At first glance, Bob Puglisi looks as though he should be a character in a film. He’s reached an age of distinction, with his face tanned by sun and Italian heritage, and his grey head of hair that would be well-suited as a star of the screen. He’s dabbled in the limelight throughout his unlikely metamorphosis from computer geek to actor and writer.
Born in Queens, New York, Puglisi grew up in the neighborhood of Corona in the 1950s. He attended Catholic schools, which, he shudders to recall, “Was pretty traumatic. The nuns in all that black, and religion, even the grandmothers always wore black after they were widowed!” The ‘50s were quintessentially portrayed times in NYC, doo-wop groups singing on the street corners, families sitting outside on the cooler summer stoops, children playing on the sidewalks of New York. Puglisi was a part of that more innocent, less techno world when kids had to make up their own entertainment.
“We had all kinds of ‘clubs.’ We built these ramshackle club houses that we used to meet in and we’d have comic books and candy,” Puglisi says of the city kids’ common pastimes. “We even had a president and a treasurer. We were very organized. We had fights, too, over who was gonna be president, or if someone didn’t like the name of the club. We also had a bicycle club where we used to ride bikes up and down the streets.”
The borough of Queens might have been part of a huge city, where millions of people were all part of its sum, but its contiguous blocks were all really just small neighborhoods with old-time families who had emigrated from various countries. In fact, Puglisi feels Corona was a lot like Crested Butte. “You knew everybody and they knew you, you knew the store owners. The unique thing about my street was that the Long Island Railroad ran through it so there was a concrete wall about 20 feet high and we’d play handball and other ball games off that wall.” These were certainly some of New York’s glory days, and were to set the stage for Puglisi’s writings much later.
He graduated from high school in 1964, and his parents moved to Staten Island. Puglisi worked in the city but regularly traveled back to his old neighborhood and gang of friends for play because if you were raised together, like a family, you hung together forever. But, he laughs, “It was a two-hour ferry or train ride back to the house in Staten Island.”
With a day job as an office clerk and going to night school for computer studies, Puglisi learned computer wiring, which was a primitive sort of programming before the advent of apps and chips.
Then he enlisted in the army, “punching up my draft so I only had to do two years. The Vietnam war was starting up. I just wanted to get my service out of the way.” He was stationed at Fort Hood in Texas where he was put to work in data processing. The 20-year-old computer geek soldier married his high school sweetheart and they had a daughter. The small family moved back to Queens after his army stint. After seven years, the couple parted.
Puglisi continued to run computers, monsters that took up a whole room. “My first job in New York was with Bankers Trust on Wall Street. I did computer programming for 30 years in New York.”
As the express train endlessly rattled down the subway tubes and life clacked by, Puglisi started thinking about the other side of the universe. “I always wanted live on the west coast, Los Angeles in particular, you know, the Beach Boys, surfing and the warm weather attracted me.” He left his home in the Apple heading for the Golden Gate City at first, since he could transfer from his job as systems programmer for the Federal Reserve Bank. “I was responsible for making this big system run. We didn’t have to wire the boards anymore,” he smiles, “The computers had evolved to where you wrote computer programs, operating systems to run them, and app programs like payroll and accounts receivable, but I was the guy who kept the computers running.” He eventually moved to Los Angeles.
Back when he was a single guy living in New York, Puglisi had met his girlfriend, Anita, at an Upper East Side bar. Commuting from coast to coast was getting too tiresome so they decided to tie the knot in L.A. in 1975 and save themselves the airfare.
With friends in the music business and Anita working for CBS, they were well connected. “We lived in a penthouse in Hollywood where on a clear day you could see the Pacific,” he says of their charmed lifestyle. “I worked for a bunch of software companies, and worked in tech support for awhile but I was getting really burned out on all that. I was writing the books that came out with all the software, and developing training classes for consumers and programmers.” Puglisi determined he needed to expand his creativity.
“At the same time, I decided I wanted to write other stuff—books, screenplays and plays—so I started taking some classes at UCLA. One of the professors I got involved with in theatre encouraged me to do some acting… then I got the acting bug. I started going out on auditions and doing plays.
“My first movie was for TV, as an extra, and the first scene was with Faye Dunaway as Evita Peron,” Puglisi says, recalling the excitement of having Dunaway squeeze his hand in the scene. Then, a year later, he was in another scene in Mommy Dearest where Dunaway played Joan Crawford. “We had a moment,” he says dreamily.
He was hooked and earnestly began the transition from computer programmer to actor by doing more acting, although he never had to succumb to the archetypal actor’s blight of waiting tables while waiting to be discovered as the silver screen’s next big thing. “I still worked part-time in computers so I had a decent income,” Puglisi says of his late ‘70s endeavor.
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He wrote screenplays while Anita went to film school, and they made films for her classes. “She’d direct and I’d film them.” Puglisi was enjoying bit roles in Archie Bunker’s Place and Hill Street Blues, and as a hotdog vendor in Matlock. And even though he says it was “a lot of fun stuff,” Puglisi admits, “It was hard to get work and hard to find an agent who actually works for you—when you do get one. It’s a tough biz.” Act II was about to come to an end.
In 1986, Bob and Anita bought a Crested Butte ski package deal. “For $299, we got airfare from L.A., a shuttle from the airport, lodging and breakfast for a week at The Cristiana, our ski passes and ski equipment,” he says, laughing at that deal long-gone. “We fell in love with the place and came back in ‘89 and bought a condo at Wood Creek for dirt cheap. In 1996 we decided to buy the house we’re in now on the mountain.” It only took two more years to leave the stress of Hollywood and the West Coast’s dizzying culture to permanently move to their mountain home.
Between spells of employment at various jobs in town, Puglisi wrote a screenplay called Big White Bonneville and received a grant for it, a fellowship from the Colorado Council on the Arts, and turned the screenplay into a short film that traveled to film festivals all over the country. He got involved with the Crested Butte Community Theatre, acting and serving on its board for nine years. “I’m in plays here that I couldn’t even get auditions for in L.A.!” he laughs.
His latest accomplishment is a novel, inspired by a true tragedy in his old Corona neighborhood. The book, Railway Avenue, was first released as an e-book and is now available in print through Amazon.com and at Townie Books on Elk Avenue in Crested Butte. The concept for the book, a work in progress for 30 years, came after Puglisi received a call with the news of a former classmate’s murder by her estranged husband, leaving two small children. The murder became the basis for his novel, expanding into his memories of growing up in the neighborhood, and how lives are put back together.
With his first novel finally in print, he’s already contemplating his next piece, Almost a Wiseguy, about his hairdresser in L.A. who was involved with the Mafia, Mexican gangs and Cuban drug lords, and was an alcoholic drug addict himself who turned his life around after the birth of his daughter, joined AA and now helps others.
As Puglisi continues to work his stories into words and film, he says he and his wife made the right choice to move to Crested Butte. “We still love skiing, we love the town, we love the community. The energy you get from this town is very inspiring. There are a lot of creative and supportive people here. There’s a creative energy in these mountain towns that you don’t find in the city or any where else.”