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24 August 2020

Liz Eden and Dog Day Afternoon: Part II - Imprisonment, the Movie and one more wedding

Trigger warning. This 3-part article contains quotations from John Wojtowicz, the major protagonist. The quotations contain frequent misgenderings, and in the latter 2 parts traditional English swear words. Caveat Lector.
Part I: Two Weddings and a Bank Robbery
Part II: Imprisonment, the Movie and one more wedding
Part III: Release, a final wedding and afterwards (and Bibliography)

A month after the robbery there was an extensive write up in Life magazine, “The Boys in the Bank”, which prophetically described John Wojtowicz as having “the broken-faced good looks of an Al Pacino or Dustin Hoffman”.

Arthur Bell’s investigation of claims that Wojtowicz had been set up by the Gambino family brought bomb threats to the Village Voice. At Gay Activist Alliance (GAA) meetings
“conservative and radical gays debated over whether Wojtowicz was a counterrevolutionary lumpen adventurer victimized by the mob or a proud gay superfly caught in an act of righteous expropriation, but the debate was inconclusive.” (Holm, 1976)
A bartender friend of Sal Naturale asked GAA to help fund a burial.  They declined and Sal was interred in the gigantic pauper burial site on Hart Island off the Bronx coast (which contains over a million corpses).

While in The Bayview Correctional Facility, 550 West 29th St, John Wojtowicz wrote a will in which he allotted a portion of the proceeds from his life insurance to pay for Liz Eden’s operations.

Warner Brothers wanted to turn the Life magazine article into a film.
“They came down to make the movie deal when I was in prison, and I told them, ‘I’m not making no movie, ’cos you’re gonna make me look ridiculous.’ So they brought Ernie down from the nut house, and they brought me in and let me fuck him in the warden’s office, at the old federal prison on West Street in the Village. They brought him down there, and Ernie had the paper, and he said, ‘Sign the paper.’ I said, ‘I ain’t signing that paper.’ He goes, ‘Well, don’t you want me to have the sex change?’ I go, ‘Yeah.’ He says, ‘Well, if you sign this, they’re gonna take me outta the nut house, I’m gonna get the sex change. And I’ll come and see you.’ And I says, ‘OK, let’s fuck.’ And he goes, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘Well, we’ll seal the deal with a fuck.’ So the warden left, you know, and we stayed in there, and we got down. In fact, I fucked him on the warden’s desk.” (Photos-Wojtowicz, 2003: 61)
Wojtowicz mug shot
Wojtowicz thinking that he had a deal pleaded guilty. He had sold his story for $7,500 and 1% of the net profit, but he had to sue (from prison) to get it. Liz was to get $2,500 for the operation. She returned to the West 10th Street apartment. However, with the publicity about the film, the landlord realized who she was and evicted her.  She found a place in a gay rooming house in Brooklyn.

Wojtowicz was sentenced to 20 years, and placed in a federal penitentiary at Lewisburg. Pennsylvania.

As Carmen and John were still married, she visited him in prison. She was not pleased to encounter Liz Eden, also visiting. However the two somewhat became friends. Carmen called her when she had an orchiectomy with Dr Benito Rish in Yonkers in November 1972. She had a vaginoplasty the following March.
“He got out of the nut house . . . [but] they only gave him some of the money for the operation, not enough. So I had to have my mother and my wife [Carmen] give him more money. I signed the paper in November of ’72.”. After the operations Liz came to see John one last time, and explained that the doctors had told her to break off with him, and go somewhere else to be a woman. (Photos-Wojtowicz, 2003: 61-2).
John then attempted suicide, the evening before he was to be sentenced.

The working title of the film was, like the Life magazine article, Boys in the Bank, a riff on the successful pre-gay-lib gay drama, Boys in the Band, 1970. Director Sidney Lumet did not like this, and wanted something that suggested a hot, stuffy day near the end of summer. Thus it became Dog Day Afternoon – although without accuracy in reference to the rising of Sirius at the hottest days of summer. However the film was shot in late autumn, and the actors had to chew ice cubes so that their breath would not be seen. Sidney Lumet, the director was quoted as saying that Pacino was at risk because “no major star that I know of had ever played a gay man”.
The trans component in the film is quite small. The Liz-John wedding is not shown. The lover, Leon (=Ernest, and played by Chris Sarandon, Susan’s then husband), 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 for featuring a sympathetic, fully-rounded bisexual male. There is no mention of mafia contacts. Wojtowicz may, as Life Magazine said, have resembled Al Pacino, but the connection was secured as Pacino was cast as Sonny Wortzik (=Wojtowicz). Wojtowicz afterwards became known as the Dog because of the film. John Cazale, who had starred with Pacino in the The Godfather films, was cast as Salvatore despite being 37 rather than the real Sal’s 18. The film Sal insists that he is not gay – in contradistinction to the real one. Sal is the only character in the film to have the same name as the corresponding real person.

Wojtowicz commented on the film:
“Well, they never tell you I was against him having the operation all along. And the only reason I decided to let him have the operation was because I wanted to save his life. Therefore, saving his life was the number one thing, and as long as you’re trying to save somebody’s life, whatever you’re doing’s not wrong. And I loved him enough to do that. That never comes across in the book or the movie. It’s just like, they make fun of my fat wife, Carmen, and they [implicitly] say, well, if you had a wife that was fat and had a big mouth, no wonder you went with the drag queen. But that’s a lie. I didn’t go with the drag queen because my wife was fat or ugly. To me, my wife was beautiful. And I like big women! ’Cos I like the Sophia Loren/Elizabeth Taylor type. The reason I broke up with my wife is because of our in-laws, and because I’m what you call an old-fashioned Italian: I’m the boss. Her parents would always interfere with us, and she would always take the parents’ side over me. And that’s what led to the breakup. …  And [Sal] was gay, not like the movie tells you. He never said, “Tell them there ain’t two homosexuals in there,” ’cos he was a chicken hawk. He liked young guys and he had an apartment in the Village and he used to bring kids up there.” (Photos-Wojtowicz, 2003: 54, 57.)
Pacino took the film to Lewisburg Penitentiary before the official release intending to introduce the film. However the warden initially refused to allow the film to be shown even though Warner Brothers were offering it without cost. Wojtowicz made a fuss, and was supported by gay and straight newspapers on the outside, and the warden relented. However several of the other inmates after seeing it took the film to be saying that he had sold out Sal. Wojtowicz was subsequently beaten up and his cell set on fire. He had to be moved to a different prison.

Carmen visited him in the prison hospital. An attendant said to her: “Oh, you’re the other wife”, and she was informed that Liz was listed as next of kin. That was it. She went to see a divorce lawyer.

Carmen Wojtowicz sued Warner Brothers for invasion of privacy and unauthorized used of her and her children’s names and portraits.

Liz Eden sued Warner Brothers for libel and they settled out-of-court. Word was that Liz received somewhere between $25,000 and $50,000. For a while she had an agent and there was talk of a book deal, a nightclub act and even a discotheque to be called ‘The Garden of Eden’.

Wojtowicz started an affair in prison with George, a jailhouse lawyer, black, Irish and Jehovah’s Witness. They were married in the prison yard by a Jesus Freak. George got Wojtowicz’ sentence reduced and he was released in November 1979, but was then returned for parole violations such as still seeing George.


$2,500 in 1975 is $14,500 now.

It was standard practice at the time for sex-change doctors to tell their patients to break off all gay contacts and go live somewhere where their prior self was not known.

While Wojtowicz was not in any way co-ordinating with the heliacal rising of Sirius, the date of the rising has moved – because of the precession of the equinox – from 19 July at the time of the Caesars to the third week of August now.  If you are 50° north or more, it is on 21/22 August.

“no major star that I know of had ever played a gay man”. Presumably Lumet, although in the film-biz had not heard of Dirk Bogart in Victim, 1961. However this was a New York film being edgier than anything from Los Angeles.

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 trans women are humiliated by Nick Nolte's bad cop in Q & A, 1990.

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