Tales from Boston’s Combat Zone when Bill Gates was in town

So now it turns out that Bill Gates, the uber-geek multi-billionaire founder of Microsoft, was a habitue of the old Combat Zone back in the 1970s.

So now it turns out that Bill Gates, the uber-geek multi-billionaire founder of Microsoft, was a habitue of the old Combat Zone back in the 1970’s.

Before he started lecturing the world about vaccines and global warming, he was cutting classes at Harvard College and taking the Red Line over to the city and wandering dingy XXX-rated lower Washington Street?

Did Bill Gates ever check out the All Nude College Girl Revue at the Naked Eye?

Did he ever spring for a $13 glass of “champagne” for one of the, uh, exotic dancers?

Imagine how differently Gates’ life might have turned out if, instead of Melinda, he’d hooked up with Princess Cheyenne, or before her, Chesty Morgan.

If you read the early biographies of Gates, I guess Bill-Gates-in-the-Zone is old news, or was, until word last week of his impending divorce from Melinda.

According to one of the biographies, at Harvard Gates “was the subject of rumors for his visits to the Combat Zone, notorious for porn films and prostitution and drug deals.”

Among other things….

Gates arrived in Cambridge in the fall of 1973, and dropped out two years later. That would be right in the middle of what might be described as the Zone’s golden age.

Do you suppose Bill Gates was in the crowd that Saturday night at the Pilgrim Theater in 1974 when Fanne Foxe, the Argentine Firecracker, was bumping and grinding up on stage?

She’d made her name, such as it was, at the Silver Slipper in DC, where she’d started seeing a lot of Rep. Wilbur Mills of Arkansas, then chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means committee.

During an earlier spat with Wilbur in DC, the Firecracker had jumped out of a car and dived into the Tidal Basin. The cops found Wilbur in the driver’s seat, drunk and with cuts all over his face. You can’t buy publicity like that. She decided to hit the stripper circuit, and Mistah Chairman followed her.

At the Pilgrim that evening, Wilbur chased Fanne around the stage for a bit, to the hoots and howls of the crowd, and then tumbled into the empty orchestra pit.

There was a Herald reporter in the theater. It was very big news.

Do you suppose young Bill Gates knew the ditty from those enchanted evenings?

“She was only a stripper from the Silver Slipper/ But she had her ways and means.”

The Combat Zone is where hitman Johnny Martorano learned his trade, starting as a bouncer at his father’s second-floor club, Luigi’s, throwing drunks down the stairs. Later he moved to Enrico’s on LaGrange Street, where he would bribe a state cop named Schneiderhan – always putting the cash in a plain envelope, so as not to embarrass the proud Statie.

People were always getting into trouble in the Zone, and I don’t just mean the sad johns who would get rounded up by the vice squad in “Operation Squeeze” every couple of months.

If I needed a column, I’d head up to the first session of the BMC and listen to their pathetic excuses: “She asked me for a light… I made a wrong turn… I wasn’t soliciting the young lady, I rolled the window down to ask for directions.”

One night a reporter-photographer team was prowling the Zone, and the reporter, who was feeling no pain, had to… ask directions, I guess. The young lady started running away and the reporter chased her. But in his tired and emotional condition, he tripped and fell into a hole at a construction site and broke several bones.

Very embarrassing, or would have been, if the photographer hadn’t come up with a story before the ambulance arrived. The hooker, he said, was being abused by her pimp, and Hero Reporter had come to her rescue, but had been hurled into the pit by the evil knife-wielding pimp.

Very fake news, but it was such a good story that it got picked up by the wires and went national. A couple of days later, the reporter was lying in his hospital bed when he got a phone call.

It was President Richard M. Nixon, calling to congratulate him on his bravery.

I remember one night after a Red Sox game, a bunch of us went into the Intermission Lounge. We sat down at the bar and one of the guys did a double-take as he saw the bartender.

“Uncle Buddy!” he said. “When did you get out of prison?”

Gates would have been Class of ’77 at Harvard. He was in the same class with a Crimson football player named Andrew Puopolo. One night in December 1976 a bunch of Harvard football players were partying in the Zone, and Puopolo was fatally stabbed.

Again, national news, and the Zone never ran quite as wide open again.

As late as the mid-1980’s, though, I can remember doing a TV story on a Canadian politician who’d come to Boston for a convention and run up huge bills on his provincial credit card for “champagne” at places like the Normandy and the Caribe.

Those were the days. Just ask Bill Gates.

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