Entertainment

The Behind-the-Scenes Story of the 'Tiger King' Director Is Just as Wild as the Doc

He's a fixture in NYC nightlife who hung out with Andy Warhol and dated Naomi Campbell.

Eric Goode in 1990 | Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Eric Goode in 1990 | Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

It's almost impossible to enumerate all the crazy things about the latest true crime Netflix sensation Tiger King -- though we've tried. One element that's gone relatively unexplored though is the wild life of the man behind the camera, director Eric Goode. Goode, who made the series with Rebecca Chaiklin, introduces himself briefly at the beginning of the series, explaining how an investigation into the venomous snake trade ultimately led him to Joe Exotic and his big cats. But what you may not know is that Goode himself is an important fixture in the New York nightlife scene, behind some of the most iconic restaurants and hotels in the city. He's also just a guy who freaking loves turtles. 

Chances are, if you've roamed around Manhattan looking for spots to rub elbows with fancy folk or cosplay Carrie Bradshaw, you've come across a place that Goode is behind. His hotels include the Bowery, the Jane, and the Maritime. He also owns restaurants like the Waverly Inn, best known as former Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter's watering hole for celebrities, and B Bar and Grill.

B Bar regularly figured into Candace Bushnell's "Sex and the City" columns, which would become, well, HBO's Sex and the City. Speaking to the New York Times about that era of the establishment, Goode said: "If I had to characterize who was there, I’d say everybody. Because it was the place of the moment. It was Russell Simmons at one booth, Naomi Campbell at another, Ian Schrager at another. And Candace was part of that posse with Jay McInerney and Morgan." (Goode dated Campbell at one point. Just FYI.) We here at Thrillist have described B Bar as "a haven for just-turned-21yrs-old NYU students, and recent college grads looking for a crazy night in the LES." So, yes, times have changed. 

Goode's life almost warrants its own documentary, though it wouldn't look much like Tiger King. Instead, think something more akin to Party Monster or Bright Lights, Big City. Perhaps his biggest claim to fame is co-founding the short lived but hugely notable club called Area, which existed between 1983 and 1987. According to a Paper magazine retrospective, Area would change its theme every six months and would feature work from Andy Warhol, who had a polaroid studio inside, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and David Hockney. The likes of Madonna, Bianca Jagger, and Cher frequented Area. There were live sharks in an aquarium. (Admittedly, that part does sound a little bit like Tiger King.)

According to Glenn O'Brien, writing in the T Magazine, the "Gnarly" theme at Area meant: "skulls, monster trucks, a drag racer, a skateboard ramp with live skaters, a strobe-lighted electric chair and a speedboat in the swimming pool with a giant gargoyle driving it. I remember watching Matt Dillon watching a pack of real outlaw bikers swarming around a completely nude biker chick, maybe calculating his odds of moving in. There was a film loop of the exploding-head scenes from Scanners that night, too, and in the bathroom a scale model of a bowling alley and a beauty parlor populated by real cockroaches." 

Among Goode's other random accomplishments: He directed two music videos for Nine Inch Nails in the 1990s, and just three years ago sued Donald Trump for violating the Constitution. As I said, a fascinating dude. 

Goode with socialite Cornelia Guest at Area. | Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

But how did he get from nightclubs to zoos? That can almost certainly be credited to his obsession with turtles and tortoises. He runs an organization called the Turtle Conservancy, and, as part of that, owns the Behler Chelonian Center, described in the New Yorker as "a five-acre compound in Ojai, California, devoted to the care and breeding of endangered turtles and tortoises." 

Did you notice that Uncut Gems filmmaker Josh Safdie worked on Tiger King? That's because apparently he and his brother Benny were working for the Turtle Conservancy "for a few years," according to their Twitter account. It's fitting: The Safdies are today's foremost chroniclers of the New York underground. Of course they'd have crossed paths with Goode.

Sometimes the people in Tiger King seem almost like performance artists themselves: Carole Baskin with her closet full of cat-print garments, and Joe Exotic with his music videos and gift shop full of underwear. You have to think Andy Warhol would have loved this shit. And thus, it only makes sense that a guy who got his start with a favorite place of Warhol would be the man to bring this bizarre story to our screens.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.
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