Frances Ann Lebowitz (born October 27, 1950) is an American author, public speaker, and occasional actor. Lebowitz is known for her sardonic social commentary on American life as filtered through her New York City sensibilities. Some reviewers have called her a modern-day Dorothy Parker.
Early life and education
Lebowitz was born and raised in Morristown, New Jersey, the daughter of Ruth and Harold Lebowitz, parents who owned 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 identity [as] ethnic or cultural or whatever people call it now. But it's not religious." She has been an atheist since the age of 7.
She was a poor student overall, particularly struggling with algebra, which she described as "the first thing which they presented to me that I absolutely could not understand at all, and had no interest in understanding." She was sent to a psychologist after taking the SAT, because the margin between her 100% score in English and her extremely poor score in math was the greatest on record in New Jersey. Her grades were so poor that her parents enrolled her in a private girls Episcopal school, where her grades marginally improved but she had difficulty following the rules and was eventually expelled for "nonspecific surliness".
After being expelled from high school, Lebowitz earned her GED and then 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 lived at the women's-only Martha Washington Hotel. To support herself she worked various odd jobs as a cleaning lady, chauffeur, taxi driver, and a pornography writer. At age 21, while she was working as a writer of book and movie reviews for a small magazine called Changes, Andy Warhol hired her as a columnist for Interview, where she wrote a column called "I Cover the Waterfront." This was followed by a stint at Mademoiselle. Her first two books were the essay collections Metropolitan Life (1978) and Social Studies (1981), both collected in The Fran Lebowitz Reader.
In 1995 she wrote Mr. Chas and Lisa Sue Meet the Pandas, a children's book about giant pandas living in New York City who long to move to Paris.
Lebowitz has been known, in part, for 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. She also 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.
A heavy smoker, Lebowitz is known for her advocacy of 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.
Lebowitz 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.
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 known for her trademark 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."
On November 17, 2010, Lebowitz returned to The Late Show with David Letterman after a 16-year absence. 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. She also made an appearance as a judge in Scorsese's 2013 film, The Wolf of Wall Street.
Lebowitz's book Progress was first excerpted in Vanity Fair in 2004. It has yet to be completed as of September 2019.
Since 1997 Lebowitz has been employed as a contributing editor and occasional columnist for Vanity Fair. She tours as a public speaker, represented by the Steven Barclay Agency. In July 2019 she announced that she was collaborating with Scorsese again on an as yet untitled Netflix series in which Scorsese will interview her about New York City and other subjects.
Lebowitz identifies as a liberal Democrat but is often critical of Democratic politicians and policy. She has been a vociferous critic of the Republican Party for many years and more recently of 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 [Trump's election], it's that it's gotten Trump out of New York."
- Lebowitz 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."
- She has been critical of New York Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg for making New York more "suburban" and accelerating gentrification in Manhattan.
- Of Bloomberg she said,
"I object to people who are rich in politics. I don't think they should be allowed to be in politics. It is bad that rich people are in politics, it is bad for everybody but rich people, and rich people don't need any more help. Whenever people say, "Oh, he earned his money himself," I always say the same thing: "No one earns a billion dollars. People earn $10 an hour, people steal a billion dollars."
- 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."
- 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:
Who are these people that love guns? These people who love Trump and they love guns, these are the most frightened people I have ever seen in my life ... I could have gotten a gun but I never got one. I was an 18-year-old penniless girl in the middle of a dangerous city and I was never as afraid as these men in Texas, living in a state of terror.
- In May 2019 Lebowitz said on Real Time with Bill Maher that President 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. The statement drew attention from national news outlets because it could be interpreted as threatening the President of the United States. Lebowitz walked back her comments later in the same program.
Lebowitz is a lesbian.
- Metropolitan Life, Dutton, 1978. ISBN 978-0-525-15562-1
- Social Studies, Random House, 1981. ISBN 978-0-394-51245-7
- The Fran Lebowitz Reader, Vintage Books, 1994, ISBN 978-0-679-76180-8
- Mr. Chas and Lisa Sue Meet the Pandas, Knopf, 1994. ISBN 978-0-679-86052-5
- Progress [Unfinished]
- Exterior Signs of Wealth [Unfinished]