The Lenny Bruce Story
A true story, about the comedian Lenny Bruce
Written in 2010 and rewritten 04/13/2016 unedited
Had it not been for my grandfather Eddie Lazaroff, I might never have known anything about Florida and Miami Beach, or for that matter anything about a guy named Lenny Bruce.
My grandfather Eddie, had moved to Miami Beach in the 1950’s, and that was when no one really knew much about Florida. All of his extended family in New Haven Connecticut constantly talked about his retiring to Florida, they talked as if my grand-father was crazy, but I later found out that my grandfather was anything but crazy.
Back in the 1950’s everyone living in New Haven said that Miami Beach was nothing more than a swamps loaded with mosquitoes. I later found that they were only fifty percent correct. Because when we first went to visit my grandfather, he showed us how many of the swamps had already been filled in, but he admitted there still were plenty of mosquitoes there and we felt them.
We first started visiting my grandparents around 1952 when he was renting a small cottage on Miami Beach. I remember the cottage well as it had palmetto bugs that were so big they would scare you, I think they had to be more than two inches long, but by 1954 both my grandpa Eddie and my grandma Molly had moved to a brand new house in Perrine Florida, it cost them only $4000.00, as back in 1954, Perrine was sort of like the last frontier in Florida, it reminded me of pictures I had seen of the outback in Australia. Everywhere you looked there was lots of dry looking farm land and very few people. The house they bought in Perrine, had no air conditioning or any type of insulation for that matter. It was located in a new development that was formerly farm land. I can remember the house well because when you were inside and looked at where the roof met the walls you could see light from outdoors coming in.
My parents couldn’t figure out why Grandpa bought the house in such a remote place, and I don’t think my Grandfather knew why either, he was bored to death. When they lived in the cottage on Miami Beach there were always lots of people around and there was free music and dancing in the evenings at the Miami Beach bandstands.
So by 1955 Grandpa Eddie finally got disgusted with Perrine and announced that he had decided to move back to Miami Beach where there was, lots of activity, and some people to talk to and especially there was the dancing in the evenings.
It was around 1955 when my grandparents started coming back to New Haven to visit New Haven, and then my mother, father and I, started going to Florida every winter to visit them. By late 1955, Grandpa Eddie had now purchased a modern condominium on South Miami Beach. The condominium was located on Collins Avenue and between 5th Street and 6th Street, and their unit was on the second floor on the far left rear of the building, and that condo unit is still there today just as it was in 1955.
By my grandparents moving to Collins Avenue, it meant that when we would visit them, we all stayed in a hotel called the Corsair, The Corsair Hotel was right on Ocean Drive, on Miami Beach. The hotel was sort of the first in the line of Art Deco hotels on Ocean Drive We drove by the other day but it’s no longer there.
Anyway, the Corsair Hotel, where we stayed was in an ideal location for my parents, it cost only about $8.00 per night and another $1.50 if you rented an oscillating fan. It was in an ideal location, because it was right on the ocean, and only a short walking distance to my grandparent’s condominium.
Once Grandpa Eddie told me why he bought the condominium on Collins Avenue, first of all he said it was only $8000.00. But what was more important was that there was a bandstand located right next to the Corsair Hotel, and Grandpa could always find a lady to dance with there.
By1956, I was sixteen years old and we came to Florida to see Grandpa and Grandma and to see their new condominium. My parents checked us into the Corsair Hotel and we all went to visit my Grandparents. Naturally, I soon got bored so I got permission to walk back to the hotel.
By the second evening, I didn’t even go with my parents, I told them I was going to fish off the giant South Beach fishing pier. The hotel manager lent me a junk fishing rod, but I had no bait, so then I decided to get all dressed up and take a walk up Ocean Drive.
After I had walked several blocks, I realized it was starting to get dark, there were very few lights on anywhere. So as I stood on a street corner I started considering the idea of turning around and walking back to the Corsair hotel.
I was just standing there at the intersection, when I spotted some neon lights flashing, they were down the street to my left, and because those bright neon lights were the only sign of life in the whole area, I decided to walk down the side street to them. I crossed the intersection and walked to where the neon lights were flashing. As I walked by, the open front door, I could smell stale beer, so I quickly glanced inside. It was dark and a little scary, but I could see it was some type of a bar or night club, and I could see there was a stage and liquor bar in front of it. I also could see there were a few people sitting at tables, but most of the tables looked to be empty. So when I reached the next corner, I turned around, and headed for the bar’s open front door. I knew that places like this existed, but I had never ever been in one. Hey, I was only 16 years old, and Mom and Pop would never let me go in a night club.
Well, it took a lot of courage, but I walked in and sat on a stool at the bar. It was my first time I ever was in a joint like this. The bar tender eyeballed me and came over and he asked me what I wanted to drink, so I asked for a Rheingold beer, it was the only beer I knew the name of. I knew the name because my father’s best friend drove a Rheingold beer truck back in New Haven. Sometimes my father would meet with him at the Rheingold brewery where they drank mugs of beer with a raw egg dropped in.
As the bartender went to get my beer, I had no idea how much a beer cost, so I confidently tossed a dollar on the bar, like I did it all the time. The bartender returned with my glass of beer, and he just took the dollar. I took a sip of beer, I waited for him to ask for my I.D, but he didn’t.
I took another sip of beer and suddenly there was a drum roll, and the lights on the stage all went on, right in front of me, I was shocked it was very bright as a young fellow walked out on the stage. and several people sitting nearby clapped their hands, so I did the same. I looked at his face, the guy appeared fairly young, perhaps in his late 20’s. He was well dressed in a dark suit and had a microphone and cord that he carried around on the stage with him. He was standing so close to me, I could count the laces on his shiny pointy black shoes.
As the fellow started to introduce himself, I felt a little embarrassed for him as there wasn’t more than six people in the whole place listening to him. So then he started talking loudly, and telling some dirty jokes, I had never heard anyone swearing in public before, and this guy was looking right at me as he spoke.
I hardly noticed it, but a very pretty blonde girl, came and sat in the seat next to me.
She said “Hello.” so I said Hello, to her. I tried not to look at her, but I saw she wasn’t much older than twenty five. She asked for me to buy her a drink, so what was I to do, say no, so I said, OK.
The bartender brought her a glass with some pink liquid in it and waited for me to pay up. I put another dollar on the bar but he still waited looking at me. I took the hint and put up another two dollar on the bar, it was my last ones. The girl asked, “Are you on vacation?” I was really getting nervous, as here I was an underage guy, sitting on a bar stool, listening to a not so funny comedian telling dirty jokes, and now there was a hooker sitting next to me, and I had no more money in my wallet. I knew, that they knew I had no money as they had looked at my wallet when I paid for the girl’s drink, so I did the only thing a smart, and financially broke kid could do, I simply turned on my stool, and walked out of the place.
Back at the Corsair Hotel, when I walked in, I saw the night desk clerk, and I asked him what kind of place the bar was that I had just come from. He said that was a really hot and well known South Beach Club, the comedians name was Lenny Bruce, and he said, “Lenny’s pretty good and he’s well known.” I said, what’s his name again, Lenny Bruce, who the hell was Lenny Bruce? I had never ever even heard of the guy, the desk clerk just stared at me.
When I returned to New Haven from our vacation with the grandparents, all of a sudden it seemed like every time I turned on the news, or picked up the daily paper, there was something going on with this new and outrageously dirty comedian named Lenny Bruce. I couldn’t believe it, here was this guy that I had never ever even heard of before, the guy I had walked out on, and now he was in my face almost every day, he was on the news almost daily, and it wasn’t in Florida, it was in New Haven Connecticut.
Not a week went by without there being a story about Lenny Bruce being arrested somewhere. So I started reading up on him, remember, there was no internet and Google back then. His real name was Leonard Alfred Schneider, and in 1945 he was kicked out of the Navy for putting on an act dressed in drag. Then in 1947, he changed his name to Lenny Bruce because his mom’s stage name was Bruce.
In 1961, Lenny married a stripper, and he also made his first recording telling nothing but dirty jokes, and when he did that he was arrested for obscenity. At the time, Lenny said, “Hey, I just want to make a lot of money.” So he then dressed up as a priest and collected money for a Leper Colony in Guyana. He collected $8000.00 in three weeks, then sent $2500.00 to the Leper Colony and kept the rest of the money, he was then arrested in Miami for impersonating a priest.
From 1961 on, Lenny was constantly arrested for obscenity and drug possession, and in 1962 he was even arrested in Australia for obscenity. In 1964 he was arrested twice in Greenwich Village in New York for obscenity, and by1966 Lenny Bruce was blacklisted by most every night club in the United States, but in 1966 it all stopped short, Lenny was found dead of a drug overdose in his Hollywood hills bathroom.
Who would think that in 1956, at age 16, I was drinking Rheingold beer and counting Lenny Bruce’s shoe laces, and I did this all while Lenny stood on the stage telling dirty jokes right in front of me on Miami Beach.