Lebowitz in 2011
|Born||Frances Ann Lebowitz|
October 27, 1950
Morristown, New Jersey, U.S.
|Notable works||Metropolitan Life|
The Fran Lebowitz Reader
Frances Ann Lebowitz (born October 27, 1950) is an American author, public speaker, and occasional actor. Lebowitz is known for her sardonic social commentary on American life as filtered through her New York City sensibilities. Some reviewers have called her a modern-day Dorothy Parker.
Early life and education
Lebowitz was born and raised in Morristown, New Jersey, the daughter of Ruth and Harold Lebowitz, parents who owned a furniture store and upholstery workshop. She developed an obsessive love of reading from an early age, to the point that she would surreptitiously read during class and neglect her homework. Lebowitz describes her "Jewish identity [as] ethnic or cultural or whatever people call it now. But it's not religious." She has been an atheist since the age of 7.
She was a poor student overall, particularly struggling with algebra, which she described as "the first thing which they presented to me that I absolutely could not understand at all, and had no interest in understanding." Her grades were so poor that her parents enrolled her in a private girls Episcopal school, where her grades marginally improved but she had difficulty following the rules and was eventually expelled for "nonspecific surliness".
As an adolescent, Lebowitz was deeply affected by James Baldwin. She explained: "James Baldwin was the first person I ever saw on television who I heard talk like that—by which I mean, he was the first intellectual I ever heard talk... And I was just flabbergasted. That made me read him." She also enjoyed watching television appearances by Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, though she did not agree with Buckley.
After being expelled from high school, Lebowitz earned her GED and then decided to move to New York City. Her father agreed to pay for her first two months in the city on the condition that she lived at the women's-only Martha Washington Hotel. In 1969, Lebowitz moved to New York City. To support herself, she worked various odd jobs as a cleaning lady, chauffeur, taxi driver, and a pornography writer. She refused to waitress, even though it was a common job for many young women in New York City, due the sexual harassment and expectation to sleep with the manager at many restaurants.
At age 21, while she was working as a writer of book and movie reviews for a small magazine called Changes, Andy Warhol hired her as a columnist for Interview, where she wrote a column called "I Cover the Waterfront." This was followed by a stint at Mademoiselle. During these years, she made friends with many artists. She was a friend of Peter Hujar, who she met in 1971. She also knew Robert Mapplethorpe, who often gave her photos. She trashed many of his photos in the 1970s.
In 1978, her first book, Metropolitan Life, was published. The book presented a series of comedic essays, with titles such as "Success Without College" and "A Few Words on a Few Words." She often detailed things that she found irksome or frustrating in a dry, sardonic tone. Following the publication of Metropolitan Life, Lebowitz became a local celebrity, who attended Studio 54 and appeared on television. This was followed by Social Studies (1981), another collection of comedic essays. She explored topics such as teenagers, films, and room service in the book. Years later, The Fran Lebowitz Reader (1994) was published, which included both books.
Writer's block & public persona
Since the mid-1990s, Fran Lebowitz is known for her decades-long writer's block. The last book published was Mr. Chas and Lisa Sue Meet the Pandas (1994), a children's book about giant pandas living in New York City who long to move to Paris. Since that time, Lebowitz has worked on various book projects that have not been completed. This includes Exterior Signs of Wealth, a long-overdue, unfinished novel, purportedly about rich people who want to be artists and artists who want to be rich. Her book, Progress, was first excerpted in Vanity Fair in 2004. It has yet to be completed, as of April 2020. When discussing her writer's block, she said: "My editor—who, whenever I introduce him as my editor, always says, 'easiest job in town'—he says that the paralysis I have about writing is caused by an excessive reverence for the written word, and I think that’s probably true."
Due to her writer's block, Lebowitz has largely supported herself with television appearances and speaking engagements. She has said, "It’s what I wanted my entire life. People asking me my opinion, and people not allowed to interrupt.” She tours as a public speaker, represented by the Steven Barclay Agency. In addition, she has made several appearances on Late Night with David Letterman and had a recurring role as Judge Janice Goldberg on the television drama Law & Order from 2001 to 2007. However, she does still write journalistic pieces; Lebowitz has been employed as a contributing editor and occasional columnist for Vanity Fair since 1997.
Through her public appearances, Lebowitz has reached a wider audience who have come to know her trademark style. She is known for her clever quips and observational humor on a range of topics, including New York City, gentrification, art, literature, and politics. She typically wears men's suit jackets (made bespoke by the Savile Row firm of Anderson & Sheppard), white shirts, cowboy boots, Levi's jeans, and tortoiseshell glasses. She often speaks of her treasured pearl-grey 1979 Checker cab, the only car she has ever owned, which she describes as "the only monogamous relationship I've ever had in my life." In September 2007, Lebowitz was named one of the year's most stylish women in Vanity Fair's 68th Annual International Best-Dressed List. She is also known for her massive book collection, 10,000 volumes in all, including at least one shelf of soap-carving books, and her refusal to use many technologies, including cell phones and computers. A heavy smoker, Lebowitz is an as an advocate for smokers' rights. She has not used drugs or alcohol since she was 19, which she says is because she reached her "lifetime supply" of both by that age.
In 2010, Lebowitz was introduced to a new generation of audiences, when she was featured in the documentary Public Speaking. On November 17, 2010, Lebowitz returned to The Late Show with David Letterman, after a 16-year absence, to promote the documentary. She discussed her years-long writer's block, which she jokingly referred to as a "writer's blockade." On November 22, 2010, HBO debuted Public Speaking, Martin Scorsese's documentary about her containing interviews and clips from speaking engagements. She also made an appearance as a judge in Scorsese's 2013 film, The Wolf of Wall Street. In July 2019, she announced that she was collaborating with Scorsese again on an as yet untitled Netflix series in which Scorsese will interview her about New York City and other subjects.
New York City
Lebowitz has been critical of the gentrification and changing culture of New York City. She explained that the main difference between "Old New York" and "New New York" was the influence and dominance of the culture of money. While New York was always an expensive city, people who were not rich could live in Manhattan and "...you didn’t have to think about money every second." This was because, among other reasons, "...there were a zillion bad jobs. That doesn’t exist any more. I mean, I could wake up one afternoon with zero money—I don’t just mean in the house, I mean to my name—and know that by the end of the day, I would have money."
She has been critical of New York Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg for making New York more "suburban" and accelerating gentrification in Manhattan. She has also been critical of the large amount of wealthy people in New York City, as she believes they do not create anything of value but only consume things. Of Bloomberg she said,
I object to people who are rich in politics. I don't think they should be allowed to be in politics. It is bad that rich people are in politics, it is bad for everybody but rich people, and rich people don't need any more help. Whenever people say, "Oh, he earned his money himself," I always say the same thing: "No one earns a billion dollars. People earn $10 an hour, people steal a billion dollars."
Of Giuliani's law enforcement policies she said, "When Giuliani was the mayor, every five minutes an unarmed black man was shot in the back." Lebowitz abhors New York City's high number of tourists, calling the shift in the 1980s toward promoting the city as a tourist destination "an incredibly horrible idea". She has cited tourism as a cause of New York's housing shortage because hotels are built rather than apartment buildings, and described the negative effects of gearing the city's economy towards tourists: "You cannot lure these herds of hillbillies into the middle of a city, and not have it affect the city."
Of the homelessness crisis in New York, she has said, "Any New Yorker who walks down the street in this rich city ... you can't even hear anything because the money's making so much noise now, and see people in the street and not feel this is a disgrace to the country, it's a disgrace to the city."
Impact of HIV/AIDS
In the 1980s, many of her gay male friends died of HIV/AIDS. Lebowitz has discussed the impact of the "plague years" on American culture. In particular, she has spoken about the cultural void that was left behind from losing a generation of talented artists and intellectuals. Many of these men not only produced art and intellectual culture, but they also were the passionate audiences that nurtured such culture. As she explained in a 2016 interview:
What is culture without gay people? This is America, what is the culture? Not just New York. AIDS completely changed American culture... And with AIDS, a whole generation of gay men died practically all at once, within a couple of years. And especially the ones that I knew. The first people who died of AIDS were artists. They were also the most interesting people... The knowing audience also died and no longer exists in a real way... There’s a huge gap in what people know, and there’s no context for it anymore.
If [feminism] really worked, there wouldn’t be feminism anymore. There’s a couple of things that have changed so much for the better, and the life of a girl is a billion times better than when I was a girl. There’s no comparison. It’s so much better, and yet it’s still horrible. That will tell you what it was like, okay?
In another interview, she explained, "I didn’t pay much attention to it, largely because it never occurred to me it would work. I was, unfortunately, largely right." However, she had also said, "The way girls are raised now. It’s so different... when I was a child. If you wanted to do something and you were not allowed to do it, very often, the answer to why not would be: because you’re a girl." On the Me Too movement, she said,
It never occurred to me this would ever change. Being a woman was exactly the same from Eve ‘til eight months ago. So it never occurred to me that it would change. Ever. I can tell you that it’s probably one of the most surprising things in my life. The first forty guys who got caught — I knew almost all of them.
Lebowitz identifies as a liberal Democrat but is often critical of Democratic politicians and policy. She has been a vociferous critic of the Republican Party for many years and more recently of President Donald Trump. She has said that Trump's appeal to his voters is "racism pure and simple", and described Trump campaign rallies as reminiscent of those held by the Ku Klux Klan and George Wallace. She has called Trump "a cheap hustler", "stupid", "lazy" and "a little crazy, but mostly he's dumb." Of Trump's election in 2016, she said, "It was horrible. I felt that strongly affected emotionally for at least a month. My level of rage, always high, is now in fever pitch all the time." She joked that "If there's one upside to all this [Trump's election], it's that it's gotten Trump out of New York."
Lebowitz has been critical of many other politicians. She has expressed antipathy for Bill Clinton for moving the Democratic Party to the right, saying, "to me he seemed like a Republican ... when he signed that welfare bill I went insane. He was a successful moderate Republican president." Lebowitz has spoken of her dislike for Bernie Sanders, calling him at one point "an unbelievably irritating narcissistic old man" who took votes away from her candidate of choice, Hillary Clinton. She often describes Ronald Reagan as "the template for the stupid President", saying that "before Reagan there was no idea the President could be stupid."
Lebowitz has said she believes the Second Amendment has been misinterpreted, and guarantees individuals the right not to bear arms but rather to form militias. Of the gun rights debate, she has said:
Who are these people that love guns? These people who love Trump and they love guns, these are the most frightened people I have ever seen in my life ... I could have gotten a gun but I never got one. I was an 18-year-old penniless girl in the middle of a dangerous city and I was never as afraid as these men in Texas, living in a state of terror.
In May 2019, Lebowitz said on Real Time with Bill Maher that President Trump should suffer the same fate as Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist the CIA believes was tortured and murdered on orders from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Lebowitz walked back her comments later in the same program.
Lebowitz is a lesbian. She has spoken about romantic difficulties in some interviews. In 2016, she explained, "I’m the world’s greatest daughter. I’m a great relative. I believe I’m a great friend. I’m a horrible girlfriend. I always was."
She is "famously resistant to technology; she has no cell phone or computer".
- Metropolitan Life, Dutton, 1978. ISBN 978-0-525-15562-1
- Social Studies, Random House, 1981. ISBN 978-0-394-51245-7
- The Fran Lebowitz Reader, Vintage Books, 1994, ISBN 978-0-679-76180-8
- Mr. Chas and Lisa Sue Meet the Pandas, Knopf, 1994. ISBN 978-0-679-86052-5
- Progress [Unfinished]
- Exterior Signs of Wealth [Unfinished]
- George Plimpton; James Linville (Summer 1993). "Fran Lebowitz, A Humorist at Work". Paris Review.
- Detrick, Ben (November 17, 2010). "Infallibility Has Its Upside". The New York Times.
- King, Loren (October 6, 2012). "Fran Lebowitiz is coming to town to tell it like it is". Boston.com. Retrieved October 15, 2016.
- Mark David (February 13, 2017). "Fran Lebowitz Buys $3.1 Million, One-Bedroom Condo in New York City". Variety.
- Bennett, Bruce (November 23, 2010). "The Vulture Transcript: Fran Lebowitz on Sarah Palin, Keith Richards, Her Side Career as a Law & Order Judge, and Much More". New York.
- Collins, Glenn (August 23, 1981). "The sour cream sensibility". The New York Times.
- Morris, Bob (August 10, 1994). "At Lunch With: Fran Lebowitz; Words Are Easy, Books Are Not". The New York Times.
- "'The NJ that's in me doesn't exist anymore'" Archived March 2, 2018, at the Wayback Machine by Johanna Ginsberg, New Jersey Jewish News, January 27, 2016
- Fran Lebowitz Interview on Charlie Rose. YouTube.com. February 15, 2017. Retrieved July 17, 2017.
- CBC (May 21, 2015). Fran Lebowitz interview. YouTube.com. Retrieved May 8, 2018.
- Kelsey Osgood (March 25, 2014). "Biographies We Need: The Delightful Drollery of Fran Lebowitz". signature-reads.com. Retrieved May 8, 2018.
- "What Does Fran Lebowitz Really Think About Trump and #MeToo?". InsideHook. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
- "Fran Lebowitz Remembers Everything in Public Speaking | The Village Voice". www.villagevoice.com. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
- Tashjian, Rachel (March 21, 2019). "Fran Lebowitz Will Never Read This Interview". The Cut. Retrieved April 18, 2020.
- Coughlan, Thomas (November 7, 2012). "Fran Lebowitz goes road-tripping". The Daily Californian.
- Lebowitz, Fran. "A Humorist at Work". The Paris Review. Retrieved October 29, 2017.
- Alfano, Elysabeth (September 28, 2012). "Quintessential New Yorker and Social Commentator, Fran Lebowitz, Comes to Chicago". The Huffington Post.
- AnOther (June 28, 2018). "Fran Lebowitz Remembers Her Friend Peter Hujar". AnOther. Retrieved April 18, 2020.
- McKeown, Jim. "Likely Stories: Metropolitan Life by Fran Lebowitz". www.kwbu.org. Retrieved April 18, 2020.
- "It Starts With a Drag: The Friendship of Frances A. Lebowitz and Frank Rich '71 | Magazine | The Harvard Crimson". www.thecrimson.com. Retrieved April 18, 2020.
- "NBC Learn: Fran Lebowitz, Social Studies" (PDF).
- Callahan, Dan (February 21, 2011). "Fran Lebowitz in Public Speaking". Slant Magazine.
- Lebowitz, Fran (October 2004). "Is Everything Sacred?". Vanity Fair.
- "Public Speaking: A Mash Note from One Fast-Talker to Another". The L Magazine. February 16, 2011. Retrieved April 18, 2020.
- "Fran Lebowitz: Author, Journalist, Social Observer". Steven Barclay Agency.
- "'Yoga Pants are Ruining Women' and Other Style Advice From Fran Lebowitz". Elle. March 2014. Retrieved May 12, 2016.
- Nicole Brodeur (February 15, 2018). "Sex tapes, politics, cigarettes: A Conversation with Fran Lebowitz". Seattle Times. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
- NPR (April 30, 2015). fran lebowitz interview npr. YouTube.com. Retrieved May 8, 2018.
- "The 68th Annual International Best-Dressed List". Vanity Fair. September 2007.
- Eckardt, Stephanie. "Fran Lebowitz Doesn't Have a Cell Phone, But Knows Everything That Happens on Social Media Anyway". W Magazine. Retrieved October 29, 2017.
- "VF editor gives up smoke fight". New York Post. February 19, 2005.
- "Female Celebrity Smoking List – Lebowitz". Smokingsides.com.
- David Hershkovits (September 17, 2014). "Fran Lebowitz to Tourists: "Stay Home"". Paper Magazine. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
- "Public Speaking". HBO. 2010.
- The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (July 16, 2019). Fran Lebowitz Tries to Not Talk About Her Netflix Series with Martin Scorsese. YouTube.com. Retrieved July 19, 2019.
- "The Voice: Fran Lebowitz". Interview Magazine. March 11, 2016. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
- amNY (October 6, 2016). "Museum Hours: Memories of Chaos and Quiet in '70s Manhattan". amNewYork. Retrieved April 18, 2020.
- HBO (February 20, 2015). Real Time with Bill Maher: Fran Lebowitz – Giuliani and Racism. YouTube.com. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
- HBO Films (August 4, 2011). Fran Lebowitz on New York & Andy Warhol. YouTube.com. Retrieved May 11, 2018.
- Vanity Fair (December 2, 2015). Fran Lebowitz Knows What to Do With All Those Empty Oligarch Apartments. YouTube.com. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
- Lebowitz, Fran (September 13, 1987). "The Impact of Aids on the Artistic Community". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 18, 2020.
- Durbin, Andrew. "Women in the Arts: Fran Lebowitz". Frieze. Retrieved April 18, 2020.
- Real Time with Bill Maher (February 26, 2016). Real Time with Bill Maher: Overtime – February 26, 2016 (HBO). YouTube.com. Retrieved May 16, 2018.
- Brigid Delaney (March 19, 2018). "Fran Lebowitz: 'You do not know anyone as stupid as Donald Trump'". The Guardian. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
- Trey Speegle (October 27, 2016). "Fran Leibowitz on Donald Trump: "He's a Poor Person's Idea of a Rich Person". Watch". worldofwonder.net. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
- Sydney Opera House Talks & Ideas (March 13, 2018). Grabbing Back: Women in the Age of Trump – all about women 2018. YouTube.com. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
- Fran Lebowitz (November 11, 2016). "Fran Lebowitz Has Spoken". Paper Magazine. Retrieved May 10, 2018.
- Brie Stimson (May 18, 2018). "Maher guest Fran Lebowitz's Trump comments light up social media with reactions". Fox News. Retrieved May 18, 2018.
- Moraes, Lisa de; Moraes, Lisa de (May 18, 2019). "Fran Lebowitz Apologizes After Telling Bill Maher U.S. Should Give Donald Trump To Saudis Who Killed Khashoggi". Deadline. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
- Peter Wade (May 18, 2018). "Fran Lebowitz Kinda Apologizes for Saying Saudis Should 'Get Rid of' Trump Like Khashoggi". Rolling Stone. Retrieved June 3, 2018.
I did not mean that and I regret saying it.
- Adams, Sam N., and Megan B. Prasad (October 18, 2012), "It Starts With a Drag: The Friendship of Frances A. Lebowitz and Frank Rich '71", The Harvard Crimson.
- Schulman, Michael. "Fran Lebowitz is never leaving new york". The New Yorker. Retrieved June 26, 2020.
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