Tommy Culla passed away recently, in his late 70s. That was all the manager of his apartment complex would tell me, since I’m not family, even though it wasn’t uncommon for him to call more often than anybody who shares my last name or DNA.
If you knew him — and to hear Tommy talk, he seemed to know almost everybody — this is a loss, and I post this partly as a plea for information.
Although I met Tommy in person only once, he called all the time during the nine years I’ve been back at Variety, voraciously reading everything I wrote that ran in the print editions, and extensively sharing his thoughts about it. (He would have never seen this, by the way, since he didn’t own a computer or have the slightest interest in learning what this whole Internet thing was all about.)
From what he told me, Tommy had lived in London, pitched items to the legendary columnist Walter Winchell and worked for director John Boorman. Although he wasn’t Jewish, he frequently threw out Yiddish terms to punctuate sentences. When I referenced “Sweet Smell of Success” in a column, Tommy told me he was going to make sure Tony Curtis — who co-starred in the movie — saw it. About a half-hour later, damned if Curtis didn’t leave me a message on voicemail complimenting the piece.
Tommy practically spoke his own language. He called everyone “Darling,” said things like “He doesn’t know shit from velvet,” “I don’t lie to get laid” (in Tommyspeak, this was meant to establish one’s credibility) and “It’s over. The town’s dead” every time he read something about Hollywood of which he disapproved. He insisted on referring to my daughter as “The royal heir.”
I guess what I’m saying is for someone I really didn’t know that well in the bigger scheme of things, I’m going to miss him terribly. And I suspect a lot of people on the other end of his phone calls will too.
So if you knew him and by some chance this finds you, let me know (email: firstname.lastname@example.org). Of course, Tommy himself would never see this. After all, it’s only on the Internet.
Still, on the Tommy scale, I hope it was closer to velvet than, you know.