More than 50 years ago, Bernardo Puccio left his home in rural Alabama for the glamorous world of Beverly Hills. All he had with him were 13 pieces of unmatched luggage and his poodle.
“My journey was particularly amazing,” the son of first generation Italian-Americans wrote in his memoir, “Thirteen Pieces of Unmatched Luggage and My Poodle.” “From that humble origin I became one of California’s foremost interior designers. I walked with stars and luminaries who occupied the Golden Age of Hollywood. I tasted of every fruit and still craved more.”
Puccio is coming to South Florida this weekend to promote the autobiography, drafted in longhand over five years.
Throughout his career, Puccio hung out with the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bee Gees; designed the home of Emmy-winning actor Telly Savalas (“Kojak”); and worked with Elizabeth Taylor on star-studded charity fundraisers that raised millions of dollars for AIDS research and treatment. His work was regularly praised in Architectural Digest, the Los Angeles Times, Florida Design and other magazines.
Even though he had a fetish for dressing up in his mother’s wedding dress, Puccio didn’t initially identify as being gay. Perhaps the juiciest moment in his book is the retelling of the only time he had sex with a woman.
After a night of heavy drinking, Hollywood screen siren Lana Turner seduced Puccio.
“In truth, I had enjoyed that moment of sexual pleasure, and won’t ever forget it,” he wrote. “I wondered more than twice if I was even still gay? What a strange thought.”
They remained friends for years and he credits her with turning him into a heavier drinker— and changing his name from Bernard to Bernardo.
Puccio also talks of the time he met Rock Hudson, regretting that he rebuffed the handsome movie star’s invitation to join him for coffee.
He wrote, “I could not believe I said no to his offer. I have always wondered how my life would have possibly changed had I gone out with him.”
Years later, Puccio’s desire to marry his longtime partner Orin Kennedy became the subject of a 2006 documentary, “An Ordinary Couple,” that was screened at film festivals around the globe, including the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival.
Then, contrast his glamorous lifestyle with frightening moments a decade ago when he confronted end-stage liver disease:
“I should have quit drinking earlier,” Puccio admitted in a telephone interview with SFGN. “I almost didn’t get (the) liver transplant, but I’m so glad I did or I wouldn’t be here today sharing my story.”
Unlike many LGBT people who had difficulties reconciling their religious faith, Puccio credits his Catholic upbringing for getting him through that life-threatening trial and a he remains a devoted follower.
“I met two different popes on four occasions,” he said proudly.
Puccio’s advice to the new generation of LGBT young people who didn’t live through the civil rights movement, gay liberation and the fight for marriage equality:
“I was always an original, never afraid to be who I was,” he said, “and I would encourage them to do the same in everything they pursue,” Puccio concluded. “Never be afraid to dream and follow your vision.”
Bernardo Puccio will sign his memoir, “Thirteen Pieces of Unmatched Luggage and a Poodle,” 4 – 7 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 3 at Gallery 22, 320 Esplanade #53 in Boca Raton. For more information, go to BernardoPuccio.com.