Lenny (1974)

R | 111-112 mins | Biography | December 1974

Director:

Bob Fosse

Writer:

Julian Barry

Producer:

Marvin Worth

Cinematographer:

Bruce Surtees

Editor:

Alan Heim

Production Designer:

Joel Schiller

Production Company:

Marvin Worth Productions
Full page view
HISTORY

       After the title card, the screen goes black, then fades to a close-up of the mouth of “Lenny Bruce’s” wife, “Honey Harlow Bruce” (Valerie Perrine), who is then shown in a depiction of a present day interview. After presenting a brief excerpt of the interview, the film cuts to a sequence of a 1964 nightclub routine in which Bruce, portrayed by Dustin Hoffman, is at the top of his career. Bruce is shown explaining to the audience that the point of his crude joke is the wrongness of suppressing words. After this sequence, the rest of the opening credits commence.
       Throughout the black-and-white film, the action of the story is intercut with verité-style interviews of Honey, Bruce’s mother, “Sally Marr” (Jan Minor), and his agent, “Artie Silver” (Stanley Beck). During the interview sequences, a tape recorder is often shown, but the interviewer (the voice of director Bob Fosse) is never seen fully, nor is his purpose for the interviews made clear. The interviews, which are set in the early to mid-1970s, comment on the action of the story that chronologically follows Bruce’s life from the early 1950s to his death in 1966. Also, moments from Bruce’s stage routines recreated by Hoffman are juxtaposed with the life event that inspired it. Often, the film moves in rapid succession from the main story to very brief clips of various interviews and stage routines, and then back to the story.
       During one sequence of a performance by Bruce, in which he talks about his economic success, the camera pans over his house, swimming pool and car. Later, when Bruce’s life takes a downturn, the house is shown without furniture, ... More Less

       After the title card, the screen goes black, then fades to a close-up of the mouth of “Lenny Bruce’s” wife, “Honey Harlow Bruce” (Valerie Perrine), who is then shown in a depiction of a present day interview. After presenting a brief excerpt of the interview, the film cuts to a sequence of a 1964 nightclub routine in which Bruce, portrayed by Dustin Hoffman, is at the top of his career. Bruce is shown explaining to the audience that the point of his crude joke is the wrongness of suppressing words. After this sequence, the rest of the opening credits commence.
       Throughout the black-and-white film, the action of the story is intercut with verité-style interviews of Honey, Bruce’s mother, “Sally Marr” (Jan Minor), and his agent, “Artie Silver” (Stanley Beck). During the interview sequences, a tape recorder is often shown, but the interviewer (the voice of director Bob Fosse) is never seen fully, nor is his purpose for the interviews made clear. The interviews, which are set in the early to mid-1970s, comment on the action of the story that chronologically follows Bruce’s life from the early 1950s to his death in 1966. Also, moments from Bruce’s stage routines recreated by Hoffman are juxtaposed with the life event that inspired it. Often, the film moves in rapid succession from the main story to very brief clips of various interviews and stage routines, and then back to the story.
       During one sequence of a performance by Bruce, in which he talks about his economic success, the camera pans over his house, swimming pool and car. Later, when Bruce’s life takes a downturn, the house is shown without furniture, and the pool is shown drained of water. Party and orgy scenes are shown as film montages under jazz music. Bruce's death is represented by brief shots of policemen and reporters in Bruce’s house as he lies dead on the floor, intercut with interviews of Sally, Artie and Honey, who describe Bruce’s condition during his final months. The film ends with a view of the iconic photograph of Bruce’s dead body, in which he lies naked, with a syringe in his arm.
       Although most of the plot points in the film were based on true events in the life of the highly controversial comedian, Lenny Bruce (Leonard Alfred Schneider, 1925–1966), as noted by some reviews, many significant events in his life during the timeframe of the movie were not included. As depicted in the film, Bruce met the stripper Hot Honey Harlow (born Harriett Jolliff, 1927–2005) in Baltimore, then married her in 1951 in Florida; however, the couple married after Bruce served briefly in the Merchant Navy. As in the picture, they did develop a double act, performed in the Catskills, and were involved in an automobile accident in which Harlow (whose name is sometimes spelled Harlowe) was hospitalized. With the insurance money, they bought a Cadillac and traveled to Los Angeles. However, the film did not mention that they first settled in the suburb of Arcadia, near Bruce’s father, who is never mentioned in the film. Both Lenny and Harlow were involved in various sexual encounters with other partners that are only alluded to in the film. A few years after the birth of their only child, Kitty, Bruce and Harlow divorced, but remained in contact for the rest of Bruce’s life.
       Bruce developed an improvisational style that explored many of society’s taboos and made frequent use of expletives. While some contemporary audiences hailed him, many people were offended by him and, as mentioned in the film, referred to him as a “sick comic.” Others found him undisciplined or simply not funny, especially as his physical and mental health deteriorated. However, the people who appreciated his act, found wisdom in his raunchy quips and an antidote for hypocrisy and, as noted by comedian Jon Stewart in a 1999 NYT article, admired his “lyrical” use of language. As depicted in the film, Bruce was arrested for obscenity, as well as for drug possession, many times in the last years of his life. (See Entry for Lenny Bruce Without Tears for more information about his trials). As the film shows, uniformed and undercover police officers were planted in the audience of Bruce's various performances, prepared to arrest him. As noted in the film by the fictional interviewer, it was ironic that, only a few years later, the words Bruce used onstage would no longer be chargeable offenses. According to the 1999 NYT article, many Bruce supporters, including Paul Krassner, a protégé of Bruce who assisted in the writing of Bruce’s 1965 book, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People , believed that the real reason Bruce was incessantly hounded in certain cities was that his routines often criticized organized religion.
       In later performances, as shown in the film, Bruce would read transcripts from his trials as part of his routine, frequently ranting about the denial of freedom of speech and making accusations of fascism that further inflamed those opposed to him. He was banned from performing in several cities, and many nightclub owners, fearful of being held legally responsible for the content of his acts, blacklisted him. After his 1964 arrest at New York’s Café au Gogo, major writers, artists and educators, among them, Woody Allen, Bob Dylan, Jules Feiffer, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, William Styron, James Baldwin, Dorothy Kilgallen, and the sociologist Herbert Gans, signed petitions and testified on behalf of freedom of speech, but Bruce was found guilty. In the summer of 1966, Bruce, heavily drugged and barely coherent, gave his last performance at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium, an event in which Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention also appeared. On 3 Aug 1966, Bruce was found dead from a morphine overdose (although some sources state heroin) at his home in the Hollywood Hills. According to a 2006 Time tribute, police allowed reporters into the house for five hours to photograph the corpse.
       According to a 29 Sep 1967 DV news item, The Lenny Bruce Story was planned for development and production for CBS Theatrical Films division by producer-writer Marvin Worth, a friend of Bruce. According to the news item, the project was based on material acquired by Worth and Alan Douglas from Marr, who was administrator of his estate, and from Lawrence Schiller, the author of a soon-to-be published Bruce biography. According to the news item, the material included tape recordings of Bruce’s performances and interviews of more than one hundred persons closely associated with him.
       Several other film and book projects about Bruce's life also went into development soon after the comic's death. In a 4 Oct 1967 Var news item, New York filmmaker Fred Baker disclosed that he, too, was making a film about Bruce, but the news item stated that Baker’s project was a documentary and therefore would not conflict with Worth’s project. The Baker film was later released independently in 1972 as Lenny Bruce Without Tears (See Entry).
       Another project was being made by Superior Film Corp. and Herbert S. Altman. According to an 8 Oct 1970 HR news item, Marvin Worth Productions obtained a restraining order barring Superior, Altman and Budco Distributing Corp. from exhibiting or distributing the film based on Bruce’s life, which allegedly used substantial material copied from How to Talk Dirty and Influence People and The Essential Lenny Bruce , for which Marvin Worth and Douglas International owned exclusive film rights. According to the news item, Worth, Douglas and Marr, as Bruce’s executor, were named as plaintiffs. A New York Federal court judge signed a preliminary injunction forbidding the film’s release if it contained material infringing on the plaintiffs’ claims. No further information was found on the court case. However, the film, which Altman also directed, was distributed by Budco in 1974 and starred Bernie Travis as Bruce (See Entry).
       According to a 5 Apr 1968 HR news item, Worth’s production, then titled The Lenny Bruce Story , was in preparation. The news item stated that Stuart Rosenberg would direct and that Bruce Jay Friedman had been signed by Columbia to write the screenplay. However, a 21 Aug 1968 Var news item stated that the script was yet to be written, and would be based on How to Talk Dirty and Influence People and an unpublished study by Schiller that made use of interviews and recordings of Bruce’s court trials as sources. A month later, in a 20 Sep 1968 DV news item, it was reported that Worth signed M. Charles Cohen to write the screenplay. At this time Stuart Rosenberg was still set to direct the project. The 26 Aug 1970 HR Rambling Reporter column stated that Columbia wanted Dustin Hoffman for the title role and Shelley Winters for the role of Sally Marr.
       As of 31 May 1972, according to a Var news item, Ann-Margaret had been signed by Worth for the role of Honey, and Cliff Gorman, who originated the role on Broadway, and Al Pacino were being considered for the title roll. At this point no distributor had been set. On 29 Jun 1972, an HR news item reported that Twentieth Century-Fox would produce the film with Worth and that Tom O'Horgan, who directed the stage play, would direct the film.
       Although a 10 Dec 1973 Box news item reported that Joey Heatherton was being considered for the role of Honey, by 13 Dec 1973 a HR Broadway Ballyhoo column reported that Perrine had been cast, and that Hoffman and Miner would star under Bob Fosse’s direction. The news item mentioned that the film would begin shooting in January on location in Miami, and would launch producer David Picker’s new company, Two Road Productions. Although her appearance in the film has not been confirmed, according to a 30 Apr 1974 HR news item, Bruce and Harlow’s daughter, Kitty Bruce, was to appear in the film as a nightclub patron. Modern sources add Buddy Boylan and Christine Page to the cast.
       According to HR production charts, Lenny was shot in New York, Miami, Florida and Los Angeles. An 11 Feb 1974 Box article reported that plans to shoot on location inside a Dade County, FL courtroom was jeopardized when the filmmakers, who already had been turned down by Miami’s federal court, were refused by Chief Judge Thomas Lee Jr., after he read the script of a trial sequence in the film. Lee, who was speaking on behalf of a committee of judges, stated that the refusal was not about censorship, but a question of the possibility of future court action brought against the film. His decision, according to the article, disheartened the filmmakers, who accused the State of Florida of inviting filmmakers to shoot there but then not providing cooperation. The article also mentioned that the troupe had had earlier problems when the neighbors of the Coconut Grove estate of sculptor Sepy Dobronyi, where portions of the movie were shot, complained to the Miami City Commission about the filming.
       In a 9 Apr 1974 HR article, Worth, who expected that Lenny would be assigned an R rating, advocated a special MPAA rating to distinguish between sophisticated adult films and pornography. He suggested creating classifications, X-A and X-P, to differentiate films such as Last Tango in Paris and Midnight Cowboy (See Entry) from Deep Throat . Worth noted that Lenny had been passed from studio to studio over a six-year-period due to its controversial subject matter, but that during that time changes in audience familiarity with four letter words had lessened the shock of hearing them onscreen. As Worth predicted, Lenny received an R rating from the MPAA.
       A 12 Nov 1974 DV article reported that objections were raised by seven New York radio stations over twelve, thirty-second long radio commercials advertising Lenny . The article stated that none of the blurbs contained profanity or obscenity, but representatives of the radio stations argued that they were in bad taste and would be offensive to homosexuals, blacks, the blind and the religious. Making accusations of censorship, United Artists stated that the objections to the ads, which ran in other markets without complaint, constituted censorship and the “continuation of the harassment to which Bruce was subjected.”
       According to a 2 Nov 1975 LAT news item, Kitty Bruce filed two separate suits against the producers of Lenny and the publishers of the Bruce biography, Ladies and Gentleman, Lenny Bruce! , written by Albert Goldman using Schiller’s research. Marvin Worth Productions, Douglas International Corp., United Artists, L. B. Corp. and Grove Press, which published the stageplay, were the defendants in an $11 million suit filed at the Los Angeles Superior Court. Kitty Bruce alleged that the defendants appropriated her father’s likeness and name for commercial profits without the consent of, or payment to, his estate. In a second lawsuit of over $4 million, the authors and publishers related to the biography, Ladies and Gentleman, Lenny Bruce! , were named. Kitty Bruce asked the court to order an accounting of profits in each case, and the return of recordings and photographs of Lenny Bruce, as well as an injunction enjoining the defendants from further publishing, marketing and distributing those works. The outcome of neither suit has been determined.
       Lenny was nominated for six Academy Awards: Best Actor, Best Actress (Perrine), Cinematography, Directing, Picture, and Writing (Screenplay adapted from other material). Perrine was named Best Actress at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival. In the 1979 semi-autobiographical film, All That Jazz , which was also directed by Fosse, there is a reference to the film Lenny , as it depicts a Fosse alter ego directing a stage a musical (in real life, Chicago , which opened on Broadway in 1975) while simultaneously editing a film about the life of a comedian. Other movies related to Bruce, who appeared in and wrote films, as well as being the subject matter, are listed in the entry below for Lenny Bruce Without Tears . In 2003, Harlow and several comedians lobbied and petitioned successfully to have Bruce pardoned posthumously for his 1964 arrest. Among the petitioners were Robin Williams, George Carlin and Richard Pryor. George Pataki, then governor of New York, claimed that the pardon, which was the first posthumous pardon in that state, was a declaration of New York’s commitment to uphold the First Amendment.
      The working title of the film was The Lenny Bruce Story . In the opening credits, set decorator Nicholas Romanac’s name is misspelled "Romanak." The end credits contain a written acknowledgment from the producers to Chief Judge John G. Ferris and the Broward County Court System, FL; The Barcelona Hotel, Miami Beach, FL; Brown's Hotel, Loch Sheldrake, NY; and the Dade County and Miami, Florida Motion Picture Organization.
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
7 Sep 1971
p. 75.
Box Office
10 Dec 1973.
---
Box Office
11 Feb 1974
Section SE, pp. 4, 6.
Box Office
25 Nov 1974
p. 4738.
Box Office
31 Mar 1975.
---
Daily Variety
20 Sep 1968.
---
Daily Variety
25 Jan 1974.
---
Daily Variety
7 Nov 1974
p. 3, 7.
Daily Variety
12 Nov 1974
p. 1, 8.
Daily Variety
25 Nov 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Apr 1968.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Aug 1970.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Oct 1970.
---
Hollywood Reporter
22 Dec 1970.
---
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jun 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Dec 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 Jan 1974
p. 24.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Apr 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Apr 1974
pp. 1, 4.
Hollywood Reporter
31 May 1974
p. 18.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Nov 1974
p. 3, 23.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
17 Nov 1974.
---
Los Angeles Times
17 Nov 1974
Calendar, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
2 Nov 1975.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
27 Nov 1974
p. 49.
New York Times
11 Nov 1974
p. 40.
New York Times
8 Aug 1999.
---
Newsweek
18 Nov 1974
p. 103.
Time
25 Nov 1974
p. 5.
Time
10 Aug 2006.
---
Variety
4 Oct 1967.
---
Variety
10 Apr 1968.
---
Variety
21 Aug 1968.
---
Variety
31 May 1972.
---
Variety
13 Nov 1974
p. 19.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A film by Bob Fosse
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
1st asst dir
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Based on materials supplied by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Cam asst
Cam asst
Asst cam
Gaffer
Key grip
Best boy
Stills
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Set dresser
Set dresser
COSTUMES
Cost des
MUSIC
Mus supv and scoring
SOUND
Sd ed supv
Sd asst
Boom op
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit mgr
Prod mgr
Scr supv
Casting asst
Prod secy
Loc auditor
Cinemobile tech
Transportation capt
Teamster
Teamster
U.A. representative
Advisor to the prod
Advisor to the prod
Advisor to the prod
Prod asst
Prod asst
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Lenny by Julian Barry, original New York stage play staged by Tom O'Horgan, produced on stage by Jules Fisher, Marvin Worth and Michael Butler (New York, 26 May 1971).
AUTHOR
MUSIC
"It Never Entered My Mind" by Richard Rodgers, performed by Miles Davis
"Tempus Fugit" by Bud Powell, performed by Miles Davis
"Well You Needn't" by Teddy McRae and Thelonious Monk, performed by Miles Davis, courtesy of Miles Davis.
PERFORMER
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Lenny Bruce Story
Release Date:
December 1974
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 10 November 1974
Los Angeles premiere: 15 November 1974
Los Angeles opening: 16 November 1974
Production Date:
21 January--late May 1974 in New York, Florida and Los Angeles
Copyright Claimant:
United Artists Corp.
Copyright Date:
4 November 1974
Copyright Number:
LP44016
Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
Lenses/Prints
DeLuxe
Duration(in mins):
111-112
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In an interview, Honey Harlow Bruce, ex-wife of stand-up comic Lenny Bruce, recalls her life with him: In 1964, Lenny shocks his audience by stating that Eleanor Roosevelt gave Lou Gehrig “the clap,” but then says the real point he wants to make is about the suppression of words. Venereal disease he says, is an epidemic because people will not talk about it. Honey then recalls seeing Lenny for the first time in Baltimore, when he was a comic impersonator: In the early 1950s, Honey, a stripper known as Hot Honey Harlow, is eating in a cafeteria when she sees Lenny watching her from across the room. The next time Lenny and Honey see each other, they go off together to have sex. Afterward, the smitten Lenny calls Honey his “shiksa goddess” and follows her to Miami. In another interview, Artie Silver, Lenny’s manager, discusses the delicate balance of involving himself in both Lenny’s professional and personal life: Shortly after Lenny and Honey meet, Artie warns Lenny that Honey, who had done jail time as a teenager, would be trouble. Despite Artie’s misgivings, Lenny marries Honey, then takes her to meet his mother, Sally Marr, and Aunt Mema. Later, Lenny, who is uncomfortable with Honey’s stripping, adds her to his act. They are hired to perform in the Catskills, where, during a show, Lenny makes an impulsive, crude joke to the band that is overheard by the audience. After this incidence, Sherman Hart, an established comic, advises Lenny not to use “dirt” in his routines, but, at his next performance, Lenny intentionally insults his audience, thus losing career opportunities. In a 1960s performance, Lenny asks his audience, “What is ... +


In an interview, Honey Harlow Bruce, ex-wife of stand-up comic Lenny Bruce, recalls her life with him: In 1964, Lenny shocks his audience by stating that Eleanor Roosevelt gave Lou Gehrig “the clap,” but then says the real point he wants to make is about the suppression of words. Venereal disease he says, is an epidemic because people will not talk about it. Honey then recalls seeing Lenny for the first time in Baltimore, when he was a comic impersonator: In the early 1950s, Honey, a stripper known as Hot Honey Harlow, is eating in a cafeteria when she sees Lenny watching her from across the room. The next time Lenny and Honey see each other, they go off together to have sex. Afterward, the smitten Lenny calls Honey his “shiksa goddess” and follows her to Miami. In another interview, Artie Silver, Lenny’s manager, discusses the delicate balance of involving himself in both Lenny’s professional and personal life: Shortly after Lenny and Honey meet, Artie warns Lenny that Honey, who had done jail time as a teenager, would be trouble. Despite Artie’s misgivings, Lenny marries Honey, then takes her to meet his mother, Sally Marr, and Aunt Mema. Later, Lenny, who is uncomfortable with Honey’s stripping, adds her to his act. They are hired to perform in the Catskills, where, during a show, Lenny makes an impulsive, crude joke to the band that is overheard by the audience. After this incidence, Sherman Hart, an established comic, advises Lenny not to use “dirt” in his routines, but, at his next performance, Lenny intentionally insults his audience, thus losing career opportunities. In a 1960s performance, Lenny asks his audience, “What is dirty?” He says he would rather his child watch a stag movie than The King of Kings , because nobody gets hurt in porn. In the 1950s, Honey is seriously injured and, while in the hospital, guesses that Lenny has an affair with her nurse. This incident becomes the source of a routine Lenny performs a decade later, in which Lenny advises men to deny their indiscretions at all costs, even if their wives catch them in the act. Explaining the difference between men and women, Lenny says that a woman is physical with someone she likes, but a man will seek out anything, even on a desert island. In the 1950s, the couple moves to Los Angeles, Honey returns to stripping, Lenny to small gigs and they become involved in the show business drug culture. Lenny pushes to experiment sexually, but then accuses Honey of enjoying the other woman in their ménage a trois “too much.” In her interview, Honey recalls that after their daughter, Kitty, was born, she and Lenny parted. During his stand-up act in the 1960s, Lenny says that divorce is great at first, but then you realize the women you meet are also divorced and burdened with children or poodles. He claims the only satisfaction is the revenge of gaining child custody, but then you are responsible for getting up in the morning to raise the child. In her interview, Honey at first accuses Lenny of stealing Kitty, but then admits she had a problem with drug abuse: In the late 1950s, Honey, an emotional wreck from loneliness and drugs, calls Lenny collect from Hawaii, where she has been arrested for possession of marijuana. In a 1960s performance, Lenny explains that the problem is that we live in a “happy ending” culture instead of a “what is” culture. He thinks that true human responses are denied and lied about, causing people to feel guilty when they act in a natural way. In an interview, Sally says that she moved to California to help with Kitty, and that Lenny had by then given up impersonation and begun to improvise: In the late 1950s, Lenny works in strip clubs, content that no one censors his act. Eventually, Artie and Sally convince him to take engagements at college and political venues, where his irreverence soon becomes trendy. During a performance, Lenny risks audience alienation by boldly referring to individuals using racial epithets. Then, explaining that suppression gives words power, he advocates using offensive words until they can no longer cause pain. When a Time magazine reporter suggests that Lenny’s act has social impact, Lenny denies it, saying he likes attention and wants to “make a buck.” Now, Artie commands high fees for Lenny’s appearances. During one performance, Lenny says that he has been accused of making “sick jokes,” but that a true sick joke is that Zsa Zsa Gabor earns $60,000 a week in Las Vegas and a Nevada school teacher’s top pay is $6,000 a year. After wisecracking about masturbation and integration, Lenny says his financial success is based on violence, segregation, disease, despair and injustice, and if the world suddenly became pure, he would be unemployed. When he visits Honey in prison, he shows her an album cover of a recording of some of his performances. At an appearance in San Francisco, Lenny protests the dismissal of homosexual teachers, saying the men were considered good at their jobs and their actions occurred far from school grounds. Because of one of his crudely worded comments, Lenny is arrested and charged with the use of an obscene word in a public place. During his interview, Artie recalls that Lenny became obsessed with his legal battles and would read court transcripts to his audience: At Lenny’s trial without jury in San Francisco, the judge orders a continuance and cautions Lenny not to repeat any of “those words.” At Lenny’s next performance, after pointing out to the audience several uniformed and plainclothes policemen posted around the room, Lenny talks about his arrest, substituting the sounds, “blah blah blah,” for provocative words. When the trial resumes, the humorless judge finds Lenny guilty, after which his counsel requests a jury trial. In his interview, Artie states that Lenny began to study lawbooks and record his trials: During the appeal trial, his lawyer forces the arresting policeman to admit that one of the words that Lenny is being charged for saying in public is often used at the police station, which also is a public place. Then his lawyer suggests that Lenny’s work is found in the social satire of Aristophanes and Jonathan Swift. A professor of religion testifies that Lenny’s routines convey a sincere message that exposes hypocrisy. A recording of a performance is played, one in which Lenny riffs on the phrase, “to come,” and arranges his words into a kind of beat poem. Although the judge is offended, the jury votes for acquittal. Lenny, however, is dissatisfied, feeling that he won because of the jury’s idiosyncrasies rather than the acknowledgment of First Amendment rights. According to Artie’s later recollection, Lenny, who added jokes about the Pope and other religious leaders to his routines, developed a following, although some people attended shows just to see if he got arrested. After Honey is released from prison, she and Lenny spend time together taking drugs. Artie and Sally try to cancel Lenny’s Chicago performance, but when the manager refuses, the drug-addled, coughing Lenny goes onstage. After an attempt at coherence, he apologizes, admitting he is not funny. Backstage, the police arrest him. In the present, Honey recalls that Lenny was arrested a total of thirteen times, and Sally states that he suffered from pleurisy. Artie says Lenny dealt with depression, and was going broke from lawyer and doctor bills. In a performance at the height of his career, Lenny tells the audience that there has been an “obscenity circus” for years, starring the district attorney and the lower and Supreme Courts, and that he is the “schmuck” who fell off the high wire into the ring. As he wonders aloud why it is permissible to show photographs of maimed breasts injured in war, but not the beautiful breasts of a lovely woman in the audience, a policeman rises to arrest him. At the trial, words Lenny has spoken are presented out of context and a gesture he used is incorrectly stated to signify masturbation. Increasingly frustrated, Lenny speaks out, asking to talk to the judge and jury as human to human, but his interruptions anger the judge. Expecting a guilty verdict, his defense team plans to appeal to a higher court, but Lenny, no longer thinking clearly, is uncooperative. He tries defending himself, but the judge declares him in contempt of court. Lenny states that he has no money left and his cabaret card, which allows him to perform, has been confiscated. As he is removed from the courtroom, Lenny claims he hurts no one and pleads that they do not take away his words. In her interview, Sally says the New York court found Lenny guilty, but an appeal was being planned by his defense team. When the interviewer suggests the possibility of suicide, Sally denies it. Honey describes Lenny as funny, and Artie, pleased that Lenny’s records are selling again, states that he is negotiating a film about his life. Intrigued, the interviewer mentions that Lenny’s speeches are now–after less than a decade–considered harmless. Back in 1966, when Lenny is found dead in his apartment, naked, with drug paraphernalia nearby, the police allow news photographers to film his death scene. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.