Friday, May 30, 2008

Featured Brooklynite of the Week: John Wojtowicz (aka "Sonny Wortzik")

Who was John Wojtowicz?

John Wojtowicz, a Brooklyn folkhero.

From Wikipedia:
John Stanley Wojtowicz (Born on March 25,1941 in New York - Died on January 2, 2006) in New York, New York) was an American Bank Robber whose story inspired the 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon.
Wojtowicz, who was bisexual married his first wife, Carmen Bifulco, in 1967. They had two children, and separated in 1969. Wojtowicz met pre-operative transexual Elizabeth Eden (then known as Ernest Aron) in 1971 at an Italian Feast in New York City. Wojtowicz and Eden were married on December 4, 1971.
Perhaps because of stress over her inability to afford sex reassignment surgery, Eden attempted suicide several times. Wojtowicz set on the path that made him famous after failing to procure funds for Eden's birthday on August 19, 1972. On August 20, 1972 Eden attempted suicide again. The following day, Wojtowicz went to the psychiatric ward to try to get Eden released but was told she would not be released until she was cured of her gender identity problem. Wojtowicz assumed this meant either curing her homosexuality or receiving a sex change operation.
On August 22, 1972, Wojtowicz, along with Sal Naturile and another man, attempted to rob a branch of the Chase Manhattan bank on the corner of East Third Street and Avenue P in Gravesend, Brooklyn. Wojtowicz and Naturile held seven Chase Manhattan bank employees hostage for 14 hours. 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 Naturile was killed by the FBI during the final moments of the incident.
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 federal prison of which he served 14, being released on April 10, 1987. He made $7,500 selling the movie rights to the story, and helped finance Eden's sex reassignment surgery with these funds. In 1987, Time reported that Eden, 41, died of AIDS-related pneumonia in Rochester.
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, Pacino's co-star in The Godfather, as Naturile. Eden, known as "Leon" in the film, was portrayed by actor Chris Sarandon.
In 1975 John 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 intimated that John 'sold out' Sal Naturile 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 did however praise Al Pacino and Chris Sarandon's characterizations of himself and wife Elizabeth Eden as accurate. In a 2006 interview, the screenwriter of the movie, Frank Pierson, said that he tried to visit John Wojtowicz in prison many times to get more details about his story when he wrote the screenplay but Wojtowicz refused each time to see him because he thought he was not paid enough money for the rights of his story.
Wojtowicz was also the subject of two documentaries, The Third Memory in 2000 and Based on A True Story in 2005. In 2001, The New York Times reported that he was living on welfare in Brooklyn.
Wojtowicz died of cancer on January 2, 2006.


The Actual Events of August 22, 1973 in Gravesend, Brooklyn:

The Standoff with the NYPD

Wojotowicz issues warnings

Negotiations begin

Negotiations continue

The bank where the robbery took place was a branch of the Chase Manhattan Bank,at 450 Avenue P in Brooklyn, at the cross street of East 3rd Street, in Gravesend Brooklyn. Today the location of Brooklyn Medical Imaging Center.


Wojtowicz married the pre-operative Elizabeth Eden (then Ernest Aron) on December 4, 1971. Unfortunately same-sex marriage was unheard of and Wojtowicz was still legally married to his first wife.


Frank Jump said...

Great post. Love the wedding pic. Kinda looks like Vincenzo and me. LOL. BTW- have you claimed your blog with Technorati? If not, create an account and claim it so you can get more exposure.

Flatbush Pigeon said...

Oh Frank! How could you say such a thing? You were a much more attractive bride and your gown was so much more tasteful! You and Vincenzo are a much more handsome couple!
You're right. I need to do the Technorati thing.Thanks for the nudge!
The Pige!

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