Kitty Bruce speaks about her father Lenny Bruce
Every so often, Kitty Bruce returns to the public eye with a project involving her famous father, legendary comedian Lenny Bruce.
After giving us a collection of Lenny’s writings in the 1984 book “The Almost Unpublished Lenny Bruce: From the Private Collection of Kitty Bruce,” and the six-CD box set “Let the Buyer Beware” in 2004, Kitty is now auctioning off some 50 items that once belonged to her father.
Beginning Oct. 13 – what would have been Lenny’s 84th birthday – and running through Oct. 28, Todd Mueller Autographs will auction off both one-of-a-kind Lenny Bruce items and objects donated by Chris Rock, Elizabeth Taylor, Yoko Ono and many others.
The money raised from the auction, and from an Oct. 28 comedy show at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood, will fund Lenny’s House, a residential treatment center for women.
“I have never been so intent on anything in my entire life,” Kitty says by phone from her home in Pitts town, Pennsylvania, where she also heads the Lenny Bruce Memorial Foundation. The foundation will fund the care of women unable to pay for a stay at Lenny’s House.
Kitty plans to open the first Lenny’s House no more than 40 miles from her home, a region she says is under served by treatment centers for women.
“I don’t want to build the TajMahal,” Kitty says, “but I do want to get a building or a place that can house up to 10 women where they can stay for four months at a time and learn living skills aside from getting a very strong foundation for sobriety. … I think this is a very necessary to have to happen. It’s going to help a lot of women and therefore a lot of families, because this is somebody’s mother, somebody’s daughter, somebody’s girlfriend, somebody’s wife.”
The items Kitty’s parting with are personal. Her father’s bed frame. His trench coat, seen in photos of Lenny getting arrested. A letter Lenny wrote to his father.
That letter, Kitty says, was hardest for her to part with. It tells of Lenny’s first thanksgiving with his wife, a stripper who went by Honey Harlow (she died in 2005). Lenny enclosed a lock of Honey’s hair.
“You could really tell he wanted normalcy so bad,” Kitty says. “It was a regular letter from a son to his father about his wife and about his new mother-in-law.”
The auction is a one-time event, says Kitty, who’s been working on it since March 2008. To find out more about the auction and Laugh Factory show, go to www.lennybruceofficial.com.
Kitty’s focusing her efforts and attention on the auction, but she has other plans. Sometime next year, she plans an as-yet unspecified project with other offspring of legendary comedians: George Carlin’s daughter, Kelly, and Richard Pryor’s daughter, Rain.
Kitty’s wrestled with some of the same addictions that gripped Lenny, who died of a drug overdose in 1966.
“Being in the throes of an addiction or in the throes of alcoholism is probably one of the saddest places to be,” Kitty says. “And in recovery is the best absolute place best to be, as far as I’m concerned. I think if you asked anybody who walked up on the street: “Do you have an alcoholic or an addict in your family?” you’re going to get a yes. You know, it’s not anything to be ashamed of. It’s a shame if you don’t get any help.”
In previous interviews, Kitty reflected on her father’s legacy, her own problems and meeting comedian Freddie Prinze, who idolized Lenny. The interviews are excerpted here for the first time.
You have done other things about your father in the past. You wrote a book. You published the “Unpublished Lenny Bruce.”
And I read something about you singing a tribute to him when you were about 12.
Oh, my god. That was on Capitol Records. It was two authors, Lawrence Schiller and Albert Goldman. Albert Goldman later had written “Ladies and Gentlemen, Lenny Bruce!” and all those other books on John Lennon. He and Larry Schiller, I guess, had formed a partnership and they did a record called “Why Did Lenny Bruce Die?” They asked me to sing a song. I played guitar when I was little. I sang the song “Yesterday” by the Beatles, by Paul McCartney. I didn’t realize how appropriate that song was until a lot of years later, but I guess I really felt that way at the time.
That’s not a record I’ve come across.
I don’t know where you’d find it. It’s obscure.
This is a strange question. But are you Lenny Bruce’s daughter or are you Leonard Schneider’s daughter?
I’m Lenny Bruce’s daughter. That’s a great question. That is the best question everybody has ever asked me. Do you know why? Because they were two separate people. I am Lenny Bruce’s daughter because that’s who he was and developed into when I was born. Leonard Alfred Schneider.
Have you ever gone by Brandi?
No. I don’t know what possessed my parents. I really don’t.
It was Brandi Kathleen and then – get this — my father said he thought Brandi was too stripperish. like Kitty’s any better. Hortense or something would be a stretch. Kitty’s pretty close. I don’t know what those two were thinking.
What prompted you to write “The Almost Unpublished Lenny Bruce?”
At the time? Finance. And a state of mind and a state of the way that I was living my life at the time. It was just stuff put together out of the archives. I thought it would be a good idea. … I had a lot of chemical dependency problems at the time and it just could have been a lot better. But if anything, my father’s work carried it through.
I hope your life is a bit steadier now.
Oh, absolutely. No, I’ve been clean and sober for a long time.
Good. Is that the legacy of being Lenny Bruce’s daughter?
No. I can’t lay that on my father or my mother. I don’t know whether it was genetic pre-disposition. To be honest with you, I don’t know why. I know it was in my genes. I know that my experience as a recovering addict and alcoholic has been a growing and a very learning experience for me and probably the best way of life I could ever imagine. It’s the greatest gift I’ve ever had. My father knew about recovery, but I don’t think that he was ready.
What was your addiction?
Drugs and alcohol. When I stopped with the drugs, then it was alcohol. That’s about all I want to talk about that.
I’m wondering if it went through your mind what happened to your father when you were starting to get into that stuff.
I hated drugs. I hated them with a passion. I’m not kidding. And I don’t know what happened. I really don’t. I know one thing — I was under the influence of alcohol from the first time I picked up a drug, though. And had I not been drinking, that would have never happened. They say that what happens happens for a reason. I believe with all my heart the reason that I survived is to pass on that message and help other people that have gone through it and to help people to get out of it, to lead better lives.
My father died when I was 16 and my father-in-law’s died when he was 5 and I’ve always wondered what’s worse? Knowing your dad enough to know how much you miss him as an adult …
… or never knowing him at all?
For me, definitely knowing. Yeah. Knowing my dad, I think, was worse than if I hadn’t known him at all. However, the later on in my life that I go and the older that I get, the more that I know him because I spend more time on his work now than I did with my 11 years with him. So I’m a lot closer because of the work. You get to learn a lot about people when you listen to that many hours of tape. You really do. The inflection, the tone, the timing, the rhythm.
What made you decide to do the box set?
The idea hit me. It just came to me. I don’t know how to stay it any clearer without sounding crazy. Do you ever just get a solid thought that just hits you like bam?
OK. It was one of those. And I thought I wonder what the hell made my Dad say what he said and what made him tick. I wonder what made Lenny Bruce tick. While I’m wondering what made Lenny Bruce tick, I’ll bet other people are wondering what made him tick and how he arrived at certain decisions in speaking in such a conservative climate at the time. Why did he say what he said?
I thought well, if I start from the beginning of his career to the very last days of his life, then I’ll give the listener and opportunity to get to know him in the house, to listen to him live, which you don’t get on the other albums because they’re all edited, and some for content and they’re not free-flow. This is seven and a half hours, 119 tracks, of straight full-on, full-force Lenny Bruce, uncensored, unedited, just pure. And that’s something that’s never been done. It would be like blasphemy for his own child to censor him in any way, shape or form, so I wanted to make sure that everything stayed intact. I never got to answer my own question of what made Lenny Bruce tick because I don’t know. I really don’t. I’m just glad that he did tick.
I think I know where he got a lot of his ideas or his prejudices against certain organized religions, things like that, but his quick thinking — that was just him. I laughed.
Where did his prejudice against organized religion come from?
There was not enough money for — in the Jewish religion, it’s called a bar mitzvah, when a man is coming of age at age 13. My grandmother went to the local rabbi to set up an appointment for the bar mitzvah. He asked for $200 and my grandmother didn’t have it. My father, he imagined a party and kids coming and the whole thing and he invited people to come and now there’s no bar mitzvah. He formed resentment very early.
However, here’s the shining part of the story. My grandmother, she said, “Do you want to be a man?” She took him to a house of burlesque. She said, “These are pretty women, these are pretty ladies, and this is how I’ll introduce you into your manhood.” So that was his entrance.
Did you gain greater insight into your father after listening to these tapes?
Oh, absolutely. It was like quick 12 easy steps to getting to know your dad fast. I have to tell you that I got to know him as an adult. A lot of things were explained to me, a lot of the pieces in the puzzle just didn’t fit when I was growing up and they came together in working on this box set because I had to listen to hours and hours of tapes and I had to look at miles and miles long footage of archives of newspaper clippings and what had happened from the arrest in the beginning to the end.
What were the pieces of the puzzles?
When I was little I had no idea, really, why he was constantly getting in trouble. Nobody ever sat down and explained it to me. When I was going through the archives, I’d see “Lenny Bruce jailed,” “sick comic,” “blue comic” and it just continued to get worse and worse.
Then it finally dawned on me. It was like the analogy of Al Capone and tax evasion. What my father was saying, the content was very unsettling and disturbing to the conservative listener and to the not-so-conservative listener. The government couldn’t bust him on his content, so what did they do? They went for the obscenity, which was the law. But by doing that, they violated his free speech and that is when literal war broke out because his rights were being violated and he took great pride in being an American. They were taking away his right to speak; they were taking away his right to work.
How many hours of tapes are there total?
I haven’t counted. I would estimate hundreds. At least over 200 hours.
You’ve only given us a small taste, then.
My dad talked a lot. He taped everything. If he did two weeks at the Gate of Horn live, three shows a night, for two weeks, you’ve got three shows an night for two weeks at 45 minutes a pop. That’s a lot of hours. Then you multiply that by all the different clubs plus stuff at home, plus stuff between the district attorney and him, plus hidden tapes. He taped everything.
You had hidden these tapes all over the place, left them all over the place.
I didn’t leave them all over. I was very specific. I had three different locations, God forbid something should happen. There was, and it was good because there was a fire. Oh, god. The other producer, Hal Willner, his apartment burned way back when we first started the project and everything burned up in his house except my dad’s tapes and a Federico Fellini picture, or letter. That is strange, isn’t it?
Who did you trust to leave these with?
Well, it’s going to sound funny but Robert Blake was a friend of my dad’s, so Robert had some. When I first started making copies of them, Keith Richards had some. And then my stepgrandmother Dorothy had some. And my cousins in Michigan. It wasn’t out of paranoia. It was just out of Murphy’s law. And I couldn’t afford Murphy to have his law on Lenny Bruce’s time.
How does Keith Richards figure into this?
I met Keith, and he was a really big fan of my dad’s and at the time I had just started copying the originals onto two-inch and I made copies on cassettes and I gave Keith the whole lot of it on cassette form. I entrusted him with these tapes. I gave them to him. I said, “Keith if anything ever happens to these originals, at least you’ll have them.” That’s how he figured into it.
Any more recordings coming out?
No, not that I would like to put out. He did an awful lot of talking, but he did repeat himself sometimes. In order to get that seven and a half hours in the box set, there was a lot of listening. A lot of listening.
Growing up and listening to your father, did he make you laugh? Or did you not understand the references?
Didn’t have a clue. I remember I was taken to go see his act. I was really so sad. “What’s the matter, Kitty?” I said, “Daddy didn’t say hello to me, not once.” I didn’t understand. Kids just don’t get it. I thought the Three Stooges were funny. That’s what 8-year-old kids watched. I’d be concerned if I had an 8-year-old and he listened to Lenny Bruce.
As you got older, you obviously thought he was funny.
Oh, my God, he’s like one of the funniest people ever. I definitely get my dad. I definitely get him.
Is humor genetic? Do you think in funny terms?
Yeah. I think it’s genetic.
But you’ve never had an interest in going up?
I’ve been asked. People say, “Kitty, you’re so funny.” But no, there’s enough there. I’m a pretty introverted person at times. I’m quiet. Then I’ll be real energetic and outgoing and I’ll be quiet. That’s my nature.
How did you and Freddie meet? I never heard that story.
My father was lovers with and good friend with Gloria Stavers. She was a photographer. She, at the time, was editing 16 magazine, which was a teenybop magazine. She introduced me to New York and a lot of the New York clique. The quote-unquote right people. She called me one day and said, “There’s a comic who’s really, really cute. I’m doing a story on him. He’d like to pick you up from the airport.” That’s how I met Freddie.
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