Hardy Plumbing
June 20, 2007

Crazy Love: An Enduring Tale of Passion and Obsession



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Throughout the 92-minute running time of Crazy Love, Linda Riss never removes her sunglasses. Except for a few fleeting moments, the former brunette stunner probably hasn't removed the specs in nearly half a century.

Not since a trio of goons hurled lye in her face, leaving her permanently disfigured.

It didn't take law officials long to nail the culprit responsible for the heinous crime – Linda's spurned lover Burt Pugach. The media went into a feeding frenzy regurgitating every gory detail. The 1959 trial played out in the morning tabloids. Found guilty, Pugach was sentenced to 30 years. Normally that would have been the end – case closed.

As the name of producer/director Dan Klores' recently released documentary Crazy Love implies, the psychological bond between Riss and Pugach was far from over. Klores mixes talking heads with archive stills and video footage, storytelling, and pop tunes to reveal a story about obsession that defies all logic.

From the moment Burt spotted the 20-year-old Elizabeth Taylor look-alike on a Bronx street he vowed to possess her. His vow is no less compelling up to present day.

Burt may have looked like comedian Arnold Stang, but his high-flying lifestyle was enough to garner the naïve woman's affections. The guise worked until Linda discovered that the 32-year-old "genius of negligence law" had a wife and disabled daughter tucked away. She broke off the relationship and subsequently got engaged to a decent, honorable guy. That's when Pugach hatched his devious plan. If he couldn't have her no one else would.

Behind bars for 15 years, Burt's obsession never waned. He wrote hundreds of letters in scratchy script declaring his love. Paroled in 1974, Burt soon proposed to Linda on a local TV network. Viewing herself as "damaged goods," Linda weighed her options and accepted.

That fact alone would have been sufficient fodder to film Crazy Love, yet there's more. In 1997, Burt was back in court accused of threatening another young woman with bodily harm. Subsequently found guilty of second-degree harassment, he was handed a 15-day jail sentence. Linda stood devotedly by her man.

Klores vaguely remembers hearing about the case when he was eight or nine, but as Linda and Burt's relationship resurfaced periodically in the media the director of such award-winning documentaries as Showtime's "The Boys of Second Street Park," NBC's "Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story," and Spike TV's "Viva Baseball" grew more intrigued.

The former chief executive of the prominent Manhattan-based public relations firm Dan Klores Communications explained, "I don't think that if I didn't have a happy marriage that I could have handled this. There were two questions that attracted me. The first is, what would make a man break to the extent that Burt did? The other was, what price someone would pay not to be alone. Story-wise, it was a great ride of surprises and constant discovery."

One of those surprises was Linda's unheeded plea for help. "She went to the police every day, but in the 1950s lawyers were like gods and stalking wasn't a word that had to do with harassing other people. The police did nothing," the bearded filmmaker recalled.

Klores spent considerable time tracking down people directly connected with the story. One was Linda's fiancé, who broke their engagement after the glare of the media died down. Afraid of being depicted as the villain, he refused to participate.

Although a number of individuals refused to appear on camera, they supplied the names of associates and friends. Hired professionals combed through medical and police records.

Many of the interviews are peppered with black comedy and candid remarks like those of veteran Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin, who labels Pugach, "the most insane man still walking the streets rather than being institutionalized."

Even Klores admitted, "There were times I met Burt and thought he was just a nice old guy who talked too much. I don't feel duped by Burt trying to reinvent himself – I never judged. Burt is a gifted liar, a psychopath. The one thing he's able to do is to size up a person, telling you what he thinks you want to hear."

As for Linda, Klores, who hopes to rework the story into a motion picture format, observed, "She covers her anguish as a crusty old lady. More than a façade, it's become part of her. WheCrazy Love: An Enduring Tale of Passion and Obsession

By Winnie Bonelli

Throughout the 92-minute running time of Crazy Love, Linda Riss never removes her sunglasses. Except for a few fleeting moments, the former brunette stunner probably hasn't removed the specs in nearly half a century.

Not since a trio of goons hurled lye in her face, leaving her permanently disfigured.

It didn't take law officials long to nail the culprit responsible for the heinous crime – Linda's spurned lover Burt Pugach. The media went into a feeding frenzy regurgitating every gory detail. The 1959 trial played out in the morning tabloids. Found guilty, Pugach was sentenced to 30 years. Normally that would have been the end – case closed.

As the name of producer/director Dan Klores' recently released documentary Crazy Love implies, the psychological bond between Riss and Pugach was far from over. Klores mixes talking heads with archive stills and video footage, storytelling, and pop tunes to reveal a story about obsession that defies all logic.

From the moment Burt spotted the 20-year-old Elizabeth Taylor look-alike on a Bronx street he vowed to possess her. His vow is no less compelling up to present day.

Burt may have looked like comedian Arnold Stang, but his high-flying lifestyle was enough to garner the naïve woman's affections. The guise worked until Linda discovered that the 32-year-old "genius of negligence law" had a wife and disabled daughter tucked away. She broke off the relationship and subsequently got engaged to a decent, honorable guy. That's when Pugach hatched his devious plan. If he couldn't have her no one else would.

Behind bars for 15 years, Burt's obsession never waned. He wrote hundreds of letters in scratchy script declaring his love. Paroled in 1974, Burt soon proposed to Linda on a local TV network. Viewing herself as "damaged goods," Linda weighed her options and accepted.

That fact alone would have been sufficient fodder to film Crazy Love, yet there's more. In 1997, Burt was back in court accused of threatening another young woman with bodily harm. Subsequently found guilty of second-degree harassment, he was handed a 15-day jail sentence. Linda stood devotedly by her man.

Klores vaguely remembers hearing about the case when he was eight or nine, but as Linda and Burt's relationship resurfaced periodically in the media the director of such award-winning documentaries as Showtime's "The Boys of Second Street Park," NBC's "Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story," and Spike TV's "Viva Baseball" grew more intrigued.

The former chief executive of the prominent Manhattan-based public relations firm Dan Klores Communications explained, "I don't think that if I didn't have a happy marriage that I could have handled this. There were two questions that attracted me. The first is, what would make a man break to the extent that Burt did? The other was, what price someone would pay not to be alone. Story-wise, it was a great ride of surprises and constant discovery."

One of those surprises was Linda's unheeded plea for help. "She went to the police every day, but in the 1950s lawyers were like gods and stalking wasn't a word that had to do with harassing other people. The police did nothing," the bearded filmmaker recalled.

Klores spent considerable time tracking down people directly connected with the story. One was Linda's fiancé, who broke their engagement after the glare of the media died down. Afraid of being depicted as the villain, he refused to participate.

Although a number of individuals refused to appear on camera, they supplied the names of associates and friends. Hired professionals combed through medical and police records.

Many of the interviews are peppered with black comedy and candid remarks like those of veteran Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin, who labels Pugach, "the most insane man still walking the streets rather than being institutionalized."

Even Klores admitted, "There were times I met Burt and thought he was just a nice old guy who talked too much. I don't feel duped by Burt trying to reinvent himself – I never judged. Burt is a gifted liar, a psychopath. The one thing he's able to do is to size up a person, telling you what he thinks you want to hear."

As for Linda, Klores, who hopes to rework the story into a motion picture format, observed, "She covers her anguish as a crusty old lady. More than a façade, it's become part of her. When Burt's around it's all about Burt, but she can be unbelievably bossy at times."

A bittersweet inclusion in the film is Edie Brickell's version of "Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine" that implies Linda's life might have turned out very differently if she hadn't been robbed of her eyesight.

"I don't think there are any real answers," said Klores, who is working on a four-hour, two-part series titled "Black Magic" which will premiere on ESPN in March 2008.

Interviewed on camera outside a spacious closet in the couple's Rego Park one-bedroom apartment, Linda was asked to remove her glasses for one final shot. "I won't take them off," she replied. "I look like a freak. One eye is glass the other is inverted."

In the final analysis, maybe Pugach is the one person who still thinks of Linda as that beautiful 20-year-old girl. For the record, she's 69, and he's 80.

n Burt's around it's all about Burt, but she can be unbelievably bossy at times."

A bittersweet inclusion in the film is Edie Brickell's version of "Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine" that implies Linda's life might have turned out very differently if she hadn't been robbed of her eyesight.

"I don't think there are any real answers," said Klores, who is working on a four-hour, two-part series titled "Black Magic" which will premiere on ESPN in March 2008.

Interviewed on camera outside a spacious closet in the couple's Rego Park one-bedroom apartment, Linda was asked to remove her glasses for one final shot. "I won't take them off," she replied. "I look like a freak. One eye is glass the other is inverted."

In the final analysis, maybe Pugach is the one person who still thinks of Linda as that beautiful 20-year-old girl. For the record, she's 69, and he's 80.

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