DOCUMENT: Celebrity, Funny

Lenny Bruce's Gay Naval Ruse

Unearthed documents detail comedian's discharge

Lenny Bruce

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Lenny Bruce Navy Records

AUGUST 31--After serving 30 months in the Navy and participating in four overseas invasions during World War II, comedian Lenny Bruce went to the sick bay on the U.S.S. Brooklyn in May 1945 to report that he was feeling a little gay.

In a handwritten letter, Bruce stated that he was “normal in all aspects” when he came aboard the ship in late-1942. But the “fellows on board,” he claimed, gave him much “abnormal attention,” including “feeling my body” and “kissing me.” After 15 months overseas, Bruce became “attracted physically to a few of the fellows,” one of whom he “kissed a lot but committed no sex act although I had a strong desire to.” It was the “knowledge that it was a crime against society and the navy” that kept Bruce, 19 at the time, from committing homosexual acts, he wrote.

Within days, a Navy medical officer reported to the ship’s commanding officer that Bruce told him of “suppressing homosexual tendencies and the desire is becoming stronger,” according to a May 1945 Navy memo. Bruce noted that he had been propositioned by two fellow shipmates “to be a partner in a homosexual act,” but had declined, though “the temptation was strong.”

Concerned about Bruce’s purported condition, the Navy decided to send him for “neuro-psychiatric consultation” since he had “a tremendous amount of homosexual drive with some mild amount of overt homosexual tendencies.” The medical officer noted that Bruce was “quite concerned about his abnormality,” adding that he was “the type of homosexual that could readily adjust to heterosexual relations if given the opportunity.” However, if Bruce had to remain stationed on a ship filled with men, he would “eventually give way to the performance of homosexual acts,” concluded the medical officer.

The U.S.S. Brooklyn’s commanding officer, W.F. Fitzgerald, concurred with that analysis, writing in a May 27, 1945 memo that Bruce was “potentially dangerous socially” on the vessel and should be either separated from service or transferred to a “shore based station where heterosexual companionship is available.”

These are just some of the rollicking highlights from the official military service record of Leonard Alfred Schneider, who would later write in his 1963 autobiography that he faked his homosexuality to get out of the Navy. Bruce’s ruse, in fact, was reportedly the inspiration for TV’s Corporal Klinger (below), the cross-dressing “Mash” enlistee desperate to be booted from the Army.

Documents detailing Bruce’s purported gay desires (and the subsequent response by Navy brass) were originally withheld or heavily redacted by National Archives officials who processed a TSG Freedom of Information Act request. However, after a subsequent appeal was granted last week, Bruce’s entire military file was turned over (the documents, affixed with a National Archives seal, arrived bound by a red ribbon laced through brass grommets).

The records show that after Bruce told of his gay desires, a Navy captain asked him for a written statement “showing specifically whether he is a homosexual and if he has committed homosexual acts” either before or during his enlistment.

Bruce, a Seaman Second Class, responded in a June 1945 note, “If having strong homosexual desires makes one a homosexual I am.” But he added, “if performance of perverted sexual acts are necessary I am not a homosexual.”

Convinced that Bruce was afflicted with gay, a Navy lieutenant commander concluded that he showed “no apparent purpose to avoid military service.” Based on an interview with Bruce, the Navy official reported that the seaman’s “homosexual urge is increasing and it is felt that he will get into difficulty very quickly if not removed from his present environment.”

Fearing such a homosexual eruption, Fitzgerald, commander of the U.S.S. Brooklyn (seen below), urged “prompt action,” lest Bruce engage in a “scandalous action” that could bring “discredit to the ship in particular and to the naval service in general,” according to a June 21, 1945 memo.

Within three weeks, Bruce had received an undesirable discharge and was released from service in Newport, Rhode Island, where he had been sent for psychiatric examination at the U.S. Naval Hospital.

In mid-August, Bruce filed to have his discharge status upgraded to an honorable discharge. His petition included a typed statement noting that he served in “four major invasions under fire” and that, “I think no one would accuse me of having behaved like a ‘sissy.’”

He also recalled questioning whether his onboard “behavior was all right because I had been hearing the boys talk about homo-sexualism.” He added that while on shore leave he had the “strongest desire to be with girls,” but upon return to the ship, “I would begin to worry because I realized I enjoyed being back with my friends and wondered if this was normal.”

A Navy review board eventually supported Bruce’s request for an honorable discharge, finding that he had voluntarily disclosed his homosexual feelings, and that military commanders “felt that he was sincere.”

After the Secretary of the Navy approved the review board’s decision, Bruce was issued an honorable discharge “by reason of unsuitability for the naval service.” The formal notification was mailed to him at his downtown Brooklyn apartment. (11 pages)

Comments (6)

Man...you can tell this guy was making most of this up. He wanted out and that was the whole story. I retired from the military and saw many cases like this...most were just people asking for an honorable discharge.
We were both very happy the Navy and count or time at sea as very precious. signed, John Fitzpatrick and Patrick Fitzjohn
Good Lawd, relax people. The man was a comedian and didn't want to have to kill anyone or not kill anyone else if he already had. He used humor, again HUMOR to get out of the predicament with which he was in and it worked. Good for him. Conego said it all, he did not lie, per se, he just used the fear that some heterosexuals have for the gays to his advantage, and they bought it hook line and sinker. Hell, look at prisons, there are acts of the gay going on there and it's being done by purported heteros who would never admit they did it let alone that they are gay. Why is it so hard to believe that getting a large group of strapping young lads, hormones raging in a confined environment, on a 'boat' not prone to do the same just because they happen to be in the military? Obviously, the brass on the ship understood the possibility that it could happen and therefore recused Bruce of his duties. Sheer fn genius on Bruce's part.
I retired as a Navy/Marine Corps chaplain (albeit well after Bruce´s day), after first serving as a Corpsman. I've known sailors to actually commit homosexual acts just to get out-- they weren't gay, but there's no longer much stigma outside the military, and they just wanted to go home. Here's where I disagree with tanksoldier: Bruce repeated over and over again that he had never committed any homosexual acts. Later, he said in his autobiography that he told his command he had homosexual feelings in order to get out of the Navy (after participating in four major invasions-- that may be one or two more than the the entire House of Representatives). But the major point here is that it was not illegal in the military to have homosexual inclinations or desires... it was illegal to act on them. The ship's CO was afraid that he might, sometime in the future, embarrass the ship and the Navy, and the medical officers and psychiatrists agreed that he might, someday, commit a homosexual act. Under Navy Regs in 1945 and under the UCMJ now, they had no legal reason to discharge him-- and the Navy knew it, ans upgraded his discharge. Tanksoldier is mistaken-- if he had lied and said that had committed homosexual acts when he had not, and if lying and saying you had violated Navy Regs rated a Dishonorable, tanksoldier might be right. If he had committed homosexual acts, then lied and said he hadn't, then he'd rate the D.D. But Bruce told the truth-- that he had not committed any gay acts. In his book, he admitted lied in telling the command he'd thought about it ,in order to get out... but that just means that he knew that his CO would himself violate Navy Regs and discharge him for a crime he'd only thought about without committing. He may have conned the Navy, but he didn't do anything to rate a Dishonorable, as that requires committing the crime, not considering it. ["Gee, officer: you should put me in jail because I thought about robbing a bank, but didn't do it"?? C'mon, tanksoldier-- if you were Armor, you know better!]
When he admitted lying it should have been changed to a dishonorable.
so this is how that thing started that saliors were seamen