‘Dog Afternoon’ turns 47

“One of the most bizarre kidnapping attempts known to date began when two armed men robbed a bank in Brooklyn. The thieves got $29,000, but before they could leave, the Policeman settled in the area and burglars of banks took hostages. It all ended at Kennedy Airport in New York.”

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This was the information released by a local television station about the robbery at Chase Manhattan on August 22, 1972, an event that would become one of the greatest films of the 70s: ‘Dog Day Afternoon’, with Al Pacino and John Cazale, which premiered on September 21, 1975. Forty-seven years later, the film remains an undisputed classic of cinema worldwide.

In real life these were not hardened bank robbers. The assault It was perpetrated by John Wojtowicz and Salvatore Naturale, (a third subject, Bobby Westenberg, chickened out and fled), two improvised subjects who in this robbery committed all possible mistakes and clumsiness, such as taking hostage the employees of the financial institution and breaking into the bank at a time of day when the safe turned out to be ‘half empty’. Not to mention that one of the workers had enough time to activate the alarm and alert the Policeman.

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The initial plan was to load up the loot, lock the staff in the vault and escape, but what happened was more of a circus sideshow. The bank He was surrounded by agents from the Department of Policeman from New York and the FBI, radio and television reporters and dozens of onlookers. The motive for the robbery? Pay for the sex change of Wojtowicz’s homosexual partner, who was recovering in a hospital from a suicide attempt.

The real one (John Wojtowicz) and the actor (Al Pacino).

The story was unbelievable. For 14 hours, New Yorkers remained glued to their radios and televisions, pending how the events unfolded. Meanwhile, seeing no way out, Wojtowicz dedicated himself to negotiating his escape with the authorities. He went out several times bank to bargain and throw money at the crowd, who cheered him like a town hero.


Wojtowicz was a Vietnam War veteran and was married to a woman named Carmen Bifulco, with whom he had two children, but when he graduated he realized that he could no longer hide his sexual inclinations, so he left her and became an active member. of the Alliance of Gay Activists.

John Wojtowicz and 'his wife' Liz Eden.
John Wojtowicz and ‘his wife’ Liz Eden.

Along the way, he met Ernest Aron, a transsexual who called himself Liz Eden. They fell in love and were ‘married’ in a small ceremony in Greenwich Village. They were ‘married’ by a priest who was later expelled from the priesthood for his relationship with the gay community.


After a tense negotiation, it was agreed to take Wojtowicz, Naturale and the hostages to JFK Airport, where they dreamed of boarding a plane to fly to freedom. However, when they arrived at the airport an officer fatally shot Naturale and Wojtowicz was arrested. The hostages were released safely.

Wojtowicz was sentenced to 20 years in prison. In 1977 he wrote a letter to the New York Times from a Pennsylvania correctional facility in which he claimed that he alone stole the bank “to save the life of someone I loved very much.” Aaron wrote, “I wanted to be a woman through the process of a sex change operation”. Wojtowicz believed that Aron was a woman trapped in a man’s body, which caused him “unspeakable pain and problems that explained his numerous suicide attempts.”


The story was irresistible to any screenwriter. This is how the film ‘Dog Afternoon’ was shot, directed by Sidney Lumet, who has gone down in history with films like ’12 Angry Men’ (1957), ‘Long Journey Into Night’ (1962), ‘Serpico ‘(1973 ), ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ (1974), ‘Network’ (1976), ‘Final Verdict’ (1982) and, of course, with the aforementioned ‘Dog Afternoon’.

Wojtowicz didn’t like the film so much, at least at first, because, he said, part of it suggested that he (played by Al Pacino as Sonny Wortzik) ‘sold’ Naturale into the hands of the FBI. Several attempts were made on the life of John Wojtowicz after the screening of the film in prison. His classmates, who saw him as a traitor, beat him so much that once they sent him to the hospital.

Onlookers outside the Bank on the day of the robbery.  Photo: Larry C. Morris/The New York Times.
Onlookers outside the Bank on the day of the robbery. Photo: Larry C. Morris/The New York Times.

In 1978, Wojtowicz was paroled. He tried to exploit his fame and started calling himself ‘The Dog’. He applied for a job as a security guard at Chase Manhattan and wanted to start a limousine business that would show “Dog Day Afternoon” on the vehicle’s television, but none of his ideas were accepted. He ended up receiving help from the state and from time to time he would walk around the scene of the robbery with a printed T-shirt that read: ‘I robbed this bank’.

Wojtowicz died of cancer on January 2, 2006, at age 60, at his mother’s home. Liz Eden, Wojtowicz’s transsexual sweetheart born in Ozone Park, Queens, had died of AIDS-related pneumonia on September 29, 1987, at age 41, in Rochester, New York. Wojtowicz was not by her side, because after the bank robbery her relationship broke down.


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