Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Comic and the Car Crash

Rick Sebak recounts the troubling tale of legendary comic Lenny Bruce’s near-fatal Pittsburgh car crash.




photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

 

In his autobiography, “How To Talk Dirty And Influence People,” legendary comedian Lenny Bruce remembered driving to Pittsburgh in 1951 at age 25: “It looked so dramatic, the city in the dawn, that I felt a twinge in the pit of my stomach. I don’t know what it is, but any city at that time of day gives me the feeling I used to get when I swallowed the contents of a Benzedrine inhaler and chased it with Coke.”

That may have been a bad sign.

At the time, Lenny Bruce wasn’t yet famous for his wild and profane brand of free-form comedy. Born on Long Island, N.Y., on Oct. 13, 1925, as Leonard Alfred Schneider, he’d been doing stand-up since the end of World War II. In 1951, he was performing and emceeing in small nightclubs; on a night in Baltimore, he met a stripper named Honey Harlowe. He married her in June. At his urging, she started a new career as a singer, using the name Honey Michelle. The newlyweds got their first big booking at a small Pittsburgh club called the Monte Carlo, located at Sixth and Penn, Downtown. The fee: $600 a week. 

They opened on Thursday, Oct. 4. Things went well for all of four days; the following Monday, their black Chevy convertible was towed from an illegal parking spot. The couple went to retrieve it at the city pound in the Strip; they paid an $8 fine at 6 p.m. Heading back Downtown, they pulled into the intersection of Smallman and 29th streets; Bruce saw an approaching truck but figured he had plenty of time to get out. He had no way of knowing a Packard touring car was passing the truck. The two cars collided disastrously.

In those pre-seatbelt days, both Lenny and Honey were thrown from their car. His skull was fractured, but he was able to see the accident unfold: “To my horror I saw the Packard ramming my car down the street. The seats were empty and both doors flapped like mechanical wings of death. I saw the back wheels go over Honey’s soft young body. I heard her hips crack like the sound of a Chinese fortune cookie. The next moment the truck, coming behind her, also ran over her.”

The couple ended up at the former St. Francis Hospital, where Honey would stay for the next seven weeks. Lenny tried to perform that night, but his head was bleeding badly; he was taken back to the hospital. Their stay in Pittsburgh was extended. 

The couple drove to California in 1952, and Lenny’s career really started to take off. He was outrageous and obscene — and frequently arrested for his unusual style of comedy that some called “stream of consciousness,” with no holds barred.

By October 1960, Lenny was divorced from Honey. He was much more famous, daring and controversial when he returned to Pittsburgh for a gig at the club called The Fallen Angel on Washington Boulevard in East Liberty. Never having been to a big-league baseball game, he decided to celebrate his birthday at Forbes Field by attending the seventh game of the World Series. On that day, the Pittsburgh Pirates triumphed over the New York Yankees to win the Series; many consider it to be the greatest baseball game of all time. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, “Bruce has since vowed never to see another game. He’s going to quit while he is ahead.”

Six years later, on Aug. 3, 1966, Lenny Bruce died of a drug overdose. He was 40 years old.  

Thanks to Norlex Belma and the Pennsylvania Department at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh for their assistance.
 

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Come and Explore Wilkinsburg’s Divine History

The Sacred Spaces Tour takes visitors to the borough’s churches, mosques and historic buildings.

Waste Not: Kelly Lane's Fashion Designs are Eco-Chic

After noting how much fabric ends up in landfills, Pittsburgh designer Kelly Simpson-Scupelli found a way to incorporate the unused scraps into her fashion line.

Three Rivers Champion: Sloane Davidson

Davidson started an organization that gives refugee and immigrant families aid based on real, person-to-person relationships, not transactions.

The 400-Word Review: Alpha

The prehistoric drama is here to answer a question no one asked about the world's first-ever dog.

“Night of the Living Dead” to Appear on the Big Screen Again

The cult classic will be screened at the Byham Theater in honor of the 50th anniversary of its debut.

The 400-Word Review: Crazy Rich Asians

The light romcom is made for pleasing audiences — and in that respect, it succeeds.

Enix Brewing Company Set to Open in Homestead

Owners David and Victor Rodriguez also operate two breweries in Madrid, Spain.

Revisiting Fat Head's

The South Side stalwart punches above its weight thanks to good beer and gigantic sandwiches.

In Ben They Trust

Going into his 15th professional season, Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remains the key to a successful season.

PM on KD: The Fall Weddings Issue

PM Associate Editor Lauren Davidson appears on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live to talk about the fall Weddings issue.

The Airbnb of Camping Has Started Pitching Tents in Pennsylvania

The startup Tentrr connects landowners looking for extra cash with interested campers.

Painting Made Simple: Paintzen Launches in Pittsburgh

Partnering with PPG Paints, the company uses an online platform to match customers with professional painters and provide supplies.

New TV Series Shot in Pittsburgh Area Premiering This Month

See if you recognize any of the locations in the thriller “One Dollar.”

Bocce, Pasta, Music and More Highlight Little Italy Days

Experience Italian culture and cuisine during Bloomfield’s annual Little Italy Days.

Vintage Details Give Weddings Classic Feel

Combining the old and the new, these couples used their vintage details to create a modern-yet-elegant wedding day.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Come and Explore Wilkinsburg’s Divine History

Come and Explore Wilkinsburg’s Divine History

The Sacred Spaces Tour takes visitors to the borough’s churches, mosques and historic buildings.

Comments

“Night of the Living Dead” to Appear on the Big Screen Again

“Night of the Living Dead” to Appear on the Big Screen Again

The cult classic will be screened at the Byham Theater in honor of the 50th anniversary of its debut.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Enix Brewing Company Set to Open in Homestead

Enix Brewing Company Set to Open in Homestead

Owners David and Victor Rodriguez also operate two breweries in Madrid, Spain.

Comments

Apteka’s Roasted Sunflower: Summer's Most Interesting (and Instagramable) Dish?

Apteka’s Roasted Sunflower: Summer's Most Interesting (and Instagramable) Dish?

The owners of the Bloomfield vegan eatery introduce a limited run of whole sunflower heads that you can eat like corn.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
6 Best Places to Get Your Nostalgia Fix in Pittsburgh

6 Best Places to Get Your Nostalgia Fix in Pittsburgh

Ah, the good old days. They may be gone, but there are still a few places where you can get a blast from the past.

Comments

The Eight Best Frozen Treats in Pittsburgh

The Eight Best Frozen Treats in Pittsburgh

Our dining critic picks his favorite ice cream, ice pop, frozen custard, vegan delight and more.

Comments


Revisiting Fat Head's

Revisiting Fat Head's

The South Side stalwart punches above its weight thanks to good beer and gigantic sandwiches.

Comments

TopGolf is Big, Ridiculous, Still Fun

TopGolf is Big, Ridiculous, Still Fun

The new driving-range game is way over the top, but the game it's offering is fun and they'll ensure you have a good time.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
In Ben They Trust

In Ben They Trust

Going into his 15th professional season, Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remains the key to a successful season.

Comments

Steelers’ Saint Vincent Saga Even More Inspiring This Summer

Steelers’ Saint Vincent Saga Even More Inspiring This Summer

Ryan Shazier's battle back from a paralyzing injury last season and his subsequent rehabilitation from spinal stabilization surgery is a more compelling saga than the Steelers’ quest to reach Super Bowl LIII.​

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Alpha

The 400-Word Review: Alpha

The prehistoric drama is here to answer a question no one asked about the world's first-ever dog.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Crazy Rich Asians

The 400-Word Review: Crazy Rich Asians

The light romcom is made for pleasing audiences — and in that respect, it succeeds.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Vintage Details Give Weddings Classic Feel

Vintage Details Give Weddings Classic Feel

Combining the old and the new, these couples used their vintage details to create a modern-yet-elegant wedding day.

Comments

When Asking for Their Hand Doesn’t Go As Planned

When Asking for Their Hand Doesn’t Go As Planned

These proposal faux pas serve as a reminder that sometimes things have to go wrong to end up right.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Painting Made Simple: Paintzen Launches in Pittsburgh

Painting Made Simple: Paintzen Launches in Pittsburgh

Partnering with PPG Paints, the company uses an online platform to match customers with professional painters and provide supplies.

Comments

Make Your Mark by Entering Pittsburgh’s Handmade Arcade

Make Your Mark by Entering Pittsburgh’s Handmade Arcade

Artists have until Sunday to submit their applications to the independent craft fair held annually in December.

Comments