Lenny Bruce (Leonard Alfred Schneider, 1925 - 1966

portrait of Lenny Bruce


Born: 13 October 1925, Mineola, New York
Died: 3 August 1966, Los Angeles, California

Born Leonard Alfred Schneider, his parents divorced when he was five. His mother, pursuing a career in show business, left him to be raised by relatives in nearby Bellmore but had a great deal of influence over his ambitions. He dropped out of Wellington C. Mepham High School to join the US Navy in 1942, serving on a light cruiser, the U.S.S. Brooklyn. He occasionally wore WAVES uniforms and told the ship's medical officer he was feeling "homosexual urges", leading to a dishonorable discharge. Because no regulations had actually been broken he was able to have his discharge reclassified to "under honorable conditions". This was the inspiration for the Max Klinger character in M*A*S*H. He tried standup comedy, decided his name was "too Jewish" and changed it to Lenny Bruce, and soon had his first success: $12 and a spaghetti dinner for an appearance in Brooklyn. He married a stripper that performed as Hot Honey Harlowe and desperately sought to make enough money so that she could get off the stage. He formed a New York charity called the "Brother Mathias Foundation", stole clerical garb, and solicited contributions at Miami, Florida, raising over $8,000 before he was arrested. Because he actually had sent $2,500 to a leper colony and formally recorded the rest as expenses, he escaped jail time. In 1953 he wrote and appeared in Dance Hall Racket, which also featured his wife and mother. His presentation gradually became more satirical, more challenging, and more laced with obscenities, he was arrested for obscenity at the Jazz Workshop at San Francisco. He was acquitted, but police started monitoring his performances more closely. In 1964 he appeared twice at the Cafe au Go Go in Greenwich Village, with undercover police in attendance. He was arrested at the end of both shows and he was sentenced to four months in the workhouse after a six-month-long trial, despite a stellar parade of witnesses arguing for his right to say what had been said. He was out on bail while appealing the conviction but died of an apparent accidental overdose of morphine. Hugh Hefner convinced him to write his autobiography, which was serialized in Playboy on 1964 and 1965, and later issued as How to Talk Dirty and Influence People. Thirty-seven years after his death, New York Governor George Pataki pardoned Bruce on the obscenity conviction, the first posthumous pardon in the state.

Biography from Wikipedia and Doug Linder, University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School

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