Gaby Horowitz and Bruce Roman
Marcia Clark, 1997Marcia Clark, who achieved worldwide notoriety in 1994 as the lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson case, was married to Gaby Horowitz during the backgammon boom of the 1970s. She wrote of her relationship with Gaby and Bruce Roman in her 1997 book, Without a Doubt.
This was the early seventies; the Six-Day War, which had ended in a huge victory for Israel, was still fresh in the minds of American Jews. Israeli males who streamed to the States in its aftermath carried with them not only the aura of foreignness but the macho allure of the conqueror. Most of these hotshots found their way to Jewish communities, where they felt most at home. In Los Angeles, that was the Fairfax district.
Fairfax Avenue was jammed with small restaurants that served falafel and shuwarma. They were in constant and largely unsuccessful competition with Cantor's Delicatessen, the flagship anchored on the busiest part of the thoroughfare. Cantor's was the premier hangout for newly arrived Israelis, as well as for Americans who wanted to meet them. Young Jewish girls who were bored by the nice Jewish boys they'd grown up with were thrilled by the prospect of these exotic specimens.
My girlfriends and I tended to congregate at a joint across the street from Cantor's. It was there I met my first husband. I wasn't looking for a husband, or even a boyfriend. I had no desire to be added to anyone's list of conquests. My friends and I had finished eating when I was aware that one of the sharks was cruising our way. I was about to warn my friends to ignore him when he pulled up a chair and sat down next to me. I half-turned to say helloand sitting next to me was the most incredibly handsome man I had ever seen.
Gabythat's what his friends called himwas doubtless a womanizing cad. But he was very charming. And he was incredibly funny. Gaby's wit was never self-deprecating; the joke was always at someone else's expense. But it was always right on the mark. We began seeing each other. In less than a month I was living with him.
Gaby was flashy, always dressed to the nines in body-hugging suits. He seemed to have plenty of money. He slept all day and went nightclubbing all night. I found his lifestyle very glamorous, and allowed myself to be swept along by it.
Gaby played backgammon for a living. I'd never even heard of the game before I met him, but Gaby took great pains to teach it to me. He instructed me not only in the basic rules, but in theory and strategy as well. He spent hours explaining the various plays and how to size up your chances of winning at any given point. The sizing-up business was important, because the stakes of the game could be raised over and over again by "doubling." One player could challenge by offering to double the stakes. If the other player refused, the game ended and the challenger scored a point. The stakes could range from a quarter a point to hundreds or even thousands of dollars a point. When you consider that fifty or sixty points can be easily racked up in one sitting, you can see how some heavy coin could change hands, fast.
I soon learned that backgammon was a real hot pastime with the rich. The craze was in its infancy when Gaby and I first met. Two years later, when I started law school, it had become a full-tilt mania. Bars and clubs everywhere had at least one or two tables. Some clubs devoted themselves exclusively to it. The most popular of these was Pips, in Beverly Hills. Pips catered to the rich and famous. The name of the club was inlaid discreetly in brass to the right of the large double-doored entrance. Muted lighting, thick carpets, and dark, paneled walls lent the place an air of understated opulence. The room devoted to backgammon was right off the foyer. It had ten tables and its own bar. I liked Pips more than other places on the backgammon circuit because it was relatively quiet and had cushiony, well-upholstered chairs. There, I could park myself and study while Gaby played.
Gaby and I would drop into Pips every other night or so while he tried to hustle up a "pigeon," the pro's term for a novice who played for high stakes. It wasn't easy to get a game at Pips. The fashionable set usually played with their friends and were understandably leery of a flashy stranger with an Israeli accent. So if he failed to score, we'd move along to the Cavendish.
The Cavendish, located on the border between West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, was a private club that had been devoted largely to bridge and gin rummy. Gambling, of course, was illegal, and I'd heard that the Cavendish had been raided a couple of timesbut as far as I could tell that hadn't slowed down the action. During the early seventies, the entire back room was given over to backgammon. The Cavendish was not the plush playground that Pips was. It was located in an office building, two flights up. There was no elevator that serviced the club. Nor was there any sign visible from the street to announce its existence.
The first thing you saw when you came in was a long counter where club personnel would check to make sure you were a member in good standing. To the left of that counter was a lounge with a couple of sofas and coffee tables. If you passed through the lounge, you'd walk into a large room filled with bridge tables. To the back was a partition of wood and glass; beyond that, backgammon.
Gaby never had trouble finding a game here. In fact, he made a lot of money. The tabloids later portrayed Gaby as a chronic cheat. I should tell you that backgammon is a game of cutthroats, and it was very common for players to accuse one another of cheating. So you have to take those stories with a grain of salt. All I can say is, I never saw him cheat.
At the beginning, I loved doing the clubs with Gaby. But looking back on it, I can see that my life with Gaby was a weird existence by any standard. Gaby would play all night; then we'd hit a twenty-four-hour diner. By the time we got home, it would be four in the morning. We'd be too keyed up to sleep, so we'd watch TV until at least five or six A.M. Of course, then we slept until one or two in the afternoon.
After the first year, however, I found the charm of the nightclub circuit wearing a little thin. Nocturnal living left me isolated, depending almost solely upon Gaby for love and companionship. That wouldn't have been so bad, except that he and I fought a lot. Sometimes the conflicts were subtlehe'd get sarcastic over something as small as my not making dinner the way he liked it. But that was usually a pretext for deeper irritation, like the fact that I'd come home from dance class later than I was supposed to. He didn't like being alone. He couldn't stand not knowing where I was. He'd say he was afraid that whenever I wasn't with him, I was seeing other men.
I grabbed onto law school like a drowning woman clings to flotsam. It was to become my salvation. Law school took more effort than undergraduate work. I had to study. I had to memorize. I actually had to attend classes. Studying law served as an absorbing and invigorating counterpoint to my life with Gaby. The deeper I got into law, the more I withdrew from him.
Even now, I'm hard put to explain why I married him. But in its own weird way, getting married made sense at the time. Gaby needed a green card and he'd get one if he married me. I agreed on one conditionthat no one but the government would know about it. He agreed. And that's how we got married the first time. It was just a formality.
A year or so passed and Gaby started to talk about doing it properly. The idea of a wedding seemed to make him happy, so I gave in. On November 6, 1976, we were married again.
I continued to be the dutiful camp follower. Whenever Gaby had an out-of-town tournament, I'd bring my law books and study while he played. On the surface, everything seemed to be working out fine. It's just that our marriage was hollow at the core.
Gaby and I lived more or less separate lives. I got a job as an associate lawyer with the firm I'd been clerking for. And there I discovered the healing powers of work. More confident, I realized that my days with Gaby were numbered.
I agonized about leaving him. I knew I should just pick up and go, but I was hamstrung by guilt. Just as my career was taking off, his fortunes were taking a downturn. The backgammon mania was subsiding. It became clear that gambling would not provide him with an identityor even a livingvery much longer. All he'd ever been was a backgammon pro. A teacher at best; a hustler at worst.
Gaby was depressed. He needed professional help. As it happened, one of Gaby's star pupils was into Scientology in a big way. His name was Bruce Roman and he was one of the few genuinely good guys I met on the backgammon circuit. Bruce was a tall man whose athletic build and curly blond hair contrasted strikingly with Gaby's dark good looks. When they went out together, women would stop dead in their tracks and stare.
Bruce was passionate about backgammon. He just couldn't get enough. He initially gravitated toward Gaby in order to learn the game, but over time the teaching relationship grew into a close friendship. At my urging, Bruce suggested to Gaby that he might look into Scientology.
At first, Gaby was reluctant. His attitude was basically "What can they tell me that I don't already know?" He agreed to enrol in a few courses and we went together to sign up for the first class.
Gaby's spirits seemed to be improving. After only three or four weeks, however, I heard that he was close to getting thrown out. Apparently, he'd been hitting on the women in his classes and they didn't appreciate it. They complained to the supervisors, and Gaby was put on notice that he'd have to clean up his act or get out.
When I left Gaby, I was destitute. In spite of that, I was happy. I felt I might actually be able to make it out on my own.
I met the man who would become my second husband, Gordon Clark, a pleasant young man at the Scientology administrative offices. The Church of Scientology didn't allow romantic liaisons between its officers and members of the public. If Gordon wanted to stay on the staff and keep seeing me, we'd have to get married. The problem was that I was still legally married to Gaby. One of Gordon's fellow Scientologists told us how to get a quickie divorce in Tijuana.
Two weeks later Gordon and I got married in a friend's apartment. The Scientology minister who married us was Bruce Roman, who, strangely enough, managed to remain friends with Gaby.
Four or five months after I'd left Gaby I was driving through Beverly Hills when I saw him walking somewhere. His expression was so sad. I'd heard that he'd gotten into a fight with someone who accused him of cheating at backgammon. Gaby had been punched in the face. It was the first time I'd heard of a backgammon row ending in real violence.
I didn't hear anything about him for another seven years or so. One morning I saw a small article in the L.A. Times. A man named Gabriel Horowitz had suffered a gunshot wound to the head. I sat stunned, reading and reading the lines of print, not quite comprehending. Gabriel Horowitz? My Gaby? It had to be.
I asked a detective I was friendly with to check it out for me. A few days later he reported back. Gaby'd been visiting Bruce Roman and the two of them were looking at gunsthey were both collectorswhen the gun Bruce was holding went off and the wild shot found its way into Gaby's head. It had been a freak accident. The shot had ricocheted off the ceiling and hit Gaby on the rebound. It left him paralysed. Such a bizarre twist of fate.