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The Rocket Man and Me

by Allan Maurer (09/04/08).
The Rocketman insert poster
Lenny Bruce played by Dustin Hoffman

Years ago, in 1954, when I was 7 or 8, I saw a little film called “The Rocket Man,” at the Columbia Theatre in the small town where I grew up. I was about the same age as the young boy, played by George “Foghorn” Winslow, known for his gravelly voice.

Winslow’s most famous film is probably “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” in 1953. He made “The Rocket Man” a year later.

In “The Rocket Man,” Winslow, wearing a space suit and helmet I very much coveted, discovers a weapon accidentally left behind by a real spaceman. When pointed at someone, it makes them tell the truth.

Now if that existed, it really would be a weapon. Think about how much politicians would pay to keep it out of our hands. In the movie, Winslow uses it to defeat the wiles of local politicians and bad guys.

Although TCM has shown “The Rocket Man” on very rare occasions, I have yet to see a commercially released version in any format. Posters or other movie paper from the film shows up in auctions now and then. I paid a mere $20 for the Insert shown above.

The Lenny Bruce connection

“The Rocket Man” is the only movie scripted by the so-called “sick comic” of the 1960s, Lenny Bruce, who mentions it briefly in his autobiography. Bruce was a tragic figure, brilliant, but addicted to heroin and hounded by local law enforcement coast to coast for his act, which many thought obscene. Compared to what can be heard in many nightclubs or on cable TV today, his act would be considered relatively mild.

Later, Dustin Hoffman would play Bruce in “Lenny,” directed by Bob Fosse. I collect lobby cards and posters from Fosse’s movies, which include “Cabaret” and “All That Jazz.”

Cliff Gorman, who did Bruce in a play about Lenny on Broadway in the 1970s, portrays Hoffman playing Lenny in Fosse’s autobiographical “All That Jazz,” which is enough to make you dizzy if you think about it.

Prices are still reasonable on many Fosse items. I recently bought a set of 8 lobby cards from “All That Jazz” for under $50.

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