February 16th, 2011:

Ever Met a 6-foot Lizard?

An Example of a Monitor Lizard

A few years ago when actress Sharon Stone was married, she treated her husband to a special tour of the Los Angeles Zoo. He was in the reptile enclosure for a Komodo Dragon when this very large creature bit him on the foot; the injury was serious and quite painful. Interestingly enough, they are no longer married.

The incident reminded me of my former neighbor, Jules Sylvester, owner of Reptile Rentals. One of Jules’ favorite creatures about 20 years ago was a 7-foot long reptile he named Brutus. Brutus was a Monitor Lizard, somewhat similar to the Komodo Dragon, and was one of the stars of “The Freshman,” a film featuring Marlon Brando and Matthew Broderick. Broderick’s character was helping to provide exotic meals of endangered species for a group of wealthy gourmets. Brutus was to end up on a plate!

Jules worked at getting the best performance from Brutus. His primary scene was an escape from the back seat of a fancy car onto the pavement of a gas station, as memory serves. I’ve seen the movie a couple of times and always enjoyed the hilarity of watching this monstrous reptile coolly make his exit and scurry away, being chased by Matthew Broderick. Reptiles may look clumsy but they can move extremely fast, as Sharon Stone’s former husband can testify.

I got to “meet” Brutus when I went out to the Animal Actors of Hollywood Ranch in Thousand Oaks to interview Jules. I was writing my story for the Daily News and our photographer went out with me. She took a photo of me and Brutus, but never sent it to me, alas.

Seeing Jules’ trailer with all the snakes, mice, cockroaches, etc. was entertaining but insects and snakes were never my passion. But, by listening to Jules and absorbing his positive energy, it was hard not to feel enthusiastic about it all.

Brutus must have known in his reptilian brain that his keeper really cared for him. Jules took Brutus to his young sons’ nursery school for photos; I can imagine how those youngsters were amazed over this unusual creature.

One year I got a wonderful Christmas card, which I wish I still had. The setting was professional–a well-lit background showed a grinning Jules, who was over six feet in height, standing with his arms around Brutus. They were head to head, the reptile’s long tail slightly curled on the ground.

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