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John Travolta keeps Brooklyn stayin' alive at event honoring actor

Wednesday - 13/06/2018 10:23
Hundreds of fans gathered outside pizzeria featured in Saturday Night Fever 41 years ago to catch glimpse of – and dress like – the actor
A still from 1977’s Saturday Night Fever. Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/Paramount
A still from 1977’s Saturday Night Fever. Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/Paramount

Forty-one years after strutting down a Brooklyn street, merrily swinging a paint can to the sound of the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive, an older, less lithe John Travolta returned on Tuesday, to be honored for his services to the now-trendy New York City borough.

Hundreds of people gathered outside Lenny’s Pizza in Bensonhurst, south Brooklyn, to glimpse Travolta, who brought the neighborhood to national and international consciousness in Saturday Night Fever.

 1977 film saw his character Tony Manero disco dance, conduct troubling relationships with women and occasionally engage in punch-ups. In the opening scene, Travolta orders two slices of pizza at Lenny’s before combining them in a double decker-type situation. The pizzeria claims Saturday Night Fever fans regularly order the same.

“This is a great day,” New York state senator Martin Golden – who represents the Bensonhurst neighborhood and has submitted a 1,070-word legislative resolution commending Travolta for “putting Brooklyn both on the map and in America’s hearts” – told the crowd.

“A great day for John Travolta, a great day for his family, and a great day for Brooklyn.”

Actor John Travolta outside Lenny Pizza.
Actor John Travolta outside Lenny’s Pizza. Photograph: Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters

Travolta was an hour and a half late, 90 long minutes in which the MC, “Brooklyn’s own” DJ Chazz, repeatedly ask the crowd if they were ready. Most remained in a state of readiness throughout, waving Saturday Night Fever memorabilia and singing along to the Bee Gees’ back catalogue.

“I’ve seen loads of his movies,” 32-year-old Matthew Sterling said of Travolta. “Face/Off, Look Who’s Talking. He’s such a versatile actor.”

Sterling, who lives in Bensonhurst, was carrying a large Saturday Night Fever poster. He bought it at an auction for $200 and said it had been owned by the photographer who took many of the publicity shots for the film.

“I’m definitely a big fan,” Sterling said. “You’ve got to be a fan if you’re from this area.”

‘Brian Travolta’, AKA Brian Bergdoll, a John Travolta impersonator, poses at the event outside Lenny’s pizzeria on 12 June. Photograph: Adam Gabbatt for the Guardian

Among the crowd was Travolta impersonator Brian Bergdoll, who performs as “Brian Travolta”. Bergdoll said he had met Travolta “from afar, three times”.

“He’s seen me, but I’ve never actually talked with him,” Bergdoll said.

Bergdoll, who was wearing a white suit with a black shirt, was not the only Travolta impersonator in attendance. His rival, whom he said was called Patrick and who, to be fair, looks quite a lot more like John Travolta, was getting most of the attention from the local news channels.

“We started in the business around the same time,” Bergdoll, 47, said as Patrick pointed one finger in the air and sashayed towards a television camera.

“He was born in Brooklyn, though, and I’m not, so he’s got a little more street cred than I do,” Bergdoll said. “I’m younger, though.”

When Travolta finally arrived, in a black SUV, he was also wearing the famous white and black suit. The 64-year-old’s hair, such as it is, looked similar to Tony Manero’s, except for its grey hue.

A still from Saturday Night Fever.
 A still from Saturday Night Fever.
Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/Paramount

Travolta was drowned out by screams as he took the microphone. He spoke for less than a minute, during which the Guardian just about heard him thank the crowd and urge them to go to the cinema.

Members of his entourage were wearing stickers with the name “Gotti” written on, which probably not coincidentally is the name of Travolta’s latest film, which is released on Friday.

If that diminished the idea of Travolta being there to be honored for his work promoting Brooklyn, it didn’t seem to bother the crowd. Or him.

Travolta posed for photos while holding a double slice of pizza – a press release had said Lenny’s planned to name a slice after Travolta, but there was no further mention of that – and jigged about a bit to Stayin’ Alive.

On the way back to his car he stopped to sign memorabilia, causing a minor crush.

Susan Turco, 47, emerged from the ruck with Travolta’s signature on her 1978 record of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

“It’s my first and only autograph,” Susan said. She described Travolta as having “a special glow”.

Turco grew up in Bensonhurst, and in the late 70s she was motivated to get into the disco scene by the film. “It was a great era,” she said. “Dancing and having fun. I’m thrilled.”

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 Key: John Travolta

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