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Veterans of life and love, Burt and Linda Pugach hardly realized they were to be the subjects of a documentary that would reveal their dramatic, unique and crazy love story to the world from their own mouths, they tell Andrew L. Urban.

It is with trepidation that I pick up the phone to talk to Burt and Linda Pugach. How do you approach a couple whose lives have been scarred by each other, dissected on screen for the world to see, lives that are criss-crossed with drama and trauma – like Burt’s jealous fit back in 1959, which resulted in two hired thugs throwing acid in Linda’s face, causing her to go blind. (And him spending 14 years in jail for it.) Even though they are now married, how reconciled are they?

By the time I get to ask them how they now regard their relationship, we have covered a lot of ground – from friends and interests to their eating habits. As they both consider my question, Burt says that’s a bit of a difficult question, but then slowly, Linda says “I think we’re both very good friends at this point of time and we’re used to each other. Can you believe we’ve been together 33 years!” Linda, always quick to chuckle and display a dry sense of humour, is a pragmatic girl. They’re used to each other’s faults, I suggest. Yes, she says.

"we couldn’t survive without each other … and that scares me"

Burt – speaking in a conference-call linked to his mobile phone so all three of us can converse – butts in with a quip: “I don’t have any faults so she has an easy time of it.” But after a short pause, he adds with quiet sincerity: “To be frank, we couldn’t survive without each other … and that scares me.” Burt is in his 80s, Linda 10 years younger. It’s been a long and strange – crazy – kinda love.

Filmmaker Dan Klores stumbled onto the story in a newspaper article (memo Australian film makers: newspapers can carry good stories). “About four years ago, I read an article in the New York Times about Burt and Linda,” he says, “and it reminded me of the whole story, what I remembered from when I was nine or ten years old in 1959. I was in the middle of cutting Viva Baseball, and I was considering what to do for my next project. So I was drawn to it initially because of my own memories. It had been a big tabloid story. So I looked for Burt and I had to look no further than the phone book. He was listed. I had lunch with him and Linda—I took a friend with me—to a diner in Queens …the diner they always go to, it’s the same diner as in the movie, actually.”

Burt and Linda remember the lunch at the Shalamar diner: the friend Dan Klores brought along was an actress who, they thought, was going to play Linda in a dramatization of their life story. In fact, Linda got a big shock when they were eventually shown the film. “Yeah,” says Burt, “I thought it a good idea to make a film, but I thought it would be with actors.” (If ever such a dramatization were made, he says, jokingly, I think: “I think Leonardo diCaprio should play me.”) Did they get paid for it? “Yes, we did get paid – but not much. And we have no interest in the film rights,” says Burt.

"What you see is what you get"

Linda was shocked when she ‘saw’ the film. “I didn’t realize I was going to be in the film – I thought my interviews were for research.” And if you think she looks too glam in the interviews, you don’t know Linda. She always looks like that. She always had a sense of style in how she dressed and looked, and Burt says she even picks out his clothes. Linda laughs about her look: “What you see is what you get.” And what you see is a coiffed wig, large sunglasses that add an air of glamour, and a set of clothes that defy her age.

The Shalamar diner, which serves “regular American food like eggs, steak, stuff like that,” is their regular spot; they probably should have shares in it, since they don’t ever eat meals at home. “Cooking’s not my thing,” says Linda dryly. Burt’s a vegetarian. “I haven’t eaten meat or dairy food for 40 years.”

For entertainment, Linda is a big fan of Law & Order on TV. She listens to it. Burt is a baseball fan, but is musically stuck in the 40s; he even has a satellite in his car so he can tune in to a specialist radio station that devotes its entire playlist to the era. “I don’t know a single singer who came along after Sinatra,” he says as a boast.

Burt, whose career as a paralegal is largely behind him, keeps his hand in and his mind active with a case against a New York bank. “The bank swindled people out of millions of dollars,” he says heatedly, “on sub-prime mortgages. I’m getting a very hard time from the system. They’re trying to make out that I’m the villain.” Burt gets warmed up: “The US justice system is riddled with dishonesty. I call it economic treason.”

The Pugaches have few friends: Burt has only two left alive, both appear in the film. “Linda has more and that’s because she’s younger.” Linda is herself a trifle surprised that she still has several friends from her teens. “I think that’s quite remarkable … all these years.” Indeed. And what years they have been.

Published November 22, 2007


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Burt and Linda Pugach

Documentary featuring Burt and Linda Pugach, directed by Dan Klores

Australian release: November 22, 2007

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