From time to time you hear someone in the media comparing something to the opening of Al Capone's vault. It's an allusion to an over-hyped event that ends in a spectacularly embarrassing anticlimax. In short, a promise followed by a huge let down on a massive public scale.
And how did Al Capone and his "vault" come to refer to an anticlimactic event? In the writings of Marty Gervais? Bah. Gather round kids and let me tell you a story about a man. A once great man. Geraldo Rivera. No really. We're talking Geraldo Rivera.
Geraldo Rivera began his public life as an acclaimed
investigative journalist who achieved national prominence when he uncovered
shocking abuses in
His Tom Foolery reached an apex in 1986 when he hosted a glitzy special called The Mystery of Al Capone's Vault that promised -- live on air -- to open a sealed vault reputed to belong to the infamous gangster. What would it contain? For weeks, viewers were teased with the possibilities. Money? Gold? Jewels? Maybe the desiccated, bullet-and-ice-pick-ridden body of someone unfortunate enough to cross paths with Capone. I mean, baby, wouldn't that be totally cool to see a mummified corpse come tumbling out and break apart into dust before our very eyes?
Yeah, that sure would be sweet to see. And why not?
And then it happened.
Geraldo hosted The Mystery of Al Capone's Vault. After about 110 minutes of padding, historical vignettes, rag time music, and Geraldo shooting up a hotel wall with a Tommy Gun, the vault was finally opened.
In it was found dirt and an old whisky bottle.
The show had a 57 rating. Christ, The Beatles could only muster a 45.3 rating on Sullivan. It's the highest rated special in TV history (exceeding even the "Who shot JR?" 53.3 rating). People in 30 million American homes basically sat with eyes glued to their personality boxes to see a man in a thick mustache sweep out an empty closet. It was TV's finest moment.
Geraldo , sensing his career might be in jeopardy, decided to get back into the hard-hitting news business by taking on the War on Terrorism... I mean the War on Drugs. How he'd fuck up the war on terrorism comes later. He hosted a special called American Vice: The Doping of a Nation.
Its climax was, on live TV again, watching six DEA agents storm into a vile drug den, seize the vile drugs, and cart the vile drug pushers off to jail where they'd get totally raped in prison. And then much like Lord Vader stepping into the corpse-littered hall of the rebel blockade runner, Geraldo was going to be right behind that Kevlar phalanx of machine-gun toting agents. He'd go right up to those vile drug people, get all up in their business, and call them a name. Mano a mano. It was gonna be so sweet.
Doors were smashed in! Vile drug people were wrestled to the ground! People screamed. Geraldo identified the man and woman in the house as a hooker and her pimp. The camera searched wildly for mountains of white drug powder right there on the coffee table, just like we imagined, but no drugs were ever found. After the broadcast the woman, Terry Rouse, sued Geraldo for character defamation. She was not a hooker. Huh! In 1990 Geraldo gave in to Rouse's $30 million defamation suit and they settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
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Copyright 2003 Karl Mamer
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