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The Trials of Lenny Bruce: The Fall and Rise of an American Iconby Ronald K. L. Collins and David M. Skover
Synopses & Reviews
Lenny Bruce's words had the power to provoke laughter and debate — as well as shock and outrage. It was the force of his voice that would place him on the wrong side of the law in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.
Lenny committed his life to telling the truth. But the truth he told infuriated those in power, and authorities in the largest, most progressive cities in the country worked relentlessly to put him in jail. To them, Lenny's words were filthy, depraved. But to his fans — the hip, the discontented, the fringe — his words were not only sharp and hilarious, they were a light in the dark to the repressed society of the early 1960s.
Lenny's battles were fought on stage and in the courtroom — against cops in San Francisco and L.A. who took notes at his performances, against judges in Chicago and against a prosecutor in New York with a zeal to bring the comedian down.
Lenny also fought his addiction to heroin and, at times, his own lawyers. And there were those who never stopped fighting for Lenny — people like Steve Allen, Phil Spector and William Kunstler.
To better understand the power of Lenny's performances, the authors have compiled an audio CD of the routines that got him in trouble, as well as interviews with his defenders and prosecutors, and his friends and followers, including George Carlin, Hugh Hefner and Margaret Cho.
The first carefully documented account of Lenny Bruce's career and free speech struggles, The Trials of Lenny Bruce paints a vivid, shocking, hilarious and tragic portrait of a man too honest for his time.
The Trials of Lenny Bruce includes a one-hour audio CD narrated by Nat Hentoff that features:
"The voice of Bruce springs to life with his memorable comedy routines....Generating a gamut of emotions, the entire package is an important documentation of a revolution in American culture." Publishers Weekly
"The authors set the record straight....Detailed, objective and valuable." Kirkus Reviews
"Collins and Skover's biography...comes with a compact disc of snippets from Bruce's routines and vintage interviews....As nice as the CD is, the book is indispensable." Mike Tribby, Booklist
"[E]ngagingly written and detailed...a healthy reminder of how little America has really changed since Bruce's day....This is the first significant book about Bruce since Albert Goldman's bio in 1972." Portland Mercury
"[A] fascinating and insightful look at the life and trials of the controversial comedian; this weighty volume is accompanied by a CD that includes many of the scathing stage comments that led to Bruce's trials on obscenity charges." Seattle Post-Intelligencer
"[The authors'] descriptions of nightclub life in the early '60s are fascinating. In this era of Howard Stern, South Park and the Internet, when we take our freedoms for granted, it's difficult to imagine such constraints on language." Michael Colton, Washington Post
"[A]n exhaustive study of the performer's important freedom of speech cases....This well-written volume will have special appeal for readers interested in free-speech issues. The authors' research here is unstinting." Martin Brady, BookPage
"As the book makes clear, not even Bruce (and certainly not his lawyers) were aware of the political import of his highly political work. The Trials of Lenny Bruce is a potent and timely reminder that it's not what you say, but your right to say it, that matters in America." Heather Josyln, City Paper (Baltimore, MD)
"Written by a First Amendment scholar and law professor, this is the story of the series of obscenity cases that Bruce had leveled against him and how they played out....A fine retelling of Bruce's career as well as one of the only books in print to detail his free-speech legal troubles." Library Journal
"I have seldom, if ever, read better — more precise, evocative, set-in-perspective — court reporting than that in this book. It is entertaining, often exciting — but above all it is an immensely important record of a vital chapter in our ever-evolving democracy's eternal groping toward liberty." Michael Pakenham, Baltimore Sun
"The Trials of Lenny Bruce is both a contribution to the biographical record of Lenny Bruce and a valuable treatise on the First Amendment and its broad latitude for the protection of free speech. It is also something that has become rare in today's book culture: a brilliant example of popular scholarship — informed, readable and significant." William McCranor Henderson, News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
"[A] book that should make you laugh, make you mad and make you think....[A] detailed account of the Lenny Bruce obscenity trials that is anything but dry and legalistic. Only by evaluating the trials, after all, can we decide whether the legend is deserved." Ron Hayes, Cox News Service
"Lenny Bruce opened the doors for all the guys like me; he prefigured the free-speech movement and helped push the culture forward into the light of open and honest expression. I thought I knew his story pretty well, but I learned a great deal from this book. It is a major contribution toward understanding the threat perceived by the 'powers' from simple artistic honesty." George Carlin
A look at the fall and rise of an American comic rebel.
A penetrating portrait of a comic icon, includes FREE audio CD.
About the Author
Ronald K. L. Collins graduated from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and was a judicial fellow in the United States Supreme Court. He is currently the First Amendment scholar-in-residence at the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Virginia. He has written numerous scholarly articles in the Harvard, Stanford and Michigan Law Reviews, and more than 150 newspaper op-ed pieces. He edited The Death of Contract and Constitutional Government in America.
David M. Skover graduated from Yale Law School and clerked for Judge Jon O. Newman of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit. He now teaches as a law professor at Seattle University Law School. Skover has written numerous scholarly articles in the Harvard, Stanford and Michigan Law Reviews, and coauthored (with Pierre Schlag) Tactics of Legal Reasoning.
Collins and Skover were the founding coeditors of Books-on-Law, a monthly online journal dedicated to book reviews and have written for a variety of publications, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and The Nation. Their first book together was The Death of Discourse.
Nat Hentoff writes weekly articles for The Village Voice and has written numerous articles, essays and books about politics, human rights and jazz. He has received numerous awards, including the National Press Foundation Award for Distinguished Contributions to Journalism and the American Bar Association Certificate of Merit for Coverage of the Criminal Justice System.
Table of Contents
About the Audio
CD Track List (48 tracks, 74 minutes)
Prologue: When Outlaws Become Heroes
People v. Bruce
The Living Dead
1. Comedy as Commentary
2. The Force of an Opinion
3. Free Speech in North Beach
4. L.A. Story
5. Chicago: The Ash Wednesday Trial
6. What Does It Mean to Be Found Obscene in New York?
7. The Courtroom of the Absurd: New York, Part II
8. Court Adjourned: New York, Part III
9. The Path to Vindication
10. The Resurrection of Lenny Bruce: 1966?1974
11. Ex Officio Judgments
Epilogue: Only Words
Appendix A: The Lawyers, Judges, and Club Owners
What Our Readers Are Saying