Monday, April 14, 2008

"Sex" and "obscenity" are not synonymous... (Lenny Bruce)

Born in New-York in 1925 as Leonard Alfred Schneider, Lenny Bruce had a chaotic youth (divorced parents, upbringing by various relatives, etc). During World War II, he joined the U.S. Navy at the age of 17 until 1946, when he was discharged.
He went to Hollywood to study acting and decided to change his name to Bruce.

He soon appeared on The Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts Show, where he drew national attention with his daring style of satire.
This American stand-up comedian and brilliant satirist of inimitable frankness aroused much controversy, but at the same time he won an admiring audience. The black humour of his improvised shows often overstepped the boundaries of what was considered in those years respectable.

One of his quotes: " You can't put tits and ass on the marquee!...Why not?...Because it's dirty and vulgar, that's why not!... Titties are dirty and vulgar?...Okay, we'll compromise. How about Latin? Gluteus maximus, pectoralis majors nightly...That's alright, that's clean, class with ass, I'll buy it...Clean to you, schmuck, but dirty to the Latins! "
(in The Carnegie Hall Concert 1961)

His performances and his daring way of breaking rules paved the way for comedians such as George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy.

He spoke overtly about themes like racism, sexual fantasies, politics, drugs, Jewish- Christian tensions (he was himself a Jew), moral philosophy, patriotism and abortion.

The fifties was the breakthrough decade for Bruce. It was also the time of his wedding with a striptease dancer (Hot Honey Harlowe, pseudonym of Harriett Jolliff), of the birth of their child Kitty and of their divorce a few years later.

Bruce worked in Hollywood at night-clubs and on a local television show. He appeared once on The Steve Allen Show.

During the sixties, he was arrested and imprisoned several times on grounds of obscenity. Due to this, some nightclub owners refused to let him perform on their premises.

He wrote an autobiography with the help of Hugh Hefner called How to talk dirty and influence people in 1963, which was first published in Playboy and then as a book.

In his later years, Bruce became addicted to heroin and was found guilty of illegal possession of drugs. Bruce fell on his own morphine needle in 1966 and died in his home on Hollywood Boulevard. He was 40 years old.

His life inspired not only a playwright (Julian Barry), but also singers (Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Keith Richards, etc) and a film director (Bob Fosse).

With his film Lenny, Fosse portrayed him as a martyr of freedom of speech. The main role was played by Dustin Hoffman.

CĂ©line & Louise

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