Author, public speaker, occasional actress
Born: October 27, 1950 in Morristown, New Jersey
Lives In: New York City
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2019-20: Arts & Letters
Fran Lebowitz is a genre of one—a social commentator whose acerbic view of modern society is punctuated by a self-deprecating wit that has endeared her to readers and audiences for decades.
Although Lebowitz is best-known as an observer of urban life, her own life started in the suburbs. The daughter of furniture-store proprietors, she never seemed to live up to middle-class expectations. After what she has described as a happy childhood, she turned into an unhappy teenager. She was expelled from an Episcopalian day school and later suspended from Morristown High School for sneaking out of pep rallies.
City life looked more appealing. “From the age of 13, I was plotting to get to New York,” Lebowitz told New Jersey Monthly in 2020. Skipping college, she headed to Manhattan and scraped by working odd jobs. She drove a taxi, cleaned apartments and, at 21, landed a position selling advertising space for a small magazine called Changes. Once in the door, she began to pen book and movie reviews.
Lebowitz’s big break came when Andy Warhol hired her as a columnist for his magazine, Interview. Next came a writing job at Mademoiselle. Her first book, “Metropolitan Life,” a collection or her wise-cracking, opinionated essays from the period, became a best-seller. A second successful collection, “Social Studies,” followed.
The books turned Lebowitz into a celebrity, as recognizable for her signature man-tailored wardrobe as her pet peeves and observational humor. She became a regular on TV talk shows and a popular public speaker, as well as an occasional actress, with a recurring role as a judge on TV’s “Law & Order” from 2001-2007.
Lebowitz has confessed to suffering from a writer’s block that has limited her presence on bookshelves. However, in recent years her public persona has continued to grow, thanks largely to “Public Speaking,” director Martin Scorsese’s 2010 HBO documentary about Lebowitz. In 2021, “Pretend It’s a City,” a limited Netflix documentary series, again with Scorsese, gave Lebowitz a widely seen platform for her still-cutting commentaries.
It can hardly be said the Lebowitz has mellowed with age. When asked by New Jersey Monthly how it felt about turning 70, she replied: “Very bad. Anyone who tells you something different is lying.”