"You'll be the death of me," the elderly man whispered.
Death wish? Jack Kevorkian heard it as a plea for a posthumous epigram.
"You Don't Know Jack," HBO's multiple-Emmy Award nominee — with the honors being handed out Aug. 29 — was written by Philadelphia's Adam Mazer, whose interviews with the doc assigned the moniker of "Dr. Death" for scripting physician-assisted suicide scenarios, has earned Northeast native son his own clear path in the maze that is Hollywood.
"I do know Jack," Mazer says of the medicine man with the unusual if ultimate panacea for life's pain who was convicted of second-degree murder in 1999 and released three years ago (and portrayed in the film by Al Pacino, directed by Barry Levinson).
"He is not the ghoulish character he has been portrayed as by the media," says Mazer. "I have gotten to know him. And I consider him a friend now."
And you do know Adam: The Emmy nominee's the one who, with former writing partner William Rotko, went into the "Breach" with their critically applauded 2007 fact-based feature on the spy with contacts who came in from the cold — the FBI's traitorous Robert Hanssen — and got caught.
An FBI agent, a doctor … what's next? A rabbi?
Bet your bimah on that one — and far afield from the one on which he strode as a 1980 Bar Mitzvah at Bustleton-Somerton Synagogue in the Northeast: Mazer, 43, is currently working on a script about the Rabbi Fred Neulander case, in which the erstwhile religious leader of Cherry Hill, N.J.'s Congregation M'kor Shalom was convicted of hiring a hit man to kill his wife, Carol.
Currently "working with a couple of producers" who have optioned author Arthur J. Magida's mesmerizing The Rabbi and the Hit Man, Mazer may have another hit on his hands with this project, which, at this point doesn't have a timetable for completion.
He hasn't met the life-sentence-serving-rabbi-beyond-the-fringe yet. But the producers' pick of Mazer is a perfect match of talent to tale that would have Yenta yodeling her approval.
Mazer himself concedes to personal selling points for the proposed project: "I'm from the area, and, with my film background … ," all a natural choice for one who calls himself a "biography kind of guy."
"I've always been fascinated with true stories, and have an appreciation for what people have done in their lives."
That extends to yet another truth-is-stronger than fiction factoid, his next project: Mazer is also penning the picture of Reuben Sturman, "a nice Jewish businessman" from Cleveland, he quips, who made book on a less-than-wholesome life.
Especially when a book on him — or, at least, a part of it — was Eric Schlosser's Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market, which X-rayed Sturman's X-rated empire as a $300 million-a-year porno king.
'Bursting at the Seams'
Mazer is now researching the Sturman subject.
Research? "Now I have an excuse," he kibitzes of what kind of reading material he brings home.
And home is still a big piece of his life. "I still feel so connected to Philadelphia, the Northeast, Bonner Street" says Mazer, even as he has paved his way in Los Angeles, having left the 'hood for Hollywood years ago, after graduating from Syracuse University.
"I reconnect with friends through Facebook. One of the most satisfying things in life is that I can share what I'm doing with my high school friends, whom I still hear from."
He hears quite a bit, too, from his No. 1 booster — besides his adored and supportive wife and two kids — a bubba who knew it was going to happen for him all along.
Mazer's grandmother, Irene Pollock, helps feed his ambitions and talents — in more ways than one.
"She still sends me those care packages," he says of the kamish bread that is his bread-and-butter connection to his times at George Washington High, from which he graduated before going on to Syracuse University.
And, like those jam-packed packages, the 91-year-old Pollock can't be held together by a simple ribbon.
"I am bursting at the seams," she says of the schepping cart of nachas she fills with pride.
Her grandson's own scenario — his parents divorced when he was young — was scripted in its own drama. Mazer's mom, Sheila, who died 12 years ago, ran the family Center City dry-cleaning business started by her father in the '50s and then took it on herself for some 15 years beginning in the late '70s.
"His mother was a single mom who worked very hard" at Crosstown Cleaners, but there was nary a need for a cross word between the close mother and son because Adam "never gave her a moment's problem," she says.
But he did give her time.
When his mother was sick, "he gave up four months of his career to come back and be with her. It is unfortunate," laments the grandmother, "that his mother isn't here to see it" happen for him. And that, she adds, "he did it all on his own."
What Mazer owns is an enviable track record of superbly scripted work; the latest may earn him an Emmy on Sunday.
The greatest compliment Kevorkian gave him, according to Mazer, "was telling me that he cried a couple of times" at the premiere screening of the HBO film.
"It was important for me to honor his entire story" — a saga of why a man would risk being derided as a hypocratic oaf, and take a chance of ruining his life to help others end theirs.
With or without the Emmy tucked under his arm, Mazer better have his hands available for a nosh and a visit to his Philly roots this fall.
"I'm making my sweet-and-sour meatballs for him," announces his grandmother.
Certainly, she's had her fill of popcorn lately. But then, maybe not.
"His movie?" she announces triumphantly. "I've seen it 20 times!"
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