Lenny’s favorite comedian, Jonathan Winters, passed away last week at the age of 87. The trailblazing comic improviser was a seminal influence on scores of comedians and will be remembered as a comedy legend.
Who was Lenny Bruce?
Lenny Bruce is most often known as a pioneer in the industry but for me he was much more. He was my father.
He had a connection with his audience and 42 years later it still exists. My hope for the website is to honor my father and what he stood for.
His undying belief in the first amendment and standing up and speaking about racism and bigotry all the social viruses that existed and still do.
This is a different time. We can make a difference and make this a happier kinder and gentler world. He was so funny, Enjoy what you read, see and hear.
Chronology – The Early Years
The man we know as Lenny Bruce started off in humble beginnings as Leonard Alfred Schneider . Born in Mineola, New York, his youth was chaotic, starting with the divorce of his parents.Following their divorce, he was raised by his mother, Sally Marr, and Aunt Mema.
Lenny’s mother worked as a stage performer, playing an important role as well as a great influence on his career.
While growing up in Mineola, Lenny attended school to fifth grade at North Bellemore, Long Island.
Ran away from home at age 16.
Spent two years living and working with the Dengler family on a Long Island farm.
Volunteers for the U.S. Navy. He served in the same boot training in Newport, Rhode Island as Artie Shaw .
While in the Navy, did posts to North Africa aboard the U.S.S. Brooklyn .
Contract hepatitis which would lead to future health problems.
Lenny leaves the Navy with an honorable discharge after posing as a transvestite in a Wave uniform made by a fellow rating in exchange for his beer quota.
After his service, he returns to the Dengler farm is met with indifference.
Goes back to stay with his mother, Sally, who had set up a dancing school in New York.
Stands in for MC at the Victory Club on Ocean Parkway, a nightclub where his mother works. Lenny gets his first taste of show business.
Not long after, he begins performing in clubs such as Squires in Long island, Clay Theatre in New Jersey, George’s Corner in Greenwich Village and the Blue Haven in Jackson heights as part of the sham “Amateur Night” for $2 and the carfare home.
Managed by Marvin Walsh.
Wins Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts show.
Begins to play in “good” clubs such as The Strand on Broadway, the Tick Tock in Milwaukee. Lenny is now making $450 a week from these shows.
Chronology – The 50′s
Signs up for the Merchant Navy.
Meets a beautiful burlesque dancer named Honey Harlow and they begin dating.
Posts on the Luckenbach Line to Turkey, Greece and Marseilles on board the Samuel Brown.
In 1951, Lenny leaves the Navy to marry Honey Harlow. They then move to Miami Beach where Honey is based a nightclub dancer/stripper.
He begins to work Honey into his club appearances, as a double act for almost two years. Honey works on developing her singing so she would longer strip.
Lenny organizes a charter from New York State legalizing the Brothers Mathias Foundation and gets licensed to solicit and disperse funds for a leper colony in New Guiana.
In April, he is arrested in Palm Beach on suspicion of gaining money by deception. The charges included “soliciting funds for some non-sectarian organization that had sponsored a leper colony.” Eventually the charges were reduced down to vagrancy and panhandling. Of the $8,000 raised for the lepers, only $2,500 actually reached them.
Lenny and Honey move to Pittsburgh. They get involved in a serious car accident which doesn’t allow her to take a first step for nearly four months. Lenny still performs at a club that very night despite head injuries.
With the insurance money he receives from the accident, he buys himself a new Cadillac and goes to Arcadia, California.
Spends two months working on a chicken farm owned by his father who had remarried. After an argument, he leaves for the West Coast.
Out there, he spends four years working burlesque clubs for an average pay of $90 per week. Honey takes up stripping and dancing again as well and his mother Sally Marr, also relocates to the West Coast in order to be closer to her son.
Lenny’s daughter and pride and joy, Kitty is born.
He also gets divorced from Honey shortly afterwards.
He begins to move away from working burlesque clubs to perform in more “straight” venues. This would include Ann’s 440 in San Francisco for $750 a week.
Hugh Hefner arranges for Lenny to appear at the Cloister in Chicago.
He is contracted as a writer for Twentieth Century Fox.
In May of 1959, the New York Times writes: “The newest and in some ways scarifyingly funny proponent of significance…to be found in a nightclub these days in Lenny Bruce, a sort of abstract expressionist stand-up comedian paid $1,750 a week to vent his outrage on the clientele…”
LP’s The Sick Humor Of Lenny Bruce, I Am Not a Nut, Elect Me!, Togetherness and Lenny Bruce’s Interviews Of Our Time released all edited recordings of San Francisco nightclub performances.
Chronology – The 60′s
In 1960, Lenny became ill for over a month and a half with staphylococcus septicaemia.He was at one stage on the critical list at Mount Sinai Hospital of Miami Beach.
On February 2nd, Lenny performed a concert at Carnegie Hall. This show was recorded live at midnight for release on LP.
September 29th, he was arrested for possession of narcotics in Philadelphia.The charges were eventually dropped due to the fact it was only prescription drugs they found.
Lenny announces on television that a city law enforcement officer offered to ensure all charges would be squashed on receipt of a bribe worth approximately $28,000.
October 4th, he was arrested again for obscenity at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco. The offense was the use of the word cocksucker in a public place.
In March, his first obscenity trial in San Francisco is held.He is charged with violating Section 311.6 of the Penal code of the State of California, which provides: “Every person who knowingly sings or speaks any obscene song, ballad, or any other words in a public place is guilty of a misdemeanor.”He is acquitted.
Lenny Bruce’s American is released.It is an LP of recordings he made in 1960.
Plays the London at Peter Cook’s club, The Establishment.
In September, Lenny is officially banned from Australia.
October 6th, he is arrested for possession which he is acquitted for and then 6 days later on the 12th, he is arrested again.This time it is for obscenity once more.
In December, Lenny is arrested for obscenity at The Gate of Horn in Chicago.He is released on bail and returns to work at the club.
Variety writes: “The prosecutor is at least equally concerned with Bruce’s indictments of organized religion as he is with them more obvious sexual content of the comic’s act.”
Eighty prominent American figures including Arthur miller, Woody Allen, Gore Vidal, Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman, sign a petition in support of Lenny.
January of 1963, sees Lenny arrested for possession of narcotics in Los Angeles which again he is acquitted.The arresting officer in this case was later imprisoned for drug smuggling.
Under conditions of bail in Los Angeles, Lenny is unable to attend court in Chicago and is found guilty of obscenity “in absentia”.
In April, he is barred from entering England by Home Office as an “undesirable alien”.
Hugh Hefner suggests that Lenny writes his autobiography.It serialized in Playboy magazine over the next two years.
The Earl of Harewood invites Lenny to take part in an International Drama Conference at the Edinburgh Festival.The Home Office refuses permission again.
In March, The New York Post writes: “Bruce stands up against all limitation on the flesh and spirit, and someday they are going to crush him for it.”
He is scheduled to play an appearance at the Alamo in Detroit but it is prevented by the Detroit Board of Censors, despite successful concerts at the same venue in all of the previous eight years.
In April, he is arrested for obscenity twice in one week at the Café Au Go Go in Greenwich Village, New York City.This time he is convicted.
Hospitalized with pleurisy, including a five hour operation.His New York trial is postponed while he recovers in Los Angeles.
In June of 1964, the British TV show That Was The Week That Was features a spoof photograph of Bruce becoming an Honorary Doctor of Letters – “to the man who won fame using them four at a time.”
Later on in June at his appeal, the verdict of guilty of obscenity charges are unanimously upheld by the Illinois State Supreme Court.
Only 7th the Illinois State Supreme Court drops the affirmation of guilt before it’s referred to the United States Supreme Court, who had just declared that the film The Lovers was not obscene because it was “of social importance.”
Variety refuses to place Bruce’s advertisement stating “I’m available.”
Lenny’s autobiography is published in book form as How To Talk Dirty And Influence People by Playboy Press.
In October, Lenny is declared a legally bankrupt pauper in San Francisco.Requests a federal court in San Francisco to keep him out of jail in New York.
On October 10th, he lodges a complaint at the San Francisco field office of the FBI that the courts of New York and California are conspiring to violate his rights.No Action is taken.
On July 24th and 25th at the Filmore concerts, Lenny and the The Mothers Of Invention.
On August 3rd of 1966, Lenny Bruce dies from a Morphine Overdose in Los Angeles.
The press all report death from heroin overdose following the original unfounded report.
He is buried with an orthodox Hebrew service.
The Essential Lenny Bruce is published in paperback.
Chronology – The Years Since Lenny’s Death
The first hardback edition of The Essential Lenny Bruce is released.
The stage production of Lenny, produced by Marvin Worth, opens on Broadway.
The Marvin Worth film production of Lenny hit theaters. It stars Dustin Hoffman as Lenny and is directed by Bob Fosse.
Bob Dylan releases his song “Lenny Bruce” on the album Shot of Love.
Joan Rivers plays Lenny’s mother in the play Sally Marr…And Her Escorts on Broadway.
New production of Lenny in London’s West End stars Eddie Izzard.
Governor George Pataki pardons Lenny Bruce for 1964 obscenity charge. It is the first posthumous pardon in New York State history. Pataki calls the decision “a declaration of New York’s commitment to upholding the First Amendment.”
Hot Honey Harlow
There is a lot to say about Honey Harlow – some good, some bad, much of it outrageous but all of it a story about a country girl, who tried to keep it all together in a world she didn’t make.
Honey was the wife of Lenny and mother of Kitty. Her path criss-crossed from Hollywood to Italy to France and back again.
She over came heroin addiction and was sober 21 years now deceased 2005 After a long battle to gain her daughters respect and love it is a true testament to mothers who think they will never have a relationship with their daughters have hope.
Harriett “Poochie” Jolliff
Honey was born as Harriett Joliff in Manila, a little town in Arkansas. Later on in life, she got into the dancing world down in Miami, Florida as a chorus girl. It wasn’t until many years later of traveling that she returned to Miami as Hot Honey Harlow.
Mrs. Lenny Bruce…
Every city has a twenty four hour deli and if you’re a night person, you know where they are. For Baltimore, in 1951, it was the Mayflower Coffee Shop. At 3:00AM the shop was filled with strippers, comics, dancers, singers, managers, club owners, and anyone else in the business.
It was on one of those ordinary nights of “two eggs over easy, marmalade with a toasted bagel and a coffee,” that Honey met Lenny Bruce.
It’s Nothing Personal
T o anyone who held a dark secret to those who were hypocrites to the guy just doing his job, it’s nothing personal…To those for whom it was their job and made it personal, my father was their worst nightmare.
H is truths were based on our most coveted lies. He left no room for rationalized bigotry or self deception. He seduced his audience with a rhythmic and dynamic use of his own language, acting as the slow pull of a Band-Aid off denial.
W hen I started this I truly wanted you to get to know my father as closely as possible and enter into his world.
H e believed in the First Amendment. He believed in the right of due process. My father said we had “the best judicial system in the world.” I am still astonished at the misappropriation and gross misuse of power that the local and national government displayed. That the very system he so respected destroyed one the finest and most prismatic minds of our time.
H e was so very funny, and I love to hear it when he breaks up during a bit because he’s “digging it.” For the die-hard fan or the virgin just hearing about Lenny Bruce, you are in for a treat. One of my father’s greatest assets as a performer was his charm. He made you like him. Apparently he did not have that effect on those who found him obscene.
- Kitty Bruce