Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Lenny Bruce Revisted

A good friend of mine, Matt Amar, is currently working on a collaborative effort to bring back the memory and principles of one of the most vital players in comedic/political history. Here's a bit of the story behind the story explained by Matt.

In 2003 I was trying to absorb "the method" in New York City at the acclaimed Actors Studio MFA program. It turned out to be a brief stint for a multitude of reasons, none I care to get into here. Nonetheless, it was the best decision of my life not because of the invaluable lessons I would learn about acting because acting really is just about developing more wrinkles on your forehead and more spots on your liver. That's why the young actors of today have such a hard time t being good at it. The last ten years I have spent countless money on classes, books, lectures and periodicals where the most admired describe their ''craft'' and all the shit they had flung in their faces to get there, maintain careers or re-build. Mickey Rourke, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Michael Madsen, Pacino, DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Ellen Burstyn etc. Yes, I sat in sessions of Inside The Actors Studio and even participated in the Q&A with Jude Law. James Lipton later told me my skin looked to oily and he recommend I use a compact before I attend the next taping. Sadly, He had to edit me out of the show. I spent 40 hours a week being forced through drills that would make me an actor. My emotions were F_&^%* with I was brought to some very strange places, mostly dark and depressing. I once heard that the best actors were emotional athletes and I was put through the emotional athlete press. A good friend of mine was working in production on Law & Order and got me a walk on part. It was the middle of December and we were all standing around waiting for the stars to come out of their star wagons. Jerry Orbach and Jesse Martin. It was 6 months before Jerry got really sick and passed away. He had been fighting prostate cancer for many years and had kept it from the cast. It was one of the coldest winters on record in NYC that year and I was feeling it. When Jerry came out of his star wagon my friend asked him to talk to me for a moment because he too was from the Actors Studio. He must have kept the cast and crew waiting for 10 minutes while we talked about the old days of the studio, his time on Broadway and his ups and downs in the "biz". It was so cold that night but I remember once Jerry Orbach began to talk to me I didn't feel it anymore. I told him I was perplexed about whether to stay in school or to venture out to work. He said, "Matt, if you want to be a student, study, if you want to work, get out there and kick down doors". It wasn't that he told me this but in the manner and with the passion and sincerity in which he told me. At this same time I had met an 82 year old gentleman by the name of Carl Montgomery. Carl and I had met at an awful night of performances by actors showcasing material. That night two homeless drunks who were friends of one of the cast members were seated at the back of area. It was at the NYC Comedy Club somewhere around 21st or 24Th st. They mumbled to each other throughout the entire performance and finally one of them fell out of their chairs and came crashing to the ground. The bartender had to escort them out. At the end of the show Carl, who was seated in front of me, turned to me and said "was that the most fucking annoying thing you've ever experienced?" I said, I thought it was funny. We kept talking and we actually walked down the street talking for about 3 hours. He was dressed in all black with the exception of the white long sleeve turtle neck he had on. It was brand new and he had forgotten to remove the Gap tag that runs vertically with the letter "L" for large on it. I wanted to pull it off but worried if he intended to return it after the evening. His demeanor was old New York and I could tell he had lived a life or rich history and that I could learn a lot from him. He could teach me a lot and I knew he had a lot to share. Carl and I became regular friends and mostly on the phone cause he didn't get out much. We met at Starbucks for coffee during the Holidays. As our friendship developed he told me about his days fighting the Nazis in WWII, his time in a P.O.W. camp and his eventual return to New York City where his escapades were always extreme and how he would always live life to the fullest. He wanted to experience it all and all he did. In the early 1960's he came to Greenwhich Village and managed the "Marlton Hotel" on W.8Th St. I had eaten on the corner at Grays Papaya many times before I had met him unaware of the rich history of the hotel only steps away. The Hotel that is now as much a historical landmark as Carl Montgomery is housed a bohemian world of poets, artists and musicians before they made it. Jack Kerrouac wrote his novel "Tristessta" here. Bob Dylan stayed here and the infamous Valerie Solanis lived in the hotel at the time she shot Andy Warhol and 3 others. Solanis tried to come back after she served her jail time and Carl said, "Valerie, I like you but I can't let you back in" He had also told me that "she was the fiercest butch, dyke I had ever known. One time I saw her grab a pimp by the back of the neck and stab the son-of- bitch in the arm". Carl describes how he took the actor, Mickey Rourke to his first plays on and off Broadway when Rourke first arrived from Florida to pursue acting. Rourke would later call Carl from movie sets and invite him on. Of all the interesting stories Carl has shared with me none bring a sparkle to his eye or a sincere emotion as his tales of the late comedian, Lenny Bruce. Bruce moved into the Marlton in 1961 at the height of his fame and his controversial arrests and court trials. Montgomery adds that knowing Lenny changed his life. "He was such a good man and would literally take the shirt off his back for you. People really didn't understand him because they only heard and saw the comedian, Lenny Bruce. He was a really sensitive person". Carl would keep the police outside of the hotel as they came around looking to harass Lenny. He would tell them, "Listen, unless you have a fucking search warrant, you are not getting into my hotel". Bruce was using narcotics at this time as was Carl Montgomery and Bruce would tell Carl, "Carl, do not buy your stuff on the streets. Always get it from your doctor because you never know what you're getting from the streets". Montgomery and Bruce were both using speed or as Carl referred to it as "Blackies" while Lenny was shooting methadrine to stay up and working and Morphine to come down. As told by Carl, "one time the maids came down screaming at me that Lenny had a doctors Chattel full of about 300 needles. I said, Lenny, you are freaking out the maids, Lenny argued, Carl, I have a prescription for everything in that bag! From that first night I met Carl Montgomery I knew that he was a story tellers pot of gold. I felt that I had to do something with this wealth of knowledge I was receiving. By listening to Carl stories I had lived two lives and could imaginatively embark on journey's of old. I told him, Carl, I have to do something about this. Lenny Bruce is an icon and rarely talked about anymore.When he is its almost always within the ex-hippie, sub-culture. I felt that the modern day, hipster movement was ready to be introduced to Lenny Bruce. The last 4 years have seen our country battle in an unpopular war as did Lenny's generation we have seen what many believe to be an over reach of executive power in Washington D.C. and by George W.Bush. In the past two years the federal government has attempted to silence U.S. citizens who spoke out against the war in Iraq and wire tapping become the topic of the day. All of this would have given Lenny enough fodder to perform for years! In January of 2006 I religiously began to read and listen to Lenny's material. I was on a mission to write a one man play about Lenny's experiences as if he has returned from where he is and is going to tell us how it happened one last time. He does so by speaking all of his tales to Carl Montgomery. It's my way of tying the invaluable lessons of friendship and paying homage to Carl at the same time for bringing Lenny Bruce into my life. Lenny Bruce in my life hasn't been all joy. I remember feeling dark and deep sadness in the summer of 2006. It was hard for me to get out of bed and go to work. I started to drink a lot and I put on 20lbs to bring myself closer to Lenny in his last days. The pressure was immense on Lenny and on August 3rd, 1966 the drugs and the police finally killed him. I have interviewed the famous pioneer of political satire , Mort Sahl and Lenny's best friend and founder of The Realist, Paul Krassner. I have spoken to Lenny's daughter, Kitty on the phone and they have all made no excuses for Lenny's penchant for good times. With this said, Krassner and Kitty Bruce and almost everyone I have spoken with all point to the police harassment as what really killed Lenny Bruce. Kitty is really cool and she shoots so straight with you that if you dare attempt to communicate with her you better be tight and crisp because when it comes to her Father,as a good daughter and heiress should be, she is protecting the throne. Kitty has told me that she hopes to see this focus on the relationship of Carl and her Father but last summer warned me that other actors who went on to be her Father fell into dark times as well. Cliff Gorman who took Lenny Bruce to Broadway and Dustin Hoffman who was nominated for an Oscar for his 1974 portrayal also brought him into depression. She advised me to take time for myself, "Dad did, he also had good times". I brought myself out of that funk because I had to keep my day job to pay the bills and because this journey has led me to co-produce a Feature documentary with long time friend, Carla Polkinhorn. Sometime before Jan of 2006 I was telling her of my plans to do the play and she said, "lets do a documentary on you doing the play"! Filming began on "Looking For Lenny" in June of 2006. Because of our day schedules we spend every free hour on the film and play. Carla is the executive producer, she's the boss. In 2006 Carla brought me to meet a prospective Director named Elan Gale. He doesn't have a lot out yet but he has an immense work ethic and is so damn advanced at his ripe age of 23. I can see Elan having a great future. We decided he would be great for the project. I now live with the pressure of a 1 act play, documentary film, day job and being in the shoes of Lenny Bruce. New York City, the Actors Studio, Carl Montgomery and looking for Lenny. I hope I find him...I wouldn't change a thing man!



10 comments:

jesse said...

My boy Matt Amarillas never ceases to amaze me. I can't wait for the play and the documentary. Well done.

Manuel Paul Lopez said...

Neither can I, man. Thanks for checking in.

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