Frances Ann Lebowitz (born October 27, 1950) is an American author,
public speaker, and occasional actor. She is known for her sardonic social commentary
on American life as filtered through her New York City
The ''New York Times''
has called her a modern-day Dorothy Parker
She is known for her books ''Metropolitan Life
'' (1978) and ''Social Studies
'' (1981), which were combined into ''The Fran Lebowitz Reader
'' in 1994. She has been the subject of two projects directed by Martin Scorsese
, the HBO
documentary film ''Public Speaking
'' (2010), and the Netflix
docu-series ''Pretend It's a City
Early life and education
Lebowitz was born and raised in Morristown, New Jersey
. She had one sister, Ellen. Her parents were Ruth and Harold
Lebowitz, who owned Pearl's Upholstered Furniture, 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
ethnic or cultural or whatever people call it now. But it's not religious."
She has been an atheist
since age 7. She did not have a bat mitzvah
, but did go to Sunday school until 15 and had a confirmation
Lebowitz was a poor student overall, particularly in algebra, which she failed six times. She has called it "the first thing which they presented to me that I absolutely could not understand at all, and had no interest in understanding."
She worked at a Carvel ice cream
Her grades were so poor that her parents enrolled her in The Wilson School
), a private girls' Episcopal
school, in Mountain Lakes
, where her grades marginally improved but she had difficulty following the rules and was eventually expelled for "nonspecific surliness."
She also was suspended from Morristown High School
for sneaking out of pep rallies
As an adolescent, Lebowitz was deeply affected by James Baldwin
. She has said, "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
. When she was 18, her parents sent her to live with her aunt in Poughkeepsie, New York
. She stayed for six months,
then in 1969 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 live at the women's-only Martha Washington Hotel
She then stayed with friends in New York apartments and Boston college dormitories, surviving by writing papers for students. At age 20, she rented a West Village
To support herself, she worked as a cleaning lady,
chauffeur, taxi driver, and pornography writer.
Lebowitz refused to wait tables
because she claimed that sexual intercourse with the manager was a prerequisite for hiring
at many restaurants.
At age 21, Lebowitz worked for ''Changes'', a small magazine "about radical-chic politics and culture"
founded by Susan Graham Ungaro, the fourth wife of Charles Mingus
. She sold advertising space,
then wrote book and movie reviews.
then hired Lebowitz as a columnist for ''Interview
'', where she wrote a column called "I Cover the Waterfront".
Then came a stint at ''Mademoiselle
''. During these years, she made friends with many artists. She was a friend of Peter Hujar
, whom she met in 1971. She also knew Robert Mapplethorpe
, who often gave her photos, many of which she threw away in the 1970s.
In 1978, her first book, ''Metropolitan Life
,'' was published. The book was a set of comedic essays, mostly from ''Mademoiselle'' and ''Interview
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. After its publication, Lebowitz became a local celebrity, frequenting Studio 54
and appearing on television. This was followed by ''Social Studies
'' (1981), another collection of comedic essays,
mostly from ''Mademoiselle'' and ''Interview'',
in which she explored topics such as teenagers, films, and room service. Years later, ''The Fran Lebowitz Reader
'' (1994) was published, which included both books.
Writer's block and public persona
Since the mid-1990s, Lebowitz has been known for her decades-long writer's block
Her last published book 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, but has yet to be completed as of 2021. 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.
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 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, she 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. Lebowitz also made an appearance as a judge in Scorsese's 2013 film ''The Wolf of Wall Street
''. She collaborated with Scorsese again on the 2021 Netflix
series ''Pretend It's a City
'', in which Scorsese interviews 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" is 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 numbers 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:
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.
In 1987, Lebowitz published a piece in ''The New York Times
'' titled "The Impact of AIDS on the Artistic Community".
Lebowitz has been called the "opposite of lean-in
She said in a 2019 interview:
If eminismreally 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 said, "I didn't pay much attention to it, largely because it never occurred to me it would work. I was, unfortunately, largely right." She has 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."
Of the Me Too movement
, she said,
It never occurred to me this would ever change. Being a woman was exactly the same from Eve till 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
and is often critical of moderate Democratic politicians and policy. She has been a vociferous critic of the Republican Party
for many years and more recently of former 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 rump'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:
In May 2019, Lebowitz said on ''Real Time with Bill Maher
'' that 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 open about her personal life, and identifies as lesbian. She has spoken about having difficulty with romantic relationships. In 2016, she said, "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."
Lebowitz was a close, longtime friend of Toni Morrison
Lebowitz is "famously resistant to technology." She has no cellphone, computer, or typewriter.
'', Dutton, 1978.
'', Random House, 1981.
*''The Fran Lebowitz Reader
'', Vintage Books, 1994,
*''Mr. Chas and Lisa Sue Meet the Pandas
'', Knopf, 1994.
New York : Knopf, 2003,
*''Exterior Signs of Wealth'' nfinished
ref name="Believer Magazine"/>
Fran Lebowitz interview
Fran Lebowitz interview
Fran Lebowitz interview
Fran Lebowitz interview
''The Onion A.V. Club''
PEN 2013 Master/Class
with Fran Lebowitz and A. M. Homes
Category:20th-century American non-fiction writers
Category:20th-century American women writers
Category:21st-century American actresses
Category:21st-century American non-fiction writers
Category:21st-century American women writers
Category:American television actresses
Category:American women non-fiction writers
Category:Jewish American writers
Category:LGBT people from New Jersey
Category:LGBT writers from the United States
Category:Morristown High School (Morristown, New Jersey) alumni
Category:New York (state) Democrats
Category:People from Morristown, New Jersey
Category:Writers from New Jersey
Category:Writers from Manhattan