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.”
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?”