Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Opening for Lenny Bruce: Part Two

My gig opening for Lenny Bruce at The Village Vanguard began on December 4, 1962. Four days later, New York City was newspaperless. The strike brought by Local 6 of the International Typographical Union lasted until March 31, 1963. In those days, long before search engines existed, newspapers were essential to an informed populace. In a massive effort to fill the void, New York television and radio stations expanded local coverage, and many popular magazines such as TIME, NEWSWEEK, and LIFE developed supplementary sections published exclusively for the news-deprived in New York.

The 1962 New York Film Critics Circle Awards were cancelled because of the strike.

In spite of the hardships imposed on the business community which relied heavily on newspaper advertising, Max Gordon's Village Vanguard was able to thrive nonetheless. He decided to keep the Sloane/Bruce act indefintely since he was prevented from advertising a new show in the papers. We performed for a total of seven weeks.

The Vanguard is not a large space (capacity at SRO is not more than 150), but it was a sardine-can jam every night during Lenny's gig. Most of the people standing back near the bar were obvious members of the NY constabulary, visibly salivating in anticipation of making a bust. If anything Lenny said was interpreted by them to be lascivious, profane or perverted, they were prepared to take Lenny away in handcuffs. Made for a spy thriller sort of atmosphere.

One night between sets, Lenny and I were sitting in the area near the back stairs. He leaned over and whispered: "Carol: Would you please go back to the dressing room and bring me my socks?"

"Your socks?"

"Yes, my socks. You'll find them in the fuse box."

"That's a funny place to keep socks, isn't it?"

"Just get 'em for me, will you?"

"Okay. Be back in a minute."

The socks were indeed hidden in the fuse box and contained items I did not choose to inspect. I knew instantly they contained his "goods", and he was in need of a fix. I was young and adorable, certainly above suspicion, so I held the socks in my right hand and walked innocently but confidently through the thicket of the burly, beady-eyed detectives, who never gave me a glance.

Lenny got his desperately needed fix, and when introduced minutes later for the start of his set, fell over the drums and crashed into the front tables. He made an attempt to begin his routine, but he was so out of it, his words were indistinguishable. He rambled and stumbled while we all watched helplessly. Some people were disgusted, some tried to laugh, but most of us were shocked and sad.

I saw Lenny in San Francisco a few weeks before his death. He was very sweet and even pretended to remember the gig from hell. We joked about it. I left him, sipping coffee at a table at Enrico's North Beach restaurant, only to see him next in a horrid, gritty, b&w police photograph as he was found, slumped on the bathroom floor of his home, drug overdosed.

On August 3, 1966, Lenny was found dead at the age of 40 in his Hollywood Hills home at 8825 Hollywood Boulevard. A syringe and burned bottle cap were found nearby, along with various other narcotics paraphernalia. It was not disclosed if the articles were stuffed in a sock. His official cause of death was acute morphine poisoning caused by an accidental overdose. I felt sad about the news but proud that I'd known him, even for such a brief time.

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