Here are the headlines: In 1957, Linda Riss was a stunningly beautiful young woman living in the Bronx. One day, attorney Burt Pugach, ten or so years her senior, spied her sitting in the park. As he tells it in the film, he thought she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen and he walked up to her and told her so.
Linda thought Burt was a loser, but gave him her phone number anyway. Fast forward a few months and the two are dating, with Burt dazzling Linda with his money.
Until the day she found out he was married.
Linda gives Burt the heave-ho. Burt crumbles into a sodden mess. Linda takes Burt back amidst big divorce promises. Linda gives Burt the heave-ho again. Burt crumbles. Rinse and repeat.
Then Linda makes a big mistake: She gets engaged to a handsome young man. Burt begins to seriously stalk her, with the Bronx police ignoring her frequent reports that she was in danger. Vowing that no man will have her if he can’t – melodramatic, but true – Burt hires two men to throw acid in her face.
Yep, that’s right. The beautiful young woman is now permanently disfigured and left virtually blind.
Burt goes to prison for 15 years. Linda learns to make a life for herself. When Burt is released, he proposes to Linda on New York television. Linda accepts. Incredibly, in the mid 1970s they are married.
Though they continue to play starring roles in The Bickersons, all is relatively well. Until Burt allegedly almost does it again. In 1996 he was arrested once again – this time for sexually abusing and threatening to kill a woman who had been his mistress for five years. Linda testified in his behalf. Burt was acquitted.
Stand by your man, honey.
The film does an excellent job of telling the nuances of Linda and Burt’s freakish story and keeping it above freak show level. Not that there isn’t an unavoidable sideshow quality to the whole story.
Lye in the face kind of does that, you know?
Burt is flat out freakin’ crazy. As Jimmy Breslin says in the film, he’s the craziest guy he knows. (And he’s not institutionalized.) Linda learns to make her way in the world with enviable fortitude, still there is this weird co-dependent thing with Burt.
He loves her. She needs him. Match made in heaven, right?
Which just goes to show you once again, truth really is stranger than fiction.
And, yep, they’re still married.