Over the past couple of days, a 1998 piece Nancy Jo Sales did for New York magazine on Leonardo DiCaprio has been popping up in my Twitter feed. It’s one of the more memorable celebrity profiles I’ve ever read, as it documents the hilarious, testosterone-laden, nocturnal shenanigans of young Leo and his “p*ssy posse” after Leo hit it big and became an international superstar following the release of Titanic.
Having read the profile when it came out, the members of the p*ssy posse I best remembered from the piece were Tobey McGuire and David Blaine, largely because they were already-famous people I was familiar with at the time. But when I re-read it the other day, there was one p*ssy posse member I was unfamiliar with back then who suddenly came into clearer view: Jay Ferguson, aka Stan Rizzo from Mad Men.
Here’s how Sales describes the “p*ssy posse” in the opening of the piece…
The group’s core members constitute a frat house of young men, some of whom are actually famous, like Leo. There’s Lukas Haas, who has not yet become Leo, and Tobey Maguire — the pensive youth in The Ice Storm — who is, perhaps, waiting to. There’s Harmony Korine, the Gummo boy auteur, and David Blaine, the levitating magician, who was recently spotted zipping around town on his new motorcycle with Leo — they hit Moomba, Chaos, Veruka, and NV, where Mariah Carey had to wait in line to get a meeting. “I have fun with him, that’s for sure,” Leo said of Blaine two years ago when I was doing a story on the magician. “He’ll do some pretty fucking crazy things. He’s like a monkey with electrodes stuck to his head!”
And then there are the other guys in Leo’s pack, who make up a kind of former-child-actor brigade: There’s Jay Ferguson, once Burt Reynolds’s wisecracking son on Evening Shade; Josh Miller, who played Keanu Reeves’s little brother in River’s Edge but never became Keanu Reeves; Ethan Suplee, who appeared briefly in Chasing Amy; Kevin Connelly, who has appeared on the WB; Scott Bloom, another aspiring actor; Justin Herwick, with whom Leo almost got himself killed over the California desert in 1996, when his parachute failed to open (his instructor released an emergency cord). The Leo men seem to like to play rough. “I like to do things that scare me,” said DiCaprio.
Now, as someone who never watched Evening Shade, I’d no idea who Jay Ferguson was when I read Sales’ piece years ago. But he plays an integral part in it and it’s so much more interesting to read it now having a better idea of who he is.
Here’s the backstory: Sales establishes that Leo and his posse were pretty aggressive about going after any woman he or they desired. At some point, Elizabeth Berkley became the object of their obsession, with Jay Ferguson playing point man in the pursuit of her.
Elizabeth Berkley made it into the upstairs party on the invitation of an L.A. publicist named Karen Tenzer, a partner in the firm Michaels, Wolf and Tenzer, which counts among its clients Gabriel Byrne, who co-starred in Iron Mask as Leo’s Musketeer. Not long after Berkley, best known for her flashy role in Showgirls, started mingling, Tenzer took her aside. “She said, ‘Jay Ferguson and Leo are going crazy for you, and they want you to come to Elaine’s after this — without Roger,'” says Berkley, whose hapless boyfriend, actor-director-whatever Roger Wilson (he starred in Porky’s I and II), was nearby, getting some food.
Berkley asked, was this some kind of joke? Tenzer, she says, knew she lived with Wilson here in New York; the couple had recently had dinner with Tenzer and Byrne while in Utah for the Sundance Film Festival. “‘They’re going nuts for you,'” Berkley says Tenzer laughed.
Berkley had also seen DiCaprio and Ferguson around for years. When DiCaprio was on Growing Pains and Ferguson on Evening Shade, Berkley was a Saved by the Bell cutie. “The last time I saw Jay, I was probably 17,” says Berkley. “In L.A., you just see everybody around at events and auditions.” However, she declined what seemed a rather odd request. Berkley says, “I told Karen I’m in love with Roger.”
But that, apparently, wasn’t the end of it. “The next morning on my voice mail,” says Berkley, “there was a message from Jay, saying, ‘Hey, baby, Karen gave me your number, we’re going to dinner later, we want you to come.'” Throughout the day, Berkley says, she also received around seven messages from Tenzer, which she ignored, until finally, around midnight, there was one from Tenzer’s assistant saying “Karen needs you immediately,” giving Tenzer’s cell-phone number, which she dialed.
“The first thing Karen said was, ‘Why didn’t you call Jay back?'” says Berkley, with quiet outrage. “She said, ‘Your presence is requested here.’ Her tone was very impatient. And I said, ‘What, are you trying to deliver me to these guys, Karen?’ And she said, ‘Well, you know.'”
So when Berkley informed her boyfriend about what was going on, he wasn’t too thrilled, to say the least.
“Really upset,” Berkley went to Wilson, who was in their living room watching sports. Hearing what had gone on, Wilson (who’s from Brooklyn) asked for Tenzer’s cell number and got Jay Ferguson on the phone. “I said, ‘Look, Jay,'” says Wilson, “‘I know you guys are having a great time and the town is your apple — but not this part of town. I don’t know how this got started, but I’m just asking you please not to call my home again, and Elizabeth has asked please that you not call her again. . . . Okay?'”
“And then I heard a lot of profanity,” says Berkley.
“There was a two-second pause,” Wilson says, “and then it’s, ‘Fuck you, you fuckin’ faggot, fuckin’ motherfucker, we’ll call whoever we want and if you don’t fuckin’ like it, why don’t you come down here and tell us to our face?'”
“Thus,” Wilson says with a sigh, “I put on my shoes and went to the Morgans hotel,” where Leo and friends were dining at the restaurant Asia de Cuba.
The back table was full: DiCaprio was there (he had nine rooms booked at the hotel), as were Ferguson, Tenzer, Julia Ormond, Byrne, and about eight other posse members (no David Blaine that night). At the appearance of Wilson, the table fell silent. Wilson demanded of Tenzer why she was calling Berkley so late. “And then Jay Ferguson jumps up and says, ‘I’m the one who called you, fuckface, and it’s time for you and me to go outside,’ ” says Wilson. (Ferguson did not return phone calls from New York.)
Wilson went. Ferguson went. And then, according to a sworn statement reportedly given to police by the restaurant’s chief of security (who, three weeks later, was no longer employed there), DiCaprio said to the others at the table: “Let’s go kick his ass.” And the rest of the table, minus Byrne and Ormond, followed.
Wilson claims two hotel security guards stood on either side of DiCaprio, who was smoking a cigarette, as he and Ferguson squared off on the sidewalk outside the entrance. “I’m facing Jay Ferguson, two feet in front of me,” says Wilson. “The other guys are yelling at me, ‘Fuck you, faggot! Go home, you fuckin’ wimp, you’re pathetic.’ You know, all this.”
As Wilson told Sales, a still-unidentified member of Leo’s posse sucker-punched him in the throat and that was the end of that. Wilson later sued Dicaprio for $45 million for damage to his larynx, but the suit was thrown out by a judge.
More like “douchey posse,” amirite? Whatever, Stan Rizzo always wins.