John Wojtowicz

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John Wojtowicz
John Wojtowicz.jpg
Born John Stanley Wojtowicz
(1945-03-09)March 9, 1945
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died January 2, 2006(2006-01-02) (aged 60)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Criminal penalty
20 years imprisonment
Criminal status
deceased
Spouse(s) Carmen Bifulco (divorced); 2 children
Conviction(s) Bank robbery

John Stanley Wojtowicz (March 9, 1945 - January 2, 2006) was an American bank robber whose story inspired the 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon.[1]

Background[edit]

Wojtowicz, the son of Polish immigrants, married Carmen Bifulco in 1967. They had two children, and separated in 1969. Wojtowicz later met Ernest Aron (later to be known as Elizabeth Debbie Eden) in 1971 at an Italian feast in New York City. The two had a public wedding ceremony in 1971.[2]

On August 22, 1972, Wojtowicz, along with Salvatore Naturale and Robert Westenberg, attempted to rob a branch of the Chase Manhattan bank on the corner of East Third Street and Avenue P in Gravesend, Brooklyn. The heist was meant to pay for Aron's sex reassignment surgery.[2] Wojtowicz and Naturale held seven Chase Manhattan bank employees hostage for 14 hours. Westenberg fled the scene before the robbery was underway when he saw a police car on the street. Wojtowicz, a former bank teller, had some knowledge of bank operations. However, he apparently based his plan on scenes from the movie The Godfather, which he had seen earlier that day. The robbers became media celebrities. Wojtowicz was arrested, but Naturale was killed by the FBI during the final moments of the incident.[3]

Respected Village Voice columnist and investigative journalist, Arthur Bell, who knew Wojtowicz (and was tangentially involved in the negotiations) reported that paying for Aron's sex change was only peripheral to the real motive behind the attempted heist, which was, in fact, a well-planned Mafia operation that went horribly wrong. [4]

According to Wojtowicz, he was offered a deal for pleading guilty, which the court did not honor, and on April 23, 1973, he was sentenced to 20 years in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary of which he served five.[5] Wojtowicz was rearrested in 1986 for violating his parole.[6] He made $7,500 selling the movie rights to the story and 1% of its net profit, and helped finance Aron's sex reassignment surgery with these funds.

Wojtowicz was released from prison on April 10, 1978. Elizabeth Debbie Eden died of AIDS-related pneumonia in Rochester, New York on September 29, 1987.[7]

Dog Day Afternoon[edit]

Wojtowicz's story was used as the basis for the film Dog Day Afternoon. The movie was released in 1975, and starred Al Pacino as Wojtowicz (called "Sonny Wortzik" in the film), and John Cazale, one of Pacino's co-stars in The Godfather, as Naturale. Eden, known as "Leon" in the film, was portrayed by actor Chris Sarandon.[8]

In 1975, Wojtowicz wrote a letter to The New York Times out of concern that people would believe the movie version of the events which he said was only 30% accurate. Wojtowicz's main objection was the inaccurate portrayal of his wife Carmen Bifulco as a plain, overweight woman whose behavior led to his relationship with Elizabeth Eden, when in fact he had left her two years before he met Eden. Other concerns he had that were fictionalized in the movie were that he never spoke to his mother and that the police refused to let him speak to his wife Carmen. In addition, the movie insinuated that John 'sold out' Sal Naturale to the police, and although he claims this to be untrue, several attempts were made on John's life following an inmate screening of the movie. He praised Pacino and Sarandon's characterizations of himself and Ernest Aron as accurate. In a 2006 interview, the screenwriter of the movie, Frank Pierson, said that he tried to visit Wojtowicz in prison many times to get more details about his story when he wrote the screenplay but Wojtowicz refused to see him because he felt he was not paid enough money for the rights to his story.[9]

Last years[edit]

Wojtowicz is the subject of three documentaries: The Third Memory (2000), Based on a True Story (2005), and The Dog (2013). The last one, ten years in the making by directors Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2013.[10][11]

In 2001, The New York Times reported that Wojtowicz was living on welfare in Brooklyn.[12]

John Wojtowicz died of cancer on January 2, 2006, aged 60, in his mother's home.[13]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "John Wojtowicz in the Notable Names Database". Soylent Communications. Retrieved 2007-10-03. 
  2. ^ a b "Ernest Aron Became Elizabeth Eden: AIDS Kills Woman Behind 'Dog Day'". The Los Angeles Times. September 30, 1987. Retrieved December 21, 2013. 
  3. ^ Kluge, P.F.; Moore, Thomas (September 22, 1972), "The Boys in the Bank", Life 73 (12): 66–74 
  4. ^ Ortega, Tony (2011-03-11). "The Bank Robbery That Would Become 'Dog Day Afternoon' - New York - News - Runnin' Scared". Blogs.villagevoice.com. Retrieved 2013-06-23. 
  5. ^ Bank robber wins parole
  6. ^ Robber who inspired movie arrested for parole violation
  7. ^ "Elizabeth Eden, Transsexual Who Figured in 1975 Movie". New York Times. 1987-10-01. 
  8. ^ Photos, Lisa. "The Dog and the Last Real Man: An Interview with John S. Wojtowicz." Journal of Bisexuality. Volume: 3 Issue: 2
  9. ^ Documentary The Making of Dog Day Afternoon, present on disc 2 of the two-disc Special Edition DVD.
  10. ^ Rapold, Nicolas (1 September 2013). "A Kingmaker for Documentaries". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 September 2013. 
  11. ^ McCracken, Kristin. "The Dog to Premiere at Toronto International Film Festival: True Story Behind Dog Day Afternoon". The Huffington Post.com, Inc. Retrieved 2 September 2013. 
  12. ^ "Films That Keep Asking, Is It Fact or Fiction?" New York Times. January 19, 2001. Section E; Part 2; p. 43
  13. ^ Katz, Celeste (April 23, 2006). "Dog Day's' journey into legend: Robber, lover gone, but the flick is back.", New York Daily News, p. 30

External links[edit]