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Alan Abel: Flush With Faint Hoax

February 06, 1985|JAY SHARBUTT | Times Staff Writer

Alan Abel, who used to cry "a nude horse is a rude horse" during his campaign to put pants on animals, planned to hold a major press conference this week to tell why seven people, all clothed, fainted during a recent "Donahue" show.

But he has called it off. "I was afraid nobody would show up," he said. He conceded that this may be because one of the faintees, actress Deborah Harmon, who collapsed at the feet of silver-haired Phil Donahue, already has told all.

Her revelation: The fainting--which, besides her, involved six members of the studio audience--actually was a hoax plotted by Abel, who in nearly 30 years has probably pulled more legs than a clutch of chiropractors.

"Yes, I have to take credit--and the heat, if there's going to be any litigation," he said Monday. He said he has alerted his lawyer here to be ready to fly East at a moment's notice ("by air freight, though; we haven't much money").

The "Donahue" caper was committed by members of FAINT (Fight Against Idiotic Neurotic TV). Abel said it's a new group he founded to encourage live TV, protest poor-quality TV and generally "raise the subconsciousness of the public by going unconscious."

Their debut was the latest chapter in the book of Abel, who raises Cain both for fun and profit. He has practiced the art of the put-on since the late 1950s, when his campaign to clothe animals got considerable publicity and mail. Some of the epistles praised his efforts. Many others suggested, in all seriousness, that he had a cog loose.

It was only the opening round for Abel. After his work for the Society for Indecency to Animals and with time out for the writing of his autobiography, "Confessions of a Hoaxer," he pressed on to various other ventures, such as:

--Managing the four presidential campaigns of his wife, Jeanne. Posing as Mrs. Yetta Bronstein, candidate from the Bronx, she got a modicum of public attention, if only a few votes. Her battle cry: "Put a mother in the White House."

--Posing as a flash-frozen Howard Hughes at a New York press conference to promote an Abel-produced movie, "Is There Sex After Death?" (The explanation is complicated, but suffice to say that a lot of reporters were trying to find the billionaire at the time.)

--Arranging a well-attended Watergate-era press conference for a mysterious woman who claimed to have had sexual congress with, well, congressmen.

--Responding to an editorial on WCBS-TV in New York (much too late did the station discover that the response not only made no sense but also was a put-on).

--His own carefully orchestrated obituary, in the august New York Times, that said he'd expired while in Utah scouting locations for a new horror movie. The film, he said, was "Who's Going to Bite Your Neck, My Dear, When All of My Teeth Are Gone?"

Abel's latest exercise occurred Jan. 21 in an NBC studio in New York, where Donahue's syndicated talk show is done live. A discussion about gay senior citizens was under way when the multiple swoon commenced.

The show's staff initially attributed the collapses primarily to the weather, saying that the stricken apparently succumbed to the contrast between the subzero temperatures they had endured before getting to NBC and the show's warm, brightly lit TV studio.

Penny Rotheiser, a spokeswoman for the series, said that Donahue was genuinely concerned for the health of the fallen and cleared the studio. Medical aid was summoned. But when he learned that it was all a hoax, he was quite upset, she said.

(Actress Harmon unexpectedly made the revelation Friday on a TV news show in New York. Although Abel still is a tad miffed at her for ruining his planned press conference, he said she has "called to ask forgiveness" and he has granted same.)

No such pardon has been granted by the "Donahue" staff.

"It was terribly unfair, not just to us but also the audience," Rotheiser said. After those who had fainted were examined by medical personnel, she added, the show sent all of them home in cabs and "we later called to make sure everyone was well."

Abel, interviewed by phone from his home in Westbury, Conn., was not among the stricken. Fearing that he might have been recognized and the plot halted at the studio door, he decided to stay home and await developments.

He said he felt sorry for Donahue, whom he called a good man whose show was picked only because it is aired live in many markets. "We looked, but there weren't any others," he said. He was asked how he got his co-conspirators into the popular program, which has an eight-month waiting list for tickets. "Er, we had an inside source," he said.

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