Recently, I had the REMARKABLE good fortune to sit down with Zander Crane Pierce, the legendary crime author and one of the Heights’ most famous residents! Zander, of course, is the creator of Ryder Aday, the hard-boiled P.I. who prowls the streets of Brooklyn raisin’ hell and ropin’ in the bad guys! Aday’s catch phrase, “I don’t make the rules…I just break ‘em!” has been in the Merriam-Webster dictionary of Idiomatic Phraseology since 1994.
Between 1951 and 1975, Z.C. Pierce wrote 71 Ryder Aday books, including Aday to Kill, A Murder Aday, Aday to Pick Up Trash, Aday in Vegas, Aday in the Docks, A Dame Aday, A Bad Night to be Aday, Aday Chasing Reds, Aday in the Bathhouses, Aday in the Nuthouse, Aday in Hollywood, An Apple Aday Keeps the Reaper Away, Aday in Court, Aday Turns to Knight, Aday to be Stabbed in the Back, I Dodge A Bullet Aday, Aday to Love ’em and Leave ‘em, Aday on the Bowery, Aday at Yankee Stadium, The Night We Called It Aday, Aday at the Remodeled Yankee Stadium, and many others.
Eleven different movies have been made based on Pierce’s Ryder Aday books, with the lead character being played by actors from Vic Damone to Brian Keith, Mike Mazurki to Peter DeLuise, and perhaps most famously by Fred Williamson in 1974’s Aday to be Badasssss.
Mr. Remarkable visited Zander Crane Pierce in his basement apartment on Hicks’ Street. Pierce brought the whole building in 1974 with the money he made from selling all rights to the Ryder Aday character to Sid and Marty Kroft (who intended to develop him into a Talking Chimp P.I. for a Saturday Morning series, to be voiced by Louis Prima; Prima’s catastrophic stroke in 1975 prevented the show from going ahead). Today, Pierce lives in the front quarter of the basement, the only part of the building he actually still owns; Pierce has had to sell off the building piece by piece, largely due to a gambling addiction in the 1980s that saw him lose nearly 20 million dollars betting on Division I College Basketball (he lost 800,000 dollars alone on a single Brandeis vs. Hamilton game in 1990). As for the rest of Pierce’s once-considerable fortune, most of it was lost in the divorce settlement with his third wife, newscaster Pia Lindstrom.
I would be delighted to announce that Pierce is a spry and sharp 84 years young. But that would be a lie. He is a confused, unwashed, and due to a fall on Montague Street in 2013, he hasn’t left his basement hovel in 15 months. Nonetheless, we should honor great men like Zander Crane Pierce, and Despite his recent ignominy, Mr. Remarkable was delighted to sit down with his legendary Brooklynite, and discuss one of this boroughs most fascinatin’ fictional characters.
PIERCE: Did you bring the Ramen, Gertrude?
MR R: I’m not Gertrude. But I did bring the Ramen you requested.
PIERCE: Hmmm. Shrimp? You brought me Shrimp Ramen? Do I look like a Chinaman to you?
MR. R: No, no Sir. There’s chicken there, too, right underneath.
PIERCE: Damn right there is.
MR. R: We met once before, at a Seder hosted by Clay Felker and Norris Mailer in 197 –
PIERCE: We met once before, at the premiere of The Jolson Story. Who knew Larry Parks was a commie bastard? I did, that’s who. I could smell the stink of red on him a mile away, yes I could.
MR. R: I wasn’t at the premiere of The Jolson Story.
PIERCE: Jolson? Why the hell are we talking about Jolson?
MR. R: Uh, right, we are here to talk about Ryder Aday.
PIERCE: Of course.
MR. R: What’s your favorite Ryder Aday movie?
PIERCE: That would have to be Aday Waay Out West, the comedy starring Pat Buttram, Slim Pickens, Aldo Ray, and Carol Doda. That was a helluva picture.
MR. R.: Yes, 1967.
PIERCE: Yes 1967 what?
MR. R: That’s the year they made the picture.
PIERCE: What picture?
MR. R: Aday Waay Out West.
PIERCE: Now that was a funny picture. Almost as good as Jolson Sings Again. Y’know, history has not been kind to Larry Parks. I went to the premiere of that film with Jinx Falkenberg. Do you know how good Jinx Falkenberg looked in a sweater? As Mr. Webster said, ‘Voom comma Va-Va-Va-Va.’ God help me.
MR R: Uh huh.
PIERCE: William Demarest tried to make the moves on her that night. Now, as far as I’m concerned, Demarest can do no wrong, but if he’s gonna go pilot fishin’ offa my pier, he’s no better than Larry Parks, that dirty red. Sure could sing, though.
MR.R. Larry Parks?
PIERCE: I’m talking about Demarest, you idiot. Few people knew that. Demarest could sing like a little bird. A sweet little bird. Such a pretty sweet little bird.
MR. R: Let’s talk about Ryder Aday.
PIERCE: Of course.
MR. R: Who was the inspiration for Ryder Aday?
PIERCE: That’s easy. Demarest.
MR. R: You saw him as an older man?
PIERCE: I never saw Demarest! What the Tom, Dick, and Harry are you accusing me of? I didn’t see him as an older man, a younger man, or an in-between man! I love the ladies. Always did. Just ask Wanda Hendrix, Virna Lisi, Dagmar, I dated ‘em all!
MR R: Abby Dalton…Yvonne Craig…you had a bit of reputation!
PIERCE: Whaddya mean I had a reputation?!? I don’t care what you heard, I love the ladies! I mean, yes, I took a bath with Demarest once – we all did. The man loved his baths. It was a very small tub. Extremely small. Yes, I sponged his back a little. But that’s all! Okay, we took a nap together afterwards. But Demarest was always napping! He said it’s what separated the real men from the lady boys. Yes, we spooned a little. That much is true. Fred MacMurray took pictures. Boy, did he take pictures.
MR. R: Did that have anything to do with Fred Mac Murray being cast as Ryder Aday in 1961’s Aday in East Berlin?
PIERCE: In a word, yes. But I thought he did a good job. He used a light meter an’ everything. The contrast in those pictures was amazing. Why, Life magazine could have used them. I mean if they went in for that sort of thing.
MR R: Are there any plans for any more Ryder Aday mysteries?
PIERCE: Are you kidding! I don’t own the rights to the character. Sid and Marty Kroft, those little gonnifs, they sold it to the Wetson’s hamburger chain, and then Wetson’s went under, and I think the bankruptcy court gave it to some creditors, I dunno, then somehow Albert Shanker got a hold of ‘em and when he died he willed them for perpetuity into the pension fund of the United Federation of Teachers. Can you imagine?
MR R: Yes.
PIERCE: Yes what?
MR R: Yes, I can imagine –
PIERCE: You couldn’t imagine a red nose on a clown’s face. So anyway, around that time I was dating Lori Saunders, and I thought it’d be nice to write a character she could play in a TV show or a film, so I came up with Sassy Ba’dey, wrote a coupla those stories, Ba’dey at the Montreal Olympics, Ba’dey for Badguys, but no one was buying.
MR R: Yes, I remember that!
PIERCE: You don’t remember bupkiss. You didn’t even remember when you, me, Larry Parks, Billy Martin, Lou Walters, and Arnold Steng went to the Latin Quarter and pulled a train on Irish McCalla.
MR R: Excuse me?
PIERCE: Irish McCalla, my friend. All you needed to do was promise that broad a pancake breakfast and she’s on her back faster than Max Baer Jr.
MR R: Surely you mean Max Baer Sr.?
PIERCE: No, I most certainly mean Max Baer Jr. Demarest showed me some pictures.
MR R: I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about.
PIERCE: Don’t play coy with me! Abby Dalton’s been talking to you, hasn’t she? What did she tell you about Demarest? I don’t care what the world thinks, he was my sweet little Willie. Is that ramen done yet? Because my stories are on TV. Can you see yourself out? Frickin’ Abby frickin’ Dalton. Thinks she’s the Queen of Sheba, that one.
Mr. Sommer’s opinions and general grasp of reality are entirely his own, and may in no way reflect the actual character of the people whose names are mentioned in his column.
Timothy Sommer has achieved some degree of notoriety working as a musician, record producer, MTV/VH1 VJ, journalist, club and radio DJ, and music industry executive. He is currently writing the book for I, Madame!, a Broadway musical based on the life and work of Waylon Flowers and Madame, and he continues his work to preserving the music and memory of New York Mets organist Jane Jarvis.