LENNY BRUCE AT BRANDEIS!
|Me 'n' Kitty Bruce|
|Lenny and Kitty, 1966|
"HELLO, JOHNNY! WHAT'S SHAKIN', BABY!!! Yeah the puff of white smoke knocked me out! I got'cha booked for the Sullivan Show on the nineteenth... Oh, did ya dig Spellman on 'Stars Of Jazz'??? OK, sweetie! Yeah, right... You cool it, too! Nah, nobody knows you're Jewish"!
That night, the Island of Manhattan was blanketed by one of the worst blizzards in its history. All bridges and tunnels leading into and out of the city were shut down; Every street in town was closed to traffic - and yet, somehow, Lenny was able to pack his people into a concert that didn't begin until after midnight! It was a Standing Room Only performance that the old gang at Lindy's still talk about! Fortunately the entire evening was preserved on tape and is available today on CD. "Lenny Bruce At Carnegie Hall" is the greatest performance of his all-too-brief career.
Between 1961 and 1964, he was arrested nineteen times across the country on various narcotics and obscenity charges. His legal problems would bankrupt him, forcing him to spend too much time in too many courtrooms defending his art. His income plummeted from roughly $350,000 in 1960 to about $7,000 in 1965. On his fortieth birthday, he was forced to legally declare himself a pauper - so consumed in debt was he. In the end, his persecutors would render him broken and defeated. In March of 1965, under the influence of hallucinogens, he fell out of the second floor of a hotel in San Francisco, permanently damaging his left leg. Although never a "sick comedian", in his final days Lenny Bruce was a very sick man. During that last, desperate summer of 1966, he told more than one person that he would not live to see 1967.
When the Los Angeles police arrived at the death scene, they allowed photographers and newsreel cameramen to walk into his home to take their gruesome photographs of his unclothed body lying on the floor of an upstairs bathroom. His good friend, Jack Roy, had a catch phrase: "I don't get no respect". Talk about irony. Roy, who would later change his name to "Rodney Dangerfield", was one of the most respected comics in the business when he passed away in 2004. Lenny Bruce would be forced to linger a long time in the dark night of obscurity before he received his due. When I first discovered him at the tender age of fourteen, I knew that he was a genius. I'm grateful that academia has finally caught up with us.
It was an honor to take part - however peripherally - in the symposium this week in Massachusetts. A tip of the hat and a heartfelt bow to Christie Hefner and the Playboy corporation for making this event possible. When it seemed that the entire world had abandoned him, her father was always in Lenny's corner. One could not ask for a more loyal pal than Hugh Hefner. In an interview a number of years ago with NBC's Bob Costas, he said of Lenny Bruce, "I think he's a very important American". I'm hard-pressed to disagree. A raising of the glass to Hef as well!
|Honey, Lenny and Kitty, 1960|
At Brandeis University I told the people gathered there that I've always been hesitant to refer to Lenny Bruce as a "comedian". My habit is to label him a "humorist"; one of the greatest of the troubled century he inhabited. Twain, Will Rogers, Robert Benchley, George S. Kaufman, James Thurber - anyone you prefer to mention - Lenny belongs right up there on the mountaintop with the best of them.
|Lenny at the end|
"YADDA YADDA, DONALD!"
To Kitty Bruce: After a decade of correspondence, it was a joy to finally meet you. It was so cool the way you made everyone feel relaxed and right at home. I'm eternally grateful and honored to have been there.
How to Talk Dirty and Influence People
by Lenny Bruce
A hitchhiker named Terry Malone left this book in my dad's station wagon in the summer of 1972. A couple of weeks ago I was visiting the cemetery where my parents are buried when I saw a marker bearing the same name: "Terry Malone". I walked up to it and said out loud, "If you're the same guy, THANK YOU." Finding that book was my introduction to Lenny Bruce, and it completely altered my life. It has been reissued in recognition of the 50th anniversary of his passing. In case it's not available from your friendly, local, independently-owned, neighborhood bookstore (Let's stop kidding ourselves - they no longer exist!) here is a link to order it off of Amazon.com:
Lenny Bruce In My Life
from The Rant, 8/2/16:
I wrote this one in August on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of Lenny's passing:
Here is the first recorded bit by Lenny Bruce I ever heard. I was fourteen at the time and was sold from the get-go. This one is from the summer of 1958 - right around the time I was born:
And, finally, I took this photograph of Kitty Bruce cutting the cake at a posthumous, 91st birthday party we threw for her dad on Thursday night. We all even joined in to sing, "Happy birthday, dear Lenny"! Somewhere, I am sure, he is smiling.
|Happy birthday, dear Lenny, happy birthday to you!|