(1925 - 1966)
Lenny Bruce was born Leonard Alfred Schneider on October
13, 1925, in Mineola, Long Island, New
York. In 1942, he joined the
U.S. Navy, at the age of 16, and saw active duty in Europe until his
discharge in 1946. In 1947, he changed his last name to Bruce, and performed
his first stand-up performance in Brooklyn, New York. Bruce got his
first big break as a guest on the Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts
Bruce’s early comedy career included writing
the screenplays for Dance Hall Racket (1953), Dream Follies (1954), and The Rocket Man (1954). Bruce also released four original
albums with Fantasy Records, composed of comic routines and interviews
on various themes such as politics, religion, race, Jewishness, and
the Ku Klux Klan. Lenny Bruce became the most controversial stand-up
comic of his time. He began exploring riskier subjects, and receiving
much positive and negative feedback on the material. Bruce’s growing
popularity led to televised appearances on the Steve Allen Show.
On February 3, 1961, Bruce gave a historic performance at Carnegie Hall
in New York.
In 1951, Bruce was arrested in Miami, Florida, for
impersonating a priest. In 1961, Bruce was arrested again for obscenity
at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco. Although the jury acquitted him,
this led to frequent arrests under charges of obsenity. He was also
arrested in 1961 in Philadelphia and in 1963 in Los Angeles, California,
for drug possession. Finally, on December 21, 1964, after a widely-publicized
six-month trial in New York City, Bruce was sentenced to four months
in the workhouse for obscenity; he was set free on bail during the appeals
process and died before the appeal was decided. In 2003, 37 years after
his death, Bruce was granted a pardon by New York governor.
In Bruce’s later performances, he would often
relate the details of his encounters with the police directly into his
comedy routine. Eventually, Bruce was banned from several U.S. cities,
and in 1962 he was banned from performing in Sydney, Australia. By 1966,
Bruce had become blacklisted by nearly every nightclub in the United
States, as owners feared prosecution for obscenity. On June 25, 1966,
Bruce took the stage at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, for
his last performance.
At the request of Hugh Hefner, Bruce wrote his autobiography,
which was serialized in Playboy Magazine in 1964 and 1965.
Bruce’s story was later published as the book, How to Talk
Dirty and Influence People.
Bruce died on August 3, 1966, at the age of 40, in
Sources: American Jewish Desk Reference, (NY: Random House, 1999). pg. 439; Wikipedia