Chaim Witz Can't Hide the Hook

Chaim Witz — aka Gene Simmons of KISS — made his television debut on The Mike Douglas Show in 1974.  Gene was 25 years-old, thin and silly and sort of playing a vampire bat role.  The audience had no idea how to react to Gene’s want to eat them.  Was he real?  Or was he playing them?

Sophie Feldman — aka Jewish comedienne Totie Fields — was also a guest on the show.  She often co-hosted the show with Mike, so she had free reign to comment and ask questions.

Since Mike Douglas really didn’t know what to do with the whacked-out Gene, Totie piped up and started giving Gene a hard time:

TOTIE:  (TO GENE) Is your mother watching today? (TO MIKE) Wouldn’t it be funny if, underneath all this, he was just a nice Jewish boy?

GENE:  You should only know.

TOTIE:  I do.  You can’t hide the hook.

Gene Simmons was born Chaim Witz in Israel in 1949, and he emigrated to Brooklyn — with his Holocaust surviving Hungarian mother — nine years later.  When Gene was a young boy, he went to his mother and asked her to buy him a guitar because he wanted to be a rock star like The Beatles.

Gene’s mother said she would buy him a guitar if he promised to never drink alcohol, never do drugs and never smoke.  Gene promised.  She bought him the guitar.  Gene Simmons has remained drug, alcohol and smoke-free ever since:  He is the heart and mind definition of “A Good Jewish Boy.”

Why did Totie Fields feel the need to prick Gene Simmons with his “Jewishness” by bringing up the old, bigoted, stereotypical, and tired and tasteless chestnut of the “hook-nosed Jew?”

Did she want to puncture his persona a bit and see him bleed a little on television?

There was some uncomfortable laughter when Totie told Gene he couldn’t “hide the hook” — but I wonder how many mainstream Mike Douglas Show viewers had any idea what she was talking about with that subtle slam?

I would guess back in 1974, the only people who caught Totie’s dig were other Jews — and that was probably her pointed point:  “You can pretend to be a big, scary, monster, but we who know you can identify you and out you to the rest of the world whenever we want.”

If a non-Jew got her “joke” — then that does much more harm to Totie than to Gene then and now — because it demonstrates a willing mean streak in her that she could not control.

It’s a bit shocking today to see Totie speak to a young Gene that way — and while I always thought Totie was hilarious — she crossed a line of common courtesy and dove too far into cruelty and condescension that did more damage than any good it might have done trying to earn her a laugh.

If Gene Simmons wants to be a musical monster and play that role on television and on stage — and later father a misbegotten son — who is Totie Fields to decide to permanently, and publicly, mark him for the world as a “hook-nosed Jew?”