So I’m not the only person in my generation who is starting to feel a little older because quite a number of the things that I enjoyed when I was in high school are turning 20. We’ve already passed the 20th anniversaries of Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten and are about a year or so away from the 20th anniversary of the release of Green Day’s Dookie, an album that I have always considered to be very significant in my personal music-listening history.
What we haven’t really noted is a moment that while it is really not much more than a blip in our culture’s history. On December 28, 1992 and January 3, 1993, three movies about Amy Fisher aired on television.
Yeah, I know that sounded way more epic than it actually was, but you have to understand that I grew up on Long Island and for the last half of 1992 through at least the first half of 1993, and while there were plenty of other probably more important things going on in both the world and in the world of entertainment, this was the most important thing that was going on. From the moment Amy did her perp walk to when she went to jail, you could not escape her story.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the story, in 1991, Amy Fisher began an affair with Joey Buttafuoco, the owner of the body shop where she had taken her car after wrecking it (and had supposedly enticed him into the affair so that her parents wouldn’t find out). Fisher was sixteen years old at the time and would plead guilty to statutory rape in October 1992, eventually serving jail time.
But while the affair’s lurid details would capture Long Island’s (and eventually the nation’s) attention, nobody would have cared one bit about Amy Fisher if not for what had happened on May 19, 1992, when she knocked on the Buttafuocos’ door and confronted Joey’s wife, Mary Jo, about an affair her husband was having with one of Amy’s “friends.” When Mary Jo blew her off, Fisher shot her in the head. Fisher was arrested and charged three days later on May 22, and her perp walk was covered on the evening news:
Usually with stories like this, I don’t know much about what is going on until it makes such major headlines that it’s hard to ignore. But believe it or not, I happened to be up late on May 22, 1992 (it was a Friday and being that I had no life I was probably home all night watching movies in my parents’ basement), and for whatever reason watched the 11:00 news and saw her being led away in handcuffs while the on-air reporter gave details about what she had been charged with.
Fisher was quickly labeled “The Long Island Lolita” and it seemed that every other day there was some new detail about the affair that was released to the public. Meanwhile, charges were still pending against her and there were conflicting accounts of what actually happened between her and Joey as well as her Mary Jo. Since the story was so lurid and ripe for speculation, it was perfect tabloid fodder, especially nationally syndicated tabloid television shows such as Hard Copy and A Current Affair. David Letterman even worked the story for material, making “Buttafuoco” a running punchline for a while. There was even a comic book published–granted, it was done by a rinky-dink independent publisher named 1st Amendment Comics, but I do remember that Amazing Comics had one copy on the wall–on one side of the He Said/She Said Comics Presents … was the Amy Fisher story, the other was The Joey Buttafuoco story (later on there would be similar stories for Woody Allen and Bill Clinton when they were accused of improprieties). A quick search on eBay shows that you can get it for about $10-15, which is about as much as Amy Fisher’s book, My Story will go for.
But the big event was the three movies. ABC, CBS, and NBC each ponied up money for the rights to a different version of the story. CBS talked to the Buttafuocos and produced Casualties of Love: The Long Island Lolita Story; ABC went with the “objective” angle and gave an official version title The Amy Fisher Story; and NBC, which also had exclusive rights to interview Fisher on Dateline and aired that interview in conjunction with their movie, produced Amy Fisher: My Story. It was probably the first time that there had been so much competition for a “ripped from the headlines” type of story for a TV movie, and two of the three network managed to get pretty famous names attached to the projects.
CBS cast Alyssa Milano, who had just finished up Who’s the Boss? and was clearly going for an edgier role while ABC was able to snag a newly clean and sober Drew Barrymore for its movie and aired it opposite CBS’s on Sunday, January 3 (incidentally, this was right after Barrymore had done Poison Ivy, a movie whose sequel would star Alyssa Milano). NBC’s Amy Fisher was an unknown actress named Noelle Parker (whose credits don’t go much past 2000 and whose only other notable role would be on the NBC show Sisters). I actually watched the NBC film because it aired on December 28, 1992 and I think that after the hype surrounding all three movies I wanted to at least see one of them. Plus, I decided to not watch either the Milano or Barrymore films that night because it was the night that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine premiered and … well, I had my priorities.
Now, the expectations for these three movies weren’t very high. Stories like this tend to lose steam quickly, so there was a risk being taken by the networks, especially in the way they rushed everything through production. But being that it was the dead week between Christmas and New Year’s and there really wasn’t much else on to watch (most of the bowl games back then actually aired on New Year’s Day), the movies did well. According to the New York Times, the NBC movie garnered a 19.1 share while the ABC and CBS films nabbed a 19.4 and 15.3 share, respectively. Compared to the fact that an average network rating for the time was a 12 share, that’s a really good turnout for what’s essentially a trashy television movie now seen only on Lifetime.
Of the three films, the only one available on DVD at the moment (okay, the only one I could find with quick Netflix search) is Amy Fisher: My Story, which has been retitled Lethal Lolita. The Barrymore version was released on DVD but is out of print and can be found on eBay; I have not been able to find the Milano version anywhere. But all three can be watched on YouTube.
As much as I am committed to this blog, I’m not committed enough that I’m willing to be committed, so I did not watch all three movies. But someone on YouTube was kind enough to put together a compilation video of all three shooting scenes …
Now, I like Drew Barrymore, but watching her in the first part of the clip, all I can see is … well, Drew Barrymore and not Amy Fisher. Plus, the way she says “Bah Habah” like she’s doing a Boston accent and not a Long Island accent bugs me. I will, however, say that the woman playing Mary Jo Buttafuoco does a great job (not sure why the guy waiting for Amy in his car was cast to look like Danny Zucco, but whatever). The accent is excellent as are all of the expressions and body language.
Milano’s a little more convincing in her scene, although being that she’s originally from Brooklyn, she has a bit of an advantage. The Mary Jo in this version is a little weak–the accent seems to come and go–and there is that always-cheesy TV-movie score, but at least Milano’s shooting scene is straightforward and nowhere near as ridiculous as Noelle Parker’s, which attempted to portray things as the gun going off while she was hitting her with it (with added convulsions!). Though to her credit, Noelle Parker wasn’t too bad as Amy Fisher.
Plus, can you really dramatize something that played out in front of you for so many months? And also something that, at least for a while seemed so ingrained in the identity of Long Island? Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco were, in some way, the personification of “Lawn Guyslant,” and are one of the reasons that I made a concerted effort to rid myself of any accent I may have had. Don’t get me wrong, I am not in denial of my New York-ness (if I was, I wouldn’t have written so many blog posts tagged “Long Island”) but the place isn’t perfect and there are people like that who make you completely embarrassed that they’re from the same place as you (I’m sure Southerners feel the same way when they see a redneck-based reality show and the population of New Jersey is glad Jersey Shore is finally going away).
But for all of the embarrassment that Amy Fisher caused, she was quickly replaced by other tabloid fodder such as Lorena Bobbitt and eventually the O.J. Simpson trial and I was able to more or less get over it (although I still made the effort to ditch the accent). The Buttafuocos divorced and Mary Jo has since written a book called Getting It Through My Thick Skull and used her experience to become a motivational speaker; Amy Fisher, on the other hand, served her time in prison and at one point had a column in a Long Island newspaper, but eventually seemed to do nothing but appear on the occasional talk show and blame the whole ordeal for ruining her life or going the celebrity sideshow route. She also wrote another book titled If I Knew Then …. She’s now in porn, which I guess is one career option for someone who has little but a fleeting moment of infamy to cling to.