On the Dec. 23 edition of KPCC-FM's Air Talk show, a trio of Orange County journalists discussed the bizarre swearing-in ceremony two weeks earlier of Orange Unified School District trustee Steve Rocco. The Weekly's Gustavo Arellano and Jean Pasco of the Los Angeles Times detailed how Rocco used his platform not to discuss educational issues but rather the alleged kidnapping of his parents by county medical authorities.
Then host Larry Mantle mastered his giggle reflex to remind Orange County Register editorial writer Chris Reed he had voted for Rocco. "Let me say that you three sound like you're part of the Partnership," a clearly embarrassed Reed replied, referring to Rocco's name for an alleged conspiracy involving Orange school officials, the ACLU and various local judges. "Well, I'm rapidly regretting my vote for the guy," Reed concluded. "He's not turning out to be what I hoped."
It remains unclear what Reed was hoping for in a guy whose claim to fame is having unveiled the evil triumvirate of Albertsons, Kodak and SmokeCraft Sausage that led to his 1980 conviction for shoplifting several rolls of film and a sausage at a Santa Ana supermarket. But that mystery pales in comparison to new developments concerning Rocco's possible identity as the late performance artist Andy Kaufman.
On Dec. 11, Puzzlementary Productions, the company allegedly behind the website www.andykaufmanlives.com, posted a press release on the free online newswire PR Web. "Company officials are looking into options available to rectify rumors about the company, Steve Rocco and OC Weekly," the release stated, referring to Weekly articles exposing Rocco, the newly elected Orange school-board member, as the deceased performance artist Andy Kaufman.
In the release, someone named Huey Williams is described as Puzzlementary's vice president, while another individual, Nathan Richards, is alleged to be the company's public-relations chief. According to the release, Richards "feels they may need to make some calls" to set the record straight about the Rocco/Kaufman mystery — but the Puzzlementary press release only deepens the mystery.
Puzzlementary—alternately listed as based in Indiana and Aruba—is actively promoting only two projects. One is the aforementioned Andy Kaufman Lives site. The other is a mysterious enterprise titled "The Death of Celebrity, The Immortality of Legend," which purports to be an online talent search for Andy Kaufman look-alikes.
Then there's the question of the actual identities of the people who run Puzzlementary Productions. Take Huey Williams. He shares the name of the protagonist of Kaufman's posthumously published semi-autobiographical novel, The Huey Williams Story, which profiles "the world's greatest entertainer." And Nathan Richards just happens to share a name with Kaufman's insipidly sweet folksinger, a character the late performance artist created as the antithesis of his brash and obnoxious alter ego, Tony Clifton.
Other alleged Puzzlementary employees are equally, well, puzzling. Like Puzzlementary President Jesus Presley. He may or may not be related to Enrique Presley, who runs Claire Channel's "Enrique's Message Board" and was listed as the owner of AndyKaufmanLives.com before Steve Rocco took over. He supposedly lives in Aruba—a Caribbean island where Kaufman often said he wanted to live. Then there's Claire Channel, who recently changed her screen name to "Coco"—Get it? Coco Channel, like the maker of expensive perfume? She shares an e-mail address with Julie Hastin-Ponciff, the alleged assistant to alleged Puzzlementary general manger Stephen Maddox, who shares a name with a character in the film The Running Man, who is chasing after someone who faked his own death.
On the AndyKaufmanLives.com website, a reader asked Rocco to explain the name game. "There are many followers but only one leader," Rocco replied. Anyone who can follow this trail of Internet aliases and Kaufman trivia deserves a Kaufman's Rangers Decoder Ring. But the most bizarre trail of evidence concerns the contact person listed at the bottom of Puzzlementary's press release: Steve Rocco.
Under Rocco's name, there's a Los Angeles phone number. But when you dial it, you get the offices of Shapiro/West & Associates, an entertainment company founded by George Shapiro, who used to be Kaufman's manager—the guy played by Danny DeVito in Man in the Moon. Shapiro now handles such luminaries as Jerry Seinfeld and Carl Reiner. But efforts to reach Shapiro were unsuccessful; his secretary claimed no knowledge of Rocco and refused to put her boss on the phone.
VISIT THE ROCCO FILES ONLINE ARCHIVE AT WWW.OCWEEKLY.COM.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.