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02/17/2014 12:57 pm ET | Updated Apr 19, 2014

Live from New York!

The February 3 edition of the New York Times features a story about "'The Saturday Night Live' cast, no matter the names, (that) has starred in one of the longest running soirees in the city." Entitled "Lives of the After Party" it's headed with a nostalgic black and white photo of John Belushi with Willie Nelson at one of their after parties in the late '70s, promising fabulous inside stories of the legendary early antics of the SNL cast following their shows. Alas, there were none, not really. But here's one -- and you cannot make this stuff up...

***

John Belushi's gut is spilling out over his Levis in glorious fashion, only half hidden under white shirt tails, and glows in the wash of the Wurlitzer juke box down at the bottom of the stairs from the side-door entrance to the notorious and very private Blues Bar in lower Manhattan, near the Bowery. It's somewhere way past midnight, January 27, 1980, this is the unofficial cast party following Saturday Night Live and I'm about to experience some serious shit.

"Heyyyyy, you made it!," Belushi says when he sees me standing up there. Sure did. Down I go.

***

Two weeks earlier I've been connected to Lorne Michaels, producer for four years running of Saturday Night Live. Budweiser is a major sponsor and I'm the account manager at D'Arcy, St. Louis, the ad agency that does all their advertising. We have this outrageous concept for some special commercials for the young adult market called the "TasteBuds," ("Why do you think they call them Taste Buds, anyway?"), and we're looking to run them exclusively on SNL. Nine days later I'm in New York, at 30 Rockefeller Plaza and ushered right through NBC Security to Studio 8H. And suddenly I'm right there, surrounded by all these famous faces and waiting for the meeting with Lorne. Ackroyd, Belushi, Murray. Gilda Radner. Jane Curtain. Garrett Morris. Guido Sarducci. Lorraine Newman. Eric Idle from Monty Python, this week's host. The Doobie Brothers, performing.

The meeting, such as it is, goes quickly. In fact it turns out it makes no sense to be there, for this. We don't need them to produce our commercials. We don't even need their permission. But I'm in, for three days of rehersals and the live broadcast.

***

Now it's between the final dress rehersal and the live telecast, and I see Lorne Michaels' assistant approaching me with some hesitation from across the floor of Studio 8H, the studio where Saturday Night Live has made television history for four years. "Uhhhh," starts Shari Fortas, "... we usually pass the hat around after each show for beer money, for the cast party, and I was doing it for tonight when John, Belushi, says, 'the hell with that, go ask Arnold to get the beer - he's from Budweiser for Christ's sake ...' so is there anything you can do? Sorry." Hell yes I say, done deal. I'll get it handled," having no idea how, up here in New York City on a late Saturday afternoon.

***

Now it's 2 a.m. and I'm in a Checker Cab barreling downtown to an elusive intersection known only to me as "Dominick and Hudson." The cabbie knows Hudson but not Dominick. It's way down in lower Manhattan near the Bowery somewhere. A few hours earlier Shari Fortas, Lorne's longtime assistant, has just walked away after securing agreement from me to provide all the beer for the cast party. And now here comes Belushi himself. "Hey man," he says, "thanks for the beer. Listen, if there's anything I can do for ya, (Blues Brothers) T-shirts, records, buttons, anything ..." And I grab myself by the mental cajones and say to John Belushi, "Fuck that, where's the party?" And I get it all. The look. The arched eyebrow. The smirk, the whole thing. And he says, "Well, I don't know ...it's a private party, just actors and stuff.... Was the beer free?" "Absolutely," I say. And instantly, "OK, Dominick and Hudson. And just you, that's it." Now I'm heading for parts unknown for this out-of-towner, hoping against hope that all this is true, for real. Finally we're coming back up Hudson for the third time and screech past DOMINICK! And there, stretched up Dominick nine deep is a line of black limousines. Bingo. There's a driver sitting in the first limo smoking a cigarette and I ask him, "Is this the Black Rhino?," which is what Belushi called it. "Who ya looking for?" "Belushi." So he jams his thumb back over his right shoulder up the street to a side door down into who knows what.

***

"Heyyyyy, you made it!," Belushi says when he sees me standing up there. Sure did. Down I go.

The Blues Bar is dimly lit, I can't see much. A bar over there, people at it, more people hanging around, energized, talking. The juke is jumping with something and John Belushi says to me, "So where's the beer?" Jesus, it didn't show! "I had it put in your car, in the trunk," I tell him. "Let's go," he says, and so me and the Samari regular guy bound up the stairs and back out onto Dominick Street to Belushi's limo, the first one in line. His driver is out of the car before we reach it and John has him open up the trunk. Sure enough, empty. "Shit," we both say.

***

So we send Belushi's driver off into the night to spend $300 of my business travel money on multiple cans of over-the-bar beers, and now I'm beginning to get the gist of what I've just stumbled into at the infamous Blues Bar at 2 a.m., scene of many notorious events, many of which would be documented in Bob Woodward's Wired and later by Tom Shales in Live from New York, An uncensored history of Saturday Night Live. Thirty, thirty-five people, tops. Art Garfunkel is sitting at the bar, white afro back-lit from a back-bar neon. Dan Ackroyd's out in front of the jukebox dancing with the only girl I can see in the place. Turns out to be Rosie Schuster, Lorne Michaels' ex-wife and Ackroyd's current girlfriend, and a writer on the show. I say hello to Michaels. Richard Dreyfus is coming across the floor. I can make out most of the Doobie Brothers through the din (that night's musical guests). Bill Murray. And Eric Idle, that night's guest host. There's an actual bar stretched out along the back wall and Belushi assumes what looks to be a customary place behind it and cracks open a beer for somebody. Every once in a while guys would disappear into a back room and come back with wider smiles. A drum set sprawls down at the other end, surrounded by painted-black windows covered by metal grills all around. It's a dump, basically, but nobody cares. Soon enough I've drained enough beers and summoned enough courage to approach this mystery woman across the room.

"Hi," I say, in the most I-belong-here attitude possible, wondering who this lumbering hunk is next to her, "I'm Tim Arnold." "Oh, hi," she says, "I'm Amy Irving."

*********

Amy Irving. I know she's somebody. Where the hell have I seen her? Some movie. Dammit! Doesn't matter. "Look," I say, "wanna dance?" So I take Amy Irving by the hand through the crowd to the dance space, singularly occupied by Dan Ackroyd and his girlfriend. She brings her brandy with her. We dance. We dance some more. It must be my hat. I'm just cavalier enough to share her brandy with her, uninvited. She can't believe it. But she likes it, I think. Another dance. Finally she looks at me with the kind of look that says something important is coming. "Look," she says, "We just can't get anything started." Jesus! She actually was acknowledging my wildest dreams. "Yeah, OK," I lie. "Why not?" "I'm living with somebody." "Hell, that's cool. I just wanted to dance," I lie, again. "Who's the guy?" "Steven Spielberg," she says. "He makes films."

Fine. We dance one more. She's got to go. A kiss, and she's gone. And I'm standing there at 4 a.m. in the Blues Bar, New York City, amazed that a) that shit just happened, and b) I'm still here!

***

So, what the hell. I introduce myself to Richard Dreyfus. He is big time, but not big. He's short, and he's fresh from shooting Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which we managed to get a Budweiser Clydesdale commercial placed in. Anyway, back in my office at that very moment hangs an 8x10 glossy of Dreyfus on location from the "Close Encounters" shoot, sitting on an apple-box in front of a Budweiser tapper and a Bud in his hand. Seems like a chatty kind of thing to bring up, so I mention it. "Bullshit" is his response. "I don't drink the stuff." "OK, but I've got this picture of you with it in your hand. No big deal ...," I say. "Except that I don't drink it. And I'd never allow a photo like that to be taken." "OK, forget it. Really." Besides, I had just stepped on somebody's foot. I turned around to apologize to Michael McDonald, the Doobie Brothers' lead singer.

McDonald turns out to be a hell of a lot nicer guy than Dreyfus. No wonder, he's a musician, and more than 5'3" tall.

***

Finally, it's past dawn and there's only three of us left: Bill Murray, John Belushi and me. And this horrible shit outside called sunshine. "So where the hell does a guy get a ride home at 7 o'clock in the fucking morning?," I'm asking Murray. We're both weaving. Or at least I'm weaving enough to make it seem like we both are. "Here," he says, "Call the Skull Cab Company, IL7-7777. Call 'em up. They'll be here." So I do, from the telephone at the end of the now deserted Blues Bar. I stagger back over to Murray. "Jesus. Now I've got to find my coat," I squint. "What'd it look like, you knucklehead?" Trench coat. He disappears into the haze and in a minute is back, hanging my coat around my soon to be hung over frame. And then I notice a wiry surly little shit smirking at me over Murray's shoulder. The Skull Cab Company driver. "Are you about fucking ready?," he says, starting me on my inevitable path back to reality. I'll never be ready I think. Belushi slaps me on the back and I empty out onto the street and into dawn's crack on my way back to semi-St. Louis.

***

Much earlier, half way through the night, I followed Belushi over to the bar. John goes behind the bar and pulls out cans of beer for all us. He's on, gregarious and accommodating at the same time. Not only am I amazed by all of this, I like this guy. He offers me a beer. I ask him about the drums at the other end of the room. Yeah, he says, they jam in there sometimes. Jesus, I can just see it, the birthplace of the Blues Brothers? Suddenly there's a roar over my shoulder, back up by the side door. And, finally, here comes the damned beer I bought. Ten cases carried in by five somebodies, over their heads safari style. An ovation. We slap fives.

And I'm in, for ten cases of The King of Beers.

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