Letterman and ferrets bring notice to a video producer

March 06, 1995|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Sun Staff Writer

Before the ferrets, work was rather humdrum for Gandhi M. Hurwitz of Baltimore. His video production company in his home on Woodbourne Avenue did a nice business taping witnesses for local lawyers and shooting the occasional wedding, but who noticed?

Not David Letterman, at least not until the ferrets appeared and Mr. Hurwitz's biggest video production ever -- "Ferrets Unmasked" -- scampered into the national spotlight earlier this month. What a night it was on "Late Night" for Beach Party Productions: 53 seconds of shtick, including an excerpt of the video, plus a running joke about a woman with ferrets in her pants.

One never knows what will amuse David Letterman. A couple of deadpan Pakistanis named Mujibur and Sirajul, a gnome named Larry "Bud" Melman, a video about ferrets. Mr. Hurwitz wasn't about to argue, even if his video on the care and feeding of ferrets, a member of the weasel family, was held up to ridicule throughout the show.

"I was thrilled to death," says Mr. Hurwitz, 33. "I thought it was hilarious. I thought it was the greatest thing I ever saw."

His real name is Gandhi, Gandhi Mario Hurwitz, which may help explain his well-developed sense of humor. His father, a retired philosophy professor named Gerald Quincy Hurwitz, did his doctoral dissertation on Mohandas Gandhi and so named his first son after the leader of India's quest for independence. Gandhi Hurwitz's brother, a 30-year-old guitarist who wrote the music for the ferret video, is named Tobias Tolstoy.

The two brothers, along with Gandhi's girlfriend, Mae Lucier, spent one year and about $20,000 making "Ferrets Unmasked."

says he and Ms. Lucier decided to make the video when they had trouble finding information on how to care for their ferrets, Prankster and Jester. "Ferrets Unmasked" hit the retail market in November, in time for a convention of ferret aficionados in White Plains, N.Y., where the one hour, 50-minute video was shown and then mentioned in a story published in the New York Times. Mr. Hurwitz was quoted.

Apparently this article caught the attention of Letterman staff members in search of material for a shtick called "Dave's Video Collection." In December, a member of the staff called Mr. Hurwitz to ask for a copy of the video, which sells for $24.95.

He heard nothing more from the "Late Night" crew until early February, when someone called to say they might use the video on the show and to ask if it were all right if they cracked a few jokes, perhaps something about a woman with ferrets in her pants.

"I told them we're not PC uptight," says Mr. Hurwitz. "We're not that sort of animal lover who doesn't have a sense of humor."

A good thing, because on the night of Feb. 10, Mr. Letterman launched into his video bit.

"Here's a video called 'Ferrets Unmasked,' the most comprehensive video on the domestic ferret" says Dave, sitting at his desk, presenting the video to the camera for a close-up. "Tonight we meet an enthusiast who gives us some tips on caring for your ferret."

Cut to an excerpt of the video, a close-up of Chrissy Cappelluti of Frederick, assistant vice president of the American Ferret Association. She's dispensing advice on proper sleeping accommodations for ferrets: "If it's cotton, absorbent, it would make very good bedding for ferrets. They like to climb into old pants, little kids' pants and you cut off the legs of them they make good snooze tubes for ferrets."

Cut back to Dave, who says: "Here's an interesting fact about this woman: At this very moment she's got ferrets in her pants."

With that, Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra strike up a rhythm and Dave sings a few bars of "She's got ferrets in her pants."

Twice more during the show, Ms. Cappelluti's face is shown, with this musical accompaniment. She is never identified.

Meanwhile back in Frederick, Ms. Cappelluti was watching.

"I laughed," she says.

A Spanish teacher at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick, Ms. Cappelluti says several students have approached her to ask "Miss Cappelluti, do you have ferrets in your pants?"

It's been embarrassing for her, but good for business Beach Party Productions, which sold 120 copies of the video the week after the show aired. They had been averaging about 50 orders a week, as word of the video spread through ferret club newsletters and word of mouth.

They've sold 1,000 copies, about enough to cover the cost of making the video.

With any luck, says Mr. Hurwitz, the ferret video may have helped launch a new chapter in the life of his five-year-old company: producing videos for specialized audiences.

"We're planning to get a hedgehog sometime soon," says Ms. Lucier. "Perhaps we'll do a hedgehog video."

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