It was an interview that never made it into the paper because the tape was unusable. When I played it back, there was just non-stop me: “Oh I saw you in Godspell when I was 13 and you signed the cork from the wine bottle you opened on stage and then I saw you in That’ll Be the Day and I loved you and I used to kiss your poster and you were a great Jesus and I love you and will you marry me” . . . On and on and on. Over a two-hour interview, David’s voice surfaces barely more than six times: “Thanks”, every 20 minutes, in response to my adulation.
So, I am in Miami for NATPE (National Association of Television Programme Executives), billed as a conference in which "creativity meets connectivity and commerce". I'm thinking that as the smartest, funniest (and, let's not deny it, most handsome) person on television, Judge Alex Ferrer (@judgealexferrer), host of the nationally syndicated daytime court show, Judge Alex, fulfils the creativity part of the equation. If I could meet up with him, that nails connectivity. Then I can sell the piece. There's the commerce. Bingo!
Prior to meeting my idol, I sit in Caffe Abracci in Miami’s Coral Gables, and laugh to myself over my favourite TV show. Now taped in Los Angeles, it first aired on September 12th 2005 and next week begins series nine.
When I moved to Los Angeles in April 2009, it was my daily fix: a bowl of pasta, a glass of Rioja, and Judge Alex on the telly. Mega-bright, quick witted, hilarious and very, very handsome (did I mention that?) with great clean teeth (I like a man who flosses), he was compulsive viewing and became a regular feature in my blogs, as did fantasies about admonishment and handcuffs. So, it was always exciting to hear him get to the sexual nitty-gritty in which the other judges showed relatively little interest.
Let’s say you stole a vase from your ex-boyfriend’s mother’s house. Within seconds, Judge Alex would manage to extract from you exactly how many times mom and pop had had sex before they bought the vase (and in which positions), where said vase was on the dresser the last time they had sex before it was stolen, and even whether the vase was used for any improper purposes before it took up residence in the new (illegal) home.
If I were to choose anyone to sit down and watch a porn movie with, it would be Judge Alex. Fully robed. Briefly. Then I would want him to handcuff me, put me behind bars and make me beg on all fours . . . Well, you get the picture. And if you don't, apparently it's illegal for me to send it on the internet.
He took my enthusiasm in good spirit and, if you look at his Twitter account, the legions of women fawning over him must have made it quite easy for him to accept the gushings of just one more, especially one at a comfortable five hours’ flight away.
My spaghetti (clearly, Judge Alex and spaghetti are forever entwined in my consciousness) is already a junction of knots in my stomach that is making me feel physically sick: a condition that is a mixture of trepidation, excitement and ridiculous nerves. As I wait in the courtyard of Books and Books close by (I rejected his suggestion that we do the interview in Starbucks; I didn’t want the smell of burnt coffee beans to be forever associated in my mind with a sex god, for heaven’s sake), my hands start to shake. When he approaches and smiles, my entire body goes into a Salvador Dali melting clock; I appear to have lost touch with the centre of gravity.
He is even more gorgeous in the flesh than on TV, and he looks very scrubbed (I don’t like grubby men). Great eyes, great smile, beautiful hands (as good in real life as they are on camera), deep voice - very Alpha Male, but with a hint of boyishness in a laugh that has a touch of the childlike giggle about it. You just know he has a great, probably naughty, sense of humour. I also sense a strong moral core, as clearly witnessed by his career first in the police force (at 19, he was the youngest cop in Miami), a career as a trial lawyer and then ten years on the Bench, nine of which were spent in the criminal court (he was also the youngest circuit court judge in Miami and went on to be the judge who oversaw the trial on which the recent Pain and Gain movie was based). His parents, he says, instilled in him a strong moral code and work ethic.
“My parents gave up comfortable living in Cuba – my father was an executive at an American Corporation there – and when you got to the United States, you started over from scratch. My father’s first job was unloading railroad cars full of plantains, which I thought was kind of ironic as it’s not even a staple here. My father brought me up to work hard. He had two jobs and because my mother had learned English in Cuba, she was able to get a job as a legal secretary. At lunchtime, she would run to a shoe store and sell shoes for an hour to hopefully make another buck.”
His parents “did what they had to do” as they moved from the very bottom when they arrived in the US to the middle class suburbs, where they were finally able to develop a comfortable lifestyle. “I got to see them claw their way up and it basically taught me that in America, if you’re willing to work hard and apply yourself, you can do anything, especially if you get an education.” It really is the American Dream.
Judge Alex started his first job at 15, when he would go to high school till two, and from three to 11 work at a gas station, where he also worked on weekends from eight to eight. When he graduated from high school, he decided he wanted to be a pilot – “which was crazy, because I got sick every time I flew.”
He became a licensed pilot at 18, but meeting a lot of cops at the gas station had fueled (as it were) his interest in the force. He also had enormous respect for his grandfather, a cop in Cuba who had refused, even under threat of death, to work for Castro’s regime; but when Alex asked to join the police academy, he was discouraged by the police chief. With braces on his teeth (they certainly worked – “Great teeth”, I tell him), he looked more 16 than 19. The academy finally relented and he went on to win the award for most outstanding recruit.
Also influential during his formative years was the loss of his two brothers. His older brother, Tony, suffered from diabetes from childhood and died at 23, when Alex was 15. His brother Eddie, who was just a year older than Alex, died of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Did their passing increase his desire to do good in the world?
“I can’t say, because I’m not very self-analytical; I’m really horrible at that. But I know it changed my relationship to my family. I used to always be the clingy one. If someone came to the house, I’d be the one who’d run to the door and hug them, even if I didn’t know who they were. My brother Eddie was reserved. He would just sit back and if he wanted me to do something, he’d be like ‘You go, do this, go ask him this, go ask him that’. When Tony died, Eddie and I sort of switched personalities. I became more distant from my family and he became closer and more clingy. I didn’t notice it, but my mother and another relative said they saw those changes.”
He talks movingly of how difficult it must have been for his parents to lose two sons, and I wonder whether it has made him fear his own mortality more, especially now he has passed the big Five-O (he is 52 – 53 in October, a Libran. Scales of Justice! Spooky!).
“Am I not going to hit 60, is that what you’re telling me? I mean, you could break it to me gently.” There’s that gorgeous laugh again. It’s so gloriously childlike, you can almost see the little boy with his satchel and sandwiches in the schoolyard. “Thirty didn’t bother me, neither did 40 or 50, but I’m pretty sure 90 is going to bug me if I make it. But up until now, no. I think one of the things it did was it made me accept death in life. I don’t want it, but I don’t fear it.”
It is highly unusual to tackle The Grim Reaper during any interview. Most stars want to publicise their wares and get quickly away to the next promotion (my last Hollywood star meanly allotted me 15 minutes – 14 too many, as it turned out). It is a tribute to Judge Alex’s professionalism, charm and politeness that he does not. He is relaxed, friendly, but very focused, and, despite him enjoying a glass of wine, I know that the chances of getting him to crack with a DUI (Drunk Under Interview) indiscretion are nil. He apologises when his phone beeps (and he has to check messages for personal reasons, so is entirely forgiven); he says “please” and “thank you” to each waiter who approaches to ask what we want; and he stands every time I leave, or arrive back at the table (although, given my tiny bladder, I suspect it is something he may be regretting). My father did the same every time a female left or arrived back in the room, and I find it charming and the height of good manners. Judge Alex could be old school British, were he not so good looking.
Judge Alex left the police force for the law courts and saw the worst criminals pass before him. Nevertheless, the first time he was offered TV, he turned it down.
“It wasn’t that I wasn’t ready to do it, but television is a vicious industry. You can give up your career as a judge and do a TV show that lasts one year, then they cancel you; then, you’re not a judge and you don’t have a show. I loved being a judge and I wasn’t ready to just give that up and do something else on a whim, so I passed. But for two years, I kept saying 'You know, you should have done it', because I like to try different things.”
When the opportunity came around again, it was a “fork in the road” moment.
“I’d spent nine years out of my ten on the Bench in the criminal court, and that gets to you – it’s like layers of paint. Every day is 'Who raped their neighbour', 'Who killed their sister', and it really gets to you, so I was ready for a change and put my name in for the Appeals court, which is very sought after. The competition is very stiff and there were 60 applicants for, unusually, three places that year, and the Governor had a penchant for appointing minorities because the courts are under represented. I came out of the commission with nine unanimous votes.”
While awaiting an interview with the Governor, TV came knocking again, and therein lay the dilemma.
“On the one hand, you have the Appeals court, which is the pinnacle of any judge’s career, and on the other hand you have television, where they eat their young for breakfast. They told me eight out of ten new shows get canceled, which is true – and that’s people in the industry, who know what they’re doing; I didn’t, so it was a very tough decision. My kids were getting close to college age, and the money was certainly going to be much better. The taping schedule would also leave me a tremendous amount of free time to spend with them. So I talked to them about it and I said if it lasts it lasts, and if it doesn’t, it’s still an opportunity for me to spend time with them before they go off to college and start their own lives.”
He decided to take the plunge after talking with his good friend Marilyn Milian, host of another daytime court show, The People’s Court.
“I knew she enjoyed it and so when an approach was made two years after the first by 20th Television (the syndication branch of Fox), I took the plunge and we hit the ground running. We were the highest rated launch since Dr Phil had launched three years earlier, and we beat every daytime launch since then to become the highest rated new daytime show in syndication.”
It was a decision that undoubtedly enabled him to forge a great relationship with his children to whom he is extremely close (“My biggest fear is something happening to them”), although he stresses the need for a moral upbringing.
“The way you instil a moral code in your children is by example. I see parents who steal cable, tying up the line to their neighbour’s – and then expect their kids not to be thieves. Or they get high in front of their kids and tell them not to do drugs. It’s ridiculous; your kids are not going to follow what you say but what you do – although, hopefully, they’ll follow both. But you need to do it by example. I was strict. I’ve spanked my kids just a couple of times in their lives and it all happened when they were 2/3 years old – a little pat on the bottom, because I’m one of those who believes that you instil the consequence at the beginning and they learn that there’s a consequence for bad actions. And if parents don’t discipline their kids when they’re young, I’ll have to do it for them as a judge when they’re older, but it’s going to be a lot worse. My kids are wonderful and they learned early on that if you punch your sister, you’re going to get punished. My son did it one time and never again.”
At this point, I’m sort of listening to the morality stuff, but that spanking reference and pat on the bottom has distracted me somewhat. I’m now looking at those hands in a different light. Anyway…
Television fame has brought Judge Alex praise not only for his wit and repartee. He was once voted the second most trusted face on daytime TV (behind Dr Oz) and made People Magazine’s Sexiest Men edition as Sexiest Judge. He is suitably modest about the praise, though admits to being “flattered”. After 26 years of marriage to his artist wife, Jane, he thought she would be most pleased by the trustworthy label, but “She didn’t think anything of it. But ‘sexy’, she was bouncing off the wall, calling everyone she knew.”
It’s hard to find a crack in the armour of a man who seems, from every angle, loyal, loving, bright, funny, and brilliant at his job, appearing on countless TV shows when major cases are broadcast live. Piers Morgan, Fox, HLN – he’s done them all and, during the recent George Zimmerman murder trial, was never off the air. I love his work, but my main criterion in any man is whether he would save me from a bear in the forest, and yes, I think he would do that, too.
He admits to having flaws and claims his wife would say that his worst fault is that he always thinks he’s right (I say go with it, Jane – you never know when a bear is going to alight upon you).
He seems pretty perfect to this critic of 30 years’ standing, and Judge Alex is still the best show on TV. When he leaves the interview (he has another appointment), he offers to come back to answer any more questions, and I quickly agree, although point out that some more wine might be consumed in his absence.
“So, what else do you want to ask?” he says, when he returns an hour later.
“Will you marry me?”
Damn. And I had been doing so well.
Blame it on the DUI.
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