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22 August 2008

Liz Eden (1945 - 1986) and John Wojtowicz (1945 - 2006)

Ernest Aron was born in Queens, New York. As Liz Eden she at one time lived in the same rooming house as Holly Woodlawn.

John Wojtowicz, a New Yorker, had a first marriage to Carmen Bifulco from 1967-9. They had two children. He met Liz at an Italian feast, and married her in a Catholic ceremony in December 1971.

Wojtowicz attempted to rob a Chase Manhattan Bank branch at 450 Ave P, Brooklyn, NY, on August 22, 1972. Wojtowicz held the bank employees hostage, and gave his reason as paying for his lover’s sex change.

Liz was in hospital at the time under her male persona following an overdose of barbiturates, and knew nothing of the plan.

Wojtowicz was sentenced to 20 years in a federal penitentiary, but served only 14. He sold his story to Warner Bros. for $7,500 and 1% of the net profit. He had to sue (from prison) to get it. He gave Liz $2,500 for the operation, which she had in 1973 with Dr Benito Rish.

The story was filmed in 1975 as Dog Day Afternoon. The transsexual component is quite small. The lover, Leon (=Ernest), who appears for only a few minutes, is presented as a mid-70s gay stereotype, who has been informed by the shrinks that he is a woman trapped in man's body. He does not seem to be too happy with this conclusion. Despite its dubious portrayal of Leon, the film was much applauded as the first film to feature a sympathetic, fully-rounded bisexual (sic) male.

Liz Eden sued Warner Brothers for libel and they settled out-of-court. She moved to Rochester, NY. Liz died in 1986 of Aids-related pneumonia.

Wojtowicz was released in 1987. He lived in Brooklyn on welfare, and was the subject of two documentaries, The Third Memory, 2000, and Based on a True Story, 2005. He died in 2006 of cancer.
  • Liz Eden & John Wojtowicz. Liz Eden (Ernest Aron) Papers. The National Archive of Lesbian, Gay Bisexual & Transgender History. The Lesbian & Gay Community Services Center, New York City. 1973-86.
  • Paul Meskil. “An Insider Is Sought in Bank Holdup: FBI Agent Kills Bandit at JFK And 2d Thus is Nabbed”. Daily News, Aug 24, 1972. Photo-image online at
  • P.F. Kluge & Thomas Moore. "The Boys in the Bank". Life, Sept 22, 1972, vol 73 (12).
  • Sidney Lumet (dir). Dog Day Afternoon. Scr: Frank Pierson, from the magazine article by P.F. Kluge & Thomas Moore, with Al Pacino as Sonny Wortzik, John Cazale as Sal, and Chris Sarandon as Leon Shermer (roughly based on Liz Eden). US 124 mins 1975. Oscar for best screenplay; Sarandon was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Top grossing film of the year. The shooting script is online at:
  • John Wojtowicz. “Real Dog Day hero tells his story”. Unpublished article written from prison for the New York Times in 1975, later reprinted in Gay Sunshine: A Journal of Gay Liberation, No. 29/ 30, Summer/Fall, 1976, and then again in Jump Cut, no. 15, 1977, pp. 31-32. Online at:
  • Holly Woodlawn with Jeff Copeland. A Low Life in High Heels: the Holly Woodlawn Story.  Martin's Press xi, 305pp Hb 1991. Harper Perenniel Pb. 1992: 111-2.
  • Pierre Huyghe (dir). The Third Memory. With John Wojtowicz as himself. US 2000. A short documentary re-enacting the “Dog Day Afternoon” bank holdup.
  • Walter Stokman (dir & scr). Based on a True Story. With John Wojtowicz and Sidney Lumet, with photos or clip quotes of Liz Eden, Al Pacino, John Cazale & Chris Sarandon. Netherlands 75 mins 2005.
  • “Dog Day Afternoon”. “John Wojtowicz”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. and

Wow, genital surgery for $2,500! It shows how much inflation we have had since.

None of the sources tell me if Liz was a regular visitor to John while he was in prison, which I want to be true as this is one of the great transgender love stories.

Sidney Lumet has made many great thrillers and crime films, and is known for his social concerns and depictions of minorities, however the gender variant persons in his films are either minor or get killed: a mannish lesbian briefly glimpsed in The Group, 1966; Jack Doroshow (Sabrina) in mufti in The Anderson Tapes, 1971; heterosexist female impersonator, Gypsy Haake has a cameo in The Morning After, 1986; International Chrysis' character is killed, and the other transies humiliated by Nick Nolte's bad cop in Q & A, 1990.

1 comment:

Lani said...

A very interesting story. I have the documentary 'The Dog' on DVD and in one part Liz says she spent $54,000.00 on her sex-change. I assume she is adding in the cost of electrolysis, hormones and doctor bills also and not just the surgeries. Even today that's a rather high cost. People who knew her said she never felt totally happy afterwards.