one night in the spring of 1974, A.J. Benzaís father,
a former narcotics cop and all-around tough guy in the
postwar Long Island mold, received a phone call. His
brother was distraught because he was sure his
10-year-old son, Gino, A.J.ís cousin, was exhibiting
signs of homosexuality ó or, as he referred to it,
"brain damage." He wanted to know if Gino
could spend the summer with his cousins in West Islip,
in the hope that some of the masculine energy of the
household would set him straight.
Benza is a colorful character in his own right ó a
former gossip reporter for Newsday and the New York
Daily News, frequent Howard Stern Show guest and
television host. But "í74 and Sunny"
(Gallery Books, $26), his memoir of a magical childhood
summer, is a quiet, touching, worthwhile read about the
power of family.
Obviously this is a terrific story, but I wonder what
inspired you to make it into a full book?
You know, you get to a point in life where you start to
forget a lot of things about your parents. My parents
both died in the í80s, and you think youíre going to
remember every little aspect about them, and then things
start to fade. I dearly loved my dad. I remember so many
days from childhood when his opinion, his antics, his
personality, won over a room, diffused a fight or
started an incident, and it had a big effect on me as a
kid, and I wanted to make him immortal in a way.
How do you think that summer changed the way you saw the
I think what it did more than anything is to make me
fully understand that family is everything ó youíre
in for a penny, youíre in for a pound. Certainly, me
being 12 years old, I wasnít the one that was going to
change Ginoís world, but when I saw my father take the
lead to make my cousin more comfortable and to make
everyone around us more accepting, it was easy to
follow. Like most kids who loved their parents, I would
have followed them through fire. As now I look back, I
think, wow, so many families that youíve read about
over the years donít know how to handle something as
simple yet as complicated as homosexuality. I wrote this
book at the same age that my father is in the book, and
I have young children, so Iím going through a lot of
the emotions my father was going through that summer.
How do you think the story would have been different if
it were set in 2015 rather than 1974?
If Gino was 10 years old in 2015, I donít think he
would have a dad who felt the need to reach out to his
brother for help on the issue ó I donít think there
would have been the therapy sessions, the worry. Based
on what I see around me now in this country, I think it
would have been a lot easier. Now Iím talking about
growing up in New York or New Jersey. Iím not talking
about a kid growing up in Alabama ó itís different
all over the country and the world.
What do you think your father would have made of the
recent Supreme Court ruling?
I think he would have been thrilled with it. Later on
his life, as he got older and softer around the edges,
issues like this started to come to the forefront, and
at one point he told me: "Iím for anything that
makes other people really happy and keeps me as happy as
I am." I love that statement.
To me, the book is about the transformative power of
love and family. Do you think it would be fair to say
that Gino had more of an effect on your father than your
father did on Gino?
I think thatís fair. I think that my father was ready,
at that age and that stage of his life, to be
transformed, or changed in a good way. Maybe that call
that came through the wire that night ó Iím getting
kind of shaky saying this, itís emotional for me ó
maybe that call was sent to help my family as much as,
if not more than, little Gino.