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The Pope of Hollywood and Vine

Press release May 14, 2009 Lifestyle

AJ Benza -- from top New York newspaper columnist to Hollywood screenwriter, actor and co-host of "High Stakes Poker"

AJ Benza wrote two columns for the New York Daily News, "Hot Copy" and "Downtown." He was the top gossip writer in America. "Now, web gossip," Benza says, "is a bathroom wall in a turnpike gas stop.

"When I wrote the columns," says Benza, "my phone always rang at 4 am. Once it was Mickey Rourke, the actor, asking for a favour. Who could say no?

"Another time, Jack Nicholson is on the other side of a packed room. Come over Sunday, I'm barbecuing, he yells. Who could say no?

"I was 27, the Pope of New York City. It was heaven. Then it wasn't."

In Hollywood, now, Benza writes for the screen. He appeared in ten movies and hosted talk shows. He is co-host, of the number one gaming show on television, "High Stakes Poker."

"One night," says Neal Gumpel, the screenwriter, "AJ and I are at Ago, a Hollywood restaurant owned by movie producer, Harvey Weinstein. Harvey knows AJ, well, and invites us to his table.

"Quentin Tarantino is at the table, too. He has a huge script, sitting where his dinner plate goes. Tarantino wants Weinstein to make a movie from this script.

"AJ listens to the back and forth over the lengthy script. Then he says to Harvey, ‘Why not make two movies?' Whence came two volumes of ‘Kill Bill.'"

In Hollywood, hosting "Mysteries and Scandals" was the big break for Benza. "His no bull, New York attitude made ‘Mysteries and Scandals' a success," says John Rieber, head of programming at G4 media. "AJ gave the show credibility and he looked the part, to a tee."

"Michael Danahy had idea for ‘Mysteries and Scandals'," says Benza. "He pushed me as host. Dahany wanted to stress the New York, fish-out-of-water in Hollywood angle. We shot 176 episodes."

"Another night, at Ago," says Gumpel, "Billy Bob Thornton, the actor, notices AJ and me. He sits at our table and goes on and on about a woman whom he loves, madly. He won't stop talking about her. Finally, AJ says to Thornton, ‘If you love her so much, marry her.' Thornton skulks away. A few days later, we read Thornton married Angelina Jolie."

Benza is now Pope of Hollywood and Vine. "It is heaven," he says, "and feels right." On to the two cities, Benza says, "Different, but not comparable. New York is my wife. Hollywood is my new stripper girlfriend."

Click here to read the complete, exclusive and in-depth interview, with writer AJ Benza:

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