John Bolaris and Stu Bykofsky on Gossip

Two reporters and their frequent subject sit down for a drink and a chat about life in the rumor mill.

John Bolaris with his financée, Erica Smitheman, and Stu Bykofsky at Butcher and Singer. Photograph by Dustin Fenstermacher

John Bolaris with his financée, Erica Smitheman, and Stu Bykofsky at Butcher and Singer. Photograph by Dustin Fenstermacher

The Story That Won’t Go Away

VICTOR: Stu, what were your first gossip items about John?

JOHN: I lied about my age. But I had a reason to. It was only two years. Stu always used to get on me in the papers, trying to find out my real age. When I first started in this business, my mentor told me to subtract two years. He told me that this business is all about age. But why didn’t he say to minus five?

STU: You could get away with two.

JOHN: [laughs]

STU: John, have you dealt with Victor before?

JOHN: Oh yes I have.

STU: Did you get fucked?

JOHN: Yes I did.

STU: He’s never fucked me.

JOHN: Victor, the Miami episode was one of the most insane and hardest times in my professional career. I’m testifying against organized-crime people, going against five defense attorneys. This is the Mob. I’m about to testify in an hour. I get a phone call. It’s a message from Victor saying, “Hey, call me. I heard that you shit your pants in a taxi, and I am running it in 30 minutes.” I played it back to the feds. I said, “Can you believe this?” I got back to Victor and said, “Please don’t run this. It’s not true. I would tell you if it was. By you running that, it’s going to really derail what I did to get my name back.” And you ran with it: “Bolaris Shits Pants.”

STU: First of all, he’s a turd for doing that. But he did call you first. He did get your response. But I can understand your feelings. But that’s not a deal-breaker, John. Even if it’s true, this is a half-day story. This doesn’t come up outside of the people at this table.

VICTOR: Oh, I think it was more than that. When we do a story on John these days, it comes up in the comments field.

JOHN: Everybody asks me, “Did you shit your pants? Crap your pants? Poop your pants?”

STU: No, just the trolls. Not people that count.

JOHN: Wrong. The people that count are the people who hire me. And when they Google my name, well … I have a letter from the feds saying that I helped them for two years. They don’t care about that. I’m not going to hire this schmuck. He crapped his pants? Miami with hookers?

VICTOR: John, it just seems like bad things happen to you. You were just attacked with a stun gun in the Hamptons by a cabdriver, right? You seem to put yourself in the wrong spots.

JOHN: Wrong spot? I was hailing a taxi.

Gossip Before Google

JOHN: I know you have jobs to do. But I am out of work from what I love to do.

VICTOR: But, John, you clearly have used the gossip columns to your advantage as well.

JOHN: I talk too much. I used to always talk to you guys. It’s good to have that relationship. When I got into the business, it was good to communicate with the press.

STU: Boy, has that changed. I was once doing an item on [former CBS reporter and Bolaris paramour] Jane Robelot, and I called John, and he lied to me. And when I found out he lied to me, I called him and said, “You lied to me. I put it in the paper.” Your motives were good, but you lied. Just say, “No comment.” But being as I’ve been lied to before and since, I didn’t take it personally, and I didn’t hold a grudge.

JOHN: I was trying to protect Jane.

STU: Well, I did have a grudge against Jane. She did an interview with the Philadelphia Weekly. She told them that I didn’t call her for comment first. Well, the Weekly called me and asked me for comment, and I told them that is something I would never do. And I called her a lying c-word. She made it sound like I never did the most elementary due diligence. I resent her for attacking my professionalism.

VICTOR: Stu, I can’t imagine having your job back in the days when you had your column. It was a completely different time.

STU: It was 1987. The Stone Age. My orders were to write about local celebrities in a town that has none, so I decided to make celebrities. Elected officials. Everybody on radio. Everybody on TV. Basically, if I walk down Broad Street and ask three people if they recognize your name and one of them says yes, you are a celebrity.

VICTOR: That hasn’t changed much, this idea of the Philly celebrity.

STU: Yes, but today, you look at the local gossip column, God knows they live under the handicap of the Internet and Flickr and Twitter and Facecrap. The things people used to call me about, now they just put it on fucking Facebook.

JOHN: Back in 1990, Stu was a celebrity. Everybody read Stu’s column. Everyone knew to beware.

STU: Some people would tell me they never read me, but then they’d call and complain about shit, so I knew they were lying. These days, there’s still some independent reporting, but mostly the gossip column has become an aggregator. Molly [Eichel, of the Philadelphia Daily News] does that really well. But when you have reports on the third runner-up on some reality show … [Today] you try to get someone to comment on something in the city and they send you to the mayor’s spokesperson. Why? They are closing ranks. The days of the gossip column are numbered.

JOHN: Because it’s all just social-media-based. Unless you break something.

STU: Right. I got out of it just in time.

Secrets of the Trade

VICTOR: Stu, did you frequently avoid stories just because you thought they were too much? True, about someone important, but too, too much?

STU: Frequently, no. But it did happen. I would call someone up whose marriage was in trouble, and I would say, “Listen, I don’t wanna be the one who causes your divorce. I will not print this, provided that you call me and me alone when it does happen.” I did not want to cause any trouble, but I did want to be the one to first report the trouble.

VICTOR: Isn’t that a form of blackmail, or extortion?

STU: No, it’s not blackmail or extortion. It’s an accommodation.

JOHN: It’s pressure.

STU: It wasn’t really, You agree to this or I’ll print. It was more, I am not going to print this, and you will return the favor by giving me the exclusive.

JOHN: Did you hate me or did you like me, Stu?

STU: I always liked you.

JOHN: I don’t think he liked me, Victor.

VICTOR: People ask me, What is your beef with John Bolaris or whomever? I honestly just want to tell a story people want to read.

JOHN: Did I ever do anything illegal? Never. Have I ever hit a woman? Never. Did I ever commit a crime? Never. I talked too much. The Miami thing looked bad on face value, but …

STU: I hate fucking Miami. It’s full of Russian hookers.

Once a Gossip Writer …

STU: Ooh, ooh, ooh! John, somebody just told me something about you. She was a guard at the Spectrum, and now she works at the Daily News. I mentioned to her that I was meeting you, and she said, “Ew, him?” And I said, “Whattsa matter? He’s a nice guy.”

JOHN: Oh, jeez.

STU: And she said, “No he isn’t. I once saw him having sex in the parking lot in a car.” And I said, “Well, why the fuck didn’t you tell me?”

JOHN: C’mon. That’s. Not. True.

VICTOR: You’ve never had sex in a parking lot in a car?

JOHN: Uh, I mean. Well, maybe in high school or college. Wait, where was this, supposedly? At the Spectrum?

STU: Yeah.

JOHN: Never.

VICTOR: The Holiday Inn is right there. Why would he do it in the car?

STU: It’s cheap.

JOHN: That’s one thing. I’ll never be cheap.

STU: Well, we know that, don’t we?

JOHN: What do you mean?

STU: Your happy experience in Miami with the Russian girls.

JOHN: Oh man. Can I have a glass of wine, please?

STU: I once had an item about two KYW staffers having sex right in front — right in front — of the KYW building. So certainly anything is possible.

Forecast: Cloudy With a Chance of a Comeback

JOHN: I have a question. How come you guys never wrote about my accuracy in the weather?

VICTOR: Actually, I did. In the winter of 2013.

JOHN: That’s right! You did. I was in shock.

VICTOR: I said you were winning the weather wars.

JOHN: Well, I’m coming back to Philly. Write that. Hide your wives!

VICTOR: John, you have to realize that you cannot have a resurgence in your career without the gossip columns, right?

JOHN: Listen, the only thing I love to do is forecast. All the other shit doesn’t matter. My personal life doesn’t matter. But I can’t even get a fucking freelance position in Philadelphia. I offered to help Fox out for free during Superstorm Sandy. No, no, no.

VICTOR: Stu, don’t you think everybody would watch if John were back on TV in Philly?

STU: It would be talked about a lot. Ratings would go up. If you have a freak on — I don’t mean that in a bad way, John — but if you have a freak on, people will watch it.

JOHN: I would work for free.

STU: Victor, the headline for this story is, “John Bolaris Will Work for Free. Call Him.”

VICTOR: Stu, would you have run the “Bolaris Shit His Pants” story?

STU: Because of competitor pressure, I would have run it. Reluctantly.

JOHN: Why? I would have told you that it wasn’t true.

STU: Why does your denial mean anything to me when you lied to me once? My job is to get your side. You have an interest in lying, and you lied to me before.

JOHN: Believe me — I would have known if I crapped my pants.

Originally published in the November 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

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