Exclusive – Frank Tassone’s reaction to HBO’s new film Bad Education
(Z-61059V) CM1013 COACH MIKE: FRANK TASSONE PT. 2
COACH MIKE BAYER: Welcome back to the Coach Mike Podcast, this is Mike Bayer and last week I had the opportunity to exclusively interview Frank Tassone, who’s rising fall from grace is one of the most complex and multilayered dramas of the 21st century. This story begins in 2004 when it was revealed that Frank, the beloved school superintendent from Long Island Roslyn School District, took part in a multimillion-dollar embezzlement scheme. It rocked an entire community and sent high-level officials including, Frank, to jail. This past Saturday evening on April 25th HBO premiered, “Bad Education” retelling this epic tale of lies, greed and betrayal. “Bad Education” starring award-winning actors, Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, and Ray Romano have received critical acclaim across the board. You have one man who bares the unthinkable burden of its very creation and lives everyday filled with regret and isn't sharing in those same rave reviews. Frank Tassone, joins us today with his thoughts on the film. Hugh Jackman’s performance and how his never ending struggle to forgive himself for a crime committed more than 20 years ago… continues to haunt him today. – Frank, how are you?
FRANK TASSONE: I’m okay!
MIKE: We spoke a week ago uh, right before the premiere last night at HBO’s “Bad Education” and I had asked you over the past week to try to just connect with your friends and family and look at as little process as possible, were you able to do that?
FRANK: I was, I did connect with family, received tremendous support. It’s been a challenging week.
MIKE: You get a lot of anxiety as leading up to the movie and then last night it premiered and I asked you to have a notepad and just kind of jot down as you were going through the movie, any feelings or reactions that came up for you.
FRANK: I did that and then I could not sleep all night, so I got onto my computer and I actually word processed my feelings and some of the things that (STAMMERS) as the movie progressed.
MIKE: So tell me what was the journey like for you watching it?
FRANK: It was difficult, very difficult um I recognized that what I did was wrong and I broke the law but that was 20 years ago when I finally thought you know, I could go forward and for it to come back 20 years later brought back feelings that were hurtful, and that were warranted in many respects (STAMMERS) so it was a challenging time to watch the movie.
MIKE: So the first moment when you started to uh have a very strong reaction was at what stage? Was it as soon as the movie opened up or was your…
FRANK: As soon as the movie opened up but –I was stressed and upset. I guess I just felt the movie itself but I did take notes and I did talk about the things that I thought were good and there were things that were true, good—
MIKE: What are those? What was true and good?
FRANK: You know that scene where I'm with the youngsters (STAMMERS) that was something that went on a regular basis, where I met with students in every school at least once a month about 20 students and I didn’t want to hear teachers (UNINTELLIGIBLE) just wanted (STAMMERS) what we’re doing well and what we can improve upon. I did do that. What also was true was when I went to conferences like I did in Las Vegas, I did go to the meetings and I did learn a lot that was, that was true. I also was always very positive with all of the parents and all the students, I always tried to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and do my best that I could do and the movie presents that at the beginning.
MIKE: So in terms of being a true story versus not true, if you were to give it a percent how much of it would you say of the percent, is true?
FRANK: I would say… maybe 40% of it was true… 40 to 50%
FRANK: And 40 to 50% (STAMMERS) definitely was not true.
MIKE: And what that –was not true was the most bothersome thing that you saw?
FRANK: Well for one thing, my wife (UNINTELLIGIBLE) my wife. I think there was a lot of implication or at least I felt that I didn’t have a wonderful marriage and I didn‘t love her very much and I did you know, with the photograph right there and I know where that came from because somebody had said that to me when all this happened that I made up the photo and I almost felt it was disrespectful to her and the other part was that I have a wonderful relationship with Steven, we have a 45 year relationship and I did not keep secrets from Steven. We did go through a period where we had an open relationship and when I went to Vegas, I did meet somebody (STAMMERS) but bothered me terribly was never a former student.
MIKE: The scene with you and the former student… what an awkward scene. It made it seem like um… I don't know just watching it back –what is this?
FRANK: It’s crazy because you know; I had never ever in my 36 years career and education had any relationship with a student in school or someone who had graduated. Now, did I have a relationship with someone at the time, yes, and Steven knew about it but never with a former student.
MIKE: Did you have any feelings around how they painted you as a gay man?
FRANK: Yes I did. (STAMMERS) you know, that upset me as well because I’m not ashamed of being a gay man and again, they made it seem somewhat sorted and we’re in the year 2020. Yes when I began teaching in 1968 as I told you I was passed over for an assistant principal simply because I was gay so I had to hide it, and somebody said (UNINTELLIGIBLE) correct because if I would have told the Board of Education, I’m gay then I would have never gotten the position so I told the true story which is that I am a widower and Steven and I are not married, we are domestic partners and both he and Joanne are the most important people (EMOTIONAL) (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that bothered me, that upset me when the um (UNINTELLIGIBLE) questioned Steven and he implied that Steven didn’t even know I was married. All of that just was not the case and I don’t understand why they had to bring my sexuality into the film. You know, the scene where (STAMMERS) and I did have a regular (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that particular one, the PTS would auction me off and would go into a luncheon at one of their homes and I would discuss one of –sometimes Dickens novels but other novels as well and when we went into the kitchen the mother tried to kiss me, and I thought, that never happened. No parent ever acted inappropriately and I was very taken back by that plus I never (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
MIKE: But also, what about the young reporter that looks like, that’s how the story broke because some student really –was any of that true?
FRANK: None of it was true.
FRANK: Remember I told you there was an anonymous letter that was sent out during the winter break—
FRANK: And that’s how the story broke. Whether or not after I left—
MIKE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) wrote something.
FRANK: She wrote something that may be very true.
FRANK: But that was totally false.
MIKE: I wonder why— do you think they just didn’t know there was an anonymous letter or do you think it's like better entertainment to create this character.
FRANK: Well I know they knew there was an anonymous letter.
FRANK: Everybody knew that there aren’t that very many secrets in Roslyn.
MIKE: (STAMMERS) How accurate—curiosity since watching this, how accurate was the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
FRANK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was pretty accurate.
FRANK: I thought she did a really wonderful job. A lot of that was (STAMMERS) Pam.
MIKE: Her personality and everything.
FRANK: Yes and the whole family is involved which I knew nothing about but I thought she was excellent because Pam was like that. She was very vivacious. She did know a great deal about finance, I trusted her implicitly and I made the terrible mistake which we talked about before about when she didn’t cash my checks stepping forward and then I got myself into it deeper and deeper but Allison Janney (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I thought she did a very good job.
MIKE: Was the niece real? The on that asked—
(UNINTELLIGIBLE OVERLAPPING DIALOGUE)
FRANK: What wasn’t real was I knew nothing that she was involved. I really had absolutely no idea, when we found out she was, she always worked downstairs. We just changed her responsibility from finance to something different and they put her in that isolated room as though she was being punished and that wasn’t true. She just had different responsibilities but she was at the same desk with all the other secretaries downstairs.
MIKE: Where do you feel like in watching it back ‘cause it’s gotta be so interesting because you did a horrible thing, you admitted you did it, you went to prison, you became headline news, you know, even since it’s come out some people have messaged me and they're like, “I’m being too kind to you.” That somehow I should be really upset. In my mind I’m like look (UNINTELLIGIBLE) admit it, it is what it is, in watching Hugh Jackman play you, what would you want to say to him?
FRANK: I would want to say to him that he did a very good job portraying me. I understand he was on the Today show and on another talk show and on the Today show they said something to him, he played that horrible superintendent, and he actually defended me. He said I was a very good superintendent and I was surprised when I heard about that, but I think he did a good job playing me, especially at the end when you know, I’m in prison, I walk out and I see what I lost because I did something so terrible. That really hit home for me… because I did lose all of that ‘cause of greed and I made a terrible error and I broke the law.
MIKE: When Pam was caught in the movie and claimed that you fought for her not to go to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) but then you refused to talk to her… is that what happened?
FRANK: No. What happened was I really tried to stay out of it ‘cause we had brought in an attorney who said you don’t have to report her, all she has to do is pay back the money and resign. I really did try to stay out of it because on one hand I didn’t want the police to find out ‘cause I knew it would implicate me and on the other hand I thought to myself maybe all should come out now, because everything comes out in the end, and it did, and so I lived for years worrying about it happening and coming out, and it did, in fact, it did.
MIKE: And during those two years when you were still there were you still taking money for –
FRANK: Oh no.
MIKE: (STAMMERS) you stopped?
FRANK: Of ‘course I stopped.
MIKE: Okay. Did you speak to Pam again after all this went down?
FRANK: A couple of times I did.
MIKE: (STAMMERS) you were that close right?
FRANK: We weren’t –actually (UNINTELLIGIBLE) superintendents that were outstanding as well. One for curriculum and one for personnel. Actually I was close to all of them. I never had a personal relationship with Pam and I think o said that the last time. I really hadn’t acknowledged that her whole family was involved and (STAMMERS) so we did talk, not as much because she was doing her own thing. I think she has opened a laundromat. They say in the film that she worked for her husband who did have a car dealership. I really don’t know what happened but I didn’t talk to her frequently.
MIKE: IS there any relief not that it’s out?
I’m not sure you know, I still feel really awful. It took me back 20 years again. Our talk helped tremendously and I am trying to forgive myself or at least say what I did was terrible because it was and I broke the law. I also remember you telling me you went to prison, you paid back the full two point two million dollars and now you have to go on.
FRANK: And I hope I can.
MIKE: Yeah you know, it’s interesting when there's a period of time when we were speaking across the country at events, you know, everything’s been put on hold uh because of the corona virus but a lot of speakers actually have been to prison before, a lot of people have a past and they use their past pain or fear or greed or uh moment of not being themselves as a teaching tool (STAMMERS) as a way to actually help or teach and a lot of people finally get empowered through doing that. What is a way for you to move on? The universe seems to keep bringing it around you. It’s like Frank, you're not gonna forget about this. So what do you do with it now? Do you have any ideas?
FRANK: When I first was released, I worked at a Hudson project up in Austin, and I helped the director who had been in prison for 25 years. It’s a college program for inmates, and I did help him and work with him in terms of h0ow to be a good administrator and then he wanted me to teach English at Austin and I have to say that when I went there it was just too much for me to go back into the person. Prison life is a very difficult situation you know, and we were talking. I had, had really wanted to go to school and talk about my mistake and what I had done and what was wrong but he was really doing that.
MIKE: Who was doing that?
FRANK: The head of the Hudson County—
FRANK: …Project. Which is a college program as I said for inmates. So, I would like to do something to help people not make the terrible mistake that I did.
MIKE: In the last 20 years I know you’ve gone to a few different places to tell your story and using it as a vehicle to teach people what not to do and how to get through it, how many times have you done that?
FRANK: Maybe 10 or 20, perhaps.
MIKE: How'd you feel when you did it?
FRANK: I felt very good (STAMMERS) to explain what I had done and how it’s something you don’t want to do because it would change your life forever. I felt very good at that point that I also, while I was waiting to go into prison I was reading to the blind, I also volunteered at the church so perhaps what I need to do is more of that.
MIKE: Well I have an opportunity, so every Tuesday at 5pm pacific time Los Angeles time, I have an empowering group so every week we have different speakers uh last week I had a nutritionist, I had a drag queen talk about getting comfortable in your own skin, a week before that I had Lady Gaga as creative director talking about finding inspiration in isolation, and every week there’s a different topic and it could (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there’s 100s of people (UNINTELLIGIBLE) very nice and you can use your story and start to tell it because right now you’re not able to go anywhere uh and it could be healing for you and other people can relate and a way to just kind of start telling your story instead of letting everyone else kind of tell your story.
FRANK: I’d be very interested in that absolutely.
MIKE: If you’re down you can do it this Tuesday and it’s free so everyone who goes on it’s free, some people have crazy histories like I just think it could be a good spot for you also to hear from strangers who don’t know a lot about what’s going on and you have a very interesting story and I also think it’s a vehicle for you to get through your own healing.
MIKE: And at some point if you’re just reading the headlines or there’s a piece –a body of work about you and you’re not in your own safe way telling your own story it starts to feel like we can get overwhelmed with stuff that’s not true, negativity and it could just be a good way for you to get plugged in but I’ll send you some information after (UNINTELLIGIBLE) like people from all over the world will be on it.
FRANK: It sounds like something that may help me um in terms of my own redemption and my forgiveness, even after our talk, which helped tremendously.
MIKE: What about it helped you?
FRANK: Some of what you said about people commit all kinds of crimes and do all kinds of things and you paid your due and you’re still punishing yourself, I would like to very much be a part of a program like that. Perhaps I could help people not make the same mistake that I made and not have to live with it because I have to live with it.
MIKE: Like I’m an ex-meth addict, okay? Even when I was younger I sold a little meth, did horrible things, I come from a good family, you know, I went (UNINTELLIGIBLE) New York and ended up dropping out of high school, I had a lot of emotional issues but like I didn’t get caught, a lot of people do get caught. The people who get caught like of my gosh (STAMMERS) the reality is it’s like why I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) my profession into my own struggles then came through the other side in helping other people because otherwise I don’t want to live that story that (STAMMERS) you know, 18 years ago and there has to be some light that comes in and I find that healing happens and forgiveness happens in ourselves when we’re able to use our past mistakes to help other people in their lives. You know, we all have so many years left on this planet, right? And it’s how do you start feeling and thinking differently and helping other people? Use your story. Help others. There’s this whole thing that’s like, “Oh my God, education, education…” This happens in business everyday, this happens in big business, small businesses, it happens in the Governments, this goes on and I think if you’re able to you know, be honest and vulnerable and talk about it, it ends up potentially having less situations like this happen.
FRANK: And, and we’d like that to happen, there’s no question. I wouldn’t want anybody to make the mistake and to break the law the way I did. Especially when I had a wonderful career going and as I said at the end of the film especially, when he walks out into the stage and the expression on his face, his expression of loss, that is exactly how I felt.
MIKE: When you look at, kind of, the trauma... What moments are still coming up for you with your past? Like, what are the top three headlines moments that still keep living with you?
FRANK: Well one is that I committed a crime and that was a terrible thing. Second is that I took resources that I had no right to. That comes up all the time. As I said I worked in four of the districts and never did I do anything like that and here at the end of my career I go and do that and it kind of negates all the good that I did. I feel in my heart that it negates all the good that I did, and what also hurts me… the third major thing is that parents felt I betrayed them, and I worked so hard, I mean I really put effort into meeting the children’s needs and meeting all staff needs. I still hear from staff members in Roslyn.
MIKE: (STAMMERS) let me ask you, one more question ‘cause you went to prison…
MIKE: …nothing was from that period of time either that was traumatic or scary or…
FRANK: Oh it was very traumatic because I first went to a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) orientation prison.
MIKE: Were they have a surveillance on you and you’re—
FRANK: Well where you go in to the huge—they call it a bullpen, they make you strip and face the wall and hose you down and then they cut all of your hair off and you were locked in your cell 23 hours a day, and I was having lunch or dinner rather with people who had murdered and raped and then I went to a second prison, again, I was in protective custody and spent most of the day within a tiny cell and that lasted about two more years and then I was moved to a really positive prison where they had a lot of education going on and I taught three courses a day. I took many of the courses as well in criminal behavior to better understand what I had done and then finally I went to a work release prison and in that prison I handled the whole educational program that on the day I left the superintendent came in and thanked me and the officers who would sit outside the classroom when I was teaching prisoners how to write a check…they knew nothing of this. They had never had a job, and they said (UNINTELLIGIBLE) really do a great job and I said well I should, that was my whole career, that was my life. And I got a great deal of satisfaction from helping them.
MIKE: At what point did you get into like, acceptance? I imagine at first this is just surreal.
MIKE: Do you remember (STAMMERS) a moment of being in prison you’re like I’m just gonna accept this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I gotta accept where I'm at, how long did that take for you?
FRANK: I would say maybe a few months and then I finally said –this is where I am and I have to do a very good job and be a very good inmate and I was, you know, I worked hard, I worked hard at what I was asked to do. I never disobeyed an order. The correction officers were very fair, all of them, and on the day that I left that second prison everyone cam in and said to me we’re sorry to see you leave, and then in the third prison I had a wonderful, a really wonderful parole officer and she really believed in me, she was the ne who said, I really hope you get parole but you have to go into this presumptive work release program first because you might not. But it took me a number of months to finally accept the fact that here I am, I’m not going anywhere, this is going to be my life for the next four to 12 years and I had no choice but to follow the rules and regulations and do everything I could to stay out of trouble. So it was a very traumatic experience and it was something that I brought upon myself. I don’t blame anybody but myself for it.
MIKE: Well I think um (STAMMERS) good to give you an opportunity after this to speak, I think it’s gonna be really good. I think it’s gonna be helpful for you and it’s gonna be helpful for others because I don’t believe people should only be given platforms when they have perfect track records. I actually find that those people are uh –A, there stories are a little bit boring but B, (STAMMERS) they’re such great life lessons that happen when we really F-it-up, and when we really make a mistake and then when we own it we get to the other side of it and so you know, I’m gonna help you kind of after this and anyone listening you can look up to it’s just COACHMIKEBAYER.COM backslash (UNINTELLIGIBLE) add their email, it’s free, it’s a safe space. Anytime anyone is negative on there, we kick ‘em off, they get blocked and banned and so it’s just –it’s a cool group of people. I think that several things are wrong about having a movie come out about you but you know, I guess legally this is allowed to happen. It’s a bummer that they you know, they kind of made being gay sinister somehow. Like, it just seemed awkward and odd and I just think that’s –just unnecessary also it just seems… the Rachel character was non-existent and totally fabricated which it felt odd watching it, I could be biased. But you're watching it (LAUGHS) and you’re like, who’s this girl? She (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you know, what I mean like (STAMMERS) what is happening?
FRANK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) (OVERLAPS) she may have existed after—
FRANK: The crime was found out. I don't know but I felt as you did, you know, (STAMMERS) I really didn’t even know to whom she was speaking to was her father.
FRANK: And coming to my apartment and …that was all fabricated.
FRANK: But I think what disturbed me most was that in some ways Joanne was –didn’t deserve you know, I never wore a wedding band like Hugh Jackman did because I was no longer married, you know, my wife had passed. The fact that I had to lie about it is painful. You know, Steven and I had separate telephones, separate bedrooms um, separate baths um, and today were very close. Gay people should not be treated that way, and you know, I lost really good position in 1979 because I was asked a question about being gay and I admitted the truth.
MIKE: I think moving forward… I appreciate talking to you last week also this week and giving your honest opinions and feelings and you know, I think my suggestion to you is and I kind of wanted to cover everything with you about what you thought was right, what you thought was wrong, what was true, what was not true, and I really believe this next season of your life is about you telling your truth and telling your story and when people do that they don’t feel ashamed, they don’t get villainized as much and they're empowered so, there is anything I think would be the most helpful for you it is you getting back to teaching people what you did wrong and how to make things right and I think you're an example of that just to know you of course, (STAMMERS) and I've only chat with you twice but uh I really appreciate you know you talking to me and trusting me, you know I look forward to helping support you in telling your story.
FRANK: You’ve made it so much more comfortable for me, I mean you have a way about you that allows you to feel –you know, to feel good about telling the truth (STAMMERS) to admitting your crime and to really moving forward and that's what I want to do because the pain, especially with this new movie coming out for the last two years you know, (STAMMERS) it was upsetting and painful ‘cause it thought finally it had been put behind me but it wasn’t and then the changes in the movie where the things that were not true, disturbed me terribly because you know, they just weren’t true. I don't know why my sexual orientation had to be brought into it, I don’t really understand that. I don't know why that was important and I certainly wasn’t arrested in Las Vegas, I wasn’t thrown on the floor. I turned myself in, in New York. I understand it’s Hollywood, I understand I have to make it more dramatic but that—all of that never happened.
MIKE: Well I think now is the opportunity for you to start, just like you’ve done with me over the last few weeks is tell your version of the story, that’s your truth. At the end of the day it’s about what brings you the most peace and healing and so that you and Steven who are together can engage in conversations that make you both feel better and that aren’t paranoid or worried or anxious and losing sleep and get back to your flow. Your past doesn’t define you, it’s just a part of your story. You deserve to have a good rest of your life, so.
FRANK: I hope so. You know, I really would like that to be the case. I’m not there yet. I’ll be honest with you, I’m really not there yet. Maybe… and I know what you're asking or suggesting that I do will help me a lot—
MIKE: And others.
FRANK: And that’s what I mean—
FRANK: …others especially, because… I don’t want to see anybody else make a mistake like I did.
MIKE: Thank you Frank for talking to me.
FRANK: You're very welcome.
(UNINTELLIGIBLE OVERLAPPING DIALOGUE)
MIKE: …send you details.
FRANK: Thank you.
MIKE: I’ll see you Tuesday evening if you’re still off work.
FRANK: I’m off work.
MIKE: Do it.
FRANK: I’ll absolutely be up for it.
MIKE: Alright man, we’ll talk soon and uh, see you soon…
FRANK: Coach Mike, thank you very, very much. I really appreciate all you have done.
MIKE: You got it, buddy. I want to thank Frank for sharing his story with us and so you know we reached out to HBO today, and we gave them the opportunity to comment on Frank’s thoughts, they declined. The biggest takeaway for all of us is to be open-minded and be able to forgive. As Gandhi once said, yes I’m quoting Gandhi ‘cause I love this quote, the weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” I hope you enjoyed this podcast, subscribe, download, stay tuned, stay connected and I will talk to you all very soon, thank you.
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