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With his first performance behind him, Andy packed up his novel about Elvis, which he had handwritten on loose-leaf paper, stuck out his thumb and set out for Vegas.
'I am Superman, and I can do anything'
Before ambushing Elvis in the kitchen of the Las Vegas Hilton and receiving the King's blessing, Andy went to Disneyland. From the park, he called North Shore Hospital and spoke to Gloria, who had just given birth to a daughter. Andy's daughter.
Gloria named her Laurel, and even though Andy agreed to marry Gloria, her parents persuaded her to give the baby up for adoption. The only images Andy ever saw of Laurel were the ones taken on the lawn at St. Bernard's Church on Hempstead Turnpike in Levittown. Minutes after the photos were shot, the baby was taken away by Catholic Charities.
His daughter was raised minutes away from the Kaufman household in Roslyn, but Andy never saw her.
That baby is now Maria Colonna, a 30-year-old occupational-therapy student living in Melville, raising a 4-year-old daughter.
"Back in '92, when I found my natural mother," Colonna tells the Voice, "she said, 'Your dad was on Taxi,' before she revealed who it was. I went to the library and I researched information. Then I saw a picture of him and I knew."
Colonna says her mom simply explained that she and Andy "were high school sweethearts and she had me just before she graduated."
For a guy who spent his life chasing after young women and performing children's shows, Andy could not bring himself to find his one child. (His granddaughter, Brittany, has a part in Man on the Moon, playing his sister, Carol, Andy's first audience member whom he had to bribe with bubblegum to sit through his show.)
"He would see Gloria in San Francisco," Zehme says. "And they would always have a romp for old times' sake and then lay there and wonder about her. He would say, 'There's a little Andy Kaufman running around somewhere in the world.' "
After another year in Boston, Andy came back to Long Island and started gigging at a strip club.
"There was a girl named Meryl, a young Jewish girl who was dancing at one of those topless bars on Salem Road in Port Washington," remembers Eppy Epstein, former owner of the now-defunct My Father's Place in Roslyn. "She worked one night a week for us. She said, 'There's a very strange young man who gets onstage with a tape player and does Elvis Presley.'
Epstein went into the club and immediately began to book and manage Andy, who did a regular gig at My Father's Place. His antics unnerved Epstein. "Andy was a very complicated young man," he says. "But he did not display any of his schizophrenia with me. He did want to incite a riot, to play out his psychodramas." The last straw was when Andy got hit in the head with a bottle while opening for the Good Rats. "I didn't want to lose my liquor license," Eppy recalls. "So I said, 'Andy, I'm not managing you anymore. I'll introduce you to a man who I respect very much, Budd Friedman.' "
Andy floored Friedman, who owned the Improv comedy club, and began playing regular gigs there and at the upstart Upper East Side joint Catch a Rising Star. It was at the Improv in '73 that Kaufman and Zmuda first met. Then came Andy's TV specials, Saturday Night Live and Taxi. Elvis himself said his favorite Elvis impersonator was Kaufman. But he was more than Elvis. When Andy finally made it to a sold-out Carnegie Hall, he took the entire audience out for milk and cookies after the set.
He also acted out some of his teen fantasies in adulthood. Remember that shy kid? Why do you think that, once he hit it big, he started to wrestle women?
"He slept with about a third of the 300 women he wrestled," Zmuda confides. "That was no shit. I was there, man, I saw him."
"He had no vices other than ice cream or young women," recalls Eppy. "He'd call me late hours of the night obsessing over the specific ways to woo women. I tried to tell him to just be himself. It took up much of his psyche." He finally settled down later in life with Lynne Margulies, whom Zmuda calls the only woman who could handle Andy. She stayed close to him to the very end.
In the ring, Andy was able to break down the physical barriers between himself and females by offering $500 to any woman who could pin him.
"He'd be down on the mat," remembers Zmuda, "and I would be refereeing and this is what I would hear: 'Oh baby, baby. This is sooh, is this wild? After the show, come backstage. Oh, this is great.' He'd get all excited. It was so self-indulgent, and he knew that, but he couldn't stop himself. He would be the first one to tell you: If it wasn't for his celebrity, he would have never gotten laid."