Monday, November 8, 2010

Lenny is Back

We’re happy to welcome Lenny Kleinfeld back for his second guest-posting here on Murder is Everywhere. I’m a great fan of Lenny’s work – in all of its forms. Here’s a memoir that he published this weekend in the program for Noircon 2010 in Philadelphia. That program is published only in hard copy, so this is the article’s debut in the digital universe.

Speaking of which, his superbly-crafted debut novel, Shooters And Chasers, is now available for Kindle, iBooks and Nook. If you haven’t yet read it, treat yourself – and buy it.

            My wife Ina and I know this cop who cleared nearly three hundred homicides. Impressive total. What's more impressive is that he did it while impersonating a police officer. For thirteen years.
            His cop name was Detective Andy Sipowicz. His street tag is Dennis Franz.
I'm going to assume you've all seen an episode or two of NYPD Blue, and appreciate the way Franz inhabited that crappy short-sleeved dress shirt and carried that show on his back.
            Ina and I were lucky enough to meet Denny when he was just starting out.
In the 1970s Ina was a stage actor in Chicago. One year she got a gig doing a three-play summer season at a suburban dinner theater.
            Among the actors in that company was Dennis Franz. It was one of his first gigs after completing a tour in Viet Nam. (With the infantry, not the USO.)
            Somehow, the guy the dinner theater hired to direct that summer was an avant-garde Eastern European artist. You could tell he was an artist because he wore a black leather sport coat every day during Chicago's oppressively hot, humid summer, had a lit cigarette grafted to his hand, and didn't know the word "shampoo" in any of the many languages he spoke.
            The director agreed to do a couple of standard dinner theater comedies, but also—miraculously—convinced the management to program an avant-garde Polish comedy, about a family of Bohemian artists. Ina's character was especially Boho; she wore a nightgown throughout, except for the one scene where she pulled it down and went topless.
            A friend of ours from college, Stuart Gordon, was the director of  the Organic Theater, one of Chicago's first professional Off-Loop theater companies. Ina and I worked there from time to time. (In my case as a playwright; no paying audience should ever be subjected to my acting. No non-paying audience, either.)
            Those of you who've seen Re-Animator or any of the other movies Stuart went on to direct know he really enjoys nude scenes. You won't be surprised that the only one of Ina's three shows Stuart had time to see that summer was the one with her semi-nude scene. Which he really enjoyed.
            Another thing Stuart really enjoyed was Franz's performance. Those of you who've only seen Denny do tough-guy roles may not know what a sly, inventive comic actor he is.
            After watching the show Stuart offered Denny a job with the Organic. Which is how Dennis Franz got his Actor's Equity card. A major step in any young actor's career. Who knows how long that would have taken without Ina fronting for him?
             Fast-forward two years. It is opening night of a play I've written for the Organic.
            One of the people there—let's call her Mary—was a friend of ours. A visual artist whose survival job was designing fashion knock-offs for a Chicago clothing manufacturer. In fact, Mary made Ina's opening night dress.
            Come opening night, Mary was not in a good mood. Mary had recently been dumped by her boyfriend, for a bad reason. Her boyfriend—let's call him Bob—had an art gallery that was going under. Bob walked out on Mary and moved in with an heiress who could afford to pay the rent on his gallery. (I am, by the way, using a modified version of that incident in the novel I'm currently writing.)
            Bob was also at the opening night party.
            Mary didn't confront Bob. She did have a lot to drink, fast.
            I was chatting with a very nice little old lady when I spotted Mary making a mistake.
            Mary went into the men's room. With a coke dealer.
            I was still chatting with the very nice little old lady when, a few minutes later, Mary came roaring out of the men's room. I happened to be the first person Mary saw.
            Mary charged up between me and the very nice little old lady and announced, "I have to bite your nipple!"
She shoved her hand in the top of my shirt and tore it open, popping the buttons off, and clamped down on her target.
            (To answer the question that just leapt into your head: No. Mary and I were friends, but there were no benefits involved. Except for the great deal she gave us on Ina's dress.)
            So… I grasped Mary's head and—gently—removed her from my left pectoral. Holding her firmly by the shoulders I turned her around, so she was facing the very nice little old lady, and said, "Mary, have you met Charlotte, my mother-in-law?"
            Standing behind my mother-in-law, wearing the biggest shit-eating grin in the world, was Mr. Franz.
            "Denny," I said, "Have you met Mary?"
            Still grasping Mary firmly by the shoulders, I handed her to Franz, who, being a gentleman, put his arm around her and led her away.
            They went home that night. And lived together for five years.
Lenny in the 1970's

Posted by Leighton for Lenny - Monday


  1. I'm so glad you got that off your... So, what's with this new book, Lenny? I can't wait! Now go back to your room and compose.


  2. I've been a Dennis Franz fan since I first saw him on HILL STREET BLUES, in his brief, pre-Buntz incarnation. He doesn't get his due for his range. I saw him in an eminently forgettable feel good movie with Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan about angels. Franz played a sweet man who's had a heart transplant (I think; it's been a long time) and was as believable as he was playing Buntz or Sipowicz.

  3. Franz is a great actor.

    And I love the pic at the bottom Lenny. Very sharp.

  4. Interesting story. I too am eagerly awaiting the next book. Can you
    keep the same cover artist as you had for SHOOTERS AND CHASERS?
    It was a great cover for a great book.

  5. That's Dennis Franz and Joe Mantegna next to each other in the group picture isn't it? (Second row from the top in the middle.)

    Great story.

    Maine Colonial

  6. Jeff--I am handcuffing myself to the computer for the forseeable future.

    Dana--That movie was CITY OF ANGELS. And Dennis was especially charming in it.

    In terms of range: the Organic did an adaptation of a Ray Bradbury novella called THE WONDERFUL ICE CREAM SUIT, a comedy about four Mexican-Americans. Who were played by Dennis Franz, Joe Mantegna, Meshach Taylor and Mike Saad. It was a big hit.

    Dan--Right before handcuffing myself to the computer I am going to Kinko's and having that body photo-shopped onto my present 62-year-old bio-mass.

    Elizabeth--Thanks for the pep talk,Coach! As far as the cover--the concept came from another theater guy--Kevin Kelley, a former stage and TV director turned psychologist. (Not that big a career shift; it just means that not all of his patients are actors any more.)

    Kev came up with that visual about an hour after getting my frantic email request for ideas. He attributes it to years of practice coming up with posters for stage productions.

    Maine Colonial--Yes, that is Baby Joey next to Baby Denny. And that's Joe's wife Arlene in between them.

    Ina is seated, bottom, second from the right. The guy she has her arm around is Tom Towles, who achieved indie-film glory in HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, playing Otis, the one guy in the world who is even sleazier than Henry.

  7. Oh, Lenny,

    I love your picture from the 70's!!!!


  8. Susie--

    I thank you, and the ghost of my 27-year-old self thanks you.


  9. Great story, Lenny! Thanks for the laugh.

  10. Kit--

    You are most welcome. And thank you too. Love reading that the piece amused people.

    One of the things I miss about theater is standing in the back of the house and listening to an audience laugh. So, should you ever read Shooters, could you please record yourself reading it and send me the good parts?