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Wednesday, February 8, 2006

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Vanity Fare, cont.

Six Degrees of Separation
Moreover, while we were in school at SIPA it was rumored that Alec himself was already somewhat famous. For it was said that “Six Degrees of Separation,” the John Guare play that was later made into a movie starring budding rap star-cum-actor Will Smith, was in fact about Alec’s family.

As the story goes, Six Degrees was inspired by the true story of David Hampton, a teenage African-American hustler who conned his way into the homes of Manhattan's white upper-class elite.

Born and raised in the suburban bore of Buffalo, New York, David was a star-struck and unhappy teen when he arrived in New York City in 1981. Desperate to stake his claim as an aspiring artist, one night he and a friend were trying to get into the renowned Studio 54, the darling nightclub of the Disco era in New York City, and they decided to wing it. David’s friend decided to pose as Gregory Peck's son, while David went along with the posture, pretending to be the son of Sidney Poitier. Striking a lode of fool’s gold, they were ushered in as celebrities.

Suddenly David realizes he has a secret passageway into the glamorous life and he begins assuming and abusing his new persona by telling restaurant managers he was there to meet his father, Sidney Poitier; subsequently beguiling a free meal, after his father conveniently becomes “detained on business.”

However, the authorities soon caught up with David, and in October 1983 he is arrested for being an imposter who swindled more than a dozen people into letting him in to their homes. Those he duped included Melanie Griffith; Gary Sinise; Calvin Klein; Jay Iselin, the president of WNET; and tonight’s host—Osborn Elliot. He had persuaded some by saying that he was a friend of their children, others by claiming that he had missed his plane to LA with all his luggage on board, and still others with the lie that his money and belongings had been stolen. Most gave him money in return for his beguiling performance.

My friend Alec happened to be one of those friends that happened to be away, and John Guare the playwright, happened to be a friend of two of the subsequently duped hosts – Osborn and Inger Elliott who were quite upset when they found this "celebrity" in bed with another man the morning after they graciously let him into their home. After thoroughly investigating Hampton’s case, Gaure concluded that David’s story, a young man obsessed with the creation of celebrity, would be the ideal subject for a play. He was particularly fascinated by the notion of "who we let into our lives." And thus a star was born when Six Degrees of Separation opened at Lincoln Center in May 1990, and immediately became an overnight sensation.

Next: 16 Years Later

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