Lenny Bruce Biography (Personal Life, Career)

Lenny Bruce was a Jewish-American comedian, social critic and satirist. He was convicted in 1964 for obscenity; the trial was followed by a posthumous pardon, the first in New York state history.

Personal Life

Lenny Bruce is the stage name of Leonard Alfred Schneider born on October 13, 1925 in Mineola, New York. Lenny grew nearby Bellmore and attended Wellington C. Mepham High School. His parents divorced when he was five years old, and Lenny moved in with various relatives over the next decade. His mother, Sally Marr, was a stage performer who had an enormous influence on Bruce's career.

Lenny Bruce joined the States Navy at the age of 17 from where he was discharged because of homosexual urges. After settling back in New York he was looking to make it as a comedian. He changed his last name into Bruce in 1947 and earned 12 dollars and a free spaghetti dinner for his first stand-up performance in Brooklyn, New York.

Bruce’s wife, Harlow, was a stripper from Baltimore, Maryland. They met in 1951 and married the same year. He persuaded her to end her career as a stripper and Bruce began to invent all kinds of schemes to make as much money as possible. Because of this he had several legal problems and was imprisoned a few times: in 1961 for obscenity, for drug possession.

Bruce Lenny was found dead on August 3, 1966 in his bathroom form Hollywood and was interred in Eden Memorial Park Cemetery in Mission Hills, California. Bruce is survived by his daughter, Kitty Bruce, who lives in Pennsylvania. At the time of his death, his girlfriend was comedienne Lotus Weinstock.

Career

Bruce met for the time the comedian Joe Ancis at Hanson’s, the diner. This, alongside with his mother, had a great influence upon Bruce’s approach to comedy. What the future comedian did later on in his acts was a direct reflection of his meticulous schooling by Ancis.

After his first stand-up comedy performance in Brooklyn, Lenny Bruce started writing the screenplays for Dance Hall Racket, in 1953, which featured Bruce, Honey Harlow, his wife, and his mother Sally Marr; Dream Follies in1954, a low-budget burlesque romp, and a children’s film The Rocket Man in 1954. He also released four albums with rants, comic routines and satirical interviews on some of his most known and famous themes: jazz, moral philosophy, politics, patriotism, religion, law, race, abortion, drugs. All these four albums were later compiled and released again as The Lenny Bruce Originals, first by Bruce himself, then by Alan Douglas, Frank Zappa and Phil Spector.

Bruce’s growing fame led to appearances on Steve Allen Show, and then received mainstream press, both favorable and derogatory. The comedian gave a famous performance at Carnegie Hall in New York on February 3, 1961, a show which was later released as a three-disc set entitled The Carnegie Hall Concert.

Despite his prominence as a comedian, Bruce appeared on network television only six times in his life. In his later club performances Bruce was known for relating the details of his encounters with the police directly in his comedy routine. These performances often included rants about his court battles over obscenity charges, tirades against fascism and complaints that he was being denied his right to freedom of speech.

He was banned outright from several U.S. cities, and in 1962 was banned from performing in Sydney, Australia. At his first show there, Bruce took the stage, declared "What a f---ing wonderful audience" and was promptly arrested.

Besides spending time in prison, the increasing drug use also affected his health. Then, in 1966 he was blacklisted by nearly every nightclub in the United States, because the owners feared prosecution for obscenity. Despite all these, Lenny Bruce had a wonderful and famous performance at the Berkeley Community Theatre in December 1965, a show that was recorded and became his last live album, titled The Berkeley Concert. The performance Bruce gave there was labeled as calm, clean, clear, lucid, one of his best.

Bruce’s last stand-up comedy performance took place on June 25, 1966, at The Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. At the request of Hugh Hefner and with the aid of Paul Krassner, Lenny Bruce wrote an autobiography. Firstly, the material of the book was serialized in Playboy in 1964 and 1965 and later on published as the book How to Talk Dirty and Influence People. Bruce’s assistant, Hefner had been at his side for a very long time, also featuring him in the TV debut of Playboy’s Penthouse in October 1959.

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