At first glance, the early-90s love affair between a teenager and a middle-aged man that briefly redefined the Long Island landscape has very few similarities with Vladimir Nabokov’s novel “Lolita” — especially because Lolita was much younger.
Yet, the 17-year-old at the center of the crime of passion, Amy Fisher, was given the title of “Long Island Lolita” by the media.
“Lolita,” a 1955 controversial classic, tells the story of the obsession of a much older man with the 12-year-old eponymous girl — shockingly, from the eyes of the child abuser.
Fisher met Joey Buttafuoco, an auto body shop owner from Massapequa, New York, in the early ’90s when her father took her along for a car repair. Fisher, then 16, would continue to return to Buttafuoco’s shop and the two began a reportedly 18-month-long affair.
In May 1992, Fisher drove to the Buttafuoco’s seemingly perfect home, and shot his wife Mary Jo in the face.
It was, in other words, riveting to the American public, and before OJ Simpson’s case, arguably the biggest media frenzy about a crime in our history.
Fisher was summarily dubbed the "Long Island Lolita" by the New York City tabloids. The case attracted national attention and was the subject of several made-for-television movies.
Fisher ended up serving seven years, after pleading guilty to the assault. She was released on parole at the age of 24 in 1999 — with Mary Jo’s forgiveness. Even though it appeared at first to be a consensual affair, Fisher went on to say that Buttafuoco “preyed upon her vulnerabilities” on The Oprah Winfrey Show. “It took me a long time to realize not only didn’t [Buttafuoco] love me, he didn’t think anything of me,” she said on Oprah’s successful show in 2004. “I meant nothing.”
But the character of Lolita surprisingly has its roots in true crime as art often mimics life.
The true story that inspired the novel is much more chilling than the seemingly flippant title of “Long Island Lolita” conferred to Fisher by the media.
The “real” Lolita may have been 11-year-old Florence “Sally” Horner who was caught shoplifting on a dare by an older man claiming to be an FBI agent in June 1948.
Frank La Salle was actually a convicted rapist, and he abducted Sally the next day, and held her captive for two years before she was able to escape.
Sally would go on to die in a car accident at the age of fifteen, putting an abrupt end to her already tragic life.
Proof that “Lolita” was inspired by Sally Horner’s case? In addition to the story similarities, Nabokov writes in Chapter 33:
“Had I done to Dolly, perhaps, what Frank Lasalle, a fifty-year-old mechanic, had done to eleven-year-old Sally Horner in 1948?”
What do you think — was “Long Island Lolita” an unfair title?
[Photo: Oxygen, GB Transworld/Corgi’s cover of "Lolita," London 1969]