DeWeese and Perzel, together again: politics can make for strange cellmates

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Two former Pennsylvania House speakers sharing a prison cell together? If that isn't a sitcom waiting to happen, I'm all out of suggestions.

Even in this uncommon commonwealth of ours, where the line between lawmaker and lawbreaker grows blurrier than Mr. Magoo's vision, it's still astounding to hear that former Speakers Bill DeWeese and John Perzel are bunking together at Camp Hill State Prison. [See Laura Olson's item in the PG's Early Returns blog: "DeWeese and His Familiar Roommate."]

Those people who say Republicans and Democrats can never get along must feel pretty silly now, eh? Just a 15-minute drive from the Capitol Building where they wielded power for years, DeWeese and Perzel now wield trays to the prison cafeteria as they await their final placement.

Were anyone to begin writing the script for this unlikely pairing, the obvious template would be "The Odd Couple." One can almost hear that opening narration:

"On April 24, Bill DeWeese was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. That request came from a judge. Deep down, Bill knew he was right, but he also knew that someday he would return. With nowhere else to go, he appeared at the cell of his rival, John Perzel. Only a month earlier, a judge had sentenced him, requesting that he never return. Can two convicted speakers share a prison cell without driving each other crazy?"

(Buh-dum-dee dum-dee-dum, dum-dee-dum, dum-dee-dum-dum ...)

I know, I know. That's too derivative. The public would never buy it. Remember the last remake of "The Odd Couple"?

Neither do I.

I contacted David Hollander in Hollywood for help. The Mt. Lebanon native created "The Guardian," the CBS drama set in Pittsburgh. (It starred that guy who's now "The Mentalist.")

Coincidentally, Mr. Hollander just finished writing a prison pilot. He loved this premise.

"Just the idea of a minimum-security prison is funny," he said, but he wouldn't make the two felonious speakers the stars.

"You need to make the show about the people who live next door. [Perzel and DeWeese] are the Ropers to your 'Three's Company.' They're more Michael Richards than Seinfeld. You never want them to come over."

Another possibility is a "Love Boat" sort of show with different guest stars, such as Rod Blagojevich, one of a couple of former Illinois governors now doing time in federal prison.

But whatever show we do, it will need a theme song.

I'm flashing on that one from "The Patty Duke Show." Maybe that's because, for all these two former speakers have in common, they have radically different backgrounds.

DeWeese is a loquacious, glad-handing Marine from Greene County. Perzel, a Philadelphian, started his working life in a deli before becoming a maitre d' in a fancy Philly restaurant, going straight from there to the statehouse.

Meet Johnny, who's served most everywhere

From table side to Speaker's chair

But Billy's just an average Joe

With lofty quotes from Cicero

What a crazy pair!

They were speakers

State capitol speakers all the way

One pair of matching felons

Different as night and day

Where Johnny adores a good cheese steak,

Computer schemes (That's Bonusgate)

Our Billy loves the land of coal

Pierogies make him lose control

What a wild duet!

Now they're felons

Bipartisan convicts and you'll find

They laugh alike, they walk alike

At times they even plea alike

You can lose your mind

When speakers are two of a kind.

My only fear is that Hollywood won't buy the premise.

An uncle who's a Martian, an alien puppet, a show about nothing -- those premises America was able to buy. But one state managing to produce two House speakers from different parties who agree to share the same cell?

That's pretty far out there though we, the people of Pennsylvania, barely bat an eye.

DeWeese, a likable fellow who may not agree to his guilt but is able to accept his comeuppance with grace and humor, wrote me last June 23 and concluded, "There is no limit to the startling events that can transpire within a year, and I can hardly wait to see them myself."

He thought he'd be found not guilty. Instead he landed a cellmate from across the political aisle.

Make of that what you will, but it already sounds better than "Mr. Belvedere."


Brian O'Neill: or 412-263-1947. First Published June 7, 2012 4:00 AM


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