Crazy Love

Has anybody seen the Dan Klores and Fisher Stevens documentary Crazy Love telling the totally bizarre-o real life story of Linda Riss and Burt Pugach? The human heart is a strange place, you know?

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.

-Sandy AAR

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10 Responses to Crazy Love

  1. LinnieGayl says:

    Holy smokes! I’m at a loss for words on this one. I hadn’t heard anything about this.

  2. Anne Marble says:

    I remember learning about this case on a television talk show decades ago — probably on Geraldo’s old show or Mike Douglas. It was so strange that I still remember it today. I’m not surprised by the updates. Now I’m going to have to see that movie because I know those talk shows weren’t showing the whole picture.

  3. AAR Sandy says:

    I didn’t know the story either, LG, until I heard about this film a year or so ago.

    Anne, Crazy Love is now playing on the Sundance channel which is where I saw it. I only skimmed the surface here, but the NY tabloids and TV played a huge role in the story initially, then again when Burt proposed, and then again when he was charged for the second time. There are clips from both Geraldo and Mike Douglas in the doc.

  4. CindyS says:

    I think I saw these two on the View and it broke my heart. Not for him because he got what he wanted but for the woman, because I felt like she was living the life of a victim. I will have to watch the documentary and see if it sheds any more light on her side of the story.


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