Happy(?) Accidents & Strange Days or Do I Know VDO? The Bizarre Tale of the Yahoo! Group vincent-donofrio and its visits from ‘Fatboy’

Appropriate music ‘Talking Out Of Turn’ by The Moody Blues (from their ‘Long Distance Voyager’ album)

This entry is going to seem fantastic and surreal, so if you don’t believe a word of what I write, I understand. If I hadn’t been through it personally, I wouldn’t believe it either. 

It’s been long ago enough now that sometimes don’t believe it happened myself but since the other day I found some email I printed out at the time related to this series of incidents, it’s a little hard to chalk it up to hallucination or something out of a sci-fi story like ‘The Thirteenth Floor’ or ‘Impostor’ and whether we can ever know that what we are experiencing is real. 

I suppose someone out there is probably wondering if I know *the* VDO? Well not to get too semantic here but the most accurate answer is ‘Probably not’. 

I have never met VDO in a face to face meeting. I have never received a phone call, an email message or a written letter from the Vincent D’Onofrio who has appeared in over 50 films and 5 US TV series. 

So why do I say *probably* not? Here’s the long strange story… 

Back in 2001, just before LOCI was launched in the USA, I was a pretty big fan of the early seasons of the original series Law & Order (i.e. Seasons 1-5 of ‘the mothership’), and of a now forgotten but excellent Sidney Lumet created series that the cable network A&E commissioned called ‘100 Centre Street’ (a.k.a. ‘CCS’, which got cancelled in its second season). I had created a CCS Yahoo! Group that at the time A&E was kind enough to link to on its official CCS website. I suppose because of how well things were going at the CCS group, I was invited by other mothership fans who hung out at Yahoo! to help administer a Yahoo! Group for the not yet released LOCI. 

To prepare to post useful information and interesting content at the Yahoo! LOCI group, I started to familiarize myself with other things VDO had done. His Emmy nominated guest appearance on the Homicide: Life On The Street episode ‘The Subway’ will likely reoccur in many entries to come at this blog, but for now I’ll say that after seeing that pivotal episode, I sought out, watched and analyzed a lot of VDO projects for the Yahoo! LOCI group and posted and discussed a lot about VDO projects both related and unrelated to LOCI. 

I was having a blast. 

Somewhere along the way one of the members of that Yahoo! LOCI group invited me to join a Yahoo! Group called vincent-donofrio (which I’ll call ‘DASH’ to save bandwidth). 

I have an observation about fans I want to make before going any further. My experiences with fans of individual people are generally very different from my experiences with fans of projects or fans of groups of people. With the possible exception of Richard Belzer’s fans, fans of individuals to me have seemed a little less in touch with reality and a little more subject to behave in off-kilter ways than fans of projects. And yes, Star Trek and Star Wars fans are the exceptions that prove my rule (since I was a Trekkie as a kid, I have some experience here). 

There are whole subgroups of ‘fanboys’ and ‘fangurls’ out there whose interest in the individual object of their devotion is predominantly the subject of sexual/romantic fantasy/obsession. An example of this is a week long discussion that took place at a Chris Noth fan website that analyzed in great detail whether each of the characters Noth has played wore underwear and if so was that character wearing ‘boxers’ or ‘briefs’. Since you’ve probably guessed that I really didn’t care for that sort of discussion (it was too creepy for me), you can see that I was a little leery of joining DASH. 

At that time though DASH was a smallish collegial group and very like the CCS and LOCI groups I was used to. Its members were interested in VDO’s work more so than VDO’s personality and appearance. So in the early days of my time at DASH, things were intellectually interesting and the people there were really cool. 

Then real life intruded. My workplace got hectic, my mother got breast cancer, and I took a multi-month hiatus from participating in Yahoo! Groups including DASH. 

Enter ‘fatboy’. 

‘fatboy’ initially posted to DASH claiming to be *THE* Vincent D’Onofrio’s ‘personal asstent’. In that typo-ridden initial post, ‘fatboy’ challenged the members of DASH to ask him anything at all about VDO and he’d give them expert answers. 

The short initial response from DASH members? They told ‘fatboy’ to ‘get lost’. 

They knew that the real VDO didn’t have an entourage, much less a personal assistant (they had read some interviews with the real VDO in the trades that said as much), so ‘fatboy’ had to be full of it. And it was strongly suggested he should to learn how to type already. [A possible explanation for the extremely bad typing could be the proportionately large fingers of a guy who is 6’4″ and not of an insubstantial weight trying to hunt and peck his way on the undersized keys of a laptop’s keyboard]
Besides what sane person would willingly adopt the derogatory Yahoo! ID ‘fatboy’?! Whoever this person was, he or she had to be nuts. 

[A digressive explanation… I was later told by DASH members that ‘fatboy’ was a term of endearment Stanley Kubrick bestowed on VDO while they worked on ‘Full Metal Jacket’. Since reading Matthew Modine’s recently published ‘Full Metal Jacket Diary’ and learning that Kubrick called Modine ‘cunt’ on the set, I am thinking that calling yourself ‘fatboy’ online doesn’t sound quite so bad…] 

The reply from ‘fatboy’? ‘fatboy’ claimed that he was ‘Vincent’. As in *the* VDO. Seriously. And he could prove it. 

The even shorter response from the administrators of DASH? ‘fatboy’s Yahoo! id was denied access to DASH. Immediately. 

There were numerous posts back and forth between ‘fatboy’ (using a different Yahoo! id that was related to an Orson Welles character to regain membership to what was then an unrestricted group) and various DASH members and someone referring to herself as BeBe begging ‘fatboy’ not to try and prove that he really was VDO to his fans and (in retrospect, rather sensibly I think) washing her hands of the matter. BeBe is probably publicist BeBe Lerner who was then working for Bumble Ward, VDO’s then personal publicity firm — I don’t know what BeBe is doing these days (she has a 2004 credit at the Internet Movie Database that says she was a unit publicist for the TV series ‘The West Wing’) but I understand that Bumble Ward is now out of the entertainment publicity game and trying her hand at writing novels. 

What I learned happened offline is that the 3 DASH administrators and a few key DASH members (probably 8 people total) each got a phone call at their respective homes or places of work from a person they all claimed sounded like *the* VDO. They were each convinced, apologized profusely, and welcomed ‘fatboy’/’Vincent’ to DASH with open arms. 

And it was then that utter chaos ensued. 

DASH gained a ton of members, the admins closed the membership to the public and took their Yahoo! group private, ‘Vincent”s computer was purportedly hacked and he got tons of unwanted instant messages and emails, the LOCI set was supposedly crashed by disturbed ‘fans’, and members of ‘Vincent”s family were stalked and threatened. And rules about posting and conduct off of DASH (namely never mentioning the existence of DASH to someone not already a member or the fact that ‘Vincent’ was an active member at DASH) and who could contact ‘Vincent’ and how and when, etc. were made. 

The almost saddest thing? Members were being kicked off for ‘purported’ rules violations. It was 3 strikes and you’re outta DASH. DASH’s admins were the scorekeepers and who knows if there was any kind of procedural fairness to how strikes were meted out. 

It was right after a member of DASH was kicked off (who I understand was probably a legitimate but not well-known entertainment journalist) who according to the DASH admins supposedly somehow made ‘Vincent’ upset, and no I never got a straight story on what happened) that I was sure I had come back to a group that had collectively gone insane. 

Imagine, a person with some household name recognition jumping blind into the free-for-all of a fan board about him or her to discuss things with the devotees… 

Get real. 

No famous person in his or her right mind would do something so crazy, nor would his or her ‘people’ allow him or her to freely chat with the fans without some moderation (i.e. human intervention and censoring) going on — a prime example was a chat with Sam Waterston that one of my LOCI coadmins and I participated in. ‘Sam’ said that he had moderators and typists present to help him chat (‘Sam’ confessed to being a bad typist and said he was dictating his replies to chat questions). It was all arranged and carefully filtered and orchestrated by the publicity people at Merchant Ivory for the film ‘Le Divorce’. 

I had to be convinced by multiple DASH members of the idea that the real VDO would want to have anything to do with DASH, but one of the great ironies of this tale (and definitely it’s saddest aspect) is that the very sort of analysis we were doing that I so enjoyed and supposedly made ‘Vincent’ so determined to join DASH virtually died out upon his admission to the group. Virtually all analysis that he really wanted to participate in and offer a professional perspective that no one else had ceased. Opportunities to learn from ‘Vincent’ were replaced with numerous posts about how cute VDO looked on a talk show appearance and nicey-nice messages to fellow DASH members on their birthdays, etc. Classic mostly ignorant ‘fangurl’ stuff. Bleah. 

And only on rare occasions was ‘Vincent’ able to show up and post something of substance. Thus the ‘fangurl’ noise was almost obliterating the educational signal that once was ‘DASH’ and made following the group almost a collossal waste of time. 

In my absence, the admins of DASH had become extremist censors of everyone but ‘Vincent’, with misplaced Emily-Post type instincts such that people like me got strikes for criticizing the artistic merits of LOCI episodes in posts (perhaps they feared I would offend ‘Vincent’ so extremely, that he would stop hanging out at DASH). Amusingly enough, often ‘Vincent’ would later come along and post that he too wasn’t happy with how those criticized episodes were working either and explain what he thought had gone wrong. 

Isn’t irony delicious? 

But at DASH it was no longer okay to be a fan with unique artistic sensibilities and an interest in discussing them. It was conform, don’t criticize and ‘shut the hell up already’ or get kicked to the curb. 

Eventually I behaved in such a way as to provoke my own expulsion from DASH by posting my vehement disagreement with what DASH had become. In a farewell message to DASH, I made over the top analogies between the expulsion of DASH members to the HUAC hearings and the grey-listing of Orson Welles. These were deliberately designed to get the whole group riled up. The real VDO is known to be a huge fan of Orson and if ‘Vincent’ was in fact *the* VDO, he was probably unaware of what happened when he wasn’t around and would probably not have appreciated how DASH members were behaving towards each other on his account. 

When I was booted, it was a relief to finally be on the outside of the nuthouse with no way back in. At the time I was expelled, I posted to my own Yahoo! LOCI Group about the experience, but another person with admin privileges removed the post so as not to offend the LOCI members who were also still DASH members. So I swore off Yahoo! Group participation then and there. 

I have since been invited a few times to post to different VDO fan groups all around the web, but I’m just not interested in having to conform myself and my comments to other people’s expectations, so I don’t bother. 

Besides the serious discussion posts inevitably get crowded out by the ‘fangurl’ blather. I suppose part of that is due to the infrequency with which VDO puts out a new work, part of that is due to the fact that many of VDO’s older projects are nearly impossible to get to see, and part of that is due to the personalities who congregate at VDO boards. 

So what was the ‘Vincent’ from DASH like? One word: Honest. Sometimes to uncomfortable, frightning and painful extremes. 

Before my exile, ‘Vincent’ posted heartwrenchingly sincere messages to DASH about how he was affected by the death of his good friend the actress Katrin Cartlidge and his beloved stepfather. At 3 or 4 in the morning. On weekdays. When his calls to be on set at LOCI were at 7am and he’d work ’til 10 at night or later, sometimes more than five days a week. 

In a way I am glad I didn’t print out and save any of these deeply personal messages. I couldn’t believe anyone would post such personal stuff where zillions of strangers could read it, much less someone on the verge of gaining serious fame. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve had some kind of online access since 1987 and I can’t imagine *talking* as honestly as ‘Vincent’ did with my oldest and closest friends about emotional issues, much less recording them someplace where they could be dredged up and rehashed by strangers. And I’m not famous. Not even close. 

Just thinking of them still make me feel voyeuristic, creepy and concerned for ‘Vincent”s safety and sanity, whoever he really was. I sort of wanted to reach through his screen, give him a big hug and then break all his fingers so he couldn’t continue to post too much information with so little effort. 

Although the real VDO supposedly had a fair amount of experience online (supposedly he learned a lot about his role for ‘The Cell’ via the ‘Net), what ‘Vincent’ posted to DASH often worried me. Disenchantment with Dick Wolf or the director of a second season LOCI episode called ‘Best Defense’ would provoke rants from ‘Vincent’ than could have here had me vacillating between raucous laughter and concern over how good Dick Wolf’s sense of humor was should the rant reach the boss (and yes I did save and print out that post). And then there was the occasional innuendo-tinged humor that ‘Vincent’ did in chats. It could be cute in moderation, but I questioned the wisdom of doing so with total strangers who professed to be fans, recalling how creepy some of Chris Noth’s groupies were and being privy to how creepy some of the VDO ‘fangurls’ thoughts were (they had the annoying habit of instant messaging you any time they felt like it and sharing their ‘blue moods’). 

So do I think ‘Vincent’ was in fact the real VDO? 

I only chatted once or twice with ‘Vincent’ in real time about professional stuff. We discussed in the presence of other DASH members, Alec Guinness (supposedly VDO has been most influenced by Sir Alec Guinness’s work and would have liked to have worked with Guinness), the wonderful little Polish film ‘Kolya’ (it was the last really good film ‘Vincent’ had seen at the time, and I think he had watched it on home video), how ‘perfect’ but underrated Al Pacino’s performance was in ‘Insomnia’ and more generally about what makes a really great movie really great. In one memorable chat, I asked a question and ‘Vincent’ went to great pains to try to make me understand — regrettably I didn’t try to save that chat because I was caught up in the moment of trying to take to heart what ‘Vincent’ was struggling to explain to me (and I was also trying to keep the ‘fangurls’ from interrupting me with their ‘Isn’t he dreamy? I’d like to shag him’ instant messages). A pretty elaborate analogy to asking someone to get a newspaper was involved though. 

I also received from a fellow DASH member a copy of a chat on acting ‘Vincent’ that made sense of Stanislavsky, Boleslavski, and generally method acting approaches and techniques. ‘Vincent’ spelled out in detail how he puts together his performances. Luckily for me I printed out and hung on to that priceless exposition. 

Based on that evidence, I think that the ‘Vincent’ I met at DASH was definitely a professionaly trained actor or a knowledgable acting teacher or coach. Maybe both. ‘Vincent’ also seemed to know a lot of the same minutiae a hardcore VDO fan would know which either make him at least a really knowledgable über-VDO fan or the real deal, the genuine VDO. I give ‘Vincent’ a lot of credit for being brash, witty, intelligent, thought-provoking and generally fun. 

But I couldn’t swear under oath that the ‘Vincent’ I hung out with a few times at DASH *is* VDO. 

There’s a sort of Sherlock Holmes like process of deduction that I have followed to eliminate as many of the impossibilities surrounding ‘Vincent”s true identity. One of the improbabilities that has survived elimination is that the ‘Vincent’ from DASH really is *the* VDO. Unfortunately it’s not the *only* truly logical explanation. So the mystery of who ‘Vincent’ really is goes unsolved… 

If I never do get to the truth, there’s a wonderful aura of mystery that hangs around this strange experience, the sort of thing that makes you say wistfully ‘Only in show business’. I can now look back at the time spent on DASH as not totally wasted. 

Just like a character in the short stories of O. Henry, I am a person who happens to believe that her own mostly ordinary life really is made up of wonderful and ironic coincidences and fuelled by wry humor, I always try to leave room for a happy accident or two and a surprise ending. 

And it is with especial interest that I watched VDO’s reactions in an interview he did to promote ‘Thumbsucker’ originally hosted at ifilm.com but now archived at one of the few remaining VDO fan sites. 

http://thereelvincentdonofrio.com/clips/other/Ifilm_interview_aug2005.asf 

don’t think I am imagining that VDO is squirming and fidgeting just a little too much when the reporter interviewing him asks VDO about his recent online activities. 

Oh and if ‘Vincent’ from DASH reads this, I’ve got a bunch of old newspapers I’ve been saving for him :)

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