By Brian M. Rafferty
For a woman who has seen more corpses in her life than all of George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” films have provided, Alexandra Mosca sure has managed to keep her sense of humor about her career.
After all, how many funeral directors have posed nude for Playboy, especially under the moniker “The Merry Mortician?”
The one-time TimesLedger restaurant reviewer and former Bayside resident has added her soul to the list of things she has bared in a new book, “Grave Undertakings,” being released this month by New Horizon Press.
After her first experience with embalming a body, Mosca sat down to a big Italian lunch with her first boss in the funeral industry. She had just seen a human body cut up and gutted; its fluids drained, its insides removed and its skin partially peeled off before being put back on.
The pasta in front of her looked like the dead body’s organs, each of which had been tossed into a metal garbage can with a squishy thud.
Jimmy, Mosca’s first boss, slapped her on the back after she finished her plate of pasta and said, “You did good kid. Most broads would have puked.”
Fresh out of Bayside High School, the part-time job Mosca had picked up at the funeral home began to turn into an image of the future, she wrote in her book.
When she moved from one funeral home to another, she had to return to her first job one evening to pick up some textbooks. It was there that she met Peter Provenzano, a Bayside artists who has done murals for various neighborhood businesses. She soon started sitting for him as a portrait model.
This led to more modeling, which helped supplement her income and pay her way through mortuary school. Mosca continued to model up through being state licensed, and loved the fact that she had two sides to her life.
“It’s like I have a split personality,” she said in a recent interview with the TimesLedger newspapers. “I believe in the old-time traditions of being a funeral director, wearing suits with skirts to funerals, going to church every Sunday, and doing everything by the book,” she said. “But then there’s the other side that wants to try new, fun things.”
“Death is so random,” she said. “There is no rhyme or reason as to why somebody loves to 103 or dies in infancy. Being a funeral director made me realize that for no reason at all I may not wake up tomorrow.”
And so Mosca’s other side began to manifest itself — in spades.
“I started out as a very shy young girl, and took many forays into careers that are ‘out there,’” Mosca said. “There is nothing as diametrically opposed to being a funeral director as posing in Playboy,” she said.
And that’s exactly what she did.
Playboy Magazine in the mid-1980s had been running a series of professional women baring all for their magazine. Lawyers, doctors and police officers — people from all walks of life — had all modeled for Hugh Heffner’s publication. But there had been no funeral directors. A friend suggested that Mosca try to get into the magazine.
“I didn’t think they would be interested at all,” Mosca said. “Why would they want to associate themselves with death?”
She gave her friend the go-ahead to contact Playboy and to show some pictures, “and much to my surprise, they called.”
Mosca checked with he state licensing authority to be sure posing nude in an international publication wouldn’t put her license in jeopardy. “They said there would be no problem, but I think that was only because nobody had ever asked that before,” Mosca said.
The photo shoots went well, and in 1986 “The Merry Mortician” was teased in from the front cover to a no-holds-barred photo spread of Mosca in an Addams Family-esque setting, replete with dry ice for smoke effects and a Morticia Addams gown that left little to the imagination.
Though the photo spread and newspaper, radio and television publicity that the unique pictures raised caused her no legal harm, Mosca had to contend with some problems raised by her peers.
“The only people who had a problem with it were the people in New York,” Mosca said. “I got letters of encouragement from people as far as Nebraska, but the feeling in New York was that I had disgraced the industry.
“I didn’t think it was so awful, and other people thought it was a lot of fun,” Mosca said. “I was able to live out a great fantasy of mine.”
Over the years, however, people have lightened up, and those who may have thought Mosca was just a flash in the pan for the funeral industry have come to respect her.
And at the same time, Mosca has been able to keep pushing the envelope, not letting herself be classified as simply a funeral director. She has worked extensively in community theater, most recently in Theater à la Carte’s fall 2002 production of “Rebecca.”
“It helps to offset the funeral work that I do,” Mosca said.
Another outlet for Mosca has been her writing. She initially had gone to college to study journalism, and for years had toyed with the idea of writing a book about her life.
Continuing to break barriers, Mosca said she is the first female funeral director (that she knows of) to write a book about the industry and what it has been like to become a successful woman in what is perceived to be a male-dominated industry.
The novel does stay rather focused on the trials of a young girl becoming a woman in a man’s world, but the spicy tidbits about her “other personality” help give the story flair and keep the average reader drawn in.
“I hope people can read my book and see that life is a gift,” she said. “There is so much to see and enjoy, and if you have the opportunity you should take it.”