'His Ass Was His Fortune': The Early Days of 'Times' Critic Charles Isherwood

If you're like us, you every now and then wonder what your favorite Times critics do when they're not busy criticizing for the Times. A.O. Scott, we imagine, stays up late critiquing the cinematography of Time-Life book-series informercials; Frank Bruni, we suspect, indulges a secret fondess for bologna and Velveeta on white; and Michiko Kakutani must sit around limning everything in sight while Alessandra Stanley, over at her own place, consistently dials wrong numbers. And what about second-string theater critic Charles Isherwood? What does he do in his spare time? An intrepid reader recently discovered:

I picked up "Wonderbread and Ecstasy: The Life and Death of Joey Stefano," by Charles Isherwood, at one of those trashy book stands on Bedford Avenue, because I wondered why our beloved Times junior theatre critic would write a book about a dead porn star. (It should have been called "Joey Stefano — The Power Bottom With a Heart of Gold.") Anyways, it's the trashiest book I've ever read, which is saying a lot. He mixes graphic play-by-play descriptions of porno scenes with sophomoric, rherotical existential ponderings. Consider:



"But no amount of promotion can sell a bad product, and from the begininning it was clear that Joey Stefano would have been a phenomenon in the industry even without the charm and connections of Chi Chi Larue behind him. Even his earliest, cheapest videos reveal a man whose combination of traditionally masculine good looks and languidly magnetic sexuality rivet the attention. His almost-hairless olive-skinned body wasn't gym sculpted; it had a tinge of feminine softness to it, amusingly at odds with the screaming-skull tattoo on his right shoulder that he had acquired before tattoos become de rigueur for gay men of his generation. His full head of dark hair and classically shaped eyebrows set off the green in his eyes. The nose was a little too full, but it gave his face a defining toughness; the thick Philly accent didn't jar when that nose was taken into account. If his penis was ample and attractive, by no means deficient in size but not stellar, his ass was his fortune. Pert and perfectly rounded, it swaggered naturally when he walked, as if advertising its expertise, and on video it remained shapely in all manner of positions...."



What have we learned? That Charles Isherwood loves him some power-bottom ass!

And also that he no objection to non-stellar penises.

Frank Rich was never so tolerant.

Wonder Bread & Ecstasy: The Life and Death of Joey Stefano

Charles Isherwood [NYT]