Lennie Grimaldi’s book on Connecticut characters traces back to January 1978. That’s when Grimaldi, a 19-year-old obituary writer for the Telegram newspaper in Bridgeport, landed an exclusive interview at the now-closed Fore ’n’ Aft club in Westport with 18-year-old Linda Blair, who had played the possessed girl in The Exorcist.
As Grimaldi writes in the first chapter of Connecticut Characters: Personalities Spicing Up the Nutmeg State, Blair at that time was facing narcotics charges and wasn’t talking to any reporters about it.
Grimaldi was working on the obits desk on a Thursday night when a friend called in a tip: Blair was hanging out at the Fore ’n’ Aft because she was dating a guy in a band called Bitter Fingers. When Grimaldi mentioned this to an editor, his boss said: “Hey kid, if you think you can get the interview, go for it.”
Grimaldi went to the club and there she was, sipping beer with her friends. But rather than approach her in the crowd, he wrote, “I did the only sensible thing under the circumstances. I plopped myself next to the women’s bathroom and waited.”
After a couple of hours, Blair finally needed to empty her bladder. He introduced himself outside the bathroom and delivered this pitch: “I know you haven’t commented on your situation but you’re young and I’m young and I’ll write a fair story to set the record straight.”
She nodded and told him to follow her into the restaurant’s kitchen. They hit it off; the interview lasted for more than an hour, past midnight. Blair told Grimaldi she had nothing to do with drugs and had been targeted because of her movie-star fame.
Grimaldi’s scoop landed on page one in the Telegram. Then he went back to writing obituaries. Blair would plead guilty to a lesser possession charge and received three years of probation.
“Linda was very easy on the eyes; a tomato!” Grimaldi says when we meet in a Trumbull restaurant. “She wrote me a thank you note, hand-written!”
The 17 chapters in Grimaldi’s book (published by his public relations company, Momentum Communications) run the gamut from politicians such as Bridgeport’s comeback mayor, Joe Ganim, to Hells Angel Danny “Diamond Dan” Bifield, and Trumbull’s “wilderness warrior” Joe Haines, who lives off the land so much that he eats squirrels.
And then there is Donald Trump.
In the summer of 1994, Trump, who was then living part-time in Greenwich, wanted to build a casino in Bridgeport while stopping anybody else from doing it. He also envisioned building a massive theme park along Bridgeport’s waterfront. And so he was courting Ganim. When Trump invited Ganim to dinner at Trump’s Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, Grimaldi joined the two of them. Grimaldi was Ganim’s campaign manager during the 1990s.
The Trump chapter, which is an excerpt of a Grimaldi article that ran in Connecticut Magazine in October 2004, describes a glamorous evening with Trump, as he took his guests to several swinging parties.
A few months later, Trump invited Grimaldi back to New York and asked him “to be my eyes and ears in Connecticut” regarding the competing casino schemes. After a quick negotiating session, Trump shouted to his administrative assistant: “Cut a check right now for $10,000 and make it out to Lennie Grimaldi.”
For four years Grimaldi was Trump’s Connecticut media consultant. He wrote: “It was like riding a bronco. Every event is like a day at the rodeo.”
During our lunch, Grimaldi tells me, “I’d go through his talking points, he’d say, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ then he’d walk out the door, the light of the cameras went on and he’d chuck everything I’d said and just freelance it.”
Last December, following Trump’s unexpected presidential victory and after Grimaldi had told a Hartford Courant reporter about his “bronco ride” working for Trump, the president-elect gave him a call.
“He said, ‘So, I’m like riding a bronco, eh?’ Then he said, ‘Can you believe what happened?’”
Grimaldi replied no, he couldn’t believe Trump had been elected president.
“And Trump said: ‘I can’t believe it either!’”
Shaking his head over that conversation, Grimaldi says, “I didn’t think then or now that he has the temperament to be president.”
Grimaldi’s chapter entitled “Comeback Clove Joe Ganim” was originally written in 2015 for Grimaldi’s website Only in Bridgeport. (Just one of the book’s chapters wasn’t previously published.) Grimaldi notes at the beginning of the “comeback” chapter that Ganim resigned as mayor in April 2003 after being convicted on federal corruption charges. Grimaldi acknowledges earlier in the book that he too was caught up in that scandal. After pleading guilty in 2001 to racketeering conspiracy and filing a false income tax return, he served 10 months at a federal prison camp.
Ganim served seven years in prison but in 2015 staged a remarkable winning bid for re-election as Bridgeport’s mayor.
When asked about his own time in prison, Grimaldi says, “I tell people life isn’t about hitting the canvas. It’s about what happens when you get up and move on. I had to re-invent myself. I went back to my writing roots.”
In Grimaldi’s chapter on paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren of Monroe, Grimaldi focused on Hannah Cranna, “a wry, mid-19th-century woman who would sit on her favorite rock and hurl curses at townspeople.” According to local legend, the woman who would come to be known as “the wicked witch of Monroe” placed a curse on the entire town while on her deathbed.
Grimaldi took me out to her grave at Gregory’s Four Corners Burial Ground in Trumbull, near the Monroe town line. Grimaldi grew up in Monroe, near that cemetery, and often heard about “the witch” who screamed from her grave.
Grimaldi stooped by her headstone, showing me the pennies, dimes and stones that have been placed atop the stone. “See! People come by to pay tribute to her!”