-year- old girls whom the court has identified as "RG" and "VG", were living in a rented house on Golden Beach, in Dade County, Florida, near Miami. Also present for part of the month were Edward Olmos, then 45, and his sons Bodie, then 16, Brandon, 19, Mico, 19, and Michael, 20. Bracco was making a TV film, Scam, for the Showtime cable network and frequently had to shoot at night; so on those occasions, Olmos would take Bergman and the two sisters to visit Bracco on the set, eat dinner, then return to the house.
During the second week of July, according to RG, she had returned from visiting Bracco with Olmos, Bergman and Stella, then six (who'd fallen asleep, it being after midnight). When Bergman and Stella went to bed, only RG and Olmos were awake in the house. RG had rented a Bogart-Bacall movie and went to watch it in Olmos and Bracco's master bedroom on the first floor. She later told Linda Fairstein, head of the Manhattan District Attorney's Sex Crimes Unit, and testified in court that she'd fallen asleep on her stomach, head at the foot of the bed, watching the movie, while Olmos reclined with his back to the headboard, in a sitting position.
Sometime after 1am, RG alleges, she woke up on her back, her top and bra pushed up around her neck, her shorts and pants pulled slightly down, and with Olmos "peering" at her: "His hand was in my underwear and one hand was under my shirt," RG testified.
Dan Kornstein (counsel for Keitel): "And was he doing anything with his hands?"
RG: "Yeah ... he was touching me."
Kornstein: "Did you say anything to Mr Olmos?"
RG: "Well ... I had woken up and he stopped ... I left the room."
TWO DAYS LATER, according to the girl, the scene was repeated, in exactly the same way, under exactly the same circumstances, except that this time, she'd gone into the bedroom reluctantly, after being coaxed by Olmos. When lawyers asked her why she'd told no one about the first incident, and why she'd put herself in danger again, she said she was "shocked" and "confused" and "didn't want to tell Lorraine ... because I knew how much she liked Mr Olmos." She also explained: "I didn't know how to avoid it." (Linda Fairstein testified that one reason she found RG's story credible was that she hadn't tried to embellish her account, "harden the [case] against Mr Olmos and make him more evil in other ways ...")
Olmos, on his side, admitted watching movies with RG alone in his bedroom but placed the times as much earlier, between 8pm and 10pm, and he denied having ever touched her, except on daytime occasions when he said he might have put "suntan lotion" on her "back". He also testified that all the kids in the house had got into the habit of watching movies on his bed, and that there was nothing unusual about the practice.
On 17 July, RG flew to Jamaica with Bracco and Olmos, turning down an offer to go back to New York with Stella and Keitel; there she worked as a production assistant on Scam, hung out and had what she later described as "the best summer of my life". In late August, she flew to Los Angeles and stayed at Olmos's home with Bracco and the Olmos boys, one of whom, Bodie, later claimed to have engaged in some "fondling" with her while they were in Florida. (RG denies it.)
By October, however, she was feeling traumatised and guilty, and she finally wrote her mother a letter, which she posted on a mirror before leaving for the weekend. (Experts testified that it was "not unusual" for child sex victims to wait a long time before reacting, and to exhibit "avoidance" symptoms when they did.) The letter read, in part: "I was and am so angry at him and myself for not doing anything, for being so scared. It's just that I felt so betrayed. I trusted him to be my friend and he really wasn't. I didn't even know if I really was molested, but I guess I was ... I can't get it out of my head ... I feel like I betrayed you ... Please don't tell anyone. I love you."
ON A BREAK from shooting Paul Auster's Lulu on the Bridge in Manhattan late last year, Harvey Keitel showed up at his Franklin Street production offices to discuss his situation. Keitel has several rooms on the sixth floor of a post-modern building directly across the street from Robert De Niro's massive former coffee factory, now a movie studio with a glass roof and eight stories of offices, not to mention the trendy Tribeca Grill. Keitel's assistants tend to joke about the disparity in scale, but Harvey, a friendly rival of De Niro's (it's been 25 years since Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets launched both their careers), wasn't in the mood for trivia. "I don't wanna talk about that crap," he said definitively, lumbering into his reception area in tracksuit, black leather jacket and gym shoes without socks.
A Brighton Beach "pool-room guy" and the product of Abraham Lincoln High and the Alexander Hamilton Vocational in Brooklyn, Keitel has laboured "like a monk", according to his business partner Peggy Gormley, to rise above the streets. As he struggled to express himself, the agony was palpable: "My only interest here, Lombardi, is my daughter's welfare. I'm not gonna bad-mouth Lorraine, and I'm not looking for publicity. We have a tragedy here - a man [Olmos] who passes himself off as a member of Unicef, of various children's groups, a guy who goes to the White House and who addressed the Democratic National Convention, who paid money to silence a child from expressing her pain for an act she says he committed ..."
Keitel seemed most interested in demolishing Olmos's "excuses": "He claims he paid the money not because he did anything, but to 'protect' his son Bodie, who he says had relations with the girl. But who accused Bodie? There are no charges against him! Olmos is hiding ...
"Then there was the $150,000 Olmos paid Lorraine [between November 1992 and January 1994], while she says she was 'investigating' RG's claims, when she was broke," said Keitel. "How 'objective' could she be? And then the hurry-up marriage [on 28 January 1994] just as the custody trial began, and after Family Court ruled that Olmos and his sons couldn't be alone in a room with Stella! Was that a coincidence, too? Am I just being a wild man, an irrational fellow, as Mr and Mrs Olmos try to paint me?"
Keitel was up and pacing. His staff had gathered around him. He looked as haggard as the righteous detective, Rocco Klein, that he played in Clockers.
He brushed at his burr haircut. "Do you think the ruling about keeping Olmos out of the room is even enforceable? Is this Disneyland? Or what?"
HARVEY MET Lorraine at a Paris cafe in 1983. She was winding up her modelling career then, literally a fishmonger's daughter who'd gotten lucky. When the affair with Harvey started, she quickly divorced and moved into his Hudson Street loft (bringing Margaux with her). In New York, Lorraine threw herself into acting classes and the downtown art scene dominated unofficially by Keitel's old buddies Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro: "She had a lot of help," says character actor, Victor Argo, a close friend of Keitel's. "In this business, everything's connections, even if you're Laurence Olivier. Did Harvey push her? He's a very generous guy."
In 1986, Harvey and Lorraine appeared together Off Broadway in David Rabe's Goose and Tom-Tom, and shortly after that she auditioned for the British director Ridley Scott, who'd directed Harvey in 1977 in The Duellists; she landed her first American movie role in Someone to Watch Over Me, with Tom Berenger and Mimi Rogers. It was a culture-clash part, with Lorraine fighting off a bid by the Fifth Avenue-bred Rogers for her blue-collar husband's attentions; it helped establish Bracco as a working-class, feminist screen presence.
That film led to Scorsese casting her as Henry Hill's frantic Jewish wife in GoodFellas, with De Niro and Joe Pesci. It was Lorraine's finest performance, and in 1990 she was nominated for an Oscar. After that, she was chosen by Richard Donner for the role of the wife in Radio Flyer, a film about child abuse (it screened just as she was going through the RG nightmare with Olmos), and was handpicked by Sean Connery to play a feisty doctor working with him in the Amazon in a kind of high-tech African Queen.
The movie was called Medicine Man, and it undid the wonderful reviews of GoodFellas. Bracco was screechy; she seemed preternaturally energised, bouncing around the set, demanding things; she complained that she'd accepted the role based on a script that had been abandoned, and so the "Bogart- Katharine Hepburn chemistry" that Connery was expecting never materialised. After six weeks of filming in the Mexican jungle, the production crew nicknamed it Who'll Stop Lorraine?.
Bracco had been extremely busy from 1989 through 1991, at one point spending seven months on the road making movies, with Harvey at home in the Hudson Street loft (and later at a country house in upstate New York), essentially minding the kids. His career had always been problematic. He'd been Scorsese's alter ego in Who's That Knocking at My Door? (1968) and Mean Streets (1973), a tough pretty boy in the John Garfield mode, but strangely, though Mean Streets quickly became a cult classic and made Scorsese and De Niro stars, Keitel was out of work until Scorsese re-employed him (for $3,000) in 1974's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, and for a small part as the pimp in the smash hit Taxi Driver. Then he worked on and Off Broadway until Francis Ford Coppola took him to the Philippines to star in Apocalypse Now. It was the role that was to put him up there with De Niro, but Coppola and Keitel didn't get along, and Harvey was replaced by Martin Sheen after two weeks' work.
Through the Seventies and into the Eighties, he did worthy but marginal films like James Toback's Fingers and The Pick-Up Artist, and Paul Schrader's Blue Collar, but he had to go to Europe to make money. In 1980, when Hollywood and the movie-going public were declaring Scorsese and De Niro's Raging Bull the greatest American film noir since On the Waterfront, Harvey was gratefully collecting $90,000 for a schlock sci-fi flick (in which his voice was dubbed) called Saturn 3. It wasn't long after this that he met Lorraine.
Intimates describe their relationship as a sort of Flintstones version of A Star is Born, if you can imagine Wilma as a careerist climber and Fred with a cocaine habit. During their lower-court custody battle over Stella, both alluded to drug-taking, Harvey presenting a therapist's report that acknowledged his problem, tying it to chronic depression from an unhappy childhood and to "a period ... when things weren't going well for him in terms of work". The report also stated that he'd sought help and had been drug-free after 1991. "The truth is that they did some toot during a time when everyone else in the country was into it too," said one longtime acquaintance. "Very big deal ..."
Their main problem, apparently, was their diverging career trajectories. While Lorraine was hot after GoodFellas, Harvey failed again with The Two Jakes, with Jack Nicholson - yet another shot at major stardom (as Mean Streets, Apocalypse Now and The Last Temptation of Christ had been). With Sean Connery and Michael Douglas ringing Bracco up, Keitel became furious: She told the court: "When Michael Douglas was calling ... me, in my excitement I cut off a phone call for Harvey ... [He] came flying upstairs, pushed the door open ... and [screamed] that I should go and suck Michael Douglas's dick, and everybody else's dick in Hollywood."
There were other incidents that predated Bracco's announcement that she wanted Keitel to move out. But mutual acquaintances also think that after Bracco met Edward Olmos in 1990 in Idaho, where they made Talent for the Game together, she was "trading up". Of course, once she'd admitted that she'd been having an affair, "there were three years of raging about Eddie," says Bracco.
Olmos, well-known from his signature role as Lieutenant Martin Castillo in the Eighties TV series Miami Vice, had parlayed his image as "Pacific Rim man", part-actor, part-activist, representing the rising Hispanic- Asian minorities of California, into a hybrid career. Its main dividends in 1991, when he'd literally replaced Keitel in his own home, had been Stand and Deliver, a critical success about an inspirational maths teacher in east LA's barrio (for which he was Oscar-nominated), and American Me, but he was becoming prominent in Democratic politics too. He presented Bracco with a welcome change from Keitel's angst. Where Harvey was chronically upset, Eddie was relentlessly upbeat. He was such a great talker that he'd once persuaded the warden of Folsom prison to let him film inside the walls, using inmates as extras. Clinton invited him (with Bracco) to the 1993 Inauguration.
He'd been dividing his time between his Encino home and his life with Bracco when the RG allegations broke. During custody hearings in 1995, he admitted he'd chosen "the worst of two evils" by opting to pay RG's family and not tell Keitel. But, characteristically, he cited good reasons: "fear" had kept him from facing down RG's charges, he told the court, because he'd wanted to protect his son and because "I knew this young woman had an assistant district attorney from the Bronx [her uncle, who negotiated the monetary settlement with Olmos's lawyer, Jim Schreiber] and the ... Sex Crimes prosecutor [Linda Fairstein] defending her [sic]. I knew it would cost an extraordinary amount ... to defend myself ... that the press would be on this [and that] the truth never catches up to an allegation like this." Olmos also contended that Bracco had begged him not to tell Keitel, fearing his violent reaction.
So from November 1992 to October 1993, Keitel was unaware of the alleged molestations. During that time, RG's mother, an old friend of both Keitel and Bracco's, had asked Bracco for $75,000 to help set up a catering business. Purportedly, this was before she knew of RG's problems, and Bracco turned her down; then, after the mother received RG's letter, she informed Linda Fairstein. The family originally asked for $750,000 to settle out of court. Although the published amount of the final settlement, in May 1993, was $150,000, one former associate of Olmos's maintains the figure was "successful press spin" and that Eddie actually paid $300,000 over a period of time, then "got out ahead of Harvey on damage control" when Keitel went public in October 1993. Keitel was, Olmos told various media, "out of control", "the real Bad Lieutenant", "vicious and disturbed", and didn't even "want Stella" but was "using the situation to hurt Lorraine and myself". Later, sources close to the Olmoses told the gossip columnist Cindy Adams that they had "written documents" to "prove" that Keitel had enlisted De Niro, Scorsese and Joe Pesci in a "conspiracy" to blacklist Olmos and Bracco in Hollywood.
In fact, Bracco hasn't been working. "But that," according to Keitel's friend Victor Argo, "has to do with her talent, not some conspiracy."
"You ride a kind of surfboard of publicity for a while after you've had a hit," says another member of the Keitel camp, Peggy Gormley, "but if there's nothing substantial to keep you afloat, you sink."
"It's too stupid to discuss," scoffs Keitel himself. "Fuhgeddaboutit, all right?"
FAME, at the end of the century, is an unpredictable blessing, to say the least. And what surprised Keitel and De Niro and Scorsese when they all started out together so long ago was that it wasn't Harvey who "made it" first.
He was the golden boy, a personification of all Scorsese's New York fantasies - they even lived together for a while in Hollywood. De Niro, meanwhile, was the geek, the crazy outsider, "Johnny Boy" of Mean Streets. But somewhere in the early Seventies, geeks became glamorous; and between the final reels of Mean Streets and Godfather II, Bobby De Niro turned beautiful. And the power dynamic of the three friends altered.
It wasn't that Scorsese and De Niro abandoned Keitel; they'd just moved to a higher plane. For real working-class artists like them, it was necessary to develop a remorseless sense of their own careers - "If I'm not working, I'm nuts," Scorsese told me while shooting Taxi Driver in 1975. De Niro used to ride around town on a bicycle to auditions in order to save money, and Keitel worked for eight years as a court stenographer. The desire not to repeat such experiences is understandably powerful, and the anxiety it causes can warp perception and behaviour, especially in the hyper-narcissistic force- field of the movies.
And so the strange tales: Scorsese's calculated distance from the children he's fathered (they might lessen his concentration), all being raised by ex-wives and girlfriends; De Niro's "obsessive" portrayals and pathological reluctance to express himself, even with pre-screened, surgically neutered celebrity journalists; Keitel's one- note fixations on seemingly minor details like wigs and makeup, or the peccadilloes of people he once cared for, that have gained him a "difficult" reputation in Hollywood. "Harvey's an unbelievable sweetie, very loyal and forgiving," swears Kerri Courtney, his longtime amanuensis, "but of course he's had his traumas."
Despite all of the above, Harvey Keitel's life, since he broke up with Bracco, has generally improved. He's been in hit after hit: Mortal Thoughts, with Bruce Willis and Demi Moore; Thelma and Louise, Ridley Scott's feminist Bonnie and Clyde; Warren Beatty's Bugsy (for which he was finally nominated for an Academy Award); Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction; and Jane Campion's The Piano. He's had a number of romances. On the street, people stop him constantly, and he seems more gratified than annoyed - "It was a lot worse when no one noticed." And last June, in a triumphant appearance on the Bravo channel's Inside the Actors Studio, the 58-year- old told his rapt student audience: "Satisfaction was unknown to me as a young man. You could say the pain of my journey led me to satisfaction. By descending into pain instead of trying to avoid it, I learnt satisfaction."
He was certainly experiencing satisfaction on Friday 12 December of last year, at Frank's Steak House on Tenth Avenue, where some retired narcotics agents threw him a celebratory dinner. He was coming off several days' worth of lurid headlines - "FAN CLAIMS SEX ATTACK" - in which Olmos's name had been blackened again, this time for the alleged "sexual assault" of a married 38-year-old South Carolina woman who'd followed him back to his hotel on 18 October. Local police had "investigated" the matter for nearly two months without filing a charge when a leak to Keitel's press coordinator, a sharp young lawyer on loan from Robert De Niro, blew the affair up. But the woman, Patricia Harris, quickly withdrew her complaint, attorneys on both sides characterising it as "a misunderstanding between adults" and refusing to discuss whether a financial settlement had been reached. Still, the damage had been done:
"We're going to take this into Rockland County [for use in the appellate- court appeal]," vowed the sharp young lawyer, who spoke only on the condition that he would not be named. "I can't wait to get Eddie on the stand."
All of this was in marked contrast to Harvey's mood in early November, however, when he was finishing Lulu on the Bridge before heading off to Vietnam to make yet another movie. Then, Keitel had seemed irredeemably pessimistic about his custody chances in appellate court:
"Did you see those women judges [at a petitioner's panel hearing on 28 October in Brooklyn]? They weren't going for me. They were asking about those Academy Award photos Stella took again, and that damned phone tape of Lorraine's."
He was referring to an impromptu pre-Academy Awards Polaroid session in the Presidential Suite of the Beverly Hills Four Seasons while Harvey and his friends were getting dressed for his Bugsy nomination. Stella, then six, snapped some shots of Jerry Keitel, Harvey's older brother, in a towel, and Victor Argo and others in shirts, ties, socks and underpants, but no trousers. Harvey insists everyone was "just horsing around, nobody was drunk or indecent - these guys are like my daughter's extended family," but Judge Elaine Slobod, the custody jurist who'd ultimately ruled against him, had found the incident showed "poor judgement". Likewise, a recorded phone message, left by Stella on Bracco's answering machine while Stella was with Keitel, said: "Hi, Mom - this is a joke ... don't get upset. Dad taught me: 'You bitch, you fucking bastard.' Bye, Mom. You fucking bastard, fuck you ... bye-bye."
"It was a joke, for fuck's sake! When I was little, older guys in the neighbourhood would give me quarters to say curse words," Keitel had explained.
But the judge had "misinterpreted", just as she and the court-appointed guardian and "everyone else" had misunderstood when Keitel told the writer Nick Tosches in 1993: "When my daughter has a problem, how will she cope with it? That is my focus, to discuss ideas with her, to discuss divinity with her, to discuss hell with her, and I mean hell in whatever form it might rear its head, in fucking or coking, [in] books or [in] ignorance ... Hell has many heads, and it's such a slight step from here to descending into that hell ..."
Based on Keitel's "frankness", the court-appointed guardian had recommended that Stella remain with her mother because "clearly, [this man] has no limits ..."
In Family Court, Judge Slobod had "misconstrued" a story Keitel told about prodding Stella to go down a dark hallway she was afraid of, and had "tied it up" with his having questioned her "obsessively" about Olmos and Bracco, to the point of tears. After months of this, Stella had "voiced suicidal ideation", in the court's infelicitous phrase, and had developed "juvenile rheumatoid arthritis", a stress-based disease in children. The court had had to restrict Keitel's conversations to make him stop.
KEITEL'S DRESSERS and make-up people had abruptly besieged him in his trailer at 24th Street and Eighth Avenue that November day, and by the time they'd finished and he was driving towards 25th Street, where he would act a farewell scene with Mira Sorvino, he'd withdrawn perceptibly.
"Harvey, is anything wrong? Am I, like, messing up your concentration?"
He'd flashed me a sidelong look: "I just hope I'm gonna come out the good guy in this story."
"Well," I joked, "you never know. Do you think, for argument's sake, that there might be a chance that Olmos didn't do anything? Or that even if he did, he still might not be a serial molester? I mean, there's no pattern ..."
"I knew it!" he exploded. "I shoulda got [the famed New York columnist] Jimmy Breslin! He'd have the balls ..."
"Harvey!" yelled an assistant director. "We need you!"
Keitel had stopped, his chin jutting, his shoulders hunched: "What if the kid [RG] is lying," he said angrily. "He's still a prick! He still paid a young girl a bribe!" His expression had twisted in frustration. His brown eyes were very unhappy, like those of a man who'd long ago recognised something relentless in himself but couldn't do anything about it.
Copyright John Lombardi, 1998. A version of this article appeared in 'New York' magazine.Reuse content